ISF in a nutshell

"Giving meaning to technology for a fairer world"

Committed to the values of International Solidarity, Ingénieurs Sans Frontières (Engineers Without Borders in French) promotes sustainable development, equal rights of peoples and harmonious implementation of civil, political and economic rights, by questioning the engineer’s role and practices so that technology may better serve sustainable development, humanity and the planet.

Ingénieurs Sans Frontières (ISF) is an International Solidarity organisation. Created in 1982, we are working towards sustainable development through engaging critically with engineering approaches.

The main social missions of the organisation are:

  • to participate in development projects in the Global South;
  • to raise awareness about international solidarity and sustainable development issues among engineers;
  • to carry out and disseminate studies establishing a link between the world of engineering and international solidarity issues;
  • to develop a network of Citizen Engineers collectively working for international solidarity within ISF.

Local Chapters: the basis of the federation

ISF is a Federation comprising 30 associations (called “local chapters”) located in 70 French Engineering Schools all over France. Around 600 people, mostly engineering students and engineers, are members of the organisation. ISF comprises two active internal bodies (a board meeting is held 6 times a year; an executive board meeting, every two weeks), and a National Coordinating Bureau (30 members, 4 employees and one intern) based in Paris, which provides, amongst other services, training, information, assistance/consultancy whilst developing and carrying out the Federation’s administrative and financial support. The National Coordination Bureau also bridges the gap between international solidarity stakeholders and engineers’ organisations around the world.

To carry out this task the National Coordination Bureau has 4 main responsibilities towards local chapters:
- to inform them about exchanges and assist them in better understanding and developing them;
- to train members, coordinate meetings and obtain feedback;
- to assess and monitor the partnerships of local chapters with their counterparts and to approve missions in the Global South;
- to conduct Education for Development projects and campaigns at a national level, involving local chapters.

The 30 local chapters focus on 4 kinds of activities:
- hosting and organising training on a regional level for ISF members
- participating in projects and studies conducted in developing countries. Around twenty projects are currently underway, mainly in Africa and Asia
- participating in projects in France on a local and national level (e.g. changing the design of courses to take into account challenges in society, improving sustainable development practices in Engineering Schools, conducting regional dialogue groups for international solidarity and sustainable development)
- Education for Development activities in their respective regions, including on the university campus (organising conferences and film screenings and debates, national public awareness and lobbying campaigns at a regional level, presentations in primary and secondary schools, exhibitions, organising training).

An updated list of development projects in which local chapters are involved is available here (in French)

Engineering Cluster Groups

ISF set up cluster groups in order to allow working engineers to be involved in activities other than supporting local chapters. Thus, they can become involved in cluster groups that want a forum in which to question, analyse and put forward the most relevant practices and techniques that best meet sustainable development and international solidarity approaches. The following topics are addressed in these cluster groups:
- Extractive Systems and the Environment (extraction conditions, social and environmental impacts)
- Water and Sanitation (social water pricing, fair management of water besides public/private management, etc.)
- Agricultural development (social and environmental impacts of multinational companies, impact of the milk sector in France, fair trade, etc.)
- Electronic and Electrical Waste (Planned obsolescence, sourcing materials, etc.)
- Energy (energy sobriety, energy transition and efficiency, access to energy, etc.).

These groups conduct in-depth studies allowing the Federation and its partners to position themselves with regard to specific issues (for instance, labelling gold as “fairly-mined”), to lead advocacy actions in conjunction with our partners, to provide a training programme for working engineers as well as to establish partnerships with other French and foreign organisations with an interest in these issues. ISF’s objective is to form an international network of engineers aware of their role as responsible individuals and citizens.

Action Research: Training the Citizen Engineer

Alongside these activities, “Training the Citizen Engineer” has been a key ISF project over the last few years. Its general aim is to foster a progressive change to engineering training courses gearing them more towards a better understanding of current social and environmental issues. Amongst those issues, priority is given to sustainable development, social responsibility and civic-minded practice of science and technologies.

A thesis has been published on this subject in conjunction with the Maurice Halbwachs Social Sciences Centre. Using the knowledge gained in this research, ISF wants to go further by raising awareness amongst engineers and engineering students and by encouraging them to drive change on their own training courses. ISF also wishes to have exchanges with foreign engineering organisations as it has already done with several “Engineers Without Borders” in Europe.

Development of an international network

The project aims to create the conditions whereby all sorts of stakeholders (The Global North and Global South, France and Europe, Companies and International Solidarity Organisations) can share their vision and point of view on technical and development issues: raising awareness, sharing and bringing together stakeholders from the Global North and South via a shared recognition for the need and opportunity to work together.

ISF’s wish is to bring the experience and expertise of the Global North and South to bear on the use of technology and the role of engineers in international solidarity as well as on specific technical topics through exchanges between ISF and its international counterparts in Europe and the Global South.

Eventually, ISF wants to continue its closer relations with these counterpart associations in order to better carry out its outreach work in the engineering field, to share its thoughts on the responsibility of engineers with regards to international solidarity issues and to have its own perceptions on these issues challenged.


The first step will be the identification, introduction and strengthening of a working framework with engineering organisations around the world involved in international solidarity in order to allow joint activities to be easily identified. Several exchanges have already taken place with European “Engineers Without Borders” which led to the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the British, Spanish, Belgian, Danish, Swedish and French associations.

ISF wishes to agree a timeframe with its counterparts in European and the Global South for debating and discussing their stance on a specific issue of international solidarity linked to technology or the engineering trade. Organising multilateral meetings with organisations in Europe and the Global South requires that topics and questions that could be discussed with engineers in specific sectors be identified beforehand. It will also mean carefully scrutinising the outcomes of ground-breaking projects, studies, programs and advocacy works undertaken by ISF and its partners and challenging each other’s point of view. The results of the exchange will lead us to redefine our policy documents through joint analysis. 

It is not inconceivable that these exchange meetings should lead us to develop not only the notion of technology transfer but that of appropriate and appropriable technology as well as the engineer’s social responsibility and the environmental impact of some technical fields. On this last point, many lines of work can be developed: the imbalance between public resources and multinational companies in some countries in the Global South with regards to expertise from outside businesses, the definition and impact of environmental and health regulations (following on from ISF’s study on the impact of food standards amongst producers in the Global South), the inclusion of civil society in technological projects in the Global North and South.

The main objective of this action is to fuel discussions and advocacy actions undertaken by ISF France, European EWBs and/or their partners by confronting them with the thoughts of engineers from the Global South. It is also a forum for more detailed discussions on each stakeholder’s position on the chosen issue and its specific implications. The form of exchange will be defined collectively but should include both roundtable discussions and conferences and presentations held during smaller workshops.

The first one was held in Marseille in March 2014 and focused on ‘Exploring Responsible Mining’.