Racism & colonialism in engineering & aid.

The Institution of Structural Engineers has recently published guidance for engineers who wish to do aid work. It’s aimed at structural engineers, but is really applicable to any built environment design professionals. It is aimed at those who are thinking about volunteering in another country, working in emergency response, getting involved in a ‘development project’, or otherwise working in cultures and settings they are not so familiar with, but much of it is applicable to more conventional professional practice too.

I should disclose that I had a hand in writing the guidance. So clearly I agree with it. I’m sure there will be those who don’t. What the guidance says may well challenge people’s viewpoints of the world, of aidwork, and of their own role and identity in the work they do. I hope it really makes people think, and reflect. There should be no space for white saviour complex or white gaze in aid work, just as there should be no space for it in the design and construction of the built environment.

For anyone interested in reading further, and thinking more about the issues raised in the guidance, here is a collection of further articles and videos, including a number of highly relevant pieces that have been published since the killing of George Floyd and the global Black Lives Matter protests that have resulted. Together, they present an accessible but powerful selection of testimony and insight which explains why the IStructE guidance says what it does, and lots of scope for further reading and investigation by those who wish to.

If there’s something relevant I’ve missed off the list – do let me know and I’ll add it.

To read:

To listen to:

It is important to note that most (but not all) of the views and articles above come from those who are working in wealthy donor countries, or for large international organisations. The voices of those working in local community organisations, small NGOs, local government – the voices of those from the communities aid seeks to aid – are not widely published, and are not so easily heard, as strongly put in this piece, Who Speaks for the Global South Recipients of Aid?, by Themrise Khan.