A crash course in changing the world.
There are many, many challenges to be tackled in the developing world today. One of the best ways I see of getting at many of them at once in an effective and large-scale manner is to give people the tools to solve their own problems. This is why my Evokation is to create microfranchised makerspaces for the third world.
The makerspaces would hopefully be able to start up anywhere, however I think that it is most important for them to be able to be made in poor rural communities that do not have the access to manufactured goods and tools that you can find in the city.
The aim of this project would be to put the power in the hands of people to solve any problem they see fit, from poverty to energy to clean water, so that they can define for themselves what the problems and the solutions are. Thus, people could make a windmill and use it to power their home and charge cell phones, like William Kamkwamba, or they may use it to just power a TV if they feel that's what they need, like in Episode Three of EVOKE. It would of course also create microbusinesses and hopefully help the local economies and the life of the business owner.
The innovation would be a successful business model for creating a makerspace in the third world that could be taken up by willing people in any part of the globe.
The Business Model:
While many cities in the developing world have blacksmiths, who are able to create metal tools without the expensive machinery of the first world, most rural villages are without this resource, or many other resources for creating tools. Thus my business would loan willing entrepreneurs the resources to start their own microbusiness: A forge, some basic tools, and training. If the business does well they would repay the cost of these starting tools and then grow from there.
The wonderful thing about blacksmithing is that you can create almost all of your own tools. Thus the entrepreneur would be taught to expand and create the tools they need, using the things they already have. This would reduce their dependence on outside resources and goods to expand their business.
Their business would probably start off as purely blacksmithing. Not as much of a makerspace, although the smith would probably need an apprentice to help them, and this apprentice would in turn be repaid with training and may go on to create their own, similar business. If their business works out and there is a demand for what they make or the tools they have, the smith should be able to expand their equipment to include things like a welder and electronics tools. My business would provide cheap training in these areas as well as plans for how to make these tools throughout the process. My business would earn money either through a small portion of the entrepreneur's revenue, or through payment for training and resources.
At this point the entrepreneur would hopefully be involving the community, giving cla**** or hiring more assistants. The entrepreneur would also hopefully be able to open up the shop and to have townsfolk make for themselves. My business would support but not enforce this process. Hopefully however, involving the community would be more profitable than not.
Yet, even if the entrepreneur does not reach this level of success, simply having a blacksmith will improve a rural village's ability to create the tools that they need. The smith, as a part of the community, should know themselves or should be able to communicate with the community about what they need.
It is important to think about how to avoid debt slavery. Loaning is necessary in this case, as it is very unlikely that someone living off a dollar a day would have the money to buy the tools and training to do this in one large sum, however it is not the goal of the business to create and propagate debt. Thus the business may partner with groups like Kiva or others to develop community banks in these areas which would then take out the loan to buy the equipment. This is better because not only does it make it more likely that the loan will be repaid, but also the microbusiness will feel more community owned and less like it is owned by the single entrepreneur. I hope that this will encourage community participation and making.
As far as raw materials go, you may remember from Mission One, "We’ve got bicycles and mobile phones in Africa, plus lots of metal to weld." This should be able to supply any scrap needed. Also, William Kamkwamba was able to build a windmill and electrical parts for his house out of waste, so it seems to me that the resources are out there.
There are two key areas of this project in which I lack knowledge. One is blacksmithing, and the other is experience with the developing world. I would use my first 1,000 dollars to help both of these areas.
I have experience blacksmithing, but nowhere near enough. There is a local forge called Prospect Hill Forge where I take cla**** when I can. I would likely use the money to help pay for cla**** here.
I have almost no experience actually being in the developing world. This is why I really want to participate in a program like Think Impact. I could use the 1,000 dollars to help pay for the summer internship in a rural
village in Africa, where I could learn about and experience life and business in the developing world. This would be an especially good place for the money since you can do a free year long fellowship after the internship where you start a project of your own. I could potentially use this year long fellowship to prototype a makerspace microbusiness.
I am hoping that these experiences along with my hands-on education in engineering at Olin College will allow me to sharpen this idea and turn it into a real venture over the next few years.
Thus, my plan is to start a business to create microbusinesses anywhere in the developing world that will provide the tools and support to local communities that will allow them to make solutions to their own problems. I am about to enter my freshman year of college at Olin and I plan to adapt and perfect this plan as I learn more during my time there. A mentor and a trip to the EVOKE conference to meet others with similar goals and different background would be extremely helpful as I develop detailed business plans and prototypes. My preferred mentor would be Vinay Gupta or Erik Hersman.