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Afrimakers is the brainchild of ex-Google engineer and founder of HacKidemia, Stefania Druga. The initiative has recently launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo with the aim to inspire and encourage young participants in Africa to help solve greater social problems.
By focusing more on hands-on learning, it encourages and inspires experimentation by giving tech hubs across Africa Maker boxes containing things such as an Arduino, a Raspberry Pi, a Makey-Makey and other exciting tools.
Ventureburn spoke to Stefania Druga about this initiative as well as the importance of a maker philosophy in emerging markets.
Ventureburn: What is it about hands-on learning and the overall DIY philosophy that makes them so appealing and significant?
Stefania Druga: This is how we started to learn from the beginning of times — with our hands, while discovering and exploring the world around us and trying to survive. Using our hands helps us think and understand.
In a world where everyone looks at online education, I believe that we should bring the hands-on learning back in the conversation and give children an opportunity to understand old know-hows and adapt them to our current reality.
We don’t want to live in a society of just consumers but one of creators where collective intelligence and connected local communities are given the tools to solve their own problems.
VB: How vital is it that a maker movement be fostered in emerging markets?
SD: Although it might sound extreme, I think we’re facing a form of cultural neo-colonialism in a time where tech leaders think that technology will solve all our problems and we should just give a tablet/a computer to every child and education will be re-invented.
I am afraid I don’t share these beliefs and I am very concerned by the fact that we tend to have a more uni-directional view on problems — from developed countries towards emerging markets — making constant assumptions about what people need and what they should do.
The social problems we are facing today are complex and we need as many perspectives as possible and a diversity of opinions, ideas, initiatives.
I think a maker movement is still very close to people’s hearts in emerging markets and they have a much more intimate relationship with the things they make and use because they have to value them more. I hope these communities will understand that this movement can also empower them to make their own decisions and take their future in their own hands.
I believe this attitude changes faster when people are young which is why I think we should give young people a voice and a role to play in the maker movement.
VB: How does the project become sustainable in the long run or will it depend largely on outside funding?
SD: The funding for the local hubs is just an initial investment that covers the first material costs and the maker fellowships.
After they get trained and receive the initial materials the local teams of mentors will kickstart meaningful projects for young participants in schools. They get the opportunity to create their own jobs by running paid hands-on workshops in private schools which are willing to teach new technology and hands-on science and crafts to their students but cannot afford to train their staff or buy/make their own tools. This source of income will allow mentors to use the same materials for organizing and running free workshops in public schools where children cannot afford to pay for having access to these kind of projects and tools.
After creating the first series of training for local mentors and for children in schools, testing, enriching and adapting the learning activities from the Maker Box to the local needs, we estimate that other schools and hubs will be interested to be trained and get the boxes. The initial team from the seven hubs will be able to create and sell new boxes and charge for the mentoring of new trainers.
VB: Do you see a private and public collaboration in the future?
SD: Both private and public stakeholders will be involved in the project. The idea is to bring everyone around the table and find common goals and strategies. We hope private companies will wish to invest and incubate the future projects of the local teams and that public institutions will use and implement the new project based hands-on methodology and documented content.
VB: Do you think people should be balancing out entrepreneurial lessons for kids with making lessons and teaching them how the two can intersect?
SD: Yes, definitely. That is the key of sustainability. In a context where people are worried about daily needs everything we do has to be connected to practical solutions that could immediately touch their lives. Children care a lot about their families and their community and in order for them to contribute in a meaningful way to their daily lives they need to master both practical and entrepreneurial skills.
This is naturally achieved when the children are working on very specific prototyping projects which allows them to get to design and implement all the stages of iteration of a new solution and think both about the fabrication process and the costs and impact. The children are using design thinking applied to solving real problems with extremely affordable prototyping and this enables them to be smart, fast, think about ecosystems and calculate all possibilities.
VB: Play seems to be a very important aspect of getting children to code and become makers. To what extent is that also true of adults?
SD: Playing is riding a bicycle — we never forget it, we just have to remember it. We all still have a hidden child inside who likes to play and dream and when we let him come to life magic happens. We share what we have best, we learn from each other and we enjoy what we’re doing.
Curiosity, play and empathy, we just have to listen to our inner child and be ready to get out of our shell.