Russel C. Jones, Ph.D., P.E.


Committee on Capacity Building

World Federation of Engineering Organizations



Economic development for developing countries can be effectively stimulated by building the technical capacity of their workforce, through quality engineering education programs. A competent technical workforce base can then provide several paths to economic development: attraction of technically oriented multi-national companies, who can invest effectively in the developing country once there is a cadre of qualified local employees available; effective utilization of foreign aid funds, providing a legacy of appropriate infrastructure projects and technically competent people to operate and maintain them; and small business startups by technically competent entrepreneurs. Both UNESCO and the World Federation of Engineering Organizations are currently actively engaged in technical capacity building in developing countries, and their efforts will be reported in this presentation.

High quality engineering education is a necessary forerunner to such economic development; and quality assurance systems such as peer review based accreditation are needed to promote such high quality education programs. Such quality assurance systems can then provide the basis for cross-border recognition systems, permitting the flow of services and goods across national boundaries. This presentation provides the rationale for quality assurance systems in promoting effective technical capacity building for economic development, and reports on one interesting effort currently underway (“The Engineer of the Americas ”).        



In the pursuit of a more secure, stable and sustainable world, developing countries seek to enhance their human, institutional and infrastructure capacity.  To do so they need a solid base of technologically prepared people in order to effectively improve their economies and quality of life. Such a base of qualified engineers and technologists will facilitate the infusion of foreign capital through attraction of multinational companies to invest in the developing country, assist in making the most of foreign aid funds, and provide a basis for business development by local entrepreneurs. In a coordinated approach, UNESCO and the World Federation of Engineering Organizations are mounting major efforts at technical capacity building in developing countries.


The need

“Let me challenge all of you to help mobilize global science and technology to tackle the interlocking crises of hunger, disease, environmental degradation and conflict that are holding back the developing world.” - Kofi Annan, United Nations, 2002

“We need to encourage international commitments to promote the kind of engineering and technology that contributes to lasting development around the world.” - Koichiro Matsuura, UNESCO, 2000

Capacity building is a dedication to the strengthening of economies, governments, institutions and individuals through education, training, mentoring, and the infusion of resources.  Capacity building aims at developing secure, stable, and sustainable structures, systems and organizations, with a particular emphasis on using motivation and inspiration for people to improve their lives.


Previous efforts

In a detailed study of the results of foreign aid to developing countries over the past several decades, William Easterly concludes, in his book “The Elusive Quest for Growth” (MIT Press, 2002): 

        Previous efforts have tried to use foreign aid, investment in machines, fostering education at the primary and secondary levels, controlling population growth, and giving loans and debt relief conditional on reforms to stimulate the economic growth that would allow these countries to move toward self sufficiency

        all of these efforts over the past few decades have failed to lead to the desired economic growth

        these massive and expensive efforts have failed because they did not hit the fundamental human behavioral chord that “people respond to incentives”

Having concluded that past efforts at stimulating economic growth in developing countries have failed, Easterly outlines what he thinks would work. He argues that there are two areas that can likely lead to the desired economic growth in developing countries, and can lead them toward economic self sufficiency:

        utilization of advanced technologies, and

        education that leads to high skills in technological areas


What outcomes are desired

         Technical capability is needed for developing countries to engage effectively in the global economy.

 A base of qualified engineers and technologists will facilitate the infusion of foreign capital through attraction of multinational companies to invest in the developing country

         Indigenous science and technology capacity is needed to insure that international aid funds are utilized effectively and efficiently –  for initial project implementation, for long-term operation and maintenance, and for the development of capacity to do future projects.

An engineering approach serves to reduce brain-drain, showing people that they can partner with donor nations in helping build their own homelands.

         In order to stimulate job formation, a technical workforce pool is needed, made up of people who are specifically educated and prepared to engage in entrepreneurial startup efforts that meet local needs

 An engineering approach, when coupled with entrepreneurship, results in societal as well as personal benefits.

Two complementary approaches are being pursued in parallel to achieve these desired outcomes:

         UNESCO “Engineering for a Better World” proposal, to enhance engineering programs within that organization

         WFEO Committee on Capacity Building , to provide an action oriented program for forward motion


UNESCO plans for capacity building

In 2003, the United States of America rejoined UNESCO after an absence of 18 years. The US government indicated to UNESCO that it wanted a significant portion of the increased funds that it would provide to its budget to be allocated to enhancing its programs in engineering and engineering education. A major proposal on how to mount an enhanced program, entitled “Engineering for a Better World”, has been developed by the US engineering community and UNESCO’s engineering staff and submitted to UNESCO for consideration.

The overall objectives of the “Engineering for a Better World” proposal are to strengthen human and institutional technical capacity in developing countries, to promote engineering to young people, and to provide an interactive and catalytic role for the application of engineering and technological resources to sustainable economic and social development and poverty eradication. There is specific reference to the Millennium Development Goals of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, ensuring environmental sustainability, promoting gender equity and empowering women, and developing global partnerships for development.

The program strategy to promote human and institutional capacity building in engineering will focus on the need for:

·        strengthening engineering education, training and continued professional development;

·        standards, quality assurance and accreditation;

·        development of curricula, learning and teaching materials and methods;

·        distance and interactive learning (including virtual universities and libraries);

·        development of engineering ethics and codes of practice;

·        promotion and public understanding of engineering and technology;

·        development of indicators, information and communication systems for engineering;

·        addressing women and gender issues in engineering and technology;

·        inter-university and institutional cooperation, including fellowships;

·        development of engineering and technology policy and planning to promote the above.

The “Engineering for a Better World” proposal is currently before the UNESCO organization for funding consideration, with a level of $2.5-million per year requested for each of the next six years.


WFEO Standing Committee on Capacity Building  

Motivated by a renewed interest in engineering and engineering education at UNESCO, at least partially driven by the decision of the United States of America to rejoin UNESCO after an 18 year absence, the Word Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO) Moved in October 2003 to establish a new Standing Committee on Capacity Building, with the United States as the host of the international organization. The activities of the new Committee will include:

The WFEO Committee on Capacity Building , while hosted in the United States by the American Association of Engineering Societies, is an international committee consisting of members from both developing and developed countries. Members are currently being nominated by the some 80 member organizations of WFEO. A first meeting of the Committee on Capacity Building – a planning conference – was held in June 2004, in Washington DC .

It is anticipated that the WFEO Committee on Capacity Building will develop significant financial resources outside the UNESCO structure, and will operate programs which synergistically support the activities within the “Engineering for a Better World” program within UNESCO. To date some $50,000 of funds provided by the National Science Foundation have been allocated for startup activities of the WFEO effort, including the June planning meeting of the Committee. It is anticipated that at steady state, the activities listed above will require a support level of approximately $500,000 per year – with the bulk of the activities heavily supported by volunteer time and effort of the millions of engineers represented by the WFEO member country organizations.

“Engineering for a Better World” is a call to action from the United Nations. The WFEO Committee on Capacity Building is the response of the engineering profession throughout the world in the form of a strategic action agenda.


Engineer of the Americas

One major early project of the WFEO Committee on Capacity Building is pursuit of “The Engineer of the Americas ” – an effort at enhancing engineering education throughout the Western Hemisphere . The concept was originated at a major conference in Brazil in 2003. Elements include:

         Generate a technical work force that stimulates the regional economy and that of each country in the Hemisphere (attract multinational companies, use aid funds effectively, stimulate entrepreneurship)

         Foster professional mobility of well qualified engineers within the Hemisphere (through national and regional accreditation, mutual recognition agreements, and eventually a Hemisphere Accord)

Steps in the process of promoting the Engineer of the Americas include:

         Present at UPADI 2004 in Mexico City in September

         Highlight at ICEE 2004 in Florida in October

         Continue grass roots effort (enhance engineering education, establish accreditation systems, …)

         Pursue a top down approach similar to the “Bologna Declaration” approach taken in Europe (harmonization of higher education programs, quality assurance systems)

         Provide input for a meeting at the ministerial level to pursue these concepts

         Convene a follow-up conference, similar to the 2003 Brazil meeting, to pursue the implementation of the project



Developing countries need to be taught how to fish, rather than continually having fish provided to them by the developed world.

State-of-the-art science and technology capacity must be built in developing countries if they are to be able to compete effectively in the global economy. A well-educated technical workforce pool must be in place in a developing country before technology-based multinational companies will be attracted to make investments there in production facilities and other areas. The day is past when such companies would simply introduce expatriates from developed countries to attempt such operations. Current political and economic realities require that a well-educated and trained indigenous workforce is needed to sustain technically based industrial operations in developing countries.

A technical workforce pool is also needed to fuel entrepreneurial startup efforts that meet local needs. Well-educated engineers and scientists in developing countries will find appropriate ways to extend R&D results to marketable products and services responsive to local needs – to their personal economic benefits as well as to the economic benefit of their countries. Further development of such entrepreneurial startups can lead to products and services that profitably extend to regional markets, and eventually global markets.

Indigenous science and technology capacity is also needed in developing countries to assure that international aid funds sent there are utilized effectively and efficiently – both for initial project implementation and for long term operation and maintenance. Too often in the past, major projects in developing countries have failed to meet desired and designed objectives because there is not a local base of technically qualified people to assist in implementation in ways that are compatible with the local culture and environment.

Thus it is clear that developing countries need their own indigenous technological expertise. They cannot afford to buy it from developed countries, and even when technical expertise from developed countries is provided by external funding it is often ineffective in appropriately responding to local needs and constraints. Capacity building of technical expertise in developing countries is thus key to enhancing their ability to become economically self-sufficient.