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Written by: Isabel Nuesse

The dogma of our current economy has seeped all across our world- even in the smallest of spaces. 

Living in Nairobi, the extent of this dogma cannot be ignored. It glares every worker in the face on a daily basis. 

For example, the security guard business is one of the largest employers in Kenya. Known as Ascaris – originally derived from the word ‘soldier’ – they typically work 12-hour shifts, 7-days a week, with 4 days off a month. The actual work they do consists of opening and closing gates and ‘guarding’ the property. Nearly every building, mall, home and apartment complex in Nairobi employs at least one ascari full time. With unemployment reaching nearly 30%, these guards are easily replaceable and therefore have little to no say in their working conditions or salaries. 

The typical wage of these guards is $150 a month. This is wholly unlivable in Nairobi. These low wages ensure that the ascaris live in informal housing settlements, with little to no opportunity to ‘move up’ in society. 

One of the ascaris who works in the housing complex where I live, Nellie, is a woman that I’ve befriended over the last few months. 

She invited me to her home in Kibera – one of the largest informal housing settlements in Nairobi-  one Sunday for chai. (For context, I speak Swahili and therefore am able to communicate quite easily with Nellie). She welcomed me to her single room home – housing Nellie and her four kids – and we spoke about her dreams and opportunities in life. 

Essentially, Nellie is stuck. She wakes up at 4:30am each day, walks 1.5 hours to work (because spending $0.20/ride on transit each way adds up), works 6:30am to 6:30pm, walks home- arrives at 8:00pm, cooks a quick dinner for her children and heads to sleep to do the entire routine again the following day. 

She has no life. She works. 

This is typical for many Kenyans living in Nairobi. It’s so common to work in this way it’s common for people to reference their ‘hustle’– or second job. People have single or multiple ‘side hustles’ to supplement their incomes as the city is expensive and one job is not enough. 

On one hand, this makes this city incredibly vibrant. Never have I lived somewhere where innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity are so alive. The city is truly booming. On the flip side, it creates a culture of constant work, where value is heavily placed on how busy you are. Threading through this culture is the mantra that wealth is king. 

This brings me back to Nellie and my visit to her home. Nellie, her neighbour and I were speaking of life, making ends meet and the challenges of the present day economy. I noticed that inserted into their Swahili, they started to speak of the need for ‘capital’ – not money, capital. This is the jargon, the language and narrative that is eroding its way into Kibera. The residents are taught the value of having capital – to start their enterprise – to send their kids to school, to make ends meet.  

It was this moment where I felt the pervasiveness of the economic system. Nellie and her neighbour(s) are essentially slaves to a system that entraps them. Their entire lifestyle is centered around work – in upholding the system of extraction. It’s now seeped into their language and the way they express themselves. Using the jargon of the system, to make them believe that is the solution out of the system. “If only I had access to capital.” 

While there is nothing I can do to change the ascari system in Kenya, getting to know Nellie has reaffirmed for me the desperate need for an alternative economic system. This is most urgent in spaces where the dominant extractive system is beginning to wrap its cold hands around the population.

Maybe one day we can envisage a world where the ascari system in Kenya is run on a cooperative model – where the workers make their hours. Or maybe the security guard business becomes obsolete? Maybe the word capital is replaced by words of abundance and opportunity? 

It certainly makes me feel powerless – and pushes me to continue to fight for an economic model for those that don’t have the agency to do so. 

By Isabel Nuesse and Robert Wanalo

Makerspaces have the potential to transform local communities by solving local challenges using global resources. But how are these makerspaces created in a way that ensures lasting sustainability? How do they integrate local knowledge, preserve the environment and build the capacity of the community? These are integral pieces in thinking about “Sustainable Making” and how to influence a global movement of thinkers, doers and creatives to consider these questions before they develop their local maker spaces. 

In December 2019, a group of global makers convened at the DOTS conference to discuss what Sustainability as a principle means for the makerspace movement, and what ‘Sustainable Making’ as a field of practice would be. Being true to the saying that “Systemic problems require systemic solutions,” we sought to present Sustainable making as a set of connected concepts rather a single ‘big idea’. Below, you will find the outline of the first of five principles.

  1. Make things that make sense:  Create products and solutions that solve fundamental, real-world problems.  

The ideology behind the open source knowledge and distributed manufacturing movement is fundamentally disruptive and revolutionary. It seeks to establish a globally distributed knowledge and design commons that supports localized production of value in communities across the world. This means that the makerspace movement is on a mission to democratize the global manufacturing industry by increasing access to knowledge, skills, and tools that enable those who had largely been left out to engage in production and commerce. Democratization in this case goes hand in hand with Localization, in that  production of goods is being supported to occur in proximity to the communities and places where they are most needed. This would result in shorter supply chains, and production that is more context specific, and highly responsive to local challenges.  This is the precise intention behind Principle 1; that making should be informed by the local context in question and thus seek to address the challenges at hand.  

Case study: Inclusivity Innovation in the Health Sector. 

Broadly speaking, access to quality and affordable healthcare is a global phenomenon, and the challenge varies from place to place. When we factor in the physical limitations of persons with special needs and the products available, it may either be too expensive or may not entirely meet their needs. Careables, is a global platform run by an interdisciplinary team which creates, shares and supports the production of  open solutions that aim to improve the quality of life for people with unmet needs or facing physical limitations. They do this by facilitating collaboration between local communities of citizens with disabilities, healthcare professionals and makers/designers to co-design and develop open-source interventions and solutions that meet the needs of persons with disabilities. Whether it is the use of 3D printing to produce specialized orthopedic braces for children with neurological challenges in Milan, Italy, or convening and hosting healthcare hackathons with diverse stakeholders in various cities like Kumasi, Ghana, or creating open access to their designs, handbooks, reports and “how-to” guides on their website, Careables is an  example of makers using digital technologies to create real social impact.

2. Integrate Local Knowledge: Build from within the community by working with local practices, materials and traditional resources.

During a conversation with Jon Stever, co-founder of Innovation for Policy Foundation, discussing his and his teams work on policy reform in various countries across Africa, we talked particularly about what it means to design ‘with’ and not ‘for’, how to engage communities with humility and respect, and the various processes available out there to facilitate this. At some point, a quote came up which succinctly captures what inclusivity represents; “If you do something FOR me, but WITHOUT me;  you do it AGAINST me.” Participation is empowerment, and empowered participation is democracy. Integrating the culture, local knowledge, lived experience and perspective of the communities we work in and with is essential for social innovation. 

The Innovation for Policy Foundation is a pan-African organization whose work involves developing and deploying methodologies and technologies that support more effective policy reform through discourse and public participation. Their platform pursues the crowd sourcing of input from local communities of “policy users” (those most affected by a particular public policy). Being able to contribute to the formulation of policies that you are passionate about through your smartphone or the comfort of your home is a great departure from when national and local governments would host events in different cities and towns; an expensive and tedious affair. The i4Policy team have supported participatory policy reform processes in 11 countries and trained government and ecosystem leaders in more than 20 countries in Africa to great effect. Most recently, their work led the co-creation of the Senegal Startup Act in December 2019.  

i4Policy is redefining what civic engagement means in the continent. They are currently hosting a public consultation of the Africa Innovation Policy Manifesto using their open source policy consultation software. Shape your policies now: https://i4policy.org/manifesto.

 

At the DOTS conference in December 2019, we joined a working group whose aim was to find out how makerspaces are could amplify the level of impact they are already creating in the communities in which they exist across the world. We articulated these findings in 5 Principles of Sustainability, which are as follows:

 

  • Make things that make sense:  Create products and solutions that solve fundamental, real-world problems.  
  • Integrate Local Knowledge:  Design with the community, leveraging on local knowledge and experience, as well as the local resources & assets available.
  • Include Ecosystem Services: Aim to give back more than you take from the environment and include accounting practices that value the natural resources used.
  • Build for Continuity: Design for the present and future; build social capacity, & aim for financial self sufficiency.
  • Share How You Make: Develop a set of guidelines that provide a framework for openly documenting everything about the making of the project. 

 

These principles provide a framework for makerspaces around the globe to consider in their development, operations, and  strategy. Not only do these spaces provide opportunity for communities to revitalize their local economies, but it inherently builds an economy that enables communities to be self-reliant. 

Over the next few weeks, WEAll will be publishing a blog series that showcase different case studies from groups that are a part of the Global Innovation Gathering (GIG), and The r0g Agency for Open Culture and Critical Transformation.

By Isabel Nuesse: WEAll Engagement and Content Lead 

Open technology builds a strong case for the practicality of building a wellbeing economy. While in Nakuru, Kenya at the Digital Open Technology Summit (DOTS) conference, I saw the potential transformation that open source technology can have on local communities. Hosted by Global Innovation Gathering (GIG) and the R0g agency for Open Culture and Transformation, the gathering showcased numerous examples of localized economic development addressing specific community needs all across the global south.

A majority of my time was spent learning. Learning about the innumerable opportunities that open-source technology can provide to communities and learning about the potential disruption that this space has, as well.

There were innovations at DOTS from open-sourced orthopedic braces, to underwater gliders to microscopes. All intended to be made by local makers, to solve local problems. The hyper-localization of these projects gave me hope that a “glocalized” future is possible. Meaning, a future that using the benefits of globalization to strengthen local communities. Open-source technology has found a balance between these often-conflicting futures. I was curious to look deeper at how WEAll intersects with this work.

It was obvious that a core principal of Open-Tech mirrors that of WEAll; to value collaboration over competition. In many ways this space challenges the system by doing exactly what Buckmaster Fuller said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality; you change things by making a better model that makes the existing models obsolete.” In the same way that WEAll is working to build a new economic system, the model that open-tech uses introduces an entirely new way of sharing information and manufacturing products.

This actualizes in the introduction of an open-source MRI machine that is being developed. The innovation would hugely benefit local communities that would otherwise, not have access to such technologies, and it necessitates transparency from large companies to disclose the true cost of a product. This is systems change.

Leaving the conference, I became curious about how WEAll can continue to interact with the open-source technology space. It addresses a complex issue of keeping communities resilient against an ever-globalized world. The weaving of these two movements seems obvious to me. So, what’s next?

If you’re interested in learning more and following some of the organizations that attended check out their twitter pages here:

  • GIG, Germany: @WeareGIG
  • R0G Agency, Germany: @intertwilight
  • Ask Lab, Kenya: @ASKlab_Kenya
  • Ataka Hub, South Sudan: @AtakaHub
  • Mboa Lab, Cameroon: @labmboa
    VilSqure, Nigeria: @Vilsquare
  • Kumasi Hive, Ghana: @KumasiHive
  • Open BioEconomy Lab, UK: @OpenBioEconomy
  • Go Girls ICT Lab, Juba South Sudan: @gogirlsictjuba