Geoffrey Morgan works for the United Nations promoting quality infrastructure for sustainable development

Tell us about your job. What do you do?

I work for UNOPS (United Nations Office for Project Services) which is responsible for supporting countries around the world to build better lives and countries to achieve peace and sustainable development, with a key focus on their infrastructure needs. I work with UNOPS to support countries improve the way they plan, deliver, and manage infrastructure to ensure they can meet their development priorities and are on their way to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

What does an average day look like for you?

I work together with a talented group of individuals to identify solutions to different countries’ challenges with developing and delivering sustainable, resilient, and inclusive infrastructure. When based in UNOPS headquarters in Copenhagen, I do a lot of group work where we collaboratively design and create new tools and thinking to help address governments’ challenges. After coming up with solutions, I travel to all regions of the world to pilot or implement these solutions with partner governments. So far my career has taken me to over 20 countries.

Working with the Turkana County Government in Kenya to complete an assessment of the enabling environment to be able to identify actions to improve infrastructure planning, delivery and management.

Working with the Turkana County Government in Kenya to complete an assessment of the enabling environment to be able to identify actions to improve infrastructure planning, delivery and management.

How does your work affect people’s lives/the world around us?

Infrastructure is the cornerstone of modern society, enabling communities to function effectively, grow, and prosper. Quality infrastructure minimises damage from earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural events. My job is to support governments by using infrastructure and engineering principles to achieve their development objectives and improve the lives and livelihoods of their people.

How did you first become interested in engineering/what or who inspired you to be an engineer?

There are several engineers on both sides of my family, who instilled in me a deep curiosity for the way things work from a young age. My interest in engineering and its role in international development started when I was at university. I started out as an aerospace engineering major because I had dreams of becoming an astronaut and going to space. However, while I taking a course on international development my professor started to critique the role of engineers. His criticism angered me not because he was criticising engineers, but because I had a sense that he was right. Engineers tend to look at the technical challenges behind a problem and don’t necessarily understand or take into account the wider context needed to find an appropriate solution. So at the end of that lecture I went out and changed my degrees to civil and environmental engineering and international development. This interdisciplinary approach to engineering has given me a unique perspective on the wider role of engineering, specifically civil engineering, in building and sustaining societies around the world.

There are a number of different routes you can take into a career in engineering. What route did you take (and why)?

I went to university and received degrees in Civil & Environmental Engineering and International Relations/International Development. During university and immediately following graduation I worked with and ran my own non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to add some practical experience to the theory I had learned in school. When working with NGOs, I worked on the ground with communities in disadvantaged parts of the world to help them obtain clean water, sanitation, and renewable energy.

Geoffrey Morgan NGO work in Guatemala testing the quality of water to support and improve a community's access to safe drinking water.

NGO work in Guatemala testing the quality of water to support and improve a community’s access to safe drinking water.

After university and my NGO work, I completed my Master’s degree in Engineering for Sustainable Development, which specifically combined my interest in engineering with how it could be used to support international sustainable development and address some of the biggest issues of our time.

Volunteering with Engineers Without Borders UK in Peru to help disadvantaged communities access electricity.

Volunteering with Engineers Without Borders UK in Peru to help disadvantaged communities access electricity.

Armed with this new knowledge and experience, I then went into the private sector and worked in Arup’s International Development group, where I received exposure to projects with impacts far further reaching than my previous NGO work. It was here that I started consulting for organisations such as the United Nations and the World Bank. It was also while I was in the private sector that I became chartered with the Institution of Civil Engineers.

After several years of working as a consulting engineer, I was fortunate enough to secure a position at UNOPS, where I have now been for more than three years. It was while at UNOPS that I was named a Young Engineering Laureate by the World Federation of Engineering Organisations for leadership in using engineering to support achievement of the SDGs

Which of the subjects you studied at school, college or university do you use in your job?

Even though I am an engineer, in my current job I tend to use the skills learned from my English and international relations courses more than my maths and science skills. This is because I am no longer doing technical design work, and instead am using engineering best practice principles together with my technical foundation to create new solutions for countries’ infrastructure needs. This work requires strong analytical and communication skills.

Who else do you work with?

At UNOPS I work with a very talented and motivated team from all around the world. In my team of eight, there are architects, planners, and of course other engineers, hailing from six different countries. I also work with policy makers, government officials, software developers, technical experts, and communications experts.

What do you like most about engineering?

I have always enjoyed engineering’s way of finding tangible solutions to complex problems. In my job, I deal with complex development issues like poverty reduction, climate action, and social equality, and use engineering and a problem-solving approach to address these.

What are the challenges or downsides to your job?

The biggest challenge of my job is not technical, it’s effectively communicating the role engineering can play in achieving sustainable development outcomes so that policy and decision makers listen to and enact our recommendations.

What are your aims as an engineer?

My aim as an engineer is to contribute to building a more safe, sustainable and inclusive world.

What opportunities are there to progress in your role or be promoted?

Having a degree in engineering is very valuable because it teaches you critical thinking and problem solving. Both skills are very valuable to organisations and can lead to professional advancements and promotion. In fact, engineering is the most common degree of CEOs, and 45% of Fortune 500 CEOs have majored in engineering.

What skills and personal qualities are important for being an engineer?

The ability to communicate with others is critical. You can have the best idea or perfect solution to a problem, but if you can’t communicate it or your vision to anyone else it cannot be implemented.

If you could go back (or forward) in time and invent anything, what would it be?

Well for that I would need to invent the time machine first… But after that, then a teleportation device with an adequate renewable energy source. Think of all the energy and CO2 we could save by not driving or flying anymore!

What advice would you give a young person who was considering engineering as a future career?

Find your calling. Find the challenge or problem in the world that you want to address. What is it that you are passionate about and how can you approach that problem in a way that you are uniquely able to do? It doesn’t matter what challenge you choose or what your passion is, or what it becomes, just throw yourself into it with everything that you have.

Does your work overlap with other types of engineering/science/technology?

My work is very interdisciplinary, and I need to always be learning about the latest advancements in different infrastructure sectors and topics, such as sanitation, city planning, and disaster management, as these all feed into my focus on sustainable, resilient and inclusive infrastructure.

What do you like doing in your spare time?

I enjoy backcountry trekking, cycling, and rock climbing.

What do you want to do next in your career?

I would like to come up with the next big solution to help countries use infrastructure and engineering to achieve their sustainability and development objectives.