Foondi Workshops are a platform for problem setting, designing, and prototyping entrepreneurial-based ventures. Based in East Africa, Foondi uses collaborative design workshops to spur innovation and foster skill sharing among participants. Our vision is to nurture a group of young innovators in Africa who are working on building solutions that target emerging markets and underserved communities.
The idea of Foondi was inspired by my participation in the International Development Design Summit (IDDS; iddsummit.org) held in Brazil in 2012. IDDS is a one-month annual design summit that brings together people from all over the world and all walks of life to create technologies and enterprises that improve the lives of people living in poverty.
Participating in IDDS 2012 in Brazil, a country with infrastructural and social challenges similar to those found in Kenya, revealed to me the vast potential of using technology as a tool for development.
A larger part of my inspiration came from the expansive community of makers and people in the fabrication industry in Kenya called the Jua Kali.
Jua Kali is Swahili for “hot sun” and refers to informal artisans who deal in metalworks and carpentry in open-air markets, mainly in cities and towns around Kenya. In a typical Jua Kali setup, you’ll find metalworkers, woodworkers, carpenters, tailors, car repairers, welders, and tinkerers of all kinds. Each group of artisans is arranged according to their trade; knowledge transfer is by apprenticeship as well as formal training in vocational training institutes.
Foondi is coined from a Swahili word, Fundi (pronounced foo-ndi), which refers to a maker, artisan, craftsman, tinkerer, or designer—the kind that is typically found in a Jua Kali setup.
Making, though a new term in Africa, has been in practice from time immemorial dating back to the Pyramids of Giza and the city of Timbuktu. Skilled craftsmen have carried on the history of making in Africa through each generation—though it often goes unnoticed because it lacks glamour and high-tech allure. Talent is everywhere; opportunity is not. A strong foundation of innovation has formed from the constraints that creators must face when solving a problem. Moreover, the challenges faced in developing technology in Kenya are mirrored in East Africa, and in the larger African continent.
The Foondi Approach
In Africa, it’s difficult to access the electronics and computer numerical control (CNC) machinery (i.e., computer-controlled machine tools) that is traditionally used to nurture a community of technology innovators. Instead of relying on commercial kits, Foondi rethinks how to create innovative environments in emerging markets and has developed a technology curriculum that incorporates the recycling, upcycling, and use of locally available materials to build valuable and sustainable technology. We are also geared toward improving the technical skills and design processes currently in use.
Foondi uses collaborative design workshops on design thinking, product design, and appropriate technology to spur local innovation in communities. Through these workshops, we focus on creating access to open source, low-cost technology-related solutions.
Innovation in emerging markets is motivated by fundamental needs, creating a niche for maker education. We focus on developing local solutions and using transformative learning environments for people making positive changes in their communities. Foondi creates access to these already tried-and-true, simple, yet effective technologies by holding workshops where the people who need these solutions the most can have access to this open source information.
Foondi strongly supports the idea of co-creation: the concept that it is better to provide communities with the skills and tools to become innovators and develop new technologies themselves rather than simply providing technologies to them. This is because the capacity for innovation and creativity is critical for long-term sustainable improvements in a community’s quality of life. It is our goal to demonstrate a model where a user-based community of active, creative designers can invent, innovate, and inspire each other to create new technologies.
The Foondi approach to sustainable poverty alleviation focuses on bottom-up development. With this in mind, we offer the participants a unique avenue to come up with and test viable technological innovations that have a lasting impact on the developing world.
Our goal is to create profitable, affordable, high-tech solutions for global development that can accelerate positive social change throughout the world.
Given that entrepreneurship is the limiting factor in many less-developed countries, the workshop aims to teach the participants how to create sustainable business ventures for and by African communities in challenging environments.
More than offering training on product design, we envision our work as inspiring more young people to be creative problem solvers and to develop products better suited to their needs and environment. We believe that building this capacity will play a major role in steering more local entrepreneurship that better targets community needs and taps into niche and nascent markets.
We foresee an East Africa where informal manufacturing clusters play a pivotal role in developing appropriate technology that serves the needs of the local market. Through this, thousands of jobs could be created, tapping the local capacity of East Africans to innovate and develop tangible and lasting solutions to challenges in agriculture, transport, education, sanitation, and healthcare. We see the maker movement in East Africa, and in the larger part of the continent, shaping the future of our economies—one where more people have access to the information and resources needed to build the next generation of technologies.
While we initially began running our workshops ad-hoc, we have since partnered with local organizations and institutions involved in vocational training, focusing less on traditional university learning and more on hands-on learning. These organizations are based in the heart of the community, so the participants are also first-hand users of the products they develop and have a deep understanding of the needs, challenges, and opportunities in the community.
A case in point is the design workshop we run in Mpigi, Uganda, in partnership with the vocational training school run by the Watoto Church. Mpigi is a village located about an hour from the capital, Kampala. Mpigi is the quintessential village, where most residents are farmers and small-scale business owners. A majority of the residents have a cellphone, which they use for everyday communication and for their farming businesses. However, they aren’t connected to the grid, and therefore most homes don’t have electricity.
The Foondi approach to sustainable poverty alleviation focuses on bottom-up development.
So what does someone do when they need to charge their mobile phone? They have it charged in town for a fee, which can be an inconvenience. To do this, one would most likely use a boda boda (motorcycle taxi), which is the most popular means of local transport within villages.
Considering both the difficulty of charging mobile phones and the ready availability of motorcycles, Foondi Workshops held a design workshop with the students at the institute to develop motorcycle-based charging facilities for mobile phones. By leveraging the abundant boda boda in Uganda, the students developed a product that both tackled the problem of access to electricity and created a viable business venture.
Participants also developed a business model for students to build and maintain these units for motorcycle-taxi drivers, who would collect fees from passengers who wished to charge their mobile phones while in transit. The product would be built at the vocational institute, which is in the heart of the community, this way tapping into local skills and resources. This developed two value streams: one for students and grassroots artisans who would build and sell these charging units, and another for motorcycle-taxi drivers who could provide an extra service to their passengers.
This proved to be a simple, viable, and scalable technology in the context of both rural and urban Uganda. After the workshop, all 16 participants expressed interest in carrying the project forward and turning it into a business venture. Currently, these students are improving on the design to make it more portable and user-friendly. Like most products coming out of maker spaces and the Jua Kali market, though functional, they lack the design rigor and user-friendliness needed to fully tap into their business potential. For this reason, our focus at Foondi is to improve the product design and human-centered design acumen in this industry.
Our work has also involved designing and building a green roof that brought together visual artists and engineers. The aim of this project was to incorporate art and aesthetics in engineering and architecture, as well as to provide an easy, scalable solution to help reduce greenhouse gases and the carbon footprint in urban areas in Kenya. Foondi also runs a bici-blender (bicycle-powered blender) workshop with the goal of leveraging pedal-powered technology for food processing in areas that are off the grid.
The Tech Revolution
We are at the point where technology is being developed faster than we can apply it productively. This poses a big challenge, especially coming from a developing country where the concept of co-creation and participatory development is not being used to its full potential. I strongly believe the time is here for a big innovation revolution for sustainable poverty alleviation through bottom-up development in our country. My role is to help position as many individuals and organizations to be able to usher in this revolution and not only raise the standard and global competitiveness of locally manufactured products, but also ultimately influence entire industries.
Through micro-influence, this revolution could go as far as carving out niche markets. We can accomplish this by influencing product design, manufacturing, and quality-control systems through the integration of quality consumer-oriented software and applications, microelectronic components, and the careful application of globally accepted industrial design procedures.
Foondi is focusing on building more partnerships with vocational training institutes, not only in Kenya but also in the larger East African region, aimed at leveraging local skills and resources.
Our work this year will shift to focus less on rudimentary, low-tech projects and more on developing affordable CNC milling machinery suited to the local interests and needs. The idea behind this is for fabrication, design, and making tools to be more accessible, as well as to engage the local talent in developing and building this machinery at a cost of less than $100 per unit.
This presents a twofold opportunity: capacity building and entrepreneurship geared toward growing local skills, and tapping into the potential for local manufacture, both small scale and large scale. With these tools in the reach of ordinary Kenyans, Ugandans, or Burundians—wherever people are on the continent—they should be able to design, create, and easily build their own products.
Our goal is to make modern fabrication accessible and socially relevant while keeping in mind the available tools and materials. We aim to do this by tapping into the culture of recycling and upcycling.
Our new curriculum will take participants through the computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) training needed to both develop and build DIY CNC milling machines and to develop products around these machines.
Our work is influenced by the principles from the MIT D-Lab on Design for X: design for usability, which involves understanding the ergonomics; design for sustainability, which is the art of working and developing technologies in harmony with nature; and design for failure, such that if products do fail, they do so cheaply, safely, and wisely.
In sum, the team at Foondi is passionate about being part of the technology revolution in Africa that focuses on not simply providing technologies to people, but rather providing them with the tools and skills to develop technologies and become innovators.
Juliet Wanyiri has a background in electrical engineering with a focus on design and operations. She is the founder of Foond Workshops (foondiworkshops.com), is part of the first group of the Stanford FabLearn Fellows Program, and is an IDIN Workshop Fellow. She is also both an organizer and an alumnus of the International Development Design Summit (IDDS). firstname.lastname@example.org
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