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By Isabel Nuesse and Robert Wanalo

What are we going to do when weather patterns change and communities that depended on their consistency, suddenly have to re-imagine how they’ll receive their incomes? Planning for resilience in the face of climate change will soon become mandatory for communities. Makerspaces offer a solution that enables the community to develop resources and knowledge distinct to their communities changing climate. Thinking of these long-term strategies to are key to ensuring the sustainability of makerspace development. Two of the five principles for developing makerspaces actualize this thinking:“Include Environmental Ecosystem Services” and “Build for Continuity”.

  1. Include Ecosystem Services: Aim to give back more than you take from the environment and include accounting practices that value the natural resources used.

Our natural environment is the broader ecosystem within which our social and economic system is nested. An economy that has proved through the outcomes it creates, to be working against rather than with nature, and climate change is one of the many forces that threaten our very existence today.  The Fridays for Future and Extinction Rebellion movements are continuing to gain traction globally, as citizens realize that systems change is fundamental for climate action. As citizens become more aware of the complex ecological challenges we face today, how can we be empowered to take practical actions towards climate justice? Our group discussed this extensively. There was a general consensus that the makerspace movement should increasingly leverage their innovative capacity to support climate action in communities across the world. 

A great movement that has formed around this objective is the FabCity Global Initiative that was co-founded by Tomas Diez of Fablab Barcelona. The audacious goal behind the FabCity Challenge is to enable this shift away from the industrial paradigm of Product-in Trash-out, by enabling the return of manufacturing to cities such that by 2054, the cities that sign up for the Pledge, with be able to produce everything they consume, thus drastically reducing their carbon footprint. The potential of GIG as a global movement of techies and innovators to be able to contribute to addressing climate change was the impetus behind the Sustainable Making Track. 

One case study from within the GIG network that demonstrates Principle 3 is the work of Sri Lanka based DreamSpace Academy through their Underwater Glider project which aims to enable local communities to better understand their surrounding Indian Ocean ecosystem. 

After the Tsunami hit back in 2004, the oceans ecosystem was significantly disrupted, and the local community started seeing changes that were not normal. One such observation was a large number of eels that had emerged from the backwaters, which locals presumed to be snakes, as such species were not commonly visible above water. Aravinth Panch, and his team at DreamSpace took this as an opportunity to carry out research that aims to increase local awareness on their surrounding habitat. 

For this, they needed to have an underwater glider which, if purchased from Europe would cost over 200,000 Euros which was of course too expensive. As a Community Innovation Center and local makerspace the team decided to use open source technology to build their own Underwater Glider, which will enable  them to carry out their own scientific research and assessment on their local ecosystem through which they would be able to increase their awareness and strengthen their capacity to develop solutions for some of the issues that have risen since the Tsunami. 

It’s impossible to place a value on nature, in many ways it provides for our essential everyday needs. But recognizing that the services we receive are not free, and that we have a responsibility to ethically deal with our planet, because a thriving ecosystem means that our social and economic systems would equally be able to flourish.

2. Build for Continuity: Design for the present and future; build social capacity, & aim for financial self sufficiency. 

In the age of the internet, where social networking and access to knowledge has been significantly augmented, the makerspace movement is developing a compelling case for ‘glocality’, that is a globally connected community that is locally proactive towards achieving common objectives. Inevitably it must have been this worldview that necessitated the existence of SDG 17 “Partnerships for the Goals,” whereby, even in development, we must depart from centralized systems towards those that are more decentralized and geographically distributed to ensure that agency is created at a local level.

Critical to the ability of any initiative, project or enterprise to be in operation for the long term, is its ability to to build social capacity to be able to carry out the necessary tasks for the project, and the economic models that ensure its costs can always be met. Particularly with regards to the latter aspect of financial sustainability, there was a shared aspiration in our track for makerspaces, like social enterprises, to be able to generate enough revenue to cover their operations.

With this Global-to-local approach,  Sustainable Making has the potential to transform the social, economic and ecological fabric of communities across the world. Developing local capacity and encouraging local innovation creates opportunities for new business models that create jobs and build more resilient local economies. Thinking in this way does not fight against the inevitably globalized world, but rather redesigns it to be more inclusive and equitable.

The Access to Skills and Knowledge Technology Emergency Case (ASKotec) is an open source tool co-created by the R0g Agency and Open Source Ecology Germany e.V. The tool provides over 1000 pieces needed to facilitate training in rural areas on the fundamentals of open tech and open source hardware innovation, education and repairing. The transformational technology establishes a base by which the community can expand upon the training to innovate locally.

At the Rhino Refugee camp in Uganda for example, where Platform Africa, one of the 6 hubs in the ASKLab East African network, is using the ASKotec kit to hold Open Tech workshops and training for displaced refugees living within the camp. Richard, an ASKotec trainer, says that these sessions enable the participants to be engaged in something interesting and productive, considering their current reality. An outcome of these sessions is that refugees in the camp learned how to repair chargers, phones and radios and in the case of the ATAKA hub in Juba, participants have been able to establish microenterprises with these skills. To learn more, watch this YouTube video here

Alongside the r0g Agency, Field Ready is another organization doing great work in the humanitarian space. They are an NGO that operates a network of makerspaces that empower and support local innovators in complex humanitarian situations triggered either by conflict or natural disasters to make the things that are needed where they are. They are a team of experts that leverage their expertise digital manufacturing with CNC, laser-cutting, & 3D printing to support local production of  products like lifting airbags for rescue workers, hydroponic systems for food production, as well as components for the repair of solar systems and healthcare equipment. Field Ready has established makerspaces in Iraq, Northern Syria, Jordan, Fiji, and Nepal, to name a few. By up-skilling locals, designing and implementing solutions with them, Field Ready ensures that local production continues in these communities long after the crises they face have subsided.

 

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 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.