Jua Kalis (meaning “in the sun”) are informal workers who set up shop on the roadside, mostly fabricating furniture, doors, and windows. Their skill is impressive, and many of them are trained at polytechnics or have engineering degrees, but couldn’t find formal employment.
Everyone making gates, doors, and windows. Their welding capacity is impressive, and the work is cheap, efficient, and functional. But there are some downsides. The quality is low in terms of aesthetics and durability. Repair welding joints can drive up long-term costs. Informal workers are also, of course, not certified by the Kenyan Standards Board, so products are inconsistent.
There are also some very talented carpenters. Usually woodworkers have one or two machines, like a tablesaw or bandsaw, and rent it out for extra income. They also commission out precision cuts to formal workshops. Here, they are selling chairs and bamboo mats, which I’ve also seen used as temporary roofs at markets.
Raw materials are also widely available in the city at roadside shops.
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Making Do is an investigation into systems of innovation in Kenya's informal economy. Learn more and read the book online or in print here.
I'm Steve Daniels. I study the transformative impact of technology on individuals and societies. I am the founder of the Better World by Design conference at Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design and Analogue Digital, a publisher of content related to global cultures of technology. Currently, I work at IBM Research, where I study mobile social computing in emerging markets.
I am particularly interested in how people create, adapt, and use technology in resource-constrained environments, which I have written about in Making Do: Innovation in Kenya's Informal Economy.
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