“Necessity is the mother of invention” is a famous proverb used across the world and in 2020, it correctly came to play when countries and regions’ supply chains were disrupted if not completely cut off. Everyone wanted to do something, to offer solutions and so were the innovators and the makers and this is the time people for the first time saw the need of the innovation makerspaces. Traditionally and culturally many communities had ways of fulfilling their needs by making such products. For example, communities had traditional healers, pot makers, ironworks, weavers, garment makers, leather tanners among others but where are these cottage industries? Where can you go and make a reality your idea or share your thoughts and get genuine feedback from the experienced industrialists if not just theorists? Every community should have ways of building at least some of the things by themselves and not just relying on importation.
In the West, many households have a garage. These garages unlike in Africa where their purposes is to keep safe the vehicles, the garage in their context is a workshop where any repairs and building of anything is done. It’s fitted with tools which can enable one build something. This then liberates people from entirely relying on the fundis to repair any small broken item in your house. For the need for such spaces gave birth to Fablabs and makerspaces which actually have both traditional tools and modern power and digital fabrication tools while at the same time enjoys the privilege of global connectivity hence embrace collaborative designing from any parts of the world but produces locally.
FABrication LABoratory (Fablab) as described by the founder Prof. Neil Gershenfeld is a place where you can ‘make almost anything’; where an idea is turned into a reality. All planning, design, production and fabrication processes are done in one place. This technological emancipation of manufacturing is supported by an array of digital desktop fabrication and manufacturing tools which ranges from cutting, drilling and molding tools like 3D printers, CNC millers & routers, Laser and vinyl cutters as well as electronic bench. These tools enable makers to turn their ideas to reality by designing and producing at the same place. It has acted as an agent for promotion of democratization of manufacturing since the network members of Fablabs have similar tools and share similar processes. This need has seen a remarkable speedy growth of Fablabs, makerspaces, Hackspaces, innovation hubs which provide shared-tools and knowledge for the manufacturing of various items.
Other than production, Fablabs provide a unique learning approach as borrowed from the Paulo Freire’s work which encourages putting together familiar practices (what is already there and adding a new thing and together, a product is built, as expressed by Paul Blikstein in the Travel in Troy. Paulo goes ahead to stress on the dichotomy between being immersed in one’s reality (only being aware of your own needs) and emerging from reality (being active in fulfilling those needs). The learners go from the “consciousness of the real” to the “consciousness of the possible” as they perceive the “viable new alternatives” beyond the “limiting situations”.
Fablearn (a multi-national network, research collaborative, and vision of learning for the 21st century; disseminates ideas, best practices and resources to support an international community of educators, researchers, and policy makers committed to integrating the principles of constructionist learning and maker education into formal and informal education) like Fablabs provides these opportunities empowering and enabling individuals to collaborate and apply various shared knowledge to innovate, improve or just critically analyze products and make it possible to produce items which otherwise were traditionally preserves for the major industrial manufacturing factories
HUMANITARIAN MAKING IN CRISIS
In the March 2020 when corona entry was first announced in Kenya, panic mode infiltrated the public, everyone was clueless about its remedies and any ideas oriented towards curbing the dreaded disease was welcomed. Whereas the medical health workers were setting up facilities ready to receive patients, the maker-community started figuring our what they would build and the media took charge of relaying correct information (though this was so difficult thanks to freedom in social media)
In the same measures, different makerspaces and Fablabs like Vigyan Ashram Fablab (India), Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab (China), Kamakura Fablab (Japan), Fablab Oulu (Finland), Fablab Leon (Spain) Kumasi Hive (Ghana), Fablab Rwanda (Rwanda) just to mention a few. In Kenya, some learning institutions like Dedan Kumathi University of Technology, Technical University of Mombasa, Nyangoma Technical Institution of the Deaf featured with different solutions they made. Other humanitarian Organizations like Countrywide Innovation Hubs, Afrilabs, Redcross, Field Ready, UNICEF and small youth led ones like Kisumu Youth Caucus made impact in different ways by supporting various programs
On 18th March 2020, makers at Fablab Winam came up with their first solution (just four days after the first case was announced in Kenya); a contact tracing mobile application for the passenger manifest for PSV users (https://kenyainsights.com/two-computer-geeks-in-kisumu-develops-a-mobile-app-to-help-trace-those-exposed-to-coronavirus-in-matatus/). This was in response to the Kisumu Governor – Prof. Nyong’o’s appeal for the PSV operators to keep the manifest of passengers. This was later on improved to include cashless payment and named – mSafari (https://msafari.co.ke/). This solution was to cut the weak link of spread of corona which was created by the movement of people in obviously overloaded matatus in Kenya and many other African countries whose means of public transport are not so organized.
During the same period, we set up virtual classes for teaching STEM to young people aged 10 to 17. In this, our approach was peer education. We identified some students who were now at home but are good with STEM to offer virtual training to others. So many students benefited from this program.
In June 15th at the celebration of the Day of an African Child, Fablab Winam hosted a Global Kids Day in partnership with Fab Lat Kids. Global Kids Day is a virtual maker-workshop for children from different parts of the world working and collaborating on one activity simultaneously purposing in addressing the theoretical analysis and the practical workshops. Each workshop has its own strategies for developing certain values, knowledge and skills, but they all share the same basic methodological structure. It is championed by team of friends from different countries (Mexico, Qatar, Brazil, Japan, Argentina, Sudan and Kenya).This particular one focused on African culture and over 500 participants from 10 countries benefited from this workshop. Another workshop benefiting about 100 children from Dolphine Korando Educational Centre with support from BetterMe Kenya.
This was not all, Fablab Winam has since continued to work with different people & firms to develop and locally manufacture a number of items. Other items we continue working on including 3D printed face shields, elbow operated tap, mask clips/ear savers for facemasks, elbow door opener, Mild sheet Foot operated tap for already installed sinks, Constant heat plastic roller sealer among others.
Some of the products which were built in different Fablabs in response to covid pandemic were Ventilators, sanitizers, handwashing stations and foot operated taps, Air purifiers, respirators, face masks and face shields, elbow operated taps & door openers, gowns, hospital beds etc.
Rallying people together to identify their own problems and designing their own solutions is well captured by Stan Burkey in his book titled “People First, – a Guide to the Self-Reliant, Participatory Rural Development (SRPD) and also appreciated by the Change Agent Anthem as “Go to the people live with them, love them, learn from them, work with them; start with what they have, build on what they know and, in the end, the people will say, We have done it, have done it ourselves”.
The 21st Century skills and general technology at the main agents for emancipation and promoter of the 4th industrial revolution, will hopefully bring the most needed transformation and give consumers for freedom and sense responsibility of the products they use. Manufacturing will no longer be left in the hands of the few but anybody will be able to make contribution in the production in respect to their environment and the locally available materials; designing globally and producing locally.