Urgent Evoke

A crash course in changing the world.

EVOKATION: Micro-franchised Makerspaces for the Third 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 Place:

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 Challenge:

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 Idea:

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.

The Money:

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.

Views: 232

Comment by Nick Heyming on May 17, 2010 at 1:31am
Brilliant Idea. On the surface it sounds like an anachronism, that people would still need blacksmiths instead of 3-D printers or prototyping machines, but not everyone has access to the same resources as the developed world. It would be interesting to combine the blacksmiths with a sort of proto-machine shop, which I think is what you're saying...
Comment by Turil Cronburg on May 17, 2010 at 1:55am
Interesting. Maybe you can connect with someone from an area you'd like to work in who can give you an idea of how effective this might be. Or if you could find a blacksmith there who's already doing something like this, to give a more solid backing to the idea. Maybe check in with the Bikes Not Bombs folks for connections.

Anyway, I love the general idea of Makerspaces. Everywhere. They can be shared spaces with The Human Powered school (my coming-soon-official-Evokation), perhaps. :-)
Comment by dave martin on May 17, 2010 at 4:24am
i like the idea of giving people the opportunity to develop skills. i like the idea of giving people the ability to be self sustaining.

however, i don't like the idea of introducing people to debt slavery. but because evoke is funded by the world bank institute, i imagine that this part of your plan is exactly what they are looking for.

if i may make a suggestion, based on the amount of skills and training that you require to be able to operate this business on your own, i would say that you should shift gears slightly. instead, you should look at mass producing pre-fabbed blacksmith/fabrication/machine shops, and how to distribute them. there is a large surplus of sea-cans (overseas shipping containers) in the world. they are already designed for shipping and trucking, and they are big enough to house a workshop like the one you are describing. they can be pre-wired and pre-plumbed for electricity and running water, if you choose to have them built that way. they can be stacked together to make even bigger structures. and they have big heavy doors that can be locked up for security. (probably lots of thieves in depressed regions)

you wouldn't have to do very much training or research to figure out how to set one of these babies up. then your best bet would be to form a partnership (or business contract) with already established aid organizations working in some of these areas, and have them do the distribution, setup, and training. 1 unit might cost $12,000 to build and ship out, (depending on how it's outfitted) but thats peanuts for an organization like the "world food program" for example.

and there ya have it. a million dollar idea, and you don't even have to go to college. capitalism at work!
Comment by Julio Cesar Corona Ortega on May 17, 2010 at 4:46am
Hmmm, I think there may be some aspects of the situation, such as local culture, ideology and economics that may play a part and do not appear to be taken into account on your project yet.

However, once you take that internship I think you will be armed with the knowledge to truly flesh out this evocation and make it work as intended and within the local framework. As nick said, it may seem anachronistic, but it is actually a great plan for developing and poor communities.

Many of these hand crafted metalworks can also be sold and traded with tourists, and a good forge can actually draw a nice international "luxury item" type of market if advertised properly.
Comment by dave martin on May 17, 2010 at 5:02am
i think his intentions are to give a community the ability to make the things they need to develop the area that they live in, not to sell trinkets to tourists. i'm not sure how many tourists you get in 3rd world countries anyhow, but even if you did, selling them artful metal works would only put money into the pocket of one person: the shop owner. sure there might be some economic spin off, but only if there are some local spots where he can spend his money.

i see these shops building and fixing things like ox driven plows for cultivating fields, water pumps, etc...
Comment by Patricio Buenrostro-Gilhuys on May 17, 2010 at 5:06am
Comment by Amos Meeks on May 17, 2010 at 11:10am
Thank you all for your wonderful feedback.

@Nick: The hope is that technology like 3d printing would eventually be included, but only because either the entrepreneur had the resources to build one, or they became cheap enough for the entrepreneur to buy.
Well, a blacksmith really is a machine shop. Just about everything you can do in a machine shop, you can do blacksmithing, In my opinion it is the combination of the two that is the most powerful. My hope is that the entrepreneur will be able to build tools if they are needed, which could include machine tools.

@Turil: I Absolutely want to connect with a blacksmith who is already in this area. I am hoping also that perhaps a trip to the EVOKE conference or an EVOKE mentor may help. I have a friend who works for Bikes not Bombs. I will ask her about it, although I'm not sure how they would have a connection like this?

@Dave: You bring up a VERY Important point. Thank you so much, as I had not considered this, which was wrong of me.
I agree that debt slavery is a very bad thing, to be avoided. However, the idea that you can build something and then just raise enough money through organizations and donations to distribute it has always frustrated me. One of the most ubiquitous pieces of technology in the developing world, cell phones, are sold for-profit and create a lot of revenue for cell phone companies, and as a part of this they are everywhere, while the many many great ideas that people have that are distributed solely through donations are only in a few small areas. I am of the opinion that to really distribute something succesfully, you need to be able to turn it into a successful business.

The question then is about ethical business practices. In the late 19th century in America, the Gilded Age, large businesses because extremely successful because of their terrible and unethical practices. Things like that work. But obviously, I can't and won't be like that, so how do I still create a successful business? How especially when the consumers live on a dollar a day and don't have the savings to afford a big lump sum, even if relatively cheap, and they need a loan or debt to buy it so that they can start a businesss and earn more?

Well, Kiva seems to be doing well. To my knowlege people have not attacked them for producing debt slavery. Also, we could try to set up things like community banks, since this is supposed to be a community thing.

In fact, I really like the community bank idea. I think that if the community as a wh*** worked together to raise and borrow the money, it would make the investment feel more like it belonged to the community, than to the single person, which is what I want. I think that will have to be explored.

Thank you Dave, and please let me know what you think.

@Julio: You are absolutely right about my lack of knowlege in local culture, economics, etc. This is not something I plan to jump into right away. My dream would be to live with people in the developing world, and to live like them, for a good period of time. Even then, I won't be them, which is why I want to give them the tools so they can make their own solutions instead of the solutions I think would be right for them.

Blacksmithing is actually fairly common in the developing world, not as anachronistic as you might think. (Example)

@Dave: If the entrepreneur can find a good market for metalworked tourist items, then more power to him. Again, I would like to try not to decide what they should be making, although I will encourage making more tools to make things with.

@Patricio: I looked over your project quickly. it looks interesting, but I don't see a specifically good way to partner. Do you have any suggestions?

Thanks again everyone! Please keep the feedback coming!
Comment by Turil Cronburg on May 17, 2010 at 12:20pm
Amos, you might want to include in your submission a comment and link about the existence of blacksmithing in these areas already, so that it's clear that this is something that people would want more of. I think Julio and I were specifically mentioning the importance of demonstrating at least enough local knowledge to know that this is something that people would welcome, to demonstrate the WHY of this project, that's all. :-) I think your idea to use an internship as a way to make this work, by giving you more intimate local knowledge about HOW to make this happen, is excellent.

And my suggestion for checking with BNB was because they support people in creating their own tools and workshops for maintaining and rebuilding bikes, and bicycle-powered-things (like the forge in your AfriGadget link), which is similar to your idea of makerspaces. And they might actually do blacksmithing in some of their workshops. So knowing that a similar kind of thing is already working in some way, in another part of the world might be useful in demonstrating the value and viability of your idea.
Comment by Shakwei Mbindyo on May 17, 2010 at 12:26pm
The "jua kali" sector is very vibrant in Kenya where there are a lot of different crafts people - smiths, furniture makers, tailors, etc... who create beautiful, beautiful products. A challenge that many have is markets for their products. Perhaps that is an area you can look at as well as you think about your Evokation. I will be happy to provide "local insight" at any point on your Evokation.
Comment by Turil Cronburg on July 22, 2010 at 2:12pm
Congrats Amos! See you at the Summit. :-)


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