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Can you take on today's strategic challenges?


At the launch of the Royal Society of Arts' new project to deliver water and sanitation to the world's poorest regions, consultant Himanshu Parikh highlighted that over the next few decades the delivery of infrastructure to developing countries will be the biggest investment and the greatest challenge for the world.

The scale of the challenge is immense. Parikh pointed out that some 80% of the developing world still lives without adequate water and sanitation.

Yet he also highlighted the transformation that delivering such basic amenities to societies can bring - serious disease reduces, education becomes possible and income increases.

As NCE previewed last week, Parikh's goal is to rid the world of its slums, and the disease and deprivation that accompany them. But not through charitable hand-outs, rather through mutual social and commercial benefit.

He reckons that for a few hundred pounds the lives of families could be transformed.

Precisely how this will be funded and made to work is still being tossed around, but Parikh is clear about one thing - the civil engineering role must start now.

Absolutely. Unless engineering professionals are involved to shape and drive this challenge right at the start it will fail.

But the crucial thing for me is that to succeed in this kind of challenge the profession will have to rekindle some of its once prized daring and entrepreneurship.

It is in many ways ironic that we so often hear modern civil engineers bemoaning their slide down the social status scale since the days of Brunel and Bazalgette. Certainly it is true that this has happened. But as Parikh points out, these engineers succeeded because they were not limited only by concerns with building infrastructure.

The great engineers we now admire were revered by the public and politicians of their day because they delivered solutions to the problems that the power brokers had not realised were the problems.

It is a concept that the modern profession seems unable to embrace. There are exceptions of course, but in general we have become so focused on the detail and delivery of solutions that we have consciously or unconsciously neglected our role in shaping the questions.

So rather than take on the great opportunity to influence, we have become reactive. We aspire to be leaders in society, capable of shaping our environment, but in reality we have become far too comfortable following instructions.

As with most things in life, good leadership will win the day. Civil engineers must start to get to grips with the fact that the profession can influence - if not control - its destiny.

Challenges such as the eradication of poverty and slums in the developing world may seem like a tough brief. But as a profession we have been here before and succeeded in our part of the world.

Modern civil engineers must realise that the profession has a very bright future, but it is not necessarily going to be outside your front door. There will be much to do, but the reality is that only the daring, the adventurous, can expect to really succeed.

The question is, are you up for it? And if you are, is you employer?

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