D-Lab occupies a former shipping area in a basement beneath MIT’s famous Infinite Corridor, which connects many of the university’s buildings. Scattered about the room, beneath a jumble of pipes and ductwork, is a curious collection that includes corn shellers, grain mills, solar panels, piles of red-speckled corncobs, sooty charcoal briquettes and one large plastic container labeled “Holly’s Bovine Faecal Matter—Do Not Remove Please.”
The visionary who presides over this idiosyncratic work space is senior lecturer Amy B. Smith, a leader in the appropriate technology movement, which helps people in developing countries through the creation of simple, low-cost technology. Smith’s own designs—for no-electricity medical lab equipment, better grain mills and more—have won awards and improved lives. But she is also a pied piper for appropriate tech nology—and the engineers she inspires may constitute her greatest achievement.
“More and more students around the world want to make a difference, as well as making a living,” says Paul Polak, a leader in the field and the author of Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail. “Amy’s giving them that opportunity.” Smith and her students tackle problems in countries as far-flung as Haiti, Ghana and India. Her growing cadre of followers and former students praise her offbeat humor and ability to focus, even when bouncing on Third World buses after sleeping on cold, manure-stained concrete. After joining Smith and other students in Peru last January, Mary Hong, now a 19-year-old MIT junior, switched her major from aerospace to mechanical engineering. (See “Fixing the World on $2 a Day,” Aug. ’08.) “Amy is genuinely passionate about her work,” Hong says. “She has ideas, and she goes out and does something about them.”
The aim of a Maker Faire-like event is to create a space on the continent where Afrigadget-type innovations, inventions and initiatives can be sought, identified, brought to life, supported, amplified, propagated, etc. Maker Faire Africa asks the question, “What happens when you put the drivers of ingenious concepts from Mali with those from Ghana and Kenya, and add resources to the mix?”
The focus here is not on high-tech, but on manufacturing. Specifically, fabrication, the type of small and unorganized businesses that pop up wherever an entrepreneur is found on the African continent. It gets exciting when you think about gathering some of the real innovators from this sector into one place where they can learn from each other and spread their knowledge from one part of the continent to another.
A few fabrication stories on AfriGadget:
- Re-use in the Unofficial Kenya Ironworks Industry
- Junk Metal + Homemade Welder = Art?
- Homemade welding machines for use in fabrication
The organizing team will collaborate with the organizers of the International Development Design Summit (IDDS), which will be held at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in mid/late Summer 2009, to ensure a well-timed, visible, and celebratory event that draws upon IDDS outcomes and attracts new participants. The aim of Maker Faire Africa 2009 will be to establish partnerships and an organizing infrastructure that could lead to a series of events across the continent.
Needless to say, AfriGadget is 100% behind this initiative and will take an active role in both promotion and organizing, as needed.