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Fab Lab Network#
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA
Stanford FabLearn Fellow#
University of Nairobi, Kenya#
Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria.#
RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia
Fab Lab Nairobi#
The global “Maker Movement” is a trend toward the democratization of technology by means of do-it-yourself
culture, open-source sharing, and small scale manufacturing. Related initiatives include community workshops such
as makerspaces and Fab Labs, giant Maker Faire festivals worldwide, and support for new inventions (and their
inventors) through entrepreneurial competitions and activities. This movement has attracted significant media
attention and interest from educators, multinational corporations, and national governments.#
Although informal sector activities often overlap with do-it-yourself culture, our research indicates that many
“Maker” initiatives in developing countries have ignored existing grassroots innovatorsoften in favour of top-
down policies that supplant existing initiatives while attempting to target similar users. This paper discusses how the
present lack of integration between Maker initiatives and the informal sector can be a form of neo-colonialism; in
addition, the popularity of creating new community workshops detracts from the support available for existing
grassroots facilities and industrial clusters. Due to the lack of cross-sector collaboration, contributions from
grassroot artisans to the global Maker discussion remain limited and underappreciated.#
This paper details how the global Maker Movement attracts elite actors, who ironically celebrate the methods and
frugal creativity of grassroots innovators while ignoring the informal sector. There lacks a collaborative effort to
incorporate grassroots innovators in spurring local technological development and creating opportunities for bottom-
up innovation. This would require targeted initiatives to tap into the local skill and expertise from the informal
sector, in addition to their deep understanding of the local markets for the goods and services that they provide.#
The paper identifies successful international collaborations with the informal sector, with a particular focus on the
Ghana Intermediate Technology Transfer Unit in the 1980s. The authors use exploratory and case study research
methods to discuss how these interventions succeeded and provide recommendations for future Maker initiatives
that embrace grassroots innovators. The paper concludes that further connections between Makers and grassroot
artisans would provide new employment opportunities for the grassroots while validating those in the Maker
Movement who possess globally-relevant technologies but lack the socio-political background necessary for impact.#
Keywords: Community-based workshops; digital fabrication; grassroots; inclusivity; informal sector; innovation;
job creation; education; Africa.#
Published in the proceedings for the International Conference on Creativity and Innovations at Grassroots, IIM-
Ahmedabad, India, January 2015.
Globally, the “Maker Movement” has attracted significant media attention and interest from
educators, national governments, and multinational corporations (including GE, Intel, Cognizant,
Microsoft, and Godrej Group) who hope to stay ahead of what has often been termed the “new
industrial revolution” (Anderson, 2012). The idea of a “Maker Movement” was popularized by
the United States-based platform Maker Media, and refers to a rapidly-growing trend toward the
“democratization of design, engineering, fabrication and education” (Artisans Asylum, 2014) by
means of do-it-yourself culture, open-source sharing, and small-scale manufacturing and
production. “Maker” initiatives include community workshops, events such as Maker Faires and
similar festivals worldwide, and support for new inventions (and their inventors) through
entrepreneurial competitions and activities; Lipson and Kurman (2013) name several topics
involved in the Maker ethos: “community, creativity, social change, and problem solving.”#
We use the generic term “makerspace” to describe all community workspaces, including
hackerspaces, fab labs, invention labs, and tech hubs that incorporate some aspect of new
technology; we use the term Maker to signify anyone who participates in either physical or
virtual makerspace communities. We employ the general definition by Maker Media and the
Artisan’s Asylum makerspace in Boston, USA (2014): “Makerspaces combine manufacturing
equipment, community, and education for the purposes of enabling community members to
design, prototype and create manufactured works that wouldn’t be possible to create with the
resources available to individuals working alone.”#
Officially, “Fab Labs” are a brand of makerspaces affiliated with the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology and consisting of 440 spaces across over 60 countries (Fab Lab Network, 2014). All
formally-recognized Fab Labs fulfil the following criteria (Fab Foundation, 2013):#
1.!A Fab Lab must be open to the public for free or in-kind service/barter#
2.!Fab Labs support and subscribe to the Fab Lab charter.#
3.!Fab Labs share a common set of tools and processes... [at minimum] a laser cutter
for 3D design and fabrication, a high precision milling machine for making circuits
and moulds for casting, a vinyl cutter for making flexible circuits and crafts, a fairly
sophisticated electronics workbench for prototyping circuits and programming
4.!Fab Labs must participate in the larger, global Fab Lab network.#
5.!Fab Labs must be verified by a well-established fab lab before joining the network.#
Figure 1: typical fab lab in Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland (Fab Lab Network, 2014)#
This paper explores interactions between the global Maker Movement and grassroot artisans with
a focus on Kenya, Uganda, and Ghana, drawing upon exploratory and case study research
methods in addition to the authors’ extensive personal experience among both Makers and
grassroot artisans. We discuss how makerspaces tend to attract elite actors, who ironically
celebrate the methods and frugal creativity of grassroots innovators while ignoring the actual
informal sector, and finally we offer recommendations for future collaborations.#
The authors are all participants within the modern Maker and/or Appropriate Technology
communities, and information gathered from our original research comes from events and
conferences as well as informal discussions with our peers.#
Impact of the Maker Movement#
Makers worldwide are starting new cottage industries to sell their wares at a grassroots level;
their products generally consist of artisanal crafts, household gadgets, and/or tools for other
Makers. Crowdfunding and online marketplaces provide essential services to the maker
movement, by allowing inventors to rapidly raise funds from their peers for small-scale
production (Deloitte and Maker Media, 2014). In 2013, the world’s crowdfunding sites reached
close to $5 billion in transactions (Drake, 2013). is a marketplace for Makers to sell
their creations, and its user base now consists of 15 million artisans across more than 150
countries, with 690,000 new members joining each month (Atmel, 2014). The scale of the global
Maker Movement amounts to millions of (mostly part-time) Makers across tens of thousands of
makerspaces and household workshops. Popular Maker technologies include the low-cost
desktop 3D printer, of which 56,507 units were sold worldwide in 2013, and the programmable
microprocessor Arduino, of which over a million boards have been sold worldwide (Atmel,
Today’s global Maker Movement bears similarities to both the early 20th-century Arts and
Crafts movement in the United States (Morozov, 2014) and the international Appropriate
Technology movement in the 1970’s, which was heavily inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s
philosophy of independent, self-sufficient communities. The modern Maker Movement has been
bolstered by technological advances in digital fabrication that make advanced manufacturing
affordable to grassroots actors, and the popularity of Maker Faires has grown at an exponential
rate for the past decade (Deloitte and Maker Media, 2014). The United States government held a
White House Maker Faire in March, and national Maker policies are also being discussed by
government officials in Kerala (India), Barcelona (Spain), the United Kingdom, Russia, Nigeria,
South Africa, Peru, Iceland, Taiwan, and Shanghai (China), among others (Fab Lab Network,
2014). Barcelona will become the world’s first Fab City, with a prospective fab lab in each of its
10 districts. Iceland considers itself the world’s first “Fab Country,” with one fab lab per every
75,000 citizens (FAB10 Barcelona, 2014). #
Maker Faire Africa is a separate entity from the U.S.-based Maker Faire franchise, which
celebrates boldness and local, relevant invention in its Maker Manifesto (Maker Faire Africa,
1.!We will wait for no one.#
2.!We will make the things Africa needs.#
3.!We will see challenges as an opportunity to invent, and invention as a means to proving
African ingenuity#
10.!We will remake Africa with our own hands.#
The World Bank, United Nations Development Programme, and several government-sponsored
aid organizations (including USAID, JICA, European Union, and DFID) have adopted aspects of
the Maker Movement into their international development policies. The World Bank issued a
report (2013) advising the creation of fab labs throughout Bulgaria, claiming that this network
“could have a catalytic impact on Bulgaria’s development by spurring innovation and creating
synergies among innovators.” The report continues, “The global revolution in digital
manufacturing has dramatically expanded access to industrial-grade digital fabrication
technology, and is transforming the landscape of business models, value chains, and cross-border
trade” (World Bank, 2013).#
Revolutions in production and manufacturing are inherently politically-charged, a fact often
ignored by those promoting the Maker Movement as a tool for industrial development. Morozov
(2014) critiques Makers for their failure to politicize, citing this shortcoming as the downfall of
the U.S. Arts and Crafts movement in the early 20th century. Smith (2014) comes to a similar
conclusion, analysing a network of Appropriate Technology workshops in England in the 1980s:
“A key lesson from this history is that radical aspirations invested in workshops, such as
democratising technology, will need to connect to wider social mobilisations capable of bringing
about reinforcing political, economic and institutional change. Otherwise, as we see in the case
of Technology Networks, diminished versions of these ideas and practices will become captured
and co-opted by incumbents.”#
maxigas and Troxler (2014) provide an even more critical perspective of the current Maker
Movement, given its lack of coherent socio-political action and inflated rhetoric: “Of the four
possible interpretations of Fab Lab and maker culture – bourgeois pass-time, innovation in
education on technology, new renaissance reconciling liberal arts with science and engineering
in a contemporary and playful way, and new industrial revolution– the practice appears to
swither between the former two, while the latter two rhetorically complement the former, either
romantically or rebelliously according to taste.”#
Our paper explores a historical precedent for an initiative toward the democratization of
technology in Ghana (as part of a global Appropriate Technology movement), and we discuss the
practical challenges of incorporating Maker technologies into grassroot artisanal communities.
We agree that the Maker Movement has not lived up to its revolutionary hype among media and
policy-makers. Yet, we conclude that further connections between Makers and grassroot artisans
would provide new employment opportunities while validating those in the Maker Movement
who possess globally-relevant technologies but lack the socio-political background necessary for
Makers: Grassroot Innovators or Bourgeois Hobbyists?#
The lack of formal or centralized operations within the Maker Movement is similar to the global
grassroots industrial sector, which is defined by its lack of connection to established industries,
corporations, and knowledge institutions. There is a growing trend among Makers to seek full-
time employment or provide others with employment opportunities, which would increase the
similarities and potential linkages between groups. Informal sector business provide around 72
per cent of all employment in Sub-Saharan Africa, 65 per cent in Asia, and 51 per cent in Latin
America (ILO, 2002). This amounts to several billion people, although only a small fraction
work with technology on a regular basis and, unlike Makers, very few grassroot artisans take
advantage of modern electronic technologies. #
Both the Maker and grassroot technological communities value economical “do-it-yourself”
solutions, also known as “adhocism” or “hacking,” which rely on available resources/expertise
and employ pragmatic efficiency rather than extensive planning and professional quality. Maker
advocates also emphasize that innovation can come from anyone, regardless of one’s
background, age, or level of education; Maker Faires profess to be meritocratic and all
makerspaces are publicly-accessible. The Honeybee Network’s Ahmedabad Declaration (2013)
similarly recognizes ideas from the grassroots as worthwhile contributions: “Incubation of
grassroots innovations and outstanding traditional knowledge in a distributed, decentralised and
social democratic manner provides an opportunity to address global concern for providing
solutions to persistent social problems.”#
Despite the similarities between movements, there have been few successful collaborations; as
discussed here, the recent Maker Movement attracts predominantly well-educated hobbyists,
whereas grassroots artisans tend to be informally educated and rely upon their artisanal practice
as a primary source of income. Smith (2013) identifies “cultural tension” in a shared community
workshop in London, United Kingdom in the 1980s “between professional and codified technical
knowledge and the tacit knowledge and experiential expertise of community participants.”#
Participants portray the Maker Movement as inclusive, citing a popular quote from Maker Faire
organizers, “everyone is a maker and our world is what we make it” (Maker Media, 2013);
however, research indicated that the Maker Movement attracts mostly privileged participants.
Buechley (2013) analysed every cover on the U.S.-based MAKE magazine since its first issue in
2005 and found that photos portrayed a “very narrow definition” of activities including
electronics, hobbyist vehicles, and robots which would all be unfamiliar to grassroot artisans.
Buechley also found that 85% of the people featured on MAKE’s cover images were men and
boys, and nearly all were Caucasian. Among attendees at the 2012 Bay Area and New York
Maker Faires in the United States, 66% were male, the median household income was
US$117,000, and 87% had tertiary degrees (Maker Media, 2012).#
Similarly, the vast majority of participants among dozens of makerspaces visited by the authors
and our peers across the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia (with the notable exceptions of
several deliberately inclusive spaces in low-income areas) are male, upper or middle-class, and
possess at least a secondary school education. Hielscher and Smith (2014) analyse recent surveys
of makerspaces and determine “most of the members are technically interested and well educated
and therefore represent a particular fraction of society.” Hielscher and Smith (2013) also
determine that “creating an object from an idea to a digital drawing to the finished thing is not a
straightforward process”; this contrasts with the ideal of anyone being able to walk into a
makerspace and start creating some product immediately. Author Waldman-Brown visited a
secondary school makerspace in Boston, U.S. with a predominantly low-income African-
American and Latino student body, where the director of the space actively rejects the term
“Maker” due to perceived connotations of exclusivity and privilege.#
Waldman-Brown et al. (2013) conclude that despite ideological similarities, neither Kenya’s
ARO Fab Lab (founded in 2009) nor the Ghana Fab Lab (founded in 2004) has contributed
significantly to local grassroot artisans over the course of its lifetime: “While informal artisans
are understandably focused on immediate functionality and their own potential for future
employment, those in the fab lab are often more concerned with industrial projects or furthering
the education of students by focusing on interesting rather than practical problems.”#
Although the Maker Movement rhetorically supports "production by the masses" over mass
production, cottage industries in practice are faced with a dilemma. Schumacher (1973) discusses
these two possibilities, following Gandhi’s ideas of “swaraj” and critique of industrialization.
Table 1: Localized versus Mass Production (Schumacher, 1973)#
Scalable Local Production
Ex: beehives in Ghana!
Mass Production
Ex: modern electronics!
Boutique Artisanship
Ex: crafts featured on
Numerous cottage industries
making the same product across
hundreds of factories#
Few industrial-scale factories#
One cottage industry making a
handful of unique, labour-
intensive products
Entire simple product
manufactured and/or assembled in
one facility#
One complex product often made
across multiple specialized,
assembly-line factories#
Entire simple or complex
product made in one facility
Trade secrets are difficult to protect#
Trade secrets are heavily guarded#
Trade secrets often irrelevant
for handicrafts
Decentralized control structures#
Centralized company control#
Individually-owned shops
Products are often easy to repair
locally; producers can more readily
make new parts#
Repairs are often too costly or too
Products are often easy to repair
locally and may be customized
to taste
Expensive, slow-paced production;
local manufacturing could save on
distribution/marketing costs #
Economies of scale lead to much
cheaper production#
Expensive, slow-paced
production; handcrafted
qualities may add value
Insufficient frameworks for
enforcing environmental and safety
Frameworks exist for
environmental and safety
regulations, but large factories
may be more dangerous for
Insufficient frameworks for
enforcing environmental and
safety regulations
Better quality of life for local
workers, high level of self-
Workers forced into crowded
urban settings, lower quality of
Better quality of life for local
workers, high level of self-
determination and creativity
Can be urban or rural, depending
on supply chains; minimal
infrastructure required#
Urban factory settings only;
extensive infrastructure required#
Can be urban or rural,
depending on supply chains;
very minimal infrastructure
Better supported by socialist
Better supported by capitalist
Equally supported by socialist
and capitalist policies
Leads to demand-driven markets,
where demand may exceed supply
of product#
Leads to supply-driven markets,
where supply may exceed demand
for product#
Leads to demand-driven
markets, where demand may
exceed supply of product
Among Makers, the mode of production is often predetermined based on the technology and
economics of the product in question, especially as related to local policies. Given the popularity
of open hardware such as Italy’s Arduino and China’s Seeed Studio and the rapid proliferation of
digital fabrication technology, hybrid models of production may take root; this could allow
cottage industries to expand production in more sustainable ways while maintaining profitable
businesses. In addition, mass manufacturers can now incorporate artisanal qualities including
bespoke product design. Further research is needed on this topic, especially around intellectual
property rights and the economics of small-scale production. There are few studies related to
sustainable employment generated by the Maker Movement, and the mass media tends to falsely
conflate Scalable Local Production with Boutique Artisanship. #
The Maker Movement’s most significant contribution over the past decade is likely not the
promotion of technologies, but rather the empowerment of people to engage with and create
technological communities. Maker Faire Africa: Lagos deliberately positioned grassroot artisans
who are developing agricultural processing equipment alongside university roboticists, to break
down cultural perceptions around invention as an exclusive act. Through intensive study of one
United States hackerspace, Toombs et al. (2014) find that “the process of becoming such an
established maker seems to rely less on inherent abilities, skills, or intelligence per se, and more
on adopting an outlook about one’s agency. We believe this… can be usefully applied to other
situations, particularly those that involve individuals who have not traditionally felt empowered.”
The promotion of this “creative sensibility” as it relates to international development is the
primary research subject of a new academic group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
D-Lab (Development, Dissemination, and Design Lab).#
As the Honeybee Network has been successful in discovering and then sharing new innovations
from the Indian grassroots through platforms such as and innovation competitions
(ICCIG, 2012), the Maker Movement has likewise shared inventions from individuals who
would not otherwise be recognized. Although Maker Faire’s English-language publicity mostly
highlights North American and European makers, other online platforms, competitions, and
media outlets publicize international Makers among a global audience; this may lead to press
coverage and support for particularly inventive projects. Crowdfunding platforms also enable
Makers to raise funds and amass support, especially when inventors can frame a compelling
story about their creativity to garner media attention. The existence of a semi-coherent Maker
Movement allows the media and potential supporters to more readily identify valuable grassroot
inventions, and to celebrate the existing creativity of informal artisans in a new context.#
Case Studies#
How can Makers interact with the grassroots in mutually beneficial ways? We present several
case studies detailing initiatives to upgrade the capabilities of grassroot artisans through the
democratization of technology. Most of these cases do not directly involve the Maker
Movement, but rather represent potential routes for future collaborations.#
Ghana Intermediate Technology Transfer Unit in 1980’s!
In 1980, at the height of the Appropriate Technology movement, the Kwame Nkrumah
University of Science in Technology in Kumasi, Ghana erected the Intermediate Technology
Transfer Unit (ITTU) to provide both technology-based and knowledge-based support and
encourage a shift from repair to manufacturing. Like modern makerspaces, the ITTU and similar
spaces in London (Smith, 2014) provided community access to improved technologies for small-
scale prototyping and manufacturing in the 1980s. These Appropriate or Intermediate
Technology facilities had a strong emphasis on job creation, following Gandhi and
Schumacher’s (1973) ethos of localized production and sustainability which optimized for jobs
created rather than economies of scale. Although modern makerspaces similarly encourage
education and prototyping services, most hardware start-ups emerging from the Maker
Movement have no explicit directive to support localized over mass production.#
Ghanaian and English mechanical engineering professors built the ITTU in the heart of Ghana’s
largest informal industrial cluster, Suame Magazine, which mostly deals in automechanical and
agricultural processing equipment. Today, the ITTU is best known among Suame artisans for
selling some of the first electric machining tools to artisans on hire-purchase terms, and for
training apprentices and leading workshops to introduce new methods and technologies. The
ITTU introduced a machining tool called the capstan lathe, which was ten times faster and more
reliable than the centre lathes that were currently in operation, and brought automobile
technicians from Canada to train local artisans in modern auto-repair techniques. The ITTU
continues to host an exchange programme for KNUST engineering students to gain practical
experience by apprenticing themselves to Suame artisans for several months. #
Overall, the ITTU facilitated the growth of Suame Magazine’s innovation capabilities by
introducing new technologies, as discussed by Waldman-Brown et al. (2013):#
Table 2: Impact of machining tools upon Suame artisans#
Volume Introduced#
Metal fabrication
tools (lathe, drill-
press, milling
machine, etc.)#
Manufacture of
agricultural processing
tools, engine re-boring,
customized gears...#
Over 100 machining
Customized manufacturing and
precision work#
Small-scale iron
foundries and
Making of nuts/bolts,
tools, millstones...#
Currently over 100
small-scale foundries
in Kumasi, trained
through workshops#
Customized manufacturing,
improved compatibility of repair
tools, introduced scrap-metal
collection for iron recycling#
Basic accounting skills,
Dozens of workshops
for interested artisans#
Improved customer relations,
advertising, business transactions
(primarily big businesses)#
Due in large part to the efforts of the ITTU, the stock of machine tools in Suame Magazine grew
from 6 in 1971 to over 100 in 1987 (Intermediate Technology Ghana, 1996). By working with
the government and establishing a precedent for the importation of used equipment, the ITTU
also helped pave the way for unaffiliated artisans within Suame to import their own machining
tools, as shown in Figure 2:
Figure 2: Growth in Numbers of Machine Tools in Ghanaian Grassroots Industries (Intermediate Technology Ghana, 1996).
KNUST’s appropriate technology department started supplying machine tools in 1979, and the Suame ITTU opened in August
1980. Many machine tools were sold to firms other than the 47 surveyed in 1995, and so are not included.
By introducing equipment that could be used for the local manufacturing and processing of raw
materials, the ITTU’s activities helped stimulate the nation’s economy and produced a cascade
effect of new manufacturing industries (Powell, 1990), as shown by the introduction of
Figure 3: Cascade effect of new industries, as enabled by the introduction of beekeeping technologies in Ghana in the 1980s
(Waldman-Brown et al., 2013)#
Although Ghanaians had historically harvested honey and wax from wild bees, the ITTU’s
collaboration with beekeepers in Kenya brought the first domestic beehives into Ghana. While
honey was rare and of inferior quality prior to the ITTU’s intervention, it is widely available
throughout Ghana today.#
Due to the success of this first ITTU, Ghana’s Ministry of Trade and Industry established 9 more
Appropriate Technology centres throughout the country. Although there are no exact statistics
available, Waldman-Brown et al. (2013) and Powell (1995) estimate that this programme’s
activities from 1980-1995 created tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of new jobs
and introduced hundreds of new industries to grassroot artisans in the region. Despite its success,
the ITTU (now called the Ghana Regional Appropriate Technology Information Service) failed
to keep up-to-date with modern technologies; their network of spaces lost considerable support
and funding in the late 90’s, as Ghana moved away from socialist policies and aid organizations
shifted focus from mechanical to digital technologies.#
Fab Lab interactions with grassroot artisans!
In their discussion of Fab Labs in Latin America, Herrera and Juárez (2013) claim that
makerspaces have much to offer local artisans: “digital fabrication can optimize the mechanical
processes and provide more time to the artisan/producer to invest in creative processes, directly
affecting the value of the product and improving their quality of life.” Globally, our findings
indicate that this potential has not been realized by the Maker Movement.#
We estimate that the roughly 150 Fab Labs in the developing world have only led to tens of new
jobs, not counting occupations created for Fab Lab staff members. Vigyan Ashram Fab Lab in
Pune, India may have had better success, although their centre began as an appropriate
technology institution which added a fab lab during the modernization of their workshop. In
addition to initiating the first local manufacture of tractor frames, Vigyan Ashram students and
staff have sold over 5000 units of homemade LED lights, and one entrepreneur started a
company to manufacture and sell a pedal-powered charger designed at the fab lab (Kulkarni,
2013). The Ghana Fab Lab supports numerous part-time businesses including bespoke solar
lamp manufacturing, screen-printing, and etching/engraving services provided by the laser cutter,
Sewing$b eeEsuits
New Retail Businesses
and Ghana Fab Lab staff helped a local speaker manufacturer to purchase a new CNC machine
for rapid production. Yet there is little information on whether these and other products invented
by Makers can be manufactured and/or assembled locally in hundreds of different grassroot
workshops rather than through mass production. Unlike Appropriate Technology proponents, the
Fab Lab community has not identified localized production or entrepreneurship as a primary
ambition; further research is needed on the effectiveness of Fab Labs for job creation. Fab Labs
support a variety of activities including education and prototyping services, and the main focus
of any individual lab is dependent upon its context.
Langevin (2011) found that the majority of potential users at the ARO Fab Lab in rural Kenya
are undereducated, and they are disinclined to visit the Fab Lab because they would feel useless
in a facility based on computer skills. As most grassroot artisans in Sub-Saharan Africa are
computer-illiterate if not entirely illiterate, Waldman-Brown et al. (2013) conclude, “local fab
labs would need to make a particular effort to make these artisans feel welcomed in their
workshops. Informal artisans often work for long hours at or below the poverty line, so they have
little leisure time in which to leave their workshops and attend classes; if they do not see any
immediate benefit in using fab lab facilities, they will not take time to visit.”#
Most of the 43 Fab Labs in the Latin American Fab Lab Network were initiated by well-educated
architecture or design students, and most labs are located within (often closed-off) university
campuses. Herrera and Juárez (2013) report on the difficulties of promoting Maker ideals within
Latin American institutions: “an entrenched culture of misguided competition sums up: ‘I win,
you lose.’ Most public and private institutions speak of cooperation, but hardly encourage it.” #
However, this regional network has several burgeoning collaborations with the grassroots. In
2014, the network began work on a “Floating Fab” barge to float down the Amazon River; this
project will work with indigenous communities to identify new materials and techniques for
conservation and sustainable production. Fab Lab UNI in Peru works closely with Professor
Walter Gonzales who teaches traditional weaving, and Gonzales invented the Digital Loom
which can be manufactured with a CNC machine in 60% of a traditional loom’s production time,
at a similar cost (Herrera and Juárez, 2013). Although this technology has not been introduced
widely among grassroot weavers, the Latin American network is optimistic that their Fab Labs
will encourage further cross-sector cooperation. Herrera and Juárez (2013) praise “the spirit of
social and technological convergence that occurs in [Latin American Fab Labs]: a growing
culture of innovation with inclusion.”#
Collaborative Design Workshops!
The Human-Centred Design process (akin to Design Thinking and Creative Capacity Building)
is practiced and promoted by leading innovation firms such as IDEO; it is a popular tool for the
development of empathetic innovations through collaborative development of relevant and
locally-appropriate technologies. These processes employ rapid prototyping and frequent user-
testing at various stages, and emphasize multidisciplinary approaches to collaborate with target
users throughout the design process. Most Makers employ similar techniques when inventing or
improving upon technologies (though they may not realize the similarities), but there are few
explicit links between Human-Centred Design and the Maker Movement as a whole.#
The following recent examples provide specific projects on which technically-knowledgeable
Makers might collaborate with the grassroots to improve technologies used throughout the
informal sector. Unfortunately, follow-up studies are not yet available for these examples.
Metrics for evaluation may include jobs created, uptake of new technologies and methods,
whether participants develop a new appreciation for cross-sector collaborations, and the degree
to which participants take away new design and engineering skills. #
Rethink Relief Workshop in Pader, Uganda!
Rethink Relief is an annual design workshop hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology and Caritas Uganda to create technologies for humanitarian relief that specifically
addresses the gap between short-term relief and long-term sustainable development. It is an
opportunity for practitioners, designers and recipients of humanitarian aid to engage and develop
a holistic approach to relief that considers the transition from emergency response to post-
disaster self-sufficiency as an integral part of the planning and implementation process. The 2014
conference was held in Pader, Uganda to assist the refugees in Ayilo Camp; participants came
from 16 different nationalities, including the refugees themselves who worked alongside
participants in understanding first-hand the situation on the ground. The participants were
divided into 5 teams, each tackling a specific subject: water, light, agriculture, health and
cooking. Throughout the 2-week conference, participants utilized the design thinking process to
develop low cost technologies that might aid refugees in their day-to-day activities.#
Ideas from teams included:#
1.#‘Make Your Own Light’ kit which enables the user to create a light specific to their need#
2.#An alternative method for safekeeping of refugee camp medical records safe#
3.#Techniques for rainwater harvesting#
4.#New approaches to farming with limited space and resources#
5.#An efficient, smokeless cookstove#
At the end of the conference, teams presented their prototypes at an event that drew over 100
people from the community including government officials. The feedback received was
overwhelmingly positive; participants were pleased with the results and refugees reported that
they gained skills which they could pass along to others, signifying a sustainable and self-
reinforcing method of building creative capacity. All prototypes are posted online, so people who
are interested in carrying projects further can get in touch with the inventors following the
conference (Rethink Relief, 2014).#
Low Cost Manufacturing Tool for ‘Jua Kali’ Artisans in Nairobi, Kenya!
This project was carried out from the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland in collaboration with
artisans from informal sector manufacturing sites in Nairobi, Kenya over a period of four months
in 2013. Participants aimed to improve the quality of goods produced by grassroot “jua kali”
artisans, who were using obsolete and inefficient tools.#
Design ethnography was carried out as the main form of research at grassroot sites in Dagoretti,
Kamukunji, and Nyamakima over a period of two weeks. The researchers had several key
findings: set-up costs for production are of the highest priority to the artisans, they seek
equipment that requires no training to operate, and the most highly-demanded goods are
These findings drove the following design phase, in which artisans at the Nyamakima site were
provided with a laptop and internet access to collaborate with design students in Nairobi and
Glasgow, Scotland. Various concepts for new manufacturing tools were designed and evaluated
collaboratively, based on the following criteria:#
1.#Cost to produce and operate the tool#
2.#Ease to build and operate#
3.#Ability to produce good quality goods safely and efficiently.#
The outcome of this project was the design of a low-cost, metal-forming machine that utilises the
‘deep drawing’ process to produce medium-sized aluminium cooking pots. The machine is of a
simple design for easy construction and operation by grassroot artisans, and all resources
required for producing the machine are relatively accessible locally. The final machine is
designed to produce higher-quality pots at a faster rate than the current tools, enabling the
artisans to increase their income and hopefully achieve higher standards of living.
Figure 4: Rendering of metal-forming machine developed with grassroot innovators#
Foondi Collaborative Design Workshops in East Africa!
Foondi Workshops is a product design company based in East Africa that uses collaborative
design workshops to teach design thinking, product design and appropriate technologies. By
working with both skilled and semi-skilled artisans as well as community leaders, Foondi
nurtures a community of local problems solvers and innovators. The larger vision is to spur
bottom-up innovation that is both scalable and sustainable by building localized ventures around
ideas generated through these workshops, similar to the Ghana ITTU’s initiatives detailed above.#
Foondi held a collaborative design workshop in 2014 in a village in Mpigi, Uganda, outside
Kampala; most residents of this small town are farmers who have limited or non-existent access
to electricity. The most popular means of local transport is the motorcycle-taxi. Considering both
the difficulty of charging mobile phones and the ready availability of motorcycles, Foondi
Workshops collaborated with the Watoto Church Vocational Institute to develop motorcycle-
based charging facilities for mobile phones.#
Participants also developed a business model for students to build and maintain these units for
motorcycle-taxi drivers, who would collect fees from passengers who wished to charge their
mobile phones while in transit. This developed two value streams: one for students and grassroot
artisans who would build and sell these charging units, and another for motorcycle-taxi drivers.#
This proved to be a simple, viable, and scalable technology in the context of both rural and urban
Uganda. After the workshop, all 16 participants expressed interest in carrying the project forward
and turning it into a business venture.#
Avoid neo-colonialist imposition of technologies through collaborative discussions!
Without a reciprocal sharing of knowledge, proponents of the Maker Movement could damage
grassroot communities by imposing unwanted technologies which detract attention from more
important activities, and potentially minimize the support and funding available for pre-existing
local initiatives. According to Warren and Cashman (1988): “Many technological solutions that
have been proposed to address problems in rural communities have failed in the field because
they do not take into account the local culture, particularly society's preferences, skills, and
knowledge.” As Troxler and maxigas (2014) state, summarizing the findings of Chan (2014),
“the air-drop model of Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D)
proved to be neo-colonialism driven by technological determinist imaginaries.”#
Instead of beginning with the technology itself, we highly recommend an empathetic design
process similar to the Human-Centred Design workshops or the Ghana ITTU’s preliminary
investigations. This empathetic and collaborative process allows grassroot artisans to draw their
own conclusions and collaborate with Makers to determine which exogenous technologies may
prove useful.#
Unfortunately, in many cases of technological sponsorship, corporations or governments will
donate equipment in order to directly satisfy their own requirements rather than the needs of
those who receive it. In the words of a rural educator in Peru who received an unasked-for
shipment of One Laptop Per Child computers for his school: “when [the state] gave you the
computer, it was really another duty on top of all the [routine] functions that teachers already
have, and we were never trained to teach with such tools before… Without rural and intercultural
priorities [around technology], we’ll keep amplifying unequal divides” (Eleazar Mamani Pacho
quoted in Chan, 2014). Chan (2014) explains that the burden of new laptops for rural educators
in Peru was somewhat lessened by efforts to incorporate indigenous languages into the
computers—thus bringing added value to both teachers and indigenous language activists who
sought educational materials in their own languages.#
When the technology itself is predetermined, it becomes necessary to introduce it in a locally-
appropriate manner. Once grassroot artisans can familiarize themselves with the possibilities
through visiting a demonstration makerspace, the Makers can provide assistance to artisans in
identifying and importing their own equipment– as Ghana ITTU did with capstan lathes in the
1980s. Although Fab Labs are designed with the capabilities to “make almost anything” (Fab
Foundation, 2013), this potential will not be immediately obvious to a grassroot artisan who is
unfamiliar with digital manufacturing; any “air-dropped” technological facility must make a
concerted effort to welcome local ideas and incorporate community members. #
While conventional manufacturing equipment is often too costly and complicated for general use
in the informal sector, many technologies that are popular in makerspaces provide state-of-the-
art capabilities for a fraction of the cost and complexity, and communities already exist around
customizing and repairing this equipment. If these Maker tools do not easily translate to informal
industrial settings, Makers could work collaboratively with grassroot innovators to develop more
appropriate versions. One successful example is the W.Afate 3D printer made from electronic
waste by the WoeLab Fab Lab in Lomé, Togo (WoeLab, 2013), although we have yet to find
compelling 3D-printable products that are directly useful for grassroot artisans, aside from
printing objects to be turned into moulds for casting.#
Work with policy-makers to facilitate importation of new technologies!
Successful Maker implementation plans must work with policy makers to lower the costs and
timeframes associated with importing new technologies; heavy custom duties and enterprise-
related taxation is a hindrance for grassroot innovators and Makers who require imported
materials for local production of goods. Burgeoning companies RLG (computer manufacturer) in
Ghana and Kickstart (irrigation pump manufacturer) in Kenya initially hoped to assemble their
products locally using imported components, but were forced to export assembly due to the
importation fees imposed upon raw components. The Ghana ITTU facilitated the local growth of
machining tools in part because the initiative was a collaboration with the Ministry of Trade and
Industry; this meant that those involved could set a national precedent for how to import the
Maker initiatives have not, to our knowledge, made a significant effort to set precedents for
importation— despite the popularity of related programmes in determining government policies.
Customs fees for the Nairobi Fab Lab in Kenya increase materials and equipment costs by 30%
or more. Herrera and Benito (2013) estimate the acquisition of Fab Lab equipment in Latin
America to be 3-8 times more expensive than in Europe or the U.S., and they report that the
installation of Fab Lab Lima in Peru took 9 months, Fab Lab Addis Ababa in Ethiopia took 24
months, and the average U.S. or European Fab Lab requires only 3 months.#
Promote vocational training and practicable skills
Following the successful precedent of Appropriate Technology facilities, local makerspaces
should make a concerted effort to provide vocational training through collaborations with the
grassroots. These trainings would have the joint advantage of allowing grassroot innovators to
experience the technological possibilities of the Maker Movement and to improve their own
skills. Makerspaces in Ghana and Nigeria host vocational training courses that are sponsored by
corporations such as GE and petrochemical engineering firms, but these courses are primarily
useful for employees involved in mass rather than localized production. Naturally, corporations
are less likely to sponsor workshops for grassroot artisans unless there is some immediate
benefit; support for these trainings would likely come from government or aid organizations.#
To however ensure that vocational training initiatives do not fall into the common pitfalls of
technology transfer, the following is suggested:#
1.#Grassroot innovators should determine themselves what will be taught. When the Ghana
ITTU introduced beekeeping, for example, there was already a local interest in honey and
beeswax. Basic principles of engineering and design should be explained in a clear and
practicable way, enabling innovators to develop new and improved products through a
better understanding of scientific fact.#
2.#Design and manufacturing tools that are popular within the global Maker Movement
(such as digital fabrication software/equipment and microprocessors) should be
introduced as options and not absolutes, and makerspaces must make a particular effort to
reach out to grassroot artisans. Makerspaces will be seen as impractical if they have too
many intricate and complex technologies to offer without any specific opportunities for
grassroot artisans. Makers tend to use less robust materials such as plastics, plywood, and
electronics for creating intricate products that rarely provide critical services; grassroot
artisans, on the other hand, usually create functional and durable products out of metal
and wood.#
3.#After learning basic safety precautions, grassroot artisans should be encouraged to
“tinker” with Maker tools to become familiar with their operation, and instructors should
be open to improvements that may come out of tinkering. “Improvement” does not
necessarily require sophistication, but rather refers to the modification of tools to become
more culturally relevant (which may mean added simplicity or reduced cost).#
4.#Instructors should have a road map by which vocational courses will eventually be taught
by grassroot artisans themselves, preferably previous graduates of those courses. This
models the tradition of apprenticeship often used by informal industrial firms, and proved
highly successful for the Ghana ITTU to become better integrated with grassroot artisans
(Powell 1995). Apprenticeship models will help drive participation and lend legitimacy to
training sessions; as Warren and Cashman (1988) report, “Success in development is
more likely to be achieved when local people are involved in the planning and
implementation of development projects; and project officials who are familiar with
indigenous knowledge are better equipped to facilitate participation by the local
5.#Enable open access to relevant technological information, including accessible platforms
such as that enable grassroot innovators to publicize their ideas and online
courses / instructional videos around new or improved grassroot technologies.#
Conclusion: A Call To Action#
The global Maker Movement, saturated with state-of-the-art technological advances and media
attention, struggles to live up to its inclusive ideals and revolutionary rhetoric; meanwhile,
grassroot artisans suffer from a lack of technological and socio-political support for their
methods of small-scale and localized production. Both parties would greatly benefit from a
confluence of their collective efforts, including the acknowledgement of grassroot artisans as a
critical and formative component of the global Maker Movement, as has been emphasized by
Maker Faire Africa. Instead of making half-hearted attempts to formalize the informal industrial
sector, policy-makers could recognize its vast potential for job-creation and take advantage of
Maker tools to upgrade existing grassroot technologies.#
Grassroot artisans worldwide have a long history of innovation and extensive networking
amongst local firms (Adeya, 2008), while modern makerspaces are relatively new and “air-
dropped” technologies or technical facilities have no ties to local communities. Nonetheless,
policy-makers and aid organizations demonstrate a preference for creating brand new
makerspaces, “tech hubs,” and even entire innovation cities (such as Kenya’s Konza Techno
City) instead of investing in existing innovation communities at the grassroots. As most
innovation spaces are only fully-funded for the first couple years, the proliferation of these
spaces will lead to intense competition for minimal funding in the future. Furthermore, the
popularity of makerspaces will likely wane within the next decade. The Appropriate Technology
movement, despite its demonstrated successes, lost most of its international funding with the
onset of digital technologies in the 1990's, and today’s Ghana ITTU network is severely
underfunded; in fact, several sponsors that initially supported ITTU workshops now provide
resources to brand new fab labs and tech hubs instead.#
By incorporating grassroot artisans into the global Maker Movement and promoting cross-sector
collaborations, we can better encourage the democratization of new technologies on a global
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... They wager that the benefits reaped from their communities to lower their development, recruiting, and customer acquisition costs will offset the negative risks of lowering entry barriers to competitors (Li, Seering, 2019). These entrepreneurs tend to follow the maker ethos and open-source culture of being an actor rather than a spectator in a technological world (Waldman-Brown et al., 2015). While making money is not at the heart of OSH, products created in this way generate value and thus introduce the question of the nature of business models that should be associated with OSH. ...
... In practice, despite the movement's claims of universality, there is consistent reproduction of exclusion cases (Whelan, 2018). As reported in the literature, most of the members of Makerspaces are 'technically interested and well educated and, therefore, represent a particular fraction of society' (Waldman-Brown et al., 2016). Overall, the above indicate that, while inclusiveness of making comes across as one of the key characteristics of the maker movement, whether the movement is inclusive for everyone, remains in question. ...
Technical Report
The report presents the main findings of the large-scale survey that has been conducted during the Pop-Machina project aiming to capture the insights about makerspaces' acceptance, main drivers and barriers. The large-scale survey included all EU countries and the analysis of the results will focus on capturing the main outcomes regarding general EU citizens' perceptions and potential differences between EU Member states. The report is structured as follows. Section 3 presents a literature review regarding the main drivers, barriers and challenges of makerspaces, in order to present the current state-of-the-art in the field of collaborative production. Section 4 includes all information related to the survey design and the implementation. In Section 5, we present some initial descriptive findings closely related to individual perceptions and levels of acceptance and highlight any significant variations between different EU areas. Section 5 also includes the main statistical analysis of the dataset by including the outcomes of the factor analysis and logit model that we have built. KPIS related to this deliverable are presented in Section 6, whereas conclusions and further discussion are given in Section 7. This report constitutes Deliverable 2.2, for Work Package 2 of the Pop-Machina project. August 2020 © 2020-Pop-Machina, Collaborative production for the circular economy; a community approach,-project number 821479.
... Makers have a large number of digital and manual fabrication tools / skills available that allow for personalization [19]. Moreover, there is a maker vision of the future, Fab City [49]; a city that makes everything it needs; food, transportation and manufactured goods such as shoes. Idealy, only data enters and exits. ...
Conference Paper
Personalization of shoes is of increasing importance to designers, design researchers, and manufacturers as mass customization progresses towards ultra personalized product service systems. Many attempts have been made to design co-creation platforms that allow end users to personalize their own shoes. Those co-creation platforms primarily concentrate on color selection. This research takes a different approach and designs a toolkit for maker-oriented users to co-manufacture their own shoes. The toolkit was designed in different levels and deployed to makers via crowdsharing worldwide. Backers were surveyed before deployment and interviewed after two years to understand personalization over a larger amount of time with the research product. We find that users who have greater bespoke tools and materials in their toolkits are more likely to personalize their shoes while co-manufacturing. The research provides guidelines for researchers and designers creating toolkits, designing personalization product service systems/configurators and engaging in tangible bespoke processes.
... Segundo WALDMAN-BROWN et al. (2016), a ideia do movimento maker foi popularizada pela plataforma norte-americana Maker Media, atraindo atenção significante de educadores, governos nacionais e corporações multinacionais, tais como GE, Intel e Microsoft. Esta se refere à democratização do Design, engenharia, fabricação e educação através da cultura do-it-yourself, produção em pequena escala e compartilhamento open-source. ...
Microphysiological systems describe the use of divergent technologies to recapitulate complex physiology in vitro convergently in a cruelty and animal free manner. The technologies aim towards enabling researchers from academia and industry to conduct more ethical and cost-effective research and development, preclinical and translational, and to advance related fields such as precision medicine. However, projected markets appear relatively small compared to related markets, where regulatory implementation and reluctant end-user adoption creates uncertainty for the emerging technologies with associated technological maturity. Regardless of this, companies surpassed and expanded successfully beyond the predicted five-year survival rate through strategic technology- and business development through collaboration and partnerships. A hallmark of the companies is a core competency or unique intellectual property coupled with securing early investment and interest from industry role-players, using divergent strategies to create a burden-of-proof to encourage early adopter participation for technologies showing fit-for-purpose application. In this paper we aim to provide insights for the researcher who wants to become involved in the microphysiological field as an entrepreneur, requiring a generalized information landscape with keywords and concepts to expand their knowledge base. An overview is provided for the technological considerations for laboratory-to-market product development, the current state of regulatory affairs and projected markets to provide a framework of reference to evaluate the randomly selected case study companies. Public information is used to provide company information regarding historical origin, funding, and technological strategies which secured funding as well as encouraged early adopter technology interests. Additional activities by the companies showcase that there is no single formulation for commercial survival five-years post-incorporation but a pattern, dictated by technology origin, to follow which for convergent or divergent opportunities in technology development and business strategies.
Full-text available
Changes on organization and distribution of information in the last two decades have created new innovation opportunities for sustainability. These are characterized by an increasing exchange of data, information, knowledge and culture on an open and inclusive way over the internet. In this context, the present work studies Digital Fabrication applications, which enables the use and dissemination of Distributed Design and Manufacturing strategies. Such applications allow new modes of production and consumption that results in a positive impact on environmental, social and economic dimensions of sustainability. In this work, a systematic literature review and an action research were conducted in order to define the analyzed methods. To accomplish this process, it was carried out a field research divided into four cycles to the creation of a Product-Service System that offers open-source residential furniture to social housing residents. By analyzing the results, it was possible to point barriers and opportunities to the implementation of these approaches.
Technical Report
Full-text available
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"Wired" magazine editor and bestselling author Anderson takes readers to the front lines of a new industrial revolution as today's entrepreneurs, using open source design and 3-D printing, bring manufacturing to the desktop.
DIY by the numbers: Why the Maker Movement is here to stay. [online] Bits & Pieces from the Embedded Design World Available at: why-the-maker-movement-is-here-to-stay
Atmel (2014). DIY by the numbers: Why the Maker Movement is here to stay. [online] Bits & Pieces from the Embedded Design World. Available at: why-the-maker-movement-is-here-to-stay/ [Accessed 30 Dec. 2014].
Closing Keynote. FabLearn2013 Conference
  • L Buechley
Buechley, L (2013). Closing Keynote. FabLearn2013 Conference, Stanford University.
Making Do: Innovation in Kenya's Informal Economy. Analogue Digital
  • S Daniels
Daniels, S (2010). Making Do: Innovation in Kenya's Informal Economy. Analogue Digital. Online publication.
Impact of the Maker Movement. [online] Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited Available at:
  • Deloitte Center For
  • Maker Edge
  • Media
Deloitte Center for the Edge and Maker Media, (2014). Impact of the Maker Movement. [online] Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited. Available at: edge/articles/impact-of-maker-movement.html?id=us:2el:3fu:mkrmvmnt:awa:tmt:070914 [Accessed 2 Nov. 2014].