Last week was National Volunteer Week, and to mark the occasion Engineers Canada was shining a light on how volunteers advance our work and the engineering profession.

This year's theme was “empathy in action.” As Volunteer Canada describes,empathy is a quality that can help people relate to others and build awareness around different experiences. It connects people in ideas and actions and helps create bonds forged in common goals and aspirations. This profoundly human connection is at the heart of healthier individuals and stronger communities.

In the lead up to National Volunteer Week, we asked our volunteers to reflect on what it means to be an empathetic volunteer. We posted some of the responses we received across social media.

For Ann English, “empathy is an action not just a feeling. It can and should be seen as well as felt.”

Meanwhile, Michael Wrinch described how “engineering is ultimately a people first business. The public entrusts and benefits from the engineering services and products we produce. It is critical that we have the empathy and ability to recognize that there are many social complexities that need to be considered when designing any kind of device or infrastructure.”

While traditionally engineers are perceived as focussing on solving technical problems, empathy is imperative for excellence in engineering. The ability to understand problems, identify solutions, and implement technology for the betterment of our lives and communities relies on our capacity to relate to the experiences and emotions of others.

Sudhir Jha reflects on this in his own work. “I work in northern communities, where the challenges can seem overwhelming. But when we focus on empathy, rather than acting as disinterested ‘experts’, the solutions we come up with will always be more effective in achieving what is truly needed and wanted by the community.”

At Engineers Canada, we see empathy in action every day. From accreditation visitors connecting with faculty and students, to our equity, diversity, and inclusion programs advancing a culture change in the profession. It’s also a part of the guidelines and papers that support regulatory excellence, and our work to promote national positions that highlight the intersection of engineering and public policy.

As Engineers Canada strives to achieve its vision of advancing Canadian engineering through national collaboration, volunteers are foundational to this success. It is through our common desire to create a stronger profession and a better world that we are witnessing empathy in action.