Why the Maker Movement

You may have heard of the rise of The Maker Movement, otherwise known as the Techie-DIY Movement or the Maker Culture. It’s a movement born of idyllic principles and centered around empowering communities around the world to actualize into thriving hyper-local communes that craft and invent using technology as an enabler. It’s base ideals aren’t necessarily new, some with roots in the Arts and Craft Movement of the late 19th Century, some very contemporary like open sourcing. In short, a call to create rather than ceaselessly consume. I first came across the concept when I bought my first simple but venerable Arduino Uno about 3 years ago, a nifty little development board developed by a team from Italy. The sheer ease with which you could develop electronics projects was and still is mind-blowing. This for me was a very welcome break from the hoop jumping required in our rather daunting University microcontroller classes.

Want to know more about Arduino? Check this out.

For those who want to know about it’s quite interesting history, watch this.

The real question, though, is what does this bring to the table for Africa, and in general, the Global South? Ultimately, it comes down to more than just wishful thinking and whimsical gizmos to solve the very real and harsh problems and realities a lot of people face here at home. It might take two to tango, but multitudes more to effect equitable change; it would be overly superfluous and foolhardy to suggest that the maker movement will help us directly solve Kenya’s endemic problems ranging from inadequate infrastructure to poor service delivery. And that’s where I believe we need to rethink its role.

If you really dig deep for the core of The Maker Movement, then on a personal level it’s to inspire and educate, to provide an alternative and collaborative avenue to understanding the ever digital world that has permeated and affected countless lives. On the other hand and on a community level, it’s about creating social connections with like-minded and equally driven individuals to form a peer network, a contemporary ‘Riika’. Here’s an example to root this utopic vision in factual reality: a studying Engineer from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture And Technology (JKUAT) decides not to take up a promising unit, for instance, Telecommunications and Networks. It could be assumed that they have no interest in the subject matter, but only if you take that at face value. The truth could very well be that to a student, they’re looking to maximize success and if you fear you’ll probably fail a unit, why take it? As much as you may be interested in the subject matter, you fear you will not be able withstand the rigor required to successfully complete the course.

Enter the Maker Movement. Through physical Maker Spaces where people can meet, organize and collaborate, an avenue is then created for the inquisitive among us to successfully fail in an effort to learn. The student engineer can then learn about packet switching, baud rates, protocol sniffing and ‘that ‘nini’ that does that ‘ka-thing’ ‘ with a couple of friends while building a smart home hub at minimal risk to their overall grade. Is the smart home hub viable from a business point of view? Probably not, considering the local market; Is it practical? Not really, and possibly not at all. But with Maker Spaces, that’s not the point as mentioned earlier. You could learn to understand that if your Zuku WiFi signal at home is too weak, then you CAN print out one of these Windsurfer Parabolic Reflectors on stiff paper, smack on aluminium foil with some glue and use this YouTube tutorial to install it on your router, and boom, you’ve fixed your connectivity problem and tacitly learnt that you can reflect Radio Frequency Energy with Parabolas (obviously I’ve oversimplified the concentration of the learning outcome). The question then becomes “What about mobile signals? Can I go ‘Ocha’ and get a better signal there?” That then grows on to help you develop a more holistic understanding of the world we live in and instills a base foundation for you to share knowledge and do more…to solve more.

In conclusion, the Maker Movement is a call to life-long learning, regardless of age or background, during which you should connect with the real world, because it’s very easy to encapsulate yourself in a “If you build it, they will come” bubble.

At the iHub, we’re very excited to see not only the rise of hardware innovation through companies like the BRCK, but also for the rise of maker communities and activities that are popping up around the country.

Want to be part of this wave of innovation? Visit www.Gearbox.co.ke. Gearbox will be a unique space for members to showcase their innovative ideas, as well as share skills while providing a platform for capacity building in line with the integration of hardware skills with the vast software expertise available. Awesome is coming!

“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” – Socrates