Denver, CO–In a carefully coordinated transition, long-time humanitarian engineering leader Cathy Leslie retires as Jackie O’Brien takes the helm of Engineers Without Borders USA (EWB-USA), a world-class non-profit with a dual mission of eradicating poverty while equipping the next generation of engineers able to tackle the world’s most pressing challenges.
“As a Board, we are eternally grateful to Cathy for her significant contributions and years of steadfast leadership,” said Brian Reilly, EWB-USA’s board president, “Cathy’s unwavering commitment and strategic contributions position EWB-USA for future success.”
Leslie’s belief in meaningful volunteerism and dedication to mentoring a generation of engineers able to address the world’s most pressing problems, grew the organization from a startup nonprofit in 2002 into a full-fledged movement. Through her leadership, EWB-USA has worked in over 56 countries with 566 partners on 2,321,541 projects, improving the lives of millions of people across the globe by providing clean water, sanitation, roads, bridges, schools, and hospitals to the world’s most vulnerable people.
Known for her vision and tenacity, Leslie’s remarkable legacy includes the creation of solid fundraising and corporate partnership programs, the establishment of three country offices (Uganda, Nicaragua, Guatemala), and the brokering of long-lasting partnerships with other NGOs and INGOs. She also positioned the organization to assist in natural disaster response and served as a leader in the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) space–linking engineering and health care, with significant projects in Uganda and the Caribbean.
A vocal champion for women and minorities, Leslie was at the forefront of many projects ensuring that women have access to clean water and proper sanitation while giving birth across Africa, as well as in proactively hardening health care clinics throughout the Caribbean prior to hurricane season.
“It has been an honor and privilege leading EWB-USA through a transformative journey,” Leslie said. “I am enormously proud of all the past and current EWBers around the world and what we have accomplished together.”
“When I began this position, I knew that I wanted to retire at 60 and pursue additional interests– including volunteering,” said Leslie. “Coincidentally, Jackie had set a plan for herself–allocate 30 years toward a corporate career and then bring her skills to the nonprofit sector. Our milestone dates, as well as the stars, aligned perfectly for this transition,” says Leslie.
Serving as an EWB-USA board member since 2018, O’Brien has played an integral role in setting course for the organization and serving as an ambassador to the corporate community. “We are fortunate to have someone with Jackie’s background and experience continuing the vision of eliminating poverty and training the next generation of engineers. Jackie is a passionate change maker with deep leadership skills,” said Reilly.
“I am forever grateful to Cathy for her leadership role in transforming EWB-USA from a start-up organization 15 years ago to a highly regarded and well-functioning one today,” said Bernard Amadei, EWB-USA’s founder who has worked closely with Leslie over the years. “Her legacy in making the world a better place is now in the hearts and minds of many communities worldwide.” Amadei is “looking forward to the leadership of Jackie in bringing EWB-USA to its next stages of evolution. EWB-USA has been and will always be in good hands,” he said.
O’Brien says she is honored to move EWB-USA forward and plans to continue building upon the organization’s many successes, including providing unique educational experiences at colleges and universities as well as in presenting avenues for positive community change.
“What we need right now, is to continue harnessing the incredible skills of our volunteers and channel them into positive outlets. We are proving, now, how engineers can make a difference. In any type of crisis or disaster where big thinking and innovation are needed, there are roles for engineers to play in rethinking our built world and in strengthening our vital infrastructure,” says O’Brien referring to the response the organization is providing across the globe in developing, designing, and distributing PPE as well as in installing handwashing facilities and distributing handbooks with designs that are easy to build. “We’re continuing to innovate because our role is clear–our role is providing essential infrastructure to everyone–here, at home, and across the globe. There’s a lot to do and there is a role for everyone in building a more just and peaceful world.”
Having held leadership positions at Vigor, Arconic, and Alcoa, O’Brien is known for her convening skills, rigor, and belief in meaningful volunteerism. She holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering from The Ohio State University and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University. O’Brien is the third executive director of the organization following Leslie and Amadei.