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The ‘Year of Humanitarian Engineering’ has highlighted the power that engineers and the engineering industry have to make significant and lasting impacts on communities in need. Pro bono engineering provides opportunities for companies to make contributions to communities through the provision of engineering services at a significantly reduced, or no fee basis. The aim of this research was to provide a snapshot of pro bono engineering throughout the ‘Year of Humanitarian Engineering.’

The demand for pro bono engineering activities should not be underestimated. There is a global need for improved access to appropriate technology, while there are also cases of employees, in engineering companies, seeking out pro bono opportunities. These employee-identified opportunities are supported by the companies and have been oversubscribed. The varying opportunities results in a myriad of different partnership and project structures, with no one-size-fits-all approach.

Motivations for pro bono engineering were found to include: the professional responsibility owed by engineers; a way to address the social and wealth inequality; the ability of engineering companies to create change; and to experience the benefits that pro bono engineering brings engineering companies.

There were a large number of pro bono engineering benefits enunciated; with communities, employees and engineering companies themselves benefiting immensely from such projects. Alone, the motivation to create a workplace of choice is responsible for large companies structuring pro bono engineering programs.

Key steps in carrying out pro bono engineering activities were examined, with the differing relationship and project structures resulting in varying agreements, as well as responses surrounding risk management. The evaluation of pro bono engineering is an area for future growth, with many companies looking to improve on methods to quantify measures of success, or capture lessons learnt.

It is recommended that companies need to develop strategic approaches to corporate social responsibility, encompassing pro bono engineering, to ensure the success of these activities throughout the company. Further, the key to companies engaging in successful, long-term pro bono engineering activities is through a partnering approach. A partnership broker is needed to connect, facilitate and manage pro bono engineering partnerships between community organisations and engineering companies.

Adequate training is also needed for individuals who are involved in pro bono engineering equipping them for culturally, emotionally and environmentally diverse environments. There is a need for further awareness of pro bono engineering throughout the industry and an opportunity exists to develop a community of practice as an avenue for sharing best practice and lessons learnt. Finally, further research is needed into community perspectives of pro bono engineering.

Widespread pro bono engineering has the ability to improve the public perception of engineering, with possible flow on effects to increasing university engineering enrolments and decreasing the gender disparity. Pro bono engineering activities engineer a better world and foster a culture of socially aware engineers who can incorporate experiences from pro bono engineering activities into everything they do.

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