The GiveWell Blog

Engineers Without Borders earns “Notable” distinction

Engineers Without Borders is a group we’ve never encountered before, focused on “enabling rural Africans the opportunity to access clean water, generate an income from humble farms, and access critical infrastructure and services.” (Here’s a list of its projects in Africa.)

This group deserves recognition for doing the simplest thing guaranteed to improve GiveWell’s view of it: disclosing a failure.

Its 2009 and 2010 failure reports are publicly and prominently published. These aren’t “quasi-failures” along the lines of “Didn’t raise enough money for X”; they involve staff misreading their environments, both in terms of culture (poorly anticipating how a project’s timeline would be affected by holiday schedules) and in terms of interactions between aid institutions (nearly losing funding for a project by what reads to me like hurting a funder’s feelings). I encourage you to read the reports themselves rather than relying on our summary, since they are eye-opening.

Without knowing anything else about the work of Engineers Without Borders, we commend it for clearly and publicly discussing its own shortcomings, and thereby creating more public information on the complexities of aid.

Hat tip: Aid Watch


  • Engineers without Borders is not a homogeneous organization. It has “chapters” which function almost totally independently in different countries. The organization you are commending is EWB Canada, which I have encountered in my development work in Ghana. They have a completely different outlook, set of programs, philosophy, etc, from EWB USA, which I have also encountered.
    I’m sure the EWB-ers I know, both from US and Canada, would appreciate making the distinction.

Comments are closed.