Starting off, can you tell a bit about yourself?
G: “I am Giuliana, I am 32 years old and I come from Italy. I graduated in Italy in Building Engineering and, right after my MSc, I pursued my Ph.D. in Structural and Mechanical systems. Since 2016 I am living in the Netherlands, now working as a Civil Engineering Program Coordinator at the HZ University Of Applied Sciences where I am also undertaking a postdoc about Biobased construction materials. I LOVE cooking and I spend most of my free time browsing new recipes online and making culinary experiments.”
O: “I’m Octavian, 34 years old. I am a chemical engineer, originally from Romania and living in the Netherlands since 2009. I came here for a two-year PDEng study program at TU Eindhoven and stuck around. After working for about six years in the oil & gas industry, I’m nowadays an energy transition consultant at TNO in Delft. In this role, I evaluate the feasibility of deploying various low-carbon technologies, and carry out studies to support our partners and clients from industry reach their climate targets. Aside of that, I’ve got a broad range of interests, but as 2020 mostly kept me indoors I’ll say reading and watching documentaries. I also spend a lot of my free time (perhaps too much) playing all kinds of games.”
What is/has been your role at EWB and what do you enjoy about that?
G: “I joined EWB as a member of the Event Team, becoming the Lead of the team shortly after. Being a member of the Event Team allows you to get to know most of the people and initiatives within the organization. It is an excellent role for goal-oriented, well-organized and creative people. I like to work in the team because there are no real boundaries to the activities that we can organize. Through our events we are able to inspire, galvanize and educate people to follow the EWB vision for a better future.”
O: “I started out in the team that organized the 2019 EWB Design Challenge event, then also joined the partnerships team to reach out to possible partners and help with fund-raising. It’s not easy to go around asking companies for donations, but it’s very satisfying when we do find a good match and they support our work. Bionexx was a great opportunity for me to also work on a project that matches my background. Their social impact in Madagascar is very significant, by supplying malaria medicine as well as providing employment to about 15,000 farmers who grow the artemisia plants. I’m glad we can support such a company, with design and engineering know-how, as well as advice on improving the health and safety standards of their operation.”
Can you share something about a memorable moment?
G: “In less than one year since I have joined the Event Team, I have been involved in the organization of a Summit and several Meet-and-greet and recruitment sessions. The Summit was definitely a great achievement for the team, first of all because it was the first of a kind event, and secondly because of the amazing response we received from the participants. The event exceeded our expectations in terms of numbers, quality and positive atmosphere. It was a big turning point for the team, proving us that EWB can play an important role also in education and knowledge sharing.”
O: “I really enjoyed the international potluck dinner we had in Feb 2019! Lovely evening with wonderful food, and a great way to get to know each other better. The quiz was also good fun.”
What makes an impact sustainable?
G: “Impact is sustainable when it brings a change that is real, self-sufficient, collective and durable. Our real impact as organization is what happens when EWB leaves the countries where it brought its expertise and developed projects. A key aspect of making our impact sustainable is understanding the culture and the environment in which the local communities which ask for our help are living: do communities have the knowledge and tools to maintain and manage our solutions? Do our solutions fit the local environment and its limitations? Without first answering these questions, no change can be systemic and no impact can be sustainable.”
O: “Several factors contribute to that – such as the FIETS criteria. I would say a key aspect is good engagement with a strong local partner that will take ownership of the project.”
What does it mean to engineer without borders? Are borders irrelevant?
G: “Undeniably the word “borders” has a geopolitical connotation. However today, I am more inclined to look at the name of our organization also thinking about borders in terms of boundaries and limitations. Which boundaries do we put to our understanding of others? Which limitations do we see in helping local communities needing our technical support? Cannot we commit to have a small positive impact every single day, one step at the time? As Mark Twain once said: “They did not know it was impossible so they did it”. So, let’s do it.”
O: “To me that stands for acknowledging my relatively privileged position in the world and using the tools and resources at my disposal to help improve living conditions in underdeveloped areas. I wouldn’t say borders are irrelevant, because that’s not the reality in which we live. The EU offers a glimpse of what a borderless world might look like, but its member states comparatively had a very high level of development when they joined and we can’t ignore that.”
To conclude the interview, I asked the two the following. Since one of the quotes EWB-NL stands by is “be the change you want to see in the world” – what is the change that the world needs according to you?
Remarkably or perhaps not so much remarkably, the two give the same answer: Kindness. Octavian elaborates: kindness towards ourselves, towards other people, as well as animals and the environment.