The common model for engineers’ engagement in philanthropic development work is to find a community with a technical need, design the solution, raise funds for the solution, construct the solution, and hand the solution over to the community. While this approach has yielded many completed projects around the world, there are limits to the efficacy, sustainability, and long-term enabling potential to this approach. The Dayton Service Engineering Collaborative, or DSEC, takes an alternative approach to philanthropic community development which is demonstrated via a case study in bringing clean water for drinking and agricultural purposes to Caliche, Honduras.

Caliche, an impoverished village of approximately 350 people located in central Honduras, had access to a mountain spring as a source of water until a 2009 earthquake sent the spring’s flow underground. As of late 2011, the village did not have a clean source of drinking water, utilizing collected rainwater and surface water ponds for all of their water needs. Waterborne illness and malady was prevalent, with severe consequences to the young and the elderly. After a survey of the geography, the resources of the local people, and partner institutions, a community-scale biosand filtration system with requisite delivery structures was proposed, accepted, and brought to design fruition.

Design and implementation of a solution to the technical problem of water delivery and treatment, while rigorous and complex, is not out of the realm of practice for technical groups working in communities such as Caliche. The innovation in this project, however, was the “lead from behind” approach in the context of a best practice called asset-based community development. A multi-partner initiative led first and foremost by the community leadership, and through local institutions and power structures, was managed from distance. In addition to DSEC, partners in this project included a multi-national non-governmental organization (NGO), a financial investor, the Honduran government, several missionaries, the Caliche Water Council, a local landowner, the Caliche leadership known as the Patronado, and the local church. DSEC provided technical leadership and project oversight, ensuring that not only were the technical obstacles overcome, but that the community and local authorities were empowered to tackle future development projects with independent vision. It is through this enabling approach that impact beyond the immediate project is attained, and where DSEC believes the leadership potential of the engineer is fully realized.

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