Women play a crucial role in post-disaster reconstruction. In Nepal, where the population is 51% female, this has become especially apparent. Many women have taken on new roles and responsibilities since the earthquakes in 2015, and are at the forefront of permanent reconstruction efforts to build a safer future for their families, communities, towns, and cities.
At Build Change, we have always placed a special emphasis on working with, hiring, and training women in the traditionally male-dominated fields of engineering and construction. Currently, 37% of Build Change global technical staff is female (compared to an international average of 11% of the engineering sector being comprised of women). In Nepal, we have 16 highly qualified, dedicated engineers leading reconstruction efforts, working on anything from handling field operations to quality control and implementation.
The best part? All of our female engineers in Nepal report to our Lead Structural Engineer, Liva Shrestha, who in turn reports to our Director of Engineering, Lizzie Blaisdell Collins, who finally reports to our Founder and CEO Elizabeth Hausler. A reporting structure completely comprised of women…in what is still potentially one of the most male-dominated sectors in the world.
In honor of International Women in Engineering Day, we’d like to introduce you to some of these talented women. We hope they inspire you as much as they inspire us every day!
Purnima Acharya is a field-based Staff Engineer with Build Change in Nepal. She works in close coordination with the Lead Structural Engineer, Liva, and is responsible for overseeing operations, solving problems, and generating solutions in the field. She assists homeowners, builders, and other partners in designing and supervising the reconstruction and retrofitting of earthquake-resistant houses.
For International Women in Engineering Day, Purnima shares her experiences as a female engineer and some lessons from the field.
“There was a time when female civil engineers had to face a lot of difficulties working in field as they were not socially accepted as engineers… Slowly, people’s perceptions of women in the engineering field are changing, and they have started realizing that women can also be engineers. Working in the field, especially in a remote village like Kaule is never an easy task, but I love to take on challenges and learn new things. Working with Build Change is an important opportunity to grow and develop myself, both professionally and socially. I am also proud to have contributed to the reconstruction process of Nepal after the disastrous earthquake.”
Liva Shrestha is the Lead Structural Engineer with Build Change in Nepal. She oversees quality control of design information and implementation for all of our projects in Nepal, and works in collaboration with Lizzie, our Director of Engineering. She is also responsible for making sure that technologies and solutions are consistent with Build Change’s philosophy of earthquake-resistance, sustainability, and cultural appropriateness.
Liva went through many similar situations as Purnima. She spoke to us about the socio-cultural constraints of working in the field that was widely perceived as a “man’s profession”, and how she overcame this challenge.
“Engineering in general and structural engineering in particular is very male-dominated. After starting my professional journey as an engineer, the gender disparity in the field became more and more evident. Many times I would be the only female in the field, working among men. Culturally, we are brought up in such a way that we tend to believe that technical jobs are only for men, and that men and women cannot easily interact in the work force. Over the years, I have challenged this social perception by excelling in my field… What I believe is, if you are confident, assertive, and knowledgeable in your field, society will ultimately respect you.”
Lizzie Baisdell Collins, S.E. is the Director of Engineering with Build Change, overseeing the quality and consistency of engineering and technical project solutions for all Build Change programs globally in close collaboration with the Chief Executive Officer (CEO). She has worked extensively on earthquake-resistant design and evaluation projects in highly seismic regions since 2005.
Elizabeth Hausler, Ph.D. is a skilled brick, block, and stone mason with an M.S. and Ph.D. in Civil Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, an M.S. in Environmental Science from the University of Colorado, and a B.S. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This ultimately led to her founding Build Change in 2004, which now operates in 7 countries worldwide.
Elizabeth has been honored with many awards and titles for her outstanding contribution, including a 2017 Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship, 2014 Academy of Distinguished Alumni of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department of University of California, Berkeley, 2011 US Social Entrepreneur of the Year by the Schwab Foundation, and 2011 Lemelson-MIT Award for Sustainability. She is also a 2004 Echoing Green Fellow, a 2006 Draper Richards Kaplan Fellow, a 2009 Ashoka-Lemelson Fellow, and a Fulbright scholar to India in 2002-2003.
Purnima, Liva, Lizzie, and Elizabeth have become role models for so many women aspiring to pursue careers in the field of engineering. These amazing women, along with the many other women engineers, builders, builder trainers, and homeowners we work with, are changing the world, one safer building at a time!