November 29, 2017

Impact.Engineered: Honoring the Technologists in Social Innovation

Everyone deserves the benefit of good engineering. But to hone their craft in the social sector, engineers need to connect, share insights, get inspired, and celebrate good work. Opportunities for those connections are scarce. For three days in October in New York City, however, Impact.Engineered changed that. Engineering for Change (E4C) and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) co-hosted the event, a forum and celebration that recognized and amplified the role engineers play in solving global challenges.

The event reflected its hosts’ ideals, which are really the ideals of many institutions in the sector. Impact.Engineerd honored the champions of engineering-driven social innovation. And it defined “champions” as inclusively as possible, from Google and Tesla to lean design firms and fledgling startups in India and Africa.

Chantal Line Carpentier, Chief of the UN Conference on Trade and Development in New York, explained the event through the lens of the Sustainable Development Goals.

“The SDGs are not UN goals, they are ‘our goals,’ as in we, the people. No one nation, NGO, company or individual will achieve the SDGs alone, but together, through concerted effort and solidarity, we can.

“Engineers, and especially Engineering for change, are key to this success. This is a moonshot project (or several moonshots) and your community is one of the best prepared to answer that call. Achieving the SDGs will require multi-disciplinary and integrated  approaches to ensure that as we strive to achieve one or two inter-related goals we do not harm to the other 15 goals,” Dr. Carpentier says.

Since our beta launch in 2009, E4C has been building tools to make engineering for global development more efficient. We’re educating the people who work in the sector and who are on the edges waiting for the chance to make their first foray in. The evidence was reflected in the workshops and panel discussions that took place at Impact.Engineered.

Our work deepens an already mature field. Our Research Fellows compile and standardize data on the world’s essential technologies for underserved communities. Six of them traveled to Impact.Engineered to interview winners of ASME’s Innovation Showcase. They recorded details about the winning teams’ prototypes and fully developed products, preparing entries for the Solutions Library of the newest technologies in this sector.

Our news and webinars have convened the full spectrum of voices in this sector, from the people who use technology for development to engineering students, CEOs of tiny hardware startups and representatives of non-profits, NGOs, governments and multinationals. We continued to make matches at Impact.Engineered. E4C’s President Iana Aranda moderated a deeply diverse panel of people from lines of work that are as far apart from one another as is possible while remaining within the sector of technology for global development. The panelists were Fausto Marcigot from PayGo, a Kenyan startup that places its smart meters on propane tanks; Benjamin Kumpf at the UN Development Programme’s Innovation Facility, and Vivas Kumar, a battery supply chain specialist at Tesla.

Awarding Engineering Rigor & Creativity

For our inaugural event, E4C and ASME spotlighted people and organizations that have been recommended for inclusion in our programs and platforms. These award winners have demonstrated a commitment to innovation, quality, rigor and impact in engineering for global development. Our goal is to publicly recognize these organizations and their work.

The awards pulled the titans of our sector away from their daily schedules to offer a chance for reflection, and to acknowledge them for their efforts. Often their achievements drift by in obscurity, overshadowed by the latest phones, smart watches and other lifestyle technologies that capture international headlines. But these leaders in technology for social good need their moment in our media and in our consciousness. They inspire us and encourage us to be better.

The awards also serve as an open letter that reminds the recipients and their peers that the work is far from finished.

“Hosting conversations around the future interplay between tech and social welfare is time and money well spent,” says Noel Wilson, the creative director at Catapult Design who participated in the event. “I think this was a good start to a conversation that will have to go much deeper if we are all going to contribute to our common survival effectively as trained professionals.”

Impact.Engineered honored innovators in four categories:

  • Hardware Trailblazer
  • Women Leading in Technology and Impact
  • Connecting the Unconnected
  • Corporate Philanthropy Advancing the Sustainable Development Goals

Hardware Trailblazer

Great hardware starts with a sketch, puts the user at the center of the design, requires many iterations and prototypes and lots of perseverance. This award went to companies that displayed passion, creativity and impact .  recognizing progress at all stages of the product development cycle.

Sign-IO (ISHOW Finalist Fan Vote)

Krista Donaldson, CEO of the design and engineering firm D-Rev, accepted the Hardware Trailblazers Award. Brilliance, the firm’s robust, low-cost phototherapy device for newborns has a home in our Solutions Library, and we have published about D-Rev’s work often on this site.

Please see: What it takes to develop a prototype into a product, and The clinical trial conundrum: Why implementation studies, not RCTs, are sometimes best for medical devices

“I’d like to congratulate ASME and Engineering for Change. You have elevated the field of engineering to promote global citizenship and problem solving. You truly are the future of engineering,” Dr. Donaldson says in her acceptance speech. Please see the video below.

Women Leading in Technology and Impact

One day, this won’t be its own category anymore. For now, we believe it’s important to spotlight not just the engineers and specialists, but the women engineers and specialists, committed to enabling technology for good. We applaud those who have excelled in the sector, and hope this award demonstrates to other women in our community and those aspiring to be in it that their hard work does not go unrecognized.


Mitchell Baker, Mozilla Foundation
Elaine Weidman-Grunewald, Ericsson
Linda Raftree, Independent Consultant;

Convener: Tech Salon NYC and MERL Tech

“As Engineering for Change outlines in its manifesto, providing new ways of thinking is a key step in solving the world’s problems, from poverty and onward,” Mitchell Baker, Executive Chairwoman of Mozilla and co-founder of the Mozilla Project to support the open Web, says in her acceptance speech.

“I’m particularly honored, because like Mozilla, Engineering for Change focuses on mobilizing a community to make a change. And building community, and civic discourse and greater groups of people solving problems together is a key step forward,” Ms. Baker says. “I look forward to the day when we have inclusive practices and women and other groups don’t need special recognition, but since we’re not there yet, I’m honored by your thinking of me today,” Ms. Baker says. Please see the video below.

“Within Ericsson, one of the initiatives that I’ve been driving is our company’s purpose, to make sure that we actually drive technology to be a force for good in the world. The possibilities are endless in terms of what technology can bring for sustainable development,” Elaine Weidman-Grunewald, Chief Sustainability and Public Affairs Officer at Ericsson, says in her acceptance speech. Please the video below.

Connecting the Unconnected

Nearly half of the world’s population, almost 4 billion people, have no Internet access. No market prices, no educational content, no news, no global perspective. This award celebrates organizations that are devoted to connecting the unconnected, building infrastructure and solutions to help the underserved participate and be heard.

World Possible

Robert Marsh, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Inveneo, received the award on the stage at Impact.Engineered. “When [I was] told about the event, I said I might not be there because I’ll be in Liberia connected the unconnected,” Dr. Marsh said.

Corporate Philanthropy Advancing the Sustainable Development Goals

Achieving the SDGs requires businesses and communities to work together to solve society’s biggest challenges — requiring organizations and capital that understand and value the potential of technology-based solutions. Investing in impact means committing to patient capital, evolving sector understanding and disciplined evaluation. This award celebrates the dedication and progressive agenda of corporate foundations committed to engineering a better future for all.

Siemens Stiftung

Tips for Startups Overheard in Workshops

Three days of workshops before, during and after the forum instructed startup founders and engineers developing prototypes in how to navigate potential pitfalls. Success in hardware entrepreneurship is notoriously difficult, but the education and relationships built through Impact.Engineered and its hosting organizations can make a difference. This is some of the advice overheard and tweeted.

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