Heinz Foundation Awards Engineers Without Borders' Co-Founder

A professor of civil engineering who has helped bring the basic necessities of water, electricity and sanitation to remote, poverty-stricken areas of the world has been selected as a co-recipient of the 13th annual Heinz Award for the Environment, among the largest individual achievement prizes in the world.

Dr. Bernard Amadei, 53, the founder of Engineers Without Borders - USA – a non-profit organization whose 8,000 members have helped improve the quality of life for people in as many as 43 countries over the past seven years – is among six distinguished Americans selected to share the $1.25 million in awards, presented in five categories by the Heinz Family Foundation.

“Dr. Amadei is literally engineering change in pockets of our country and world that are bereft of even the most basic living infrastructures,” said Teresa Heinz, chairman of the Heinz Family Foundation. “As founder of Engineers Without Borders, he is harnessing the power of networks and design to improve the lives and fortunes of some of the world’s poorest people. His talented teams of academics, professionals and students put to rest the tired notion that engineering and environmental protection don’t go together by demonstrating how creative thinking and high standards can benefit both people and the planet.”

Dr. Amadei shares the award with Susan Seacrest, founder of the Groundwater Foundation.

Launched with fellow faculty, professionals and students at the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2000, Engineers Without Borders - USA (EWB-USA) applies a combination of professional expertise and selfless compassion to remote areas of the world. With funds it raises itself, the organization takes on a range of sustainable engineering projects, such as those that provide clean water, sanitation, energy and education to villages in underdeveloped countries in Asia, Africa, Europe and North and South America.

Dr. Amadei first confronted the dire living conditions of some of the world’s poverty-stricken communities in 2000 during a trip to Belize, where he was asked to examine the possibility of a water delivery system for San Pablo, a tiny Mayan village that had no electricity, running water or sanitation. Returning to Boulder, the professor recruited civil and environmental engineering students and a local civil engineering expert and set about designing and implementing a water distribution system whose pump was fueled by a local waterfall and ultimately provided a steady flow of water – one gallon per minute – to the town. The entire project was completed at a cost of about $14,000 with the help of the local community.

Buoyed by the success of the Belize project, Dr. Amadei founded EWB-USA, which has since grown to 224 projects in 43 countries, 8,000 members and 235 established university and professional chapters. In 2001, he co-founded the EWB-International Network, now in 45 countries – including Rwanda, Kenya, India and Palestine.

EWB-USA projects are designed to be maintainable, economically efficient and environmentally sustainable for specific local conditions. Completed projects, many of which are brought to EWB-USA by universities with exchange programs or in-country volunteers, include the installation of solar-powered lighting at a community school and a water purification system in Brazil (coordinated by the EWB chapter at the University of California, Santa Barbara), the construction of a dam and irrigation system on the Kumudo River in Ethiopia (Princeton) and a natural water filtration and storage system in Honduras (University of Pennsylvania).

In order to globally educate responsible engineering students, Dr. Amadei has created a new program at the University of Colorado at Boulder called Engineering for Developing Communities. The program serves as a blueprint for the education of engineers of the 21st century who are called to play a critical role in contributing to peace and security in an increasingly challenged world.

“The success of Engineers Without Borders is due to two overriding factors,” Dr. Amadei said. “First is the tremendous need. There are literally thousands of remote villages around the globe that need the basic necessities of life such as clean water, sanitation, energy, shelter, education, health, etc. About 1.2 billion people (out of 6.4 billion) do not have access to clean water in the world today. We have begun to address such demand by virtue of the tremendous spirit of compassion that exists within the extended engineering community and like-minded partnering organizations. I am grateful to the staff of EWB-USA, my numerous colleagues and to the many bright and committed engineering students and professionals around the country who share our passion for making an enduring difference in the lives of so many beyond our borders. On their behalf, I am proud to accept the Heinz Award for the Environment.”

Since 1993, the Heinz Family Foundation of Pittsburgh has recognized individuals whose dedication, skill and generosity of spirit represent the best of the human qualities that the late Sen. Heinz, for whom the award is named, held so dear.

Presented in five categories, the other Heinz Award recipients are:

• Arts and Humanities: Dave Eggers, San Francisco, author and founder of the 826 Valencia writing laboratories as well as a publishing house for emerging writers

• Environment (co-recipient): Susan Seacrest, Lincoln, Neb., environmental advocate and founder of the Groundwater Foundation

• Human Condition: David L. Heymann, M.D., Geneva, Switzerland, physician, an assistant director general of the World Health Organization and international public health advocate

• Public Policy: Donald M. Berwick, M.D., Cambridge, Mass., physician, professor and health care reformer

• Technology, the Economy and Employment: Hugh Herr, Ph.D., Cambridge, Mass., inventor, professor and pioneer in biomechantronics

Featured Webinar