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Developing a better world

Ben Sampson

Engineering’s economic and societal benefit has been made clear by a study produced by the Royal Academy of Engineering.

The Engineering Index was compiled by the consultancy the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) for the Royal Academy of Engineering and looks at the strength of engineering in 99 different countries.

The Index combines various engineering-related data, such as number of engineering-related industries, number of engineering firms and quality of infrastructure into a single value for each country, to assess and benchmark the strength of their engineering sectors.

Dr Hayaatun Sillem, deputy chief executive at Royal Academy of Engineering said: “This report will form the basis of useful discussions between the engineering and international development communities, not just about where engineering investment is needed, but also about how we can build on this data to develop a fuller picture of how engineering can further drive international development.”

It is the first time a global study has attempted such an analysis, and according to the CEBR, it shows a clear correlation between engineering and economic growth. A 1% increase in a country’s index score equals a 0.85% increase in GDP.

Ann Dowling, president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, says: “Engineering is helping to eradicate poverty in our world whether you notice it or not. Engineering is helping to drive a rise in prosperity, just like it did 40 years ago in the UK. But engineers need to draw more attention to this.”

In 1990, 37% of people were living in poverty, in 2012 that figure is said to be 10%. However, in 2012 a third of the world’s population, 2.1 billion people, still live on less than $3.1 a day. “The technological revolutions of today can have as much effect in the developing world as they do in the UK.”

“But, engineering for development is not seen as a high profile career. This needs to be changed.”

According to Dowling, engineering interventions in developing countries need to be a sustained effort and that institutions like the Royal Academy can help by creating a “cross-border community” of engineers to help developing countries.



Africa is 12% of the world’s population, but publishes just 1% of the world’s academic research. A 2013 Royal Academy study showed that in Africa engineers are hold back by several factors including poor facilities and inadequate institutions, which draws them to other parts of the world. In the UK for every 1000 people there is one engineer, in Africa the average is 5000 people to an engineer – in Mozambique it 100,000 people to one engineer.

Jo Da Silva, director of Arup international development, says: “Unless we can inspire and partner with these countries to create the next generation of engineers, we are pushing a stone up a hill. A large part of that is encouraging women to become engineers.

“They don’t need to learn what I learnt at University. They need to learn not just the technological function but also the social and economic function of engineering.”

Dowling from the Royal Academy agrees that addressing the lack of diversity in the profession will help improve engineering in Africa. “Science and engineering needs to be attractive to women and to change that we need to change the environment that girls grow up in,” she says.

Dr Amir Dossal, who is chief executive of UN Global partnership forum, an organisation dedicated to improving developing economies. He says the UN hopes that by 2030, 50% of engineers are women.

2030 is a key date for the UN, because last September 193 members states of the UN adopted the 2030 targets for sustainable development, the UN’s next set of aims after the millennium development goals. The 2030 Agenda for sustainable development has 17 goals, engineers are integral to 19 of these, says Dossal. “Engineering, architecture and infrastructure are key elements in implementing change in the world.”

The Sustainable Development Goals aim to end poverty, create decent work, sustainable cities and communities, provide clean water, affordable and clean energy and to take climate change action.  Dossal says: “We need to see Africa as a land of opportunity. They are not the least developed, they are the least discovered!”

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges for the SDGs and indeed any action that involves donors funding activities in developing nations is traceability – ensuring that there is no corruption and that funds are spent where they are meant to be. Generally, sovereign governments do not want to be monitored and donors want to know exactly where there money goes. Meeting the requirements of multiple aid organisation and foreign government development agencies can also be onerous for the recipient governments.

Dossal says: “There are concerns of corruption and a lack of traceability. Along that is the measurement. We force processes on to governments for different donors. We need to standardise these processes. We need to look at the fundamentals to encourage more engineers: stereotyping, role models and education.”

Da Silva from Arup International Development, says: “Philanthropy is finite. The role of donors is important, but empowering people is more important.”


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