While in Kisumu, I made sure to stop by the Kisumu Innovation Centre – Kenya (KICK), a for-profit enterprise that works with artisans to design new products for export and bring them to market. We got lost on the way to KICK, mostly because it is deep within Kibuye Market, the largest open market in East Africa. The place is truly remarkable.
I entered the meeting wondering whether I was at KICK (formerly an NGO that trained artisans) or ZIWA (a spin-off for-profit that dealt with trading). It turned out both KICK and ZIWA had gone under in 2003 due to mismanagement and corruption. Three very brave Kenyans revived KICK In 2005 as a social enterprise and took a full three years to pay off KICK/ZIWA’s former debt to the artisans and landlord.
After our wonderful trip to the Mara, the team morphed into crunch mode. With Maseno as our home base, we are out in the field and performing research all day every day. The most telling indicator that you’re back upcountry is the hoards of Kenyans (kids and adults alike) bombarding you with greetings and photo requests.
Kids tend to multiply when you’re not looking. It can get overwhelming…
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.
Many economic development initiatives in Kenya revolve around the “group.” Women’s groups, youth groups, farmers’ groups. It is an example of how Kenyan culture is collectivist, as opposed to individualist American culture. Many Kenyans (individuals and development organizations alike) have realized that they are reliant on each other by nature and are more likely to succeed if they pool together their resources. Some government organizations and NGOs now only work with groups.
Here is one such group.
Meet Laban, founder of the new West Karatang Green Network. He was trained in various income-generating activities and passes his skills onto his 60 members, up 100% from last year. He pools together all of the members’ various outputs and is able to sell everything! They can’t produce enough to meet demand. The members get back the value of what they put in, save for some percentage that goes to the organization. The group already has 160k KSH/2k USD in its bank account, from which it draws two revolving funds. Laban is the type of entrepreneur ACESS wants to run one of its “village enterprise hubs.”
Believe it or not, spending 12 hours visiting villages was not the primary agenda of the day. The main goal was to visit the new Fab Lab in Bondo with the MP as part of our quest for fabrication facilities in the area. Turned out we got about 5 minutes of time in the lab.
A Fab Lab (or fabrication laboratory) is a facility with sufficient computerized equipment to be able to make “almost anything” in small quantities. It’s perfect for prototyping and experimenting. Everything you do in the Fab Lab effectively becomes open source and the facilities rely on open source software. The idea is to decentralize access to advanced technology, which is typically cooped up in giant corporations. The initiative was started by the MIT Center for Bits and Atoms, and there are now Fab Labs all over the world, including one currently being developed by AS220 Labs in Providence, RI.
It’s amazing to see this kind of technology out in the middle of Africa, open to anyone who wants to use it.
A welcome sign made with a laser cutter.
One of KIRDI’s successes has been developing a grain mill in conjunction with the National Cereals and Produce Board. Processing grain is valuable for value addition. For example, farmers can fetch 45 KSH/0.58 USD per kilo of amaranth. But if they mill and package it at 8 KSH/0.10 USD per kilo, they can fetch 100 KSH/1.28 USD per kilo, a net gain of 47 KSH/0.60 USD per kilo (over 100%!).
Many of ACESS’s amaranth farmers are almost ready for harvest, and it’s time to decide what to do with the grain. We could offer venues for farmers to sell grain locally, store the grain until ACESS builds its own mill, or process the grain at a third party mill and sell it at this hefty profit. KIRDI’s mill falls under the option three and provides research for option two.
The mill can churn out 2.5-3 tons per day and can process a number of grains, including amaranth, maize, and sorghum.
First the grain goes through a sieve to eliminate small debris. This sifter shakes so that debris falls through the sieve and the grain is thrown to the repositories on either side.
In our search for facilities and partners to build prototypes of farming tools, today we visited the Kenyan Industrial Research and Development Institute (KIRDI), the government’s R&D arm. While the facilities in Nairobi are far more developed than here in Kisumu, the Kisumu branch is making a big push to expand its prototyping and manufacturing capabilities, as well as technology diffusion in the region.
In particular, they are undertaking several projects right now, including fish leather manufacturing, a business incubator, and a welding machine for the informal sector. The welding machine is a joint project between four organizations, including the Jua Kali Federation, which represents the informal sector. The project is called 4K (since the four organizations sort of start with K). The machine is completed, but they are working on securing manufacturing partners to scale it up. It will cost about 15,000 KSH/192 USD.
This is the fish leather processing plant. The skin must be scaled, treated with chemicals to eliminate fat and impurities, and tanned.
I am living with Clarice Odhiambo, former Head of Engineering for Coca-Cola Africa and now Founder of the Africa Center for Engineering Social Solutions (ACESS). I will be helping her get her new organization off the ground by working on her business model, prototyping and testing tools on the ground, working with farmers in the villages, and doing some branding/fundraising work. I’ll be living here for the week.
Clarice lives in a magnificent home right on Lake Victoria. She was the first to build a two-story home like this on the lake, and some other wealthy Kenyans have since done the same.
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