A Fab Lab is a collection of computerized fabrication equipment devised at MIT and deployed to the far reaches of the Earth. Since we have already visited the Fab Lab in Bondo, I will refrain from giving you the grand tour, but know that the equipment claims to be able to make “almost anything” on a small scale. Instead, I will show you some of the unique and innovative activities going on at the Fab Lab here at the University of Nairobi, operated by the visionary Dr. Kamau Gachigi.
The fourth stop in our quest for fabrication facilities was the Appropriate Technology Program (ATP), a technical school with one of the more advanced fabrication facilities in the region. In fact, KIRDI, the government’s R&D arm, partners with ATP for their own fabrication.
ATP has three departments: Automotive Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Catering. Programs last 2-3 years and boast a balance of 60% theory, 40% practice.
One of the major problems in Kenya is unemployed youth. Even for university and polytechnic graduates, few job opportunities exist. Youth in Kenya are defined as between ages 15 and 30 and, as such, constitute the majority of the population. The government fears that idling hoodlums will reach critical mass and ultimately degrade society or lead to some version of a revolution.
One of ACESS’s goals is to create employment opportunities for educated youth, who can operate franchises or train farmers and tool manufacturers. To that end, we met with Bondo Constituency Development Fund Director Fred Ogoye and District Youth Officer Mary Ochola, essentially the highest-ranking officials charged with ground-level implementation. The district has made a huge push toward creating youth opportunities. They have councils of youth at every level in the constituency, subsidize polytechnic tuition, and provide technical training. Their work falls under the following themes: employent, training, environment, health, crime & drugs, and volunteerism.
One of their current initiatives is to build hubs where youth can access the internet and apply for jobs, an effort to keep them off the street. They also have a revolving fund of 2m KSH/25.6k USD to support youth groups who pay upfront management fee of 5%. Repayment has been a meager 15% of the 2m KSH. They chalk it up to the post-election violence, but I think the government needs to learn about credit risk.
One of the most interesting things I learned is that the government convenes youth via SMS. If we wanted to access educated youth for interviews, Mary could get up a database of unemployed residents with college degrees, send them 50 KSH of airtime to compensate their travel costs, and they would show up! I’m sure we will be making use of this.
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