Ebola Will Not Stop This Future Global Development Leader


Elisabeth Vitswamba engaged leadership skills she practiced in Engineering for Change’s (E4C) Research Fellowship to train researchers at the Integrated Research Institute of the Université Chretiènne Bilingue du Congo (UCBC).

Her contribution to internal capacity building has helped equip the institute’s staff to teach land administrators and community members about mobile data collection tools and GIS land administration tools to improve transparency, functionality, and accessibility of land administration in the DRC, part of a project called Sharing the Land.

The project aims to understand and influence how the land is used and managed in an attempt to reduce land related conflict. Until she was forced to leave the country as a precaution against the Ebola outbreak, Vitswamba was a supporting partner in an ambitious collaboration that includes UCBC, the Congolese government, UN Habitat, and the Global Land Tool Network (GLTN) among others.

Vitswamba’s education is in architecture, but this work drew on her self-directed interest in digital mapping and data collection tools. She developed curricula and helped train the research institute’s staff in GIS and data collection tools such as OSMAnd, GPS Essentials, KoboToolBox, Excel, QGIS, and STDM (Social Tenure Domain Model).

The position also called for leadership among researchers, a specific skill set that E4C’s Expert Fellows can develop.

“During last year’s E4C fellowship, I oversaw the work of researchers from different backgrounds, edited research materials, and communicated with content partners,” she said. “It is experience that I think has given me more confidence as a leader and collaborator at the intersection of multiple disciplines.”

Work in global development confronts unique obstacles, and Vitswamba contended with one for several months after starting her new position. The Ebola outbreak prompted the university to send its international staff out of the region in August 2018. Since then, Vitswamba has been living in Uganda.

The outbreak continues, and because Vitswamba’s was not designed to be off site, she was unable to renew her contract. The outbreak, insecurity and the culmination of her role at the institute amount to uncertainty about the future of her employment. But she has plans for that eventuality.

In the short term, she is tapping her contact list for opportunities.

“Networking is an important part of being in this field and is generally how people find work, especially early on in their careers (it is how I first came across the E4C fellowship),” Vitswamba said. “I am currently looking to find temporary work for an architecture practice or NGO in Uganda, or else find freelance architectural work or research that can be done remotely, similar to the E4C fellowship.”

One aspect of E4C’s Research Fellowship is the opportunity to write and publish original research papers.

Vitswamba contributed to three papers in her field. She has taken the research a step further to submit a paper to the Non-Conventional Materials and Technologies Conference (NOCMAT) that was held in Nairobi, Kenya, in July.

In the long term, Vitswamba plans to open a design firm with a materials research and community-development arm, likely based in Kinshasa, where she and her husband plan to live.

“My longer-term ambition within the next five years is to start an architecture practice that uses profits from regular building projects to fund non-profit design work and sustainable construction material research,” she said. “I think that working with E4C as an expert fellow has given me ideas for how collaborations can be a key part of accomplishing larger ambitions.”

The plan leaves room for continued work with IRI, the research institute, however.

“I am hopeful that it is something that I can pick up again down the road as I believe the project has opportunity for significant impact,” Vitswamba said.

Rob Goodier is the news editor at Engineering for Change.
This article was first published at engineeringforchange.org. Read the original version here.