Moshe Kam IEEE President
 
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Appointment of Dr. Moshe Kam to Dean, Newark College of Engineering
3 April, 2014

ENGINEERING AS A LIBERAL ART: an address to the Edinburgh International Cultural Summit (The Debating Chamber, Scottish Parliament; Edinburgh, Scotland; 14 August 2012)
14 August, 2012

Comments during the dedication of an IEEE Milestone on the World’s First Reliable High Voltage Power Fuse, 1909 (3 August 2012, Chicago, IL, USA)
3 August, 2012

Comments at the Dedication of the IEEE Milestone Mainline Electrification of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, 1895 (21 June 2012, Baltimore, MD)
9 July, 2012

Comments at the installation of the Iota Lambda Chapter of Eta Kappa Nu at the University of Hong Kong (13 January 2012)
13 January, 2012

Comments at the Unveiling of the IEEE Milestone on the Apollo Guidance Computer, Cambridge, MA
13 December, 2011

Roger Pollard (1 June 1946 - 3 December 2011)
4 December, 2011

As 2011 draws to a close...
3 December, 2011

Member Letter – U.S. Hurricane Irene/Floods
10 September, 2011

Message to IEEE Volunteers and Members in Japan
14 March, 2011

It Is About Value (Not About Price)
11 February, 2011

A Small Miracle in Hyderabad
27 January, 2011

So you are traveling a lot, eh?
17 January, 2011

How Should We Proceed with IEEE’s Humanitarian Efforts?
1 January, 2011

IEEE and Haiti
20 January, 2010

A Most Impressive Quasquicentennial in Hyderabad
7 January, 2010

My New Year Resolution - Seeking Less Experienced Volunteers
2 January, 2010

Mail about IEEE Spectrum article - Powerless in Gaza
26 December, 2009

The list of new IEEE Fellows is out
15 December, 2009

In praise of three tough guys from Trinidad
25 November, 2009

Who will be the 50th President of IEEE?
23 November, 2009

Smart Grid and Standards Search - the Board of Directors approves new initiatives
22 November, 2009

Globalization and Music - a Visit to the IEEE France Section
12 November, 2009

Moshe Kam elected IEEE 2010 President-Elect
7 October, 2009

 

How Should We Proceed with IEEE’s Humanitarian Efforts?

The end of 2010 has seen a rather long and comprehensive e-mail discussion between IEEE volunteer leaders on the desired direction of IEEE’s humanitarian efforts. This subject turned out to evoke strong reactions from our volunteers, and the ensuing debate suggested several different paths that we may consider for our future in this arena.

IEEE has contributed to humanitarian efforts almost from the moment of its inception. Much of what we publish and discuss in our journals and in our conferences is methodology devised to improve human welfare. When one thinks of the impact of rural electrification or wireless communication on society, it is clear that our work has strong impact on the lives of people of all economic classes, and that some of our efforts can be labeled humanitarian without any qualification. Providing technical support for rural electrification resulted in significant improvement in safety, hygiene, healthcare and education for millions. Providing technical and business models for wireless communication provided tangible benefits to tens of thousands of communities in poor areas in Asia and Africa. These benefits included “communicating with distant family members; making it easier to find employment opportunities; having more options during emergency situations; enabling farmers to check prices in different markets before selling produce; and eventually allowing the quick and easy transfer of funds” [1].

In the last couple of years, some of our volunteers have been seeking a more active role for IEEE in the humanitarian arena. In their view, the contributions of IEEE to improvement of the human condition have been mostly indirect – IEEE disseminates the technology, but implementation of the technology for the benefit of humanity is left to others. These volunteers sought more direct involvement of IEEE in humanitarian activities – including, participation in the technology transfer process that moves scientific progress from the paper in the journal to the appliance in the field. These volunteers want to see IEEE engaged in (1) development of specific derivatives of the technology specialized for the needs of under-privileged societies; (2) related demonstration projects for industry and government; and (3) collaboration with other organizations in global humanitarian efforts. The idea is that these efforts will be enriched by the experience and hands-on work of our volunteers. Examples of ongoing IEEE efforts that meet these objectives are the IEEE Humanitarian Technology Challenge, the IEEE Engineering Projects in Community Service, and the recent collaboration of IEEE with ASME and others on the project Engineering for Change.  In addition we participate in a project called Water for the World, which had our volunteers assisting in water supply projects in India, Bangladesh, Nicaragua and Ghana.   

One of the challenges is that we are now called to invest and/or raise significant financial resources for activities that almost by their definition are unlikely to provide IEEE with financial return on investment. While we already engage in many activities that are meant for the good of the profession and society at large (and not for the good of our balance sheet), our ability to engage in such activities is not unlimited – and it is not clear how much we can or should invest in humanitarian efforts. It is also not immediately clear where in the hierarchy of our development and outreach needs we should place the humanitarian projects. Are they more or less important than expanding IEEE into new technical areas? improving the quality of the interfaces of XPLORE? investing in public visibility? pre-university education?

Not less important is the question of what exactly we would do once we defined the scope of our involvement. In the mind of some of our volunteers, the most important aspect of our humanitarian efforts should be immediate impact in the field. These volunteers want to see all or almost all of our humanitarian investments spent on short term projects for the needy, with visible and tangible outcomes. Other volunteers believe that better and more effective long-term impact would be achieved if we focus on higher-level activities such as consolidating all humanitarian efforts by professional associations under one roof; providing volunteers with infrastructure to describe and disseminate their humanitarian project objectives and proposed solutions; and investigating, developing and testing business models for enterprises such as off-grid power generation or water resource management in arid areas. (In fact the most recent debate on IEEE’s humanitarian efforts was prompted by a New York Times article on the use of off-grid renewable power in Africa [2].)

The matter is further complicated by the fact that we do not have direct experience in managing large scale humanitarian activities within IEEE, and that we do not have an organizational unit that focuses on them (our humanitarian activities were managed so far by ad hoc committees). As always we hear from members and volunteers who are very passionate about specific projects “near and dear to their hearts” but not necessarily conducive to the development of a long term IEEE policy and strategy in this area.

Our Board of Directors would certainly need to address this matter in 2011. In the meantime if you, the reader of this column, have an opinion or advice, please use the “contact” feature on this site to let us know what you think.

References

[1] Rhett Butler: Cell phones may help “save” Africa, on line: http://news.mongabay.com/2005/0712-rhett_butler.html .

[2] Elizabeth Rosenthal: African Huts Far From the Grid Glow With Renewable Power, the New York Times, 25 December 2010, on-line: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/25/science/earth/25fossil.html

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Moshe Kam ( m.kam@ieee.org ) ECE Department, Drexel University, 3141 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA
The opinions expressed on this website are the opinions of the author and not necessarily the opinions of the IEEE