By Kevin Howell

Engineers play an instrumental role not only in advancing society but also helping marginalized communities and people develop and move toward sustainability.

There’s no shortage of work to be done. Nearly half the world population—more than 3 billion people—live in poverty and lack consistent access to food, water, healthcare, energy, and technology.

Engineers—especially those involved in humanitarian engineering—help ease the effects of poverty and stimulate economic growth. A recent study by the Royal Academy of Engineering found a direct correlation between engineering and economic development.

“Engineers have historically played an important role in driving economic and social development, and continue to do so…,” Dr. Hayaatun Sillem, Deputy CEO at Royal Academy of Engineering, said of the study. “For the first time, this report shows that there is a direct link between engineering capability and economic development across the world.”

Here are a few ways engineers are helping poor communities.


Many of the world’s least developed countries depend on agriculture for survival and to sustain their economies. Several countries—especially those in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and the South Pacific Islands—depend on a single agricultural export, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN.

A group of engineering students is helping a community in Nicaragua improve its food supply and fight the effects of drought. Using a $2,300 grant from EPICs in IEEE, students are working with a non-profit organization to test a prototype water monitoring system and develop bio-intensive garden beds to find local solutions to agricultural problems.

Once the system is operational, students will demonstrate their findings to the rest of the region.


For many people, hot water is a luxury they can’t access. But for a children’s home in South Africa, it became a reality, thanks to a group of IEEE members.

Aided by an EPICS in IEEE grant, the engineers along with two NGOs implemented a solar hot-water system in the children’s home. The project not only provided a need for the home but also had an educational aspect, as local high school students served on the project.

Students conducted an energy audit and helped build solar panels from solar cells and a model solar water geyser.


Improving access to technology and implementing it in education are vital to a nation’s growth. IEEE members in Colombia are doing both.

The IEEE Colombia Section partnered with university students to teach low-income high school students basic concepts of electronics and photovoltaic systems. With an EPICS grant, the team is helping the students create a prototype solar charger that will power cell phones and other electronics.

As poverty continues to be a global issue, engineers across the world are doing their part to ease the effects. Not only is their work fueling economic growth, it’s also helping improve the lives of individuals in poor communities.

Looking for a career in humanitarian engineering and helping change lives for the better? EPICS in IEEE can help you get started on a project that impacts a local community. Find out more about the program.