Last week, the Royal Academy of Engineering hosted more than 400 people from over 40 countries at the Engineering a Better World conference, a two-day event and associated fringe activities that explored how engineering can drive progress towards the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.

The first day of the conference brought together inspiring speakers from around the world to discuss and debate how engineering – at scale, and through grassroots innovation and entrepreneurship – can transform lives in both developed and developing countries, and how to enable engineering to have a greater impact. 

An audience of engineers, entrepreneurs, academics and experienced international development professionals heard keynote speeches from the President of Mauritius (herself a biodiversity scientist) Dr Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, and Amir Dossal, President and CEO, UN Global Partnerships Forum.

Engineering a Better World: the highlights

Dr Gurib-Fakim commented that “only through science, technology, engineering and mathematics can we as a global community increase the prosperity of our people” and called for more measures to attract girls to science and engineering.

Amir Dossal challenged the private sector, academia and civil society to work more closely together to address the Sustainable Development Goals.

Other thought-provoking international speakers included:

  • Dr Jo Da Silva OBE FREng, Director, ARUP International Development, who spoke about the need for “tangible engineering that helps solve the world’s biggest challenges: poverty, urbanisation and climate change”.
  • Dr Allyson Lawless FREng, Managing Director, South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) Professional Development, who called for the development of young engineers through workplace learning.
  • Yassmin Abdel-Magied, Founder, Youth Without Borders, who spoke about the need for greater diversity in engineering.
  • Dato’ Sri Idris Jala, Advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia and CEO of PEMANDU, who called for greater collaboration within the private sector and the need for the public sector to act as a catalyst for social and economic change.

Royal Academy of Engineering Royal Fellow HRH Princess Anne, The Princess Royal was unable to attend the event due to illness, but sent a message to delegates, in which she highlighted the need to build a more diverse engineering community.

Bill Gates also delivered a video message. He highlighted the need to make science and technological innovations available to the world’s poorest communities and challenged delegates to work together to maximise the contribution of engineering to the UN Sustainable Development Goals:  

Engineering a Better World marked the Academy’s presidency of the International Council of Academies of Engineering and Technological Sciences (CAETS).

Day two of the conference built on the themes and issues discussed on the first day, but focused on the role of national engineering academies and institutions, and how they can have a genuine impact on social and economic change. Delegates from all 26 members of CAETS took part in a series of lectures, panel discussions and workshops to share best practice in building engineering capacity.

Following the conference, the CAETS academies have agreed to take measures to boost their own capacity to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, including through a new Engineering for the SDGs network, a forum in which the best global engineers can share knowledge and build partnerships with the international development community.

Outside of the main conference, a day-long event allowed young engineers from the UK and abroad to share ideas, build international connections with other engineering leaders of the future and learn how they can contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. 85 young engineers from eight different countries attended, and were assigned challenges in groups to identify ways of addressing the Sustainable Development Goals.

Engineering a Better World culminated in a celebratory reception at St James’ Palace, hosted by HRH The Duke of Kent.

Professor Dame Ann Dowling OM DBE FREng FRS, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said:

“This conference isn’t just about celebrating engineering’s contribution to economic and social development. We also need to show how it can be improved in the years to come.

“In the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, we have a challenge every bit as ambitious as President Kennedy’s moonshot- and a need that is even more acute. If we are live up to our responsibilities to the world’s poorest, we need to work better and smarter as a global community.”

The conference is part of the Academy’s broader programme of international work to build capacity in engineering education, research and innovation in developing countries, and to share best practice in engineering capacity building for the global community to benefit from.

Information about the event programme and speakers, as well as content from the day, can be found at

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Notes for editors

1. Royal Academy of Engineering. As the UK’s national academy for engineering, we bring together the most successful and talented engineers for a shared purpose: to advance and promote excellence in engineering. We provide analysis and policy support to promote the UK’s role as a great place to do business. We take a lead on engineering education and we invest in the UK’s world-class research base to underpin innovation. We work to improve public awareness and understanding of engineering. We are a national academy with a global outlook.

We have four strategic challenges:

  • Make the UK the leading nation for engineering innovation
  • Address the engineering skills crisis
  • Position engineering at the heart of society
  • Lead the profession

2. CAETS is an independent non-political, non-governmental international organisation of engineering and technological sciences academies, one member academy per country. For more information about CAETS and the membership countries go to:


For more information please contact:

Jo Trigg or Jane Sutton at the Royal Academy of Engineering
T: 020 7766 0744
E: Jo Trigg
E: Jane Sutton