Makers for Global Good

By Stephanie Santoso, Kate Gage and Sam Bloch / Co-Curators, MAKE: IMPACT & Makers for Global Good Summit

For John Gluck, an 8-year old with muscular dystrophy who loves to read, getting books off his shelf has been a challenge. But in 2016, he participated in a makeathon in Virginia organized by Bo Pollett and Israel-based Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM). Along with an engineering student and a healthcare designer, John developed a motorized shelf for his bookcase that makes it easier for him to reach his favorite books. TOM puts on 36-hour “makeathons” around the world aimed at developing assistive technologies like the one they designed with John.

8-year old John and his fellow teammates, who worked together to create a bookcase with motorized shelves. Credit: TOM

Their story is just one of many that highlight the ways in which makers are broadening their horizons, finding solutions for individuals and communities.

This year, Maker Faire Bay Area in San Mateo, CA will include the inaugural MAKE: IMPACT, a special section dedicated to highlighting incredible projects, prototypes, and solutions from makers working on a wide variety of community-based and global challenges. We will be co-curating this area, in collaboration with Maker Media and companies and nonprofits like Communitere International.

Just prior to the Faire, on May 19, 2017, the Makers for Global Good Summit will bring makers together with social, humanitarian, non-profit, and other organizations and companies who could both support and benefit from this work. The Summit will be held at The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, CA, home to The Tech for Global Good initiative.

Why Now?

In the last few years, makers have taken their place alongside more traditional organizations responsible for providing social services. They are making clean water and energy more available, working with entrepreneurs to build products and create jobs, and empowering refugees with the tools and skills they need to improve their lives and encourage self-sufficiency.

As technology has become cheaper and smaller, the bar has lowered for who can build and design high quality products, and where they can do it. Especially in rural areas or the developing world, products that used to require massive infrastructure and human bureaucracy to develop can be personalized, locally made, and low-cost.

You can now visit a hacker space, a Fab Lab, maker space, or informal resource center in almost every country in the world. Spaces like Gearbox in Kenya are supporting small-scale manufacturing to build jobs like, and some focus on creative capacity like the Communitere spaces in Haiti and Nepal. Makers have responded to Grand Challenges by designing the next post-disaster shelters, protective suits for doctors responding to the ebola crisis, and tools to save lives during childbirth. A computer can cost as little as 9$ and can be a sensor platform to track water levels in a river, or help you download health data from satellites.

With human centered design, collaboration, and iteration central to their approaches, the solutions coming out of these spaces are among the most innovative and novel. They are built with scale and geographic reach at the center of the design.

Making empowers communities.

Everyone who has seen that spark of creative confidence in someone’s eyes when the code works, when the light finally goes on, when the two pieces fit together knows that it is an infectious feeling. Whether in Pittsburg or Palau, they’ve seen that they can do it themselves, that they have agency to change their world.

The dLab at MIT is working with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, to flip the script on traditional aid work by empowering refugees in Uganda to design solutions to problems in their communities, rather than relying on the plans designed by aid organizations.

This is what Sam Bloch, the founder of Communitere International, and co-organizer of the Kathmandu Mini Maker Faire, calls “designing with dignity.” This approach not only develops solutions that put users at the center of the design process, it engages users in solving their problems and creates agency. It’s a critical part of the maker ethos.

Makers design with the user.

Every maker knows that working with someone to solve that person’s problem is going to result in a better solution than assuming you know best and telling him or her what to do.

In Manchester By The Sea, MA a group of 6th graders worked with residents of the Harborlight House, an affordable housing residence for seniors, to prototype develop solutions that could be 3D modeled and printed. Such solutions included a customized key holder to make it easier for Lorraine, a resident with muscle dexterity issues to be able to turn the key and open the door to her room.

Gracie, Addie and Lorraine worked together to develop a customized key holder to make it easier for Lorraine to use the key to her room. Credit: Rich Lehrer

Makers are not new to problem solving.

Before 3D printers and tiny computers, making was about crafting solutions with what you had available and re-doing it until it worked. Problem solved. Today, lower costs and greater collaboration and connectivity mean faster solutions with wider applicability.

Access to clean water and sanitation is one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. OHorizons is a non-profit organization that has developed an open source Wood Mold for concrete BioSand water filters for a fraction of the cost of more traditional approaches. The mold can be created with locally available materials and does not require specialized skills. Since 2015, more than 600 people and organizations from more than 80 countries have downloaded the freely available construction manual for building the Wood Mold. OHorizons has already provided over 6,500 people with clean water through the use of their filters and plans to reach over a million by the end of 2021. Each filter is expected to last for more than 25 years.

Removing the mold to create a BioSand filter in Bangladesh. Credit: OHorizons

Makers build on each others success.

Collaboration and open source approaches allow maker communities to improve and customize designs made halfway around the world, or halfway across the workshop. A maker knows their work is just the beginning, and seeing where their idea goes is part of the process and the payoff.

After the Nepal earthquake damaged many health facilities, Field Ready worked with local health professionals to design a 3D printable fetoscope, a low-cost device that can be used to listen to a fetal heartbeat. To ensure that it was possible to make the fetoscopes locally in a variety of communities with readily available materials, the Field Ready team collaborated with carpenters and makers in Kenya as well to develop a wooden version that could be made using a turning lathe.

Listening to the fetal heartbeat of a young woman in Selang, Nepal. Credit: Field Ready
The 3D printed fetoscope and the wooden versions designed and developed locally in Nepal. Credit: Field Ready

MAKE: IMPACT

As Makers successfully tackle and conquer global and local challenges, we want to celebrate their stories. This community of problem solvers is now critical to addressing global issues and it is time to recognize them as leaders. But there is also a resource gap. We need to bring more traditional funders and partners into the maker community and explore how to support and sustain these groups as they grow and disseminate solutions.

We hope you’ll join us at Maker Faire Bay Area to celebrate makers tackling these important issues, and get involved in supporting these makers and organizations.

How You Can Help

Makers are doing incredible things to change the world, but we need to work with them to make their discoveries available to more people.

There are a variety of things that you or your organization can do:

  • Partner or volunteer with us on the Makers for Global Good Summit and MAKE: IMPACT at Bay Area Maker Faire by submitting your info here.
  • Submit a project to be a part of MAKE: IMPACT at the Maker Faire Website.
  • Sponsor or host a local makeathon focused on tackling specific challenges and develop a strategy for supporting the continued development of the most promising projects afterwards. Make for the Planet focuses on bringing together scientists and makers to confront environmental conservation issues.
  • Create micro-grants or competitions to help makers take their prototypes to the next level. Infy Maker Awards, hosted by Infosys Foundation USA provides $10,000 to makers working on social impact projects.
  • Connect makers to organizations that can help them test and scale their innovations with a broader group of users in the field, such as USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures program.
  • Engage K-12 students in more hands-on service learning opportunities driven by real-world problems around them.

Stephanie Santoso is a former Senior Advisor for Making at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Obama Administration.

Kate Gage is a former Senior Advisor at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and a co-founder of USAID’s Global Development Lab in the Obama administration.

Sam Bloch is the Founder and Executive Director of Communitere, a non-profit that collaboratively develops resource centers in post-disaster and post-conflict areas, empowering people to rebuild their lives.