What's New at Engineers Without Borders

Nov 20 2012 @ 11:53

The EWBers: Louis Dorval on Life Changes and “Skinned Chiefs”

Over the past ten years of learning and growing at EWB Canada, we’ve changed our structure, countries of operation, strategy and even our vision, but one thing we’ve never changed is our deep commitment to investing in people. We have a tremendous and successful track record building and developing change leaders. We’re pretty proud of them.

Their impact is immeasurable, and we see it as a huge part of our impact as an organization. They are out in the world interacting with people and embodying core EWB values and attitudes such as continuous learning, humility, justice, and a commitment to systemic change (sound good? We happen to have some opportunities if you’re interested in joining the team in Canada or Africa).

Today, we’re happy to launch a new blog series called “The EWBers”, where we’ll interview some of these leaders (past and present), illustrating the ripple effect they’re having in the world. First up, 12-year veteran and EWB board member Louis Dorval.

Q: You've been an EWB member for 12 years - what motivated you to maintain your connection to the organization for so long?

I've been a member since November 2000 - when I joined the founding team of the McGill University chapter.

Like many EWBers, I've remained involved with the organization over the year for many reasons:

  1. Our values are aligned. EWB believes in equal opportunity for everyone. I believe in that too. EWB believes that Canadians have the power to influence the current, unfair systems in our world, I believe in that too. EWB believes that innovations - of different natures - are an effective way to disrupt these systems, I believe in that too.
  2. The people are great. In no other organization have I met this high a concentration of driven, talented and caring people. EWB is truly unique in its sector and beyond, and in a class of its own in terms of unlocking human potential.
  3. Ambitions. Every year since I've joined the organization, we've been asking ourselves "how can we do twice as much this year as we did last year". This kind of ambition is naive, but it's also exciting and frankly necessary given our mission.

Q: Why did you decide to become an African Program Staff (APS)? What did you do/focus on?

Even though I graduated from mechanical engineering, I didn't see myself designing better car technology or even wind turbines. I wanted help shape human systems and becoming an APS offered me a level of responsibility and an opportunity for impact that was unmatched in any other organisation. And to be honest, that's what all of my closest EWB friends were doing, so I knew we would have an amazing pre-departure training!

My first job description overseas was to sell a few treadle pumps, decrease the cost of manufacturing fuel-efficient stoves and chose a low-cost wind turbine design for small coastal communities in Southern Ghana. None of these really worked out and I ended up trying to teach farmer groups to "farm as a business" in Northern Ghana.

Q: What was your biggest realization as an APS?

Success is difficult to come by and difficult to measure. But when you're successful, it feels better than anything else you've ever felt. An an “average” EWB opportunity in Africa is unlike anything I’ve ever heard of before. The responsibilities - implicit and explicit - are greater than anyone can accomplish, lots of freedom, great colleagues to get help from, and a partner organization that's achieving incredible things with very limited resources.

Q: What was your biggest challenge?

The size and complexity of the issues we face, and our limited power to influence things. It puts INCREDIBLE pressure on our staff to find "high-leverage points" to impact the systems that allow poverty to persist. “Think ‘til your head hurts, and think some more” - that’s how we described this challenge. Plus, EWB’s work is a lot more complex than “drill a well” - we’re working to change very human systems. It takes time and staying motivated can be difficult.

Q: Your biggest accomplishment?

On myself - I've peeled many layers of a very complex problem and it’s made me much more effective as an influencer. I still approach challenges the same way, in my work and my life.

On my colleagues, when in a leadership position - I think I've managed to motivate and push many of my colleagues to achieve successes they would have never thought possible.

On systemic change in Africa - my colleagues and I piloted innovations that are still being used by a number of districts and farmer groups.

Q: What's the greatest impact that your involvement in EWB has had on you personally.

It opened my eyes to one of our world's most important and pressing problems and more importantly, an effective vehicle to having an impact.

Q: We're guessing there was at least one "interesting" incident during your placement - what's your "I can't believe that happened" memory?

I joined the "sh*t in your pants club" while dealing with a particularly bad bout of Malaria. Not my best moment... I also can't believe one of my colleagues Luke Brown became a “skinned chief” in Tamale (want to know what a “skinned chief” is? We’ll tell you when you apply for one of EWB’s exciting opportunities in Canada and Africa).

Q: How has it impacted your career? Your perspective?

In every way possible. I now define my career objective as maximizing my impact on opportunities for people in Africa. That would have never been the case without EWB.

Q: You're now an EWB board member and you're running your own venture - what does the future hold for you as an EWB member?

I'll be moving back to West Africa with my family in roughly 5 years to continue to innovate in the poverty-reduction space and invest in other promising innovations. In short, I'll be continuing my EWB work.

At Engineers Without Borders Canada, we’re incredibly proud to have Louis as an ‘EWBer’. His commitment to impact and continued investment in systemic change is characteristic of many EWB leaders. We are currently hiring for positions in our African and Canadian Ventures as well as at our National Office in Toronto Canada. We seek smart problem solvers from diverse backgrounds with exceptional leadership potential and high learning agility.

In Canada

In Africa


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