After checking out the Kisumu branch of the Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute (KIRDI), the government’s R&D arm, we decided to visit the much more developed headquarters in Nairobi (with several advanced fabrication facilities). We met with Dr. Moses Makayoto, Director of Research, to discuss potential partnerships.
Unlike KIRDI Kisumu, KIRDI Nairobi has several big projects going on, including three biogas plants and an on-site leather plant. They even have a major LED manufacturing initiative suspiciously similar to UNIDO’s Lighting Up Kenya. It’s called Lighting Africa. How many government organizations are repeating each other’s work without coordination?
Since KIRDI’s mission is R&D to spur industry, its current goal is to create 100 small and medium enterprises (SMEs) with the potential to grow to large industries. They also regularly build manufacturing facilities for larger clients. All their work is done at market rates, and since they are semi-autonomous, the government has no say about anything they do with their own raised funds. Right now, Makayoto says their focus is on decentralizing industry out of Nairobi (ours too), but we noticed virtually no interaction between the Nairobi and Kisumu branches.
Their workshop facilities were very impressive, the most advanced open facilities we had seen. They even had a room with precision computerized equipment donated as part of a UNIDO program, though due to the poor and unregulated power system, some of the machines’ electrical systems have broken down beyond KIRDI’s repair capacity. We saw some awesome prototypes, including bicycle-powered (and mobile), mills and threshers remarkably similar to my design at Brown, though all diesel-powered and a bit too advanced and to be fabricated outside Nairobi.
KIRDI also had a ceramics workshop where they were experimenting with new types of bricks, including one made from shredded money that the government had taken out of circulation. Apparently, a lot of old money needs a new home.
Surprisingly 80% of the workshop’s jobs were commissioned by the informal jua kali sector, though KIRDI preferred to focus its efforts elsewhere since jua kali products are not standardized or regulated.
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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.
- Emerging Futures Lab
- Future Perfect
- Information Aesthetics
- Maker Faire Africa
- Smarter Planet
- Timbuktu Chronicles
- White African