The sun rises on my last day working for Engineers Without Borders

I am overwhelmed with gratitude to have served this community and cause for the past 15 years. Every single day has been filled with hope, with people who refuse to accept the status quo, who channel their anger at the injustices they see into smart and bold action. EWB and EWBers have shaped me into the person I am today.

Thank you, to all of you.

Our job is not done. Inequity abounds and we have not learned to live harmoniously together or with this earth. I am buoyed with the knowledge that there is no more powerful force in the world than a large group of thoughtful, talented people who believe in their hearts that it is perfectly ordinary to change the world.

I remain a committed member, volunteer, and monthly donor of this organization.

A special thank you to Parker for your friendship, dreaming together for the first 10 years, and then entrusting me with the past 4. And to Boris, a remarkable leader I’ve learned so much from, and who I’m certain will achieve more than I can now dream as EWB’s next CEO. Good luck to the whole team, including Alexandra and James.

The final and most important thank you is to Sari Stillman, my partner in life.

#bringbackourgirls – Arab Spring or Fleeting Clicktivism?

Akintunde Oyebode and Gerald Caplan face off in this debate.

My assessment: Gerald’s argument is much more compelling.

History matters. Change only happens when you have really well organized, knowledgeable, and fully committed activists and organizers who work for this change over a long time. And then sometimes change doesn’t happen.

Every complete description of the Arab Spring shows this to be the case. The compelling social media campaign, the act that sparked a revolution in a moment; these were all useful and ripened the moment, but change happened because courageous people were organizing for those moments for years. Perhaps that has also happened in Nigeria in this case, but let’s not over-attribute the importance of the #bringbackourgirls clicktivism. The risk is that a whole generation will think that’s all that’s needed.

How our stereotypes of Africa are reinforced, even in serious literature

In short, the covers of most novels “about Africa” seem to have been designed by someone whose principal idea of the continent comes from The Lion King.

This article and the image below from it are striking. It also got me thinking about how my own storytelling, presentations and other actions are reinforcing these same stereotypes about Sub-Saharan Africa?

Time to challenge my behaviours.

Social intelligence and intrapraneurship

“Insurgents accomplish their goals by identifying like-minded allies in key functional positions and persuading them that it is in their own interest to take action by demonstrating the value in sustainability,” says Unruh.

The key ingredient is “social intelligence.” Social intelligence involves the embedding of social and environmental responsibility into every level of decision-making. And it can be a valuable corporate asset. For example, “knowledge of the Millennial Generation’s greater expectations about social responsibility can be key in attracting, motivating and retaining the next generation of employees. Understanding activist and shareholder demands for transparency in political contributions can avoid damaging revelations about your company’s lobbying policies.”

What a great articulation of the value of social intrapraneurship.

The proposition that I’m least convinced of in this article is the idea that “once line managers know the personal and business value” then change and implementation will happen quickly. The questions for me are:

  • How much value needs to be demonstrated? 20% more? 10%? Measured in what way?
  • What leading indicators of line manager capacity and interest are there to understand when execution will happen, and when it will get stalled/hung-up?
  • What if the new business practice is an innovation that the line manager either will mess up in the implementation (i.e. not achieve social or business value) or not be able to get started because it requires skills or ways of thinking outside of his/her capabilities?

Also, if you’re interested in this stuff, check out EWB’s intrapraneurship fellowship:

Which is more corrupt?

Transparency International. If you’d asked me yesterday about this organization and their annual corruption index, I would have gushed. Sunlight is the best disinfectant I would have replied, or some similar aphorism.

But I was challenged to think differently by this article, to examine more closely how the mechanism of exposing theft and what we call corruption in poor countries reinforces an unhelpful and unjust paradigm of under-emphasizing rich countries and their power as a major part of the problem.

Are there real best buys in global health?

This article makes the case very strongly that it isn’t specific interventions that are key in driving global health outcomes, but building the strength of global health systems.

What are the best buys in global health? While many may automatically think of key interventions that are both cost effective and save lives, the best buy in global health overall turns out to be health systems strengthening.

“What we found particularly interesting is the acknowledgement that more than new technologies, it’s service delivery innovation that’s the provides the greatest bang for your buck.”

Our work with Engineers Without Borders in adaptive public services suggests this is the case across all public service provision.

Bednets, spraying and Malaria

This quote is particularly striking:

“With bed nets, all you do is distribute them,” says Segbaya. “With indoor residual spraying you have to hire people, train them in managing the pump, mixing insecticide, handling people’s property, all of which require more skill.”

Another factor is the cost – a net to protect one or two people costs £2-3. “Currently it costs around $400,000 (£238,000) to spray one district, which is maybe $10-15 (£6-9) per person. This is almost three times the cost of providing bed nets.”

Translation: It is easier and cost less. But it’s also less effective.

What’s disturbing is that this article insinuates that public sector spending must be augmented by private sector spending in order to afford the most effective Malaria control. I’m not sure how one can come to that conclusion, especially if you look at the net present cost including future health care costs and lost economic activity. And this doesn’t even begin to include the moral issue associated with human suffering from being infected with Malaria, which is totally preventable.

The journal article below covers how using both bednets and indoor spraying together gets massive reductions.

Conclusion: At ~$15/per person, and 700 million people, we could basically get rid of Malaria in Sub-Saharan Africa for $10 billion. To put that in perspective, that’s only about 55% of what US consumers spent on pet food in 2011.


Africa Top 10 Problems: Not the ones you were thinking about!

Africa is not poor. Africa is a rich continent inhabited by poor people. Once we fix the people problem, everything else will fall into place.

How would you develop any country when the dream of  the majority  of its youth and elite is not entrepreneurship, innovation, education and self-sufficiency, but the dream to have a job with a humanitarian organization or to get their project financed by some International aid Agency or proxy.

This article is brash and bold, filled with a lot of truths though not a lot of nuance.

It definitely pushes one to think hard about perceptions and systemic issues in Africa, and how those are really global issues that all of us (in ‘Western’ countries and in African countries) have contributed to.

(Thanks to @PeterAwin for the link.)

DonorsChoose Data

I’m still unsure if I think the work of is great for the educational system, or papering over the more fundamental problem of under-funded public schools.

But I am convinced that their open data site is simply cool!

It’s also a great demonstration of what you can do with scale. We’ve had similar ideas at, but we just don’t have the staff or volunteer capacity to put this kind of product out there.