Arup engineer da Silva becomes a dame in New Year’s honours list

Arup structural engineer, Dame Jo da Silva.

Arup engineer Jo da Silva has been recognised in this year’s New Year’s honours list and been awarded Dame Commander of the British Empire for services to engineering and humanitarian relief.

Da Silva founded the not-for profit subsidiary Arup International Development in 2007, to enable the firm’s world-renowned technical expertise to be applied directly to improving the social outcomes of projects for people in developing countries. Announcing the honour, the government said: “No other individual UK engineer is so personally associated with shifting the approach of a major engineering company to prioritise social outcomes for vulnerable communities in developing countries. She is an extremely effective proponent of the ‘build back better’ philosophy for humanitarian relief, as well as being one of the most successful women structural engineers globally.”

The 53-year-old structural engineer is the global sustainable development leader at Arup and has been with the firm for more than 30 years. She has also been a leading member and advocate for the engineering disaster relief organisation RedR since 1991. Her career has included designing buildings and infrastructure that improves the quality of life, with working in post-disaster situations helping to relieve suffering and reduce vulnerability.

A specialist in disaster reduction, da Silva has worked with various humanitarian groups, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Sri Lanka after the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami coordinating the efforts of over 100 humanitarian agencies and the building of over 60,000 shelters in six months. From 2008 to 2017, da Silva also worked with Sabre Education to develop a series of early years learning facilities in Ghana.

Jo da Silva is also a previous winner of ACE’s Young Consulting Engineer of the Year Award, a prize she won in 1995.

Commenting on her honour, da Silva said: “I’ve always been driven by the desire to do something practical to contribute to society and my technical engineering knowledge has helped me do this. However, being a member of Arup has allowed me to bring together expertise from a huge range of disciplines and deploy this for the good of the most vulnerable communities around the world. This honour is very much recognition of the fabric and strength of Arup – an employee-owned firm driven by a social purpose and made up of the brightest minds.” 

Elsewhere, Debbie Francis, city executive for the north at Arcadis, received an Order of the British Empire (OBE) medal in the New Year's honours list. The award recognises her contribution to raising the profile of women in rail over the last decade. Francis joined Arcadis in September 2020 and represents the company on the board of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, where Arcadis is one of the founding partners supporting the need for rail investment to connect Northern cities and delivering the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda.

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