University of Colorado Professor of Civil Engineering Bernard Amadei found himself in a Mayan village of about 250 people in Belize in April, 2000. He'd been invited to advise on putting in a water-delivery system for the village, which had no running water, sanitation, or electricity. With a team of engineering students and an investment of $14,000, Amadei delivered the goods within about a month, choosing a ram pump as the most efficient, sustainable design under the local conditions. The project "demonstrated the potential of professional and student engineers working together to help a local, underdeveloped community create a sustainable solution," according to the EWB-USA site.
The experience "really changed my life," Amadei said. "It was an epiphany, a way for me to realize that engineering was not just technical solutions or providing technical solutions; it had very strong social components." Later that year he founded EWB-USA. Today, the organization has over 200 developing or established chapters, at work on over 170 projects in over 40 countries. Two years later, Amadei cofounded EWB International, a loose group of autonomous organizations with the same goals.
And here our story gets a little complicated.
At about the same time Amadei was starting EWB-USA, two engineering graduates at the University of Waterloo were sketching out the plan for EWB-Canada on the proverbial napkin. EWB Canada is not part of EWB International but has grown to some 27,000 members on 25 campuses and in five major cities. A similar organization in Quebec, Ingénieries sans Frontiéres Quebec, is not one of EWB Canada's chapters, however. ISFQ was founded in 1994, before EWB-USA or Canada, and it is a member of EWB International.
To add to the confusion, other organizations throughout the world also share this name. Fortunately, they all share more or less the same goals.