Dorothy, From Downtown

Engineers Without Borders Canada has a boss that doesn’t necessarily reside in the National Office, doesn’t lead the organization with direction actions, and, is not just one single person. Who is this boss? Dorothy.

Dorothy might be a mother who tends to a small vegetable farm and still makes time to sit on a local committee.

Dorothy might be a young woman, who didn’t go to high school because her father didn’t have the money, and won’t accept that fate for her daughter. Or Dorothy might be that daughter, dreaming of graduation as she fetches water each morning.

No matter who she is, Dorothy doesn’t accept the fate she has been handed, and neither will we. Dorothy is our boss, and we constantly ask what she would have us do.

Many of these “Dorothys” are personal – tied to a person one has met; to a figure involved in what you are passionate about; or simply to empathy and solidarity for those who you wish to grow alongside. It is a desire to put effort into Dorothy’s interests and use her as a force for accountability.

But this isn’t just an EWB thing; trying to personify development and remind you there are people with lives, families, and their own experiences at the other end can be seen across the sector in different forms. Whether a talking point of an internal meeting for an organization or the faces that pass by in a commercial on television, the power of the personal relation is often applied. And this application strives for different things ranging from pulling on your emotions to highlighting how interaction better parties can be most fruitful. A discussion on the merits of each is for a different discussion, but it is clear that whatever they are, those personalities put in front of you shape your perceptions.

Stop here to think: Who is your Dorothy? Who comes to mind when you imagine a partner or guide in your perception of development?

The world is a diverse place from pole to pole and areas that are the focus of development are no different. What is it that leads you to the person held in your mind? It is popular images; personal experiences that guide your thinking in a certain direction; or a particular character trait that you find easiest to connect with?

I know for myself, prior to this placement and the myriad experiences that have come with it, there were a few common traits that would hold constant in my thoughts. A community leader; living in a rural area; challenged by variations from the weather to the market; wanting to improve quality of life for the next generation; a high value for education; lots of value placed on community and family.

Today, having spent the last three and a half months not in rural areas but instead within the pulsating dynamism of Lusaka, a few of those traits stands quite a bit different. Living in urban areas. But that change is more of a paradigm shift than simply the landscape painted behind their portrait. It brings a new set of challenges and some that are the same (it is a little surprising to realize how much the weather and seasons can affect life in town too). Recognizing this and knowing that over 40% of Zambians live in urban centers, it is fair to say that a significant number of my Dorothys – perhaps more than the current representation – should hold strong in my mind.


An intensity framed in concrete.

A student graduating from the University of Zambia in engineering who wishes to use his skills to improve life in Zambia and works outside the classroom to improve the job prospects and skills of himself and his peers.

A man who today sells shoes on the street but has plans to import fashions from around the world and provide a better education and lifestyle for his children and, eventually, to orphans in his community.

A woman who selflessly devotes herself to furthering technical education and higher learning excellence with a vision to promote science and technology at a national level through a science centre, ambitious design competitions, and leadership development programs.

These people live in the company of couple million others within the confines of the city. These people are leaders, those that won’t accept the status quo, and who are the Dorothys of urban Zambia. If my urban living and effort to understand the role it plays in the development landscape has revealed one thing, it is that these people must to be the bosses too.


What about in your mind? Are there urban characters too? Why or why not? How do you react to challenge this for yourself? Let’s share!

Thanks the Jennifer Schnaufer for the great pictures!


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