Afrimakers: What Is Africa’s Maker Movement All About?

Afrimakers: What Is Africa’s Maker Movement All About?

From HarvardBusinessReview. Blog by Ndubuisi Ekekwe, founder of the non-profit African Institution of Technology.

The African Innovation Foundation is cultivating a network of grassroots innovators of different levels of experience who offer new ways to fix problems in their communities.

Designers like these have been historically neglected by African policymakers because of the largely unconventional nature of their enterprises. So despite Africa’s recognition as a land of relentless ingenuity with revered tradition of local creativity, the records for taking those sparks of genius to the next level has been discouraging.

In the last few years, though, the continent has been experiencing a redesign across its major cities with strong civic participation in making and building things. These activities are happening in people’s homes, and places which the enthusiasts call makerspaces or hackerspaces.

With ubiquitous computing power, freely available APIs, platforms on the web for sharing, and cheap tools like 3-D printers and lasers, the Afrimakers as they are called (or “makers” for short) are finding it easier to demonstrate their ideas.

What is unfolding is a virtuoso system with a “started in Africa” mind-set that could potentially remake what Africans buy. This is especially exciting because it empowers people to use their local expertise, know-how, and hands-on skills to solve problems that exist in their daily lives.

In my conversations with these young people through my work in my nonprofit, we see a new generation of Africans inspired to take the future in their hands. They want development to be Africa-led and Africa-driven. They want to transform consumers into creators and replace, where possible, the usually foreign obfuscated products imported into Africa with homegrown alternatives.

From Nairobi to Dakar, they are creating innovation ecosystems where people can congregate to design appropriate solutions for local problems. They are part of the global Maker Movement, a term for open-minded independent inventors, hobbyists, designers, and tinkerers with a convergence of computer hackers and traditional artisans, which has grown in sophistication from embroidery to robotics. This movement has fused more than 200 innovation hubs with thousands of enthusiasts going on their annual pilgrimages to Maker Faire Africa.

…While it is very early to assess the impact, it is already clear that these makers offer a platform for a new economic system that taps into the brainpower of Africans to seed shared prosperity. The problems to solve in the continent are plentiful — clean water, energy, health care, and food processing. Makers want to create solutions that are appropriate for these challenges. If they succeed, Africa will exert greater importance in the world.

…The makerspaces effervescence is real. Now’s the time to encourage and align with those efforts.

Read more at HarvardBusinessReview.