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Ethical Issues Related To International Development Projects

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Engineering Ethics V

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.586.1 - 14.586.12



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Paper Authors

author page

William Jordan Baylor University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Ethical Issues Related to International Development Projects


International service learning within engineering education is increasing in amount and visibility. There has been much work dealing with the legitimacy of service learning in engineering education. However, there has been less work dealing with ethical issues involved with engineering service learning. While there are ethical issues related to any engineering project, this paper concentrates on ethical issues inherent in the international service learning approach that has economic development as one of its goals.

One issue is how the design relates to the local community. In traditional engineering design the client is clearly identified and the engineer can work to make sure the wishes are carried out in the design. Often engineering service learning is done with a local non-profit agency or a local government agency. In both cases they claim to represent the needs and desires of the local community that will be served by the project. The lead professor needs to make sure that this project is really needed and wanted by the people it is designed to serve. Therefore, the project really has two clients, the local agency and the local population to be served. This complicates the design process and raises ethical issues if these two groups are not in total agreement.

A second major issue involves the creation of local businesses as an integral part of the project. Many service projects do not have a long term impact because they cannot be sustained by the local community. One way to deal with this is to help local people create an on-going, for-profit business that can maintain the project and provide jobs for the poor community that would not otherwise exist.

We will use as an example our current work in rural Honduras. Over the last several years teams of students and faculty members have installed several micro-hydroelectric systems. This past year we have made a key part of the project the creation of a local energy company that can provide cheap electricity to the villagers as well as jobs for the local community. Our goal is to use this as a springboard to franchise this to other villages, so that they also can have the benefits of cheap electricity and local jobs. One of the ethical issues we have faced is to make sure the business is not seen as a foreign project, but an indigenous one that meets the needs of the local people.

An Introduction to International Engineering Service Projects

Engineering service projects are becoming an increasingly common way to teach engineering. The growth of the EPICS (Engineering Projects in Community Service) program is an example of this1. EPICS was founded at Purdue University in 1995 and has now grown to involve 18 universities and some high schools. Other schools, like our own, are not formally members of EPICS but are doing many of the activities that the EPICS program promotes.

One of the issues related to engineering service learning is whether the course is mostly service and not enough engineering. This is, in itself, an ethical issue. If we are offering courses that get

Jordan, W. (2009, June), Ethical Issues Related To International Development Projects Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5483

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