In each edition of this blog you will get to know a couple of our members from our organisation or our local partners. Who is driving our organisation and our projects, and what drives them? 

For the third edition of this blog, I am happy to introduce you to Joseph van Oudenhoven.

Joseph – Dutch, living in the Hague, alumnus of TU Delft – has been a member of EWB-NL for many years, supporting with his knowledge and experience. He was also involved with the early organisational development of EWB-NL. Currently he acts as the coordinator of our Senior Expert Group.

Past summer, as Joseph and I were emailing back and forth, we praised corona and the heatwave for dismantling social pressures, allowing us to revive personal rhythms. Asking for his hobbies, it turns out Joseph is very passionate about sculpting (less passionate about Windows) and finds pleasure in making beautiful works even when the mercury during a Dutch summer suddenly hits 40 degrees. His engagement with nature and the environment, also expressed in his art work, does not come as a surprise – as he fuelled his early career choices by the notion of the destructing effects of environmental misdoing.

Starting off, can you tell a bit about yourself?

“Worrying about the conflict between the poor and the rich (countries) and wishing to work in development aid abroad, I choose to study civil engineering at Delft University as being more useful than a (preferred) human science study. After working several years for FAO and finding development aid very ineffective, I wanted to change profession and found through “Silent Spring” (red. Environmental science book by Rachel Carson) another civilization threatening problem; that of environmental ‘damage’. Thus I did two other studies: Sanitary Engineering and Environmental Sciences at IHE Delft and Harvard/MIT. Ever since, I have combined those three ‘approaches’ in my work, completed with practically applying other disciplines.”

When and why did you join EWB?

“I joined already at the time that EWB-NL was still a sub-department of KIVI”. (Red: The initiators of EWB-NL started as Ingenieurs zonder Grenzen (IZG) from the royal engineering association Koninklijk Instituut Van Ingenieurs, resulting in the founding of EWB-NL in 2016). 

“As I had many years experience as the Environmental and Cleaner Production Coordinator of another (partially) volunteer organization called PUM (Netherlands Senior Experts), I noticed that EWB did not show much experience of how to set up such an organization. The kind willingness by PUM to share their documents and with my experience we could adapt them to EWB’s needs. Ironically one of the outcomes was that EWB had to leave KIVI because of liabilities.”

What is/has been your role at EWB and what do you enjoy about that?

“The above mentioned role has been further developed into becoming the coordinator of the Senior Expert Group (SEG) which has a function at the Request and Proposal Phase of projects. Also I keep in touch with operations and with the way the Board is thinking by attending once a month, or on request, Board meetings and Project Team meetings.”

“Feeling as the person I am and how I have worked in the past, I feel great to be with a group of young idealistic people, trying to do practical and efficient development aid as it should be done.”

What makes a project successful, an impact sustainable? Do you have an example of a memorable achievement?

“There might be many examples of memorable achievements, but they are too extensive. However they all share that the best way to have success is creating awareness by inspiring and informing the stakeholders. Right at the beginning! Engaging the stakeholders in the beginning is one of the most important factors. Also, EWB uses acceptance criteria for any incoming project request. These criteria are also an example of the efforts I have contributed to at EWB.”

The mentioned acceptance criteria are applied by EWB when assessing new Project Requests. These can be seen as baseline conditions to consider for acceptance, in order to filter infeasible or uncertain aspects, and ensure certain factors of sustainability in an early stage. These include for example practical matters such as the location, the availability of knowledge on the topic, the nature of the partner organisation, or the financial feasibility; as well as project’s substantive matters such as the potential to ensure local ownership, and to ensure creating environmentally beneficial outcomes.

What does it mean to engineer without borders? Are borders irrelevant?

“We are all part of the human race and will only develop as such if everyone will be part of it.”

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?

“RESPECT – For other human beings; their freedom, culture and personal convictions if not hurting others. For nature, flora and fauna and ecosystem and their services. For their own physical and spiritual condition and development. For the food we consume and how it is being produced.”

Interestingly, Joseph’s story tells us how a technical study, or knowledge, is oftentimes considered more valuable. However, he has always kept a broader, integrative vision, showcasing how contributions can be made in addressing humanitarian challenges through engineering, not to engineer as an end in itself. That, making it not so much about ‘development’, but more so about co-creation.

On that note, we hope to set forth this belief through the work we do and the impact we make at EWB.

Stay tuned for the next edition of this miniblog!

Edited by: Eva Labrujere