By Mahfuzur Muhith, President, McMaster University Chapter
I’ve been an active member of the EWB McMaster Chapter for the past four years. When I first started, I joined our Global Engineering (GE) team. I got super involved right away and by my second year I was leading our GE initiatives and passionate about the work we were doing. Everywhere I went when someone asked me about EWB’s work I told them all about GE.
It wasn’t until this year, prior to being elected as President, that I realized how this focus, while great for the GE team, had harmed my chapter overall.
Over the four years that I’ve been involved with our chapter, I could see that we have continually failed to engage and retain new members. Past presidents have tried some really cool ideas to address this challenge including running an outreach week to promote EWB where every day we hosted a different event to build awareness of EWB initiatives. And one year, instead of running a typical member learning session, we hosted an EWBlast night where we put on a handful of learning sessions at the same time, allowing potential members to choose what interested them most.
But I was so focused on GE, I failed to support my chapter as a whole and instead of putting my energy and drive behind the chapter’s retention efforts at these events, I’d only pitch my own team.
Now as president my responsibility extends across the whole chapter and it has become obvious to me that I did the chapter a disservice. As a chapter we do so many awesome things (just ask me, I’ll tell you all about them!) and new members are especially keen to take action and get hands-on experiences in their areas of interest. When I was only pitching GE, potential members who weren’t excited about it likely used that as a reason not to bother coming back and finding other ways to get involved.
Learning from my mistake in my new role, we decided to restructure our chapter to create space for general members who are passionate about systemic change and share the same values as EWB, but don’t know what their role in the chapter is yet.
We created low-commitment opportunities to participate, come up with ideas that reflect your interests, and have the support needed to bring ideas to life without having large responsibilities that are associated with being an executive. To do this, we condensed the core executive team and introduced the role of Director. These Director positions are primarily focused on the front-end management of our Impact Areas without having the back-end logistical responsibilities of an executive.
The role ensures that our current chapter initiatives are continued and allow for new ideas to be generated. This opens up possibilities for general members to get involved with the Directors on the current initiatives, or lead their own new projects to bring their ideas to life.
I hope this new structure is inclusive to all our general members who will bring forward their ideas and take action towards social issues that they are passionate about and I’m happy to say we’ve already grown our core team from 20 people last year to 30 this year. With any luck this new approach will continue to give us a platform to expand and help grow not just our chapter, but the organization as well.
Known to his friends as “Fuz,” Mahfuzur Muhith is currently in his final year at McMaster University studying Computer Engineering and Society. An EWB veteran, this is Fuz’s fourth year with Engineers Without Borders and he is currently the President of his chapter at McMaster.