Between 2017 and 2019, Dr Marlene Kanga AO (MSc Chemical Engineering 1977) was President of the World Federation of Engineering Organisations (WFEO), the international peak body for professional engineering institutions, representing approximately 100 national and regional member institutions and approximately 30 million engineers. She is the first chemical engineer to have led this institution, and was National President of Engineers Australia in 2013.

In 2022, Dr Kanga was awarded an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in The Queen’s Birthday Honours List in Australia, for "distinguished service to engineering, particularly as a global leader and role model to women, to professional organisations, and to business."

The Alumni Relations team caught up with Dr Kanga to hear about her time at Imperial and her role as President at WFEO.

Tell us about your time at Imperial...

My time at Imperial was very important as my specialisation in process safety and risk engineering was a result of my studies there. This was a very new area for the chemical industry and it enabled me to provide leadership in this field and to make a significant contribution to safety in hazardous industries in Australia.

More importantly, I was inspired at Imperial to think about the impact that engineering has on the world. I had opportunities to be taught by leading researchers and thinkers and their impact continues to resonate.

Engineers have been transforming our world for millennia and today more than ever, we need engineers to address the issues of climate change, depleting resources and inclusive development in low income countries. The students at Imperial have the best minds and are poised to be the world’s future leaders. As National President of Engineers Australia in 2013, I was proud that many Imperial alumni were presidents of their institutions in the same year – from Hong Kong, Malaysia and the UK.

Imperial provided an excellent education that was the foundation for a life-long career and also the values and vision for positive transformation. This is invaluable and I hope today’s students maximise the opportunities that Imperial provides.

Tell us about your career so far...

I have had a career in process safety risk engineering the oil and industry in Australia and New Zealand. My work was the result of my specialisation in this field at Imperial. I was privileged to develop the first documents which established the land use safety criteria for the State Government of New South Wales. These now form part of the regulations for hazardous industry throughout Australia and have been adopted in New Zealand and Singapore. I am currently Chair of the Institution of Chemical Engineers Safety Centre and Major Hazards Committee, providing global leadership for process safety engineering practices in high hazard industries.

I am also a non-executive director of Sydney Water Corporation – Australia’s largest water utility company, Air Services Australia, which provides navigation services across Australia and much of the Indian Ocean, as well as Standards Australia. I am a board member of a number of organisations involved in innovation. I was a board advisor to Innovation Science Australia and Chair of the Department of Industry Innovation and Science R&D Incentives Committee, the largest Australian government support program for industry R&D, worth $4 billion. I am a director of iOmniscient Pty Ltd. which has developed intelligent video analytic technologies.

You took up your role as President of the World Federation of Engineering Organisations (WFEO) in December 2017. How did that go?

I was proud to lead the World Federation of Engineering Organisations particularly in relation to its strategic objective of advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals through engineering. I led the development of the WFEO Engineering 2030 Plan which shows how engineers can contribute to achieving the UN Sustainable Goals. WFEO is working in partnership with the International Engineering Alliance, where the Engineering Council UK is a signatory and other international engineering organisations including the Global Engineering Deans Council, where Imperial College Engineering is a member, to build capacity for more engineers in the developing world.

The international engineering education benchmarks were reviewed in 2021 for engineering graduate outcomes that meet current needs in a world that is advancing rapidly with new innovations and considering engineering approaches for sustainable development, including ethical practices and a diverse profession.

We are supporting capacity building in engineering education in Africa, Asia and Latin America and are providing training at no cost to engineering educators for outcome-based education through online platform WFEO Academy, demonstrating Open Science Principles in action.

The implementation of the 2030 Plan will take several years. I am hoping that the foundations laid during my term as WFEO President will result in successful progress of the projects that have been initiated. If successful, these have potential for significant impact for a better sustainable world.