What's New at Engineers Without Borders

Mar 12 2013 @ 11:41

The EWBers: Round 2!

For the second instalment of "The EWBers" we've interviewed long-time member/volunteer/staff/change-making extraordinaire Robin Farnworth!

When I hear the term "long-time EWBer" there are many names that jump to mind and Robin Farnworth is definitely at the top of the list. After attending the first EWB conference in 2002, Robin struck out on a path to create change. One of her first pit stops with EWB was running a pilot partnership with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture in Ghana paving the way for the first round of Junior Fellows to work on agricultural extension. Along the way she supported hundreds of volunteers as Director of Overseas Sending and set the tone for what it meant to be a social change leader. Now, Robin is working with One Acre Fund in Nairobi on the “Talent” side of things. Let’s dive right in!



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

I am going to start this interview by being incredibly cliché. It is the impact that we have in EWB, and the people that we work with to create it. Being a part of that is an amazing opportunity. Someone asked me once if I ever questioned whether we were doing the right thing (i.e. having real positive impact). I said - yes! - of course I question it! So does everyone else. And given that I work with people way smarter than me, I know that when we learn how we can do better, we will change to do so. I had full trust in my colleagues that together we would figure out how to make the most meaningful change.

Q: What did you do with the National Office?

After a year in Northern Ghana as an African Program Staff, I was lucky to be hired as one of the Directors of West Africa Programs. In that role, I managed many of the APS, oversaw the JF program in West Africa, created and maintained relationships with our partner organizations and crafted strategy. It became quite clear that what I loved best and what I did best was the people side of things. So, after a few years, I shifted to working solely on the people side of our African Programs from Toronto. I recruited, hired, trained and supported our amazing African Programs staff, and took on more people-related projects later on as well, such as the Values re-visiting and the Social Change Fellowship program.

Q: What drew you to those roles?

Initially, the draw to return to West Africa after my placement was a feeling that I had made many mistakes, and that through this role I could help the organization learn from them and do better. I had also learned on my placement that I loved coaching and facilitating and managing JFs, and this was a chance to do that for APS. Over the next few years in West Africa, I learned that I was spending 90% of my brain time on people issues, not because it was necessarily the most important, but because it was/is what I loved. Needless to say, others were having to pick up the slack on the strategy and direction questions, and it made sense to shift to a 100% people-focused role. While it was difficult to admit I was failing at something, it was also super empowering. Others in the organisation saw that I had so much more potential in a different role. A wonderful example of investing in people, and I feel so grateful for that opportunity.

Q: What was your biggest challenge working at the National Office?

Time - I know that this isn't a surprise to anyone or very original. But I am not talking about overworking or too many hours or work-life balance and burnout. I think that is oversimplifying. EWB is an organisation where you have the freedom (and responsibility) to envision ambitious and exciting outcomes for your work. You should, and want to, support others in their work as well. There is always more that you could do, and really want to do! I know that I dropped balls as I strove to do it all, especially the things that were less interesting or just really difficult. And, working on the people side, that means that I was letting people down. Coming to terms with not being able to do it all, and making mistakes in my prioritization along the way, was really difficult. But in terms of hours, I was in my 20's and happy to give it all!

Q: How has it impacted your career?

I am not exaggerating when I say that in the last 15 years, my experiences with EWB have been the major force that has shaped my career. During University, I was pretty confident I wanted to do R&D for an engineering company in Vancouver that did good stuff for the planet. Now I am working on the Talent Team in an organisation that helps very poor rural farmers make more money in Kenya. A shift in sector, function and geography! Add to that the skills and approaches that I have had the opportunity to develop, and it was an incredibly formative experience.

Q: You are now on the Talent Team for One Acre Fund. What does the future hold for you as an EWB member/alumni?

One Acre Fund and EWB have a lot in common with each other, in terms of values and people. The similarities to EWB were a big part of what drew me to One Acre Fund, and I also enjoy the differences. I think I am learning things now that can add to EWB, and I know that myself and others in One Acre Fund have already and will continue to turn to EWB for expertise. Being linked to EWB adds value to my work, and I am always open to small projects and requests that come from EWBers. On the social side, the EWB network is the strongest that I am a part of. I enjoy connecting with new and old members...so consider that an open invite for any EWBer passing through Nairobi!

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At Engineers Without Borders Canada, we’re incredibly proud to have Robin as an ‘EWBer’. Her commitment to investing in people and creating systemic change through that investment is a tribute to EWB. We are currently hiring for positions at our National Office in Toronto Canada. We seek smart problem solvers from diverse backgrounds with exceptional leadership potential and high learning agility.

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