Maker spaces: potential growth platforms for domestic electronics
This article looks at the maker movement on the African continent, and how “maker spaces” have been popping up in many countries. Furthermore, this article will discuss some concerns of sustainability of such maker spaces.
Read the first part of this article series here. The next articles will discuss topics such as tech hubs in Tanzania, and how they can drive growth in the hardware electronics ecosystem in Tanzania.
African maker movement
The maker movement has taken a unique style in the African continent. One of the focal events, gathering maker leaders together, is the Maker Faire Africa (see poster above), organised annually since 2009. Maker attitude is nothing new for the Africans, as the flare for handicrafts and doing by hand have been widespread for centuries. The African maker movement has been shaped and harnessed to drive ingenuity, innovation and pan-African sentiment.
“The Maker Movement has a wide variety of economic and societal benefits. It spurs innovation by democratizing sophisticated technology, empowering people to produce complex designs or create rapid prototypes. It is also transforming the landscape of education by promoting student enrollment in courses that help them pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers. Moreover, Maker spaces are urging cities to evolve from mere mass garbage production centers into true innovation factories, creating entrepreneurial solutions to urban challenges.”
Eva Clemente, World Bank blog June 2014
A maker space?
The “maker space” concept is used in very general terms in this article. Here it refers to spaces where people with common interests network, share knowledge and work on projects. The spaces can be community-operated or commercial operations. Maker spaces are specifically relevant for sectors which benefit from physical prototyping. Entrepreneurs, students and hobbyists can convene in these space to meet and use otherwise hard to access equipment, materials and tools. One example of a maker space is FabLab (see below).
“a FabLab would enable grassroots inventions by providing a platform where communities can have access to advanced tools that can help people make products to address local needs.”
Mawuna Remarque, editor, Siliconafrica.com
How to create a sustainable maker space in Tanzania?
Developing a cross-subsidy model
Most maker spaces are initiated in partnerships with some large funders and/or a foreign donor. Public or private sponsorship is an option, but come with strings attached. Developing a sustainable financial model, however, requires the maker spaces to generate some or all of its overhead costs through business related activities or membership fees. The latter has proven to be less successful as most members cannot afford fees. The business related activities can be events and actual services provided by hub staff or members. One more idea could be to provide hot-desking space for start-ups and small businesses. Ugandan and Kenyan makerspaces have been successful in funding overhead costs through technical consulting services.
How to ensure dissemination of best practices?
A maker space tends to have a strong impact on active users, but local communities might be overlooked. Disseminating best practices to other hubs and countries has been slow. A research organisation called Afrilabs is working towards establishing an online sharing platform and collection of best practices and research articles.