in Career

Islands of Excellence, and being an Engineer

Recently when I was reading the bookBanker to the Poor” by Muhammad Yunus, the famous Bangladeshi professor, banker, economist and Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2006, I came across this text which I have quoted verbatim below. You can buy the book at Flipkart or Amazon.

“Everyday I drove through the village of Jobra which stood between the highway and the campus. I saw barren fields next to the campus. I asked my colleague Professor Latifee the reason for not cultivating this land for a winter crop. He made some guesses for he knew the village well. I proposed that both of us go to the village and talk to the people. We did and soon found the answer.

There was no water for irrigation.

I thought we should do something about it. It was a shame to let the land around the university campus remain barren. If a university is a repository of the world’s knowledge, then some of this knowledge must spill over into the neighborhood and demonstrate that it is indeed useful knowledge. A university should not be an island where academics attain higher and higher levels of knowledge without sharing any of this knowledge with its neighbors.”

And how accurately he has observed. He was a professor in one of the best universities in Bangladesh, and he could not understand the poverty and helpness of the villages right next to the campus. His remark that if a university is a repository of world’s knowledge, it should spill to the nearby areas to demonstrate that it is useful. What a simple and insightful thought!! What is the use of our education and all institutions we have created if it can’t help the people who need it the most?

Are we doing justice to our profession?

Are we doing justice to our profession?

I am an engineer, and I have a similar network, with many people in my address book being engineers, managers, with high levels of education and skills. Living in Bangalore, it seems every other person works in a big IT company. With so much wisdom, knowledge and skills all around me, isn’t it ironical that grave problems still exist in the same society and neighborhood where we live. Shouldn’t our treasure of knowledge spill over in finding solutions to the problems all around us. Or is it that our skills can help big multinationals create new products and improve existing ones for clients mostly sitting abroad but we can’t use our skills to help our brothers and sisters, many of whom don’t even have the basic amenities to live a decent life.

Or have we created little islands of excellence all around us and we don’t bother to see the poor and the miserable condition they live in. They might live next to our doorsteps, but it is amazing how we have learned to ignore them, and similarly, how they have learned to ignore us. We travel on the same roads, live in the same neighborhood, but the similarities end here. Our homes are spacious and have the best amenities, while somewhere nearby you will also find their congested neighborhood with small houses with very basic amenities. Our children go to the best schools and ride bicycles (with gears) while their go to government schools, play barefoot on the roads with old cycle tyres. Wah Re India..

Now there must be something I am missing here. Because this can’t be right. This can’t be the state of one of the fastest growing economies in the world. If our engineers are known for their skills all over the world, why can’t they solve the problems which are nearest to them? Wikipedia define Engineers as “They work to develop economic and safe solutions to practical problems, by applying mathematics, scientific knowledge and ingenuity while considering technical constraints.” We call ourselves engineers very proudly, but if we see our daily lives, do we really think that what we do is in sync with the above definition? Even if the answer is yes, then why are we ignoring our own problems and solving problems of the rest of the world? Are we not doing a great injustice to our profession? Are we not insulting the word “Engineer” by calling ourselves so?

I would love for all to leave comments below, but I would like to request one thing from all readers. Don’t leave your comment immediately if you are frustrated, angry or offended by what I have written. I am not blaming anyone, I am just wondering at the situation. Think about it for a minute or two, go over your daily lives and see if your skills can be of any help to people around you, and then leave a comment. I would love to hear what you have to say.

P.S. – Banker to the Poor is one of my favorite books.

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  1. Thoughts expressed here are very genuine, and everybody will agree what you quote here.
    the first question which lies to my mind, is untill there is no personal benefit in people coming up and doing something for the larger sections of the society , the wheel will never move .

    The thinking of our society is purely on the capitalist terms .
    Had we had any kind of socialist or communist sentiment , then may be what i write above would be incorrect .

    US, Germany , Japan solved solved the very same problem decades back .
    can we follow the same what they did ?
    Are we really serious in our endeavours , for our society. Beyond lip service nothing happens !
    Its the awaremess among masses which can turn this kind lipservice to really concrete activity on the battle field.