African Ingenuity: Learning from Informal Makers with New Book by Steve Daniels
An incisive and engaging overview of informal makers, the book Making Do: Innovation in Kenya’s Informal Economy. Launches jointly this month at Maker Faire Africa and Maker Faire Rhode Island. The press release states:
In a global economy dominated by large corporations and advanced technology, Steve Daniels has head to the least likely of places to learn about the nature of innovation—Kenya’s crude clusters of small enterprises. On a fellowship from the Brown University International Scholars Program, Daniels spent three months in Africa as an undergraduate investigating the resourcefulness and creativity of the engineer-entrepreneurs that drive the global informal economy of unregulated and unprotected businesses, primarily in the developing world. Now, after years of research and writing, he has aggregated his findings, along with engaging data visualizations and stunning photographs, into a self-published book entitled Making Do—the first book on indigenous African innovation in over 15 years. The work includes a forward from Daniels’s advisor and author of Appropriate Technology, Dr. Chris Bull, Senior Research Engineer at Brown University.
Making Do is now available and will launch at the Maker Faire Africa in Nairobi and Maker Faire Rhode Island in Providence on August 28 as a symbol of collaboration among Western and African makers. Daniels’s experiences are a testament to the potential for students to foster cross-cultural dialogue around pressing global issues and opportunities.
Wandering through winding alleys dotted with makeshift worksheds, one can’t help but feel clouded by the clanging of hammers on metal, grinding of bandsaws on wood, and the shouts of workers making sales. But soon it becomes clear that this cacophony is really a symphony of socioeconomic interactions that form what is known as the informal economy. In Kenya, engineers in the informal economy are known as jua kali, Swahili for “hot sun,” because they toil each day under intense heat and with limited resources. But despite these conditions, or in fact because of them, the jua kali continuously demonstrate ingenuity and resourcefulness in solving problems.
In Making Do: Innovation in Kenya’s Informal Economy, Steve Daniels illuminates the dynamics of the sector to enhance our understanding of African systems of innovation. The result of years of research and months of fieldwork, this study examines how the jua kali design, build, and manage through theoretical discussions, visualizations of data, and stories of successful and struggling entrepreneurs. What can we learn from the creativity and bricolage of these engineers? And how can we as external actors engage with the sector in a way that removes barriers to innovation for the jua kali and leverages their knowledge and networks to improve the lives of those who interact with them?