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Dream Big: Building Bridges

Posted Wednesday, February 15, 2017 at 6:23 PM

"Engineer Avery Bang, CEO of Bridges to Prosperity, teaches communities to build footbridges."

Engineering Careers
Civil |

Dream Big: Building Bridges

PostedThursday, February 16, 2017 at 9:32 AM

Kate Gramling
Kate Gramling
Dream Big: Building Bridges

Even though Earth’s urban population is growing, there are still billions of people living in rural areas – often in isolated villages. For some, getting their products to market, visiting a doctor, or even going to school is possible only during certain times of the year. For some, these tasks are almost insurmountable challenges.

“It’s just such an inequality to stand on one side of a river and to be able to see the things you can’t have. I can literally see that market, see that hospital. I can see that school.” 
~ Avery Bang

Avery Bang is a civil engineer and CEO of Bridges to Prosperity, an international non-profit that teaches communities how to build footbridges across impassible rivers. Even three years into her college education, Bang wasn’t sure that engineering was right for her. But then she had the opportunity to study abroad and see engineering in a different way. She came back, finished her degree, and went on to study engineering in graduate school. “I was really committed to using [my] technical prowess to make the lives of people better.”

Bang started doing that when she was still an undergraduate. “I remember calling the founder of Bridges to Prosperity at the time and saying, ‘Hey, this is Avery. I’m a University of Iowa student and I want to build a bridge.’ He’s a visionary guy and he had enough wherewithal to say, ‘You’re twenty years old and you want to get on an airplane and build a bridge. I don’t think so.’ She laughs at the memory.

She made several more phone calls, helped raise several thousand dollars, and got faculty to support the project. It took 18 months, but eventually, she and her fellow students travelled to Peru and helped the local people build a bridge. A few years later Bang became the first US employee of Bridges to Prosperity.

" ‘What’s the need?’ The need is that one in seven people in the world can’t get to where they need to go. A billion people are isolated.”
~ Avery Bang

When asked why she chose to build bridges, Bang says, “it’s pretty indisputable that there is a before and after…there is a difference in walking across that bridge today – not only for myself, but for the thousands of people that live there – that wasn’t there yesterday.”

In 2017, Bridges to Prosperity will have made a difference for 1 million people.

Bang has big plans for the future. She's currently working on an MBA from the University of Oxford's Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship. She wants Bridges to Prosperity to help even more people. She says, "I don’t think it’s practical to say we’ll reach a billion people. But I do think it’s practical to say, ‘How do you really scale what you’ve done in a meaningful way that doesn’t lose touch with the fact that this is human.’”

Sound like an interesting challenge? "Indeed," she replied. "Engineers get to solve all kinds of problems."

 

How else might engineers help those isolated in rural areas access markets, healthcare, and education?

Avery Bang and Bridges to Prosperity are featured in the film Dream Big, opening this week in IMAX theaters around the country. Moviegoers will see what a huge impact a footbridge has on the people in an isolated village in Haiti.

Filed Under Construction Civil Transportation & Travel