Is Engineering without borders far from giving an added value to the corporate world?

25 May 2016 in The Network, Alumni by Mireia Hernández Navarro

Is Engineering without borders far from giving an added value to the corporate world?

Miquel Fabregas, UNITECH Programme Participant 2013 from Barcelona, has just graduated as a Civil Engineer from Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya. He has had a whole host of different experiences along his career, each dragging him into a different field. While on exchange at Loughborough University, his interest in engineering in low income countries began, with the well known society Engineers Without Borders.

Here is the story of how he found himself in the world of Engineers Without Borders…

When did your interest in engineering without borders started?

During my academic life as a civil engineering student in Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, I’ve always had the desire to learn how engineering could help the third world. Unfortunately, I had never had the opportunity to study anything in the area until I landed in the UK.

Once in the UK, I started my studies in the Water Engineering Development Centre (WEDC). The WEDC is considered as one of the world's leading education and research institutes for developing knowledge and capacity in water and sanitation for low-income countries. Without even realizing it, I found myself in the perfect setting to explore the field and answer many of the questions I had relating to it. I was surrounded by the right people and environment to go into a great deal of depth in the field.

At the same time, I decided to enrol onto the course “Civil Engineering for Developing Countries”. The more I learned about it, the more I enjoyed it. I consider it one of the best decisions I’ve ever taken. The knowledge I acquired on this course was amazingly complete. I realized how much was still needed regarding water and sanitation and I wanted to get a deeper view of this reality, in the field if possible. At that time though, I still had commitments to sort out first: UNITECH internship, diploma thesis and diploma final project (both compulsory for my degree in UPC). I clearly felt that my curiosity for the world of international development was as big as that I had for the business world. Was one exclusive to the other? Then I thought...Why not explore both?

And how did you manage to set your next steps?

After my exchange at Loughborough, I found an opportunity to work for the Engineering Solutions and Services team of the Business Unit Direct Fastening (DF) at Hilti in Schaan. During the first six months, I cooperated in the development and launching of the first DF Selector App. While doing the internship, I took also an online course with Engineers Without Borders - Catalunya about how to manage technically-based cooperative projects. I thought it would be enriching to keep learning about it in my spare time, as I thought it would also contribute to my internship projects.

By then, I was in contact with the Engineering Science and Global Development (EScGD) group from UPC Barcelona and I pitched the idea of writing my final diploma project in collaboration with them by doing a research project in a developing country.

This process was long and I was aware of it so I knew I had to be patient. Meanwhile, I got offered the possibility to extend my internship for five more months enabling me to write my diploma thesis with Hilti. I saw this as an incredible opportunity that could enable me to learn more about the business world, especially being in the headquarters site of a company such as Hilti.

Then, were you able to define a collaboration frame for your diploma final project?

As I presumed, it took quite a long time to set everything up properly but by the end of my time in Hilti the three collaborators involved in the project had been aligned. The project consisted on the growing strategy for a local NGO called Engineers Without Borders – Bolivia with the collaboration of Universidad Católica Boliviana “San Pablo” from La Paz and EScGD.

Tell me more about your time in South America..

I arrived to La Paz, Bolivia, on April 1st , 2015 with the intention of spending four months in field. The project was mainly a water and sanitation master plan for the rural communities in the Tarapaya river basin (in the department of Potosí).

My responsibilities were really broad and it was a real challenge for me because I had to start everything from scratch. I established contact and arranged meetings with local authorities, I visited 13 communities to evaluate their situation related to water and sanitation, mapped down the entire area with different criteria, designed the basic interventions and costs to answer needs found during the visits and I created a prioritization plan with KPI’s to define the order of implementation. I had to establish good communications with the research team both in Bolivia and in Barcelona in order to align the needs and requirements of everyone working on the project. I felt I was doing something useful for humanity. I felt it was worth it.

Other than that, I gave myself time to travel and to enjoy the amazing continent of South America. During my stay, I actually met with two other UNITECH travellers; Martin Ries (UNITECH Alumnus 2013) and Salvador Soler (UNITECH Alumnus 2006). It is always incredible how you end up meeting UNITECHers at the other side of the world, even when you least expect to.

And now, what are you currently doing?

I arrived back from South America on September 2015 and I still had to process the last results of the research. I submitted my project in mid February 2016, obtaining an outstanding grade from it. I was very satisfied with the results obtained but, most importantly, the impact it had and it will have on these rural areas in Bolivia. I had the chance to do my bit and I met some awesome people on my journey.

Additionally, I got the opportunity to keep collaborating with EScGD until the end of February in Barcelona, leading a research project about human rights to water and sanitation in Barcelona’s metropolitan area. This project focused mainly on vulnerable groups, a really interesting topic which has uncovered for me some unknown realities about my city.

Have you decided which will be your next step?

The options are broad and I know that I still have too much to experience and to learn. Nevertheless, I still feel I would like to further discover both cooperation initiatives as well as the corporate world. Right now, it seems the moment to see if everything I have learned during my Civil Engineering diploma, UNITECH, Loughborough, Hilti and Bolivia has made me a more complete individual. I firmly believe that I’ve enriched both my technical and ethics knowledge and now I feel I’m more prepared to face the challenges of today.

I really encourage anyone who has felt like me at some point in his/her professional career to try this experience. Having the opportunity to meet, understand, and develop a project which you see will have a clear impact on a civilization people in need is highly rewarding.

We might think we’ve seen everything, and it’s just a matter of exploring beyond our borders to see that there’s a lot more to discover. I believe this experience can give value to the corporate world in any of the industries we may end up working in, but most importantly it broadens our perspective, allowing us to think globally and become better individuals.

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