Mark Grimes. Maker Faire Africa: the Net Doing

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Here the intro of an interview to Mark Grimes made together with Marco Mancuso for Digicult.


Mark Grimes. Maker Faire Africa: the Net Doing
Txt: Bertram Niessen (intro e interview) and Marco Mancuso (interview)

The last years are witnessing the rise of a new phenomenon generally defined as Makers movement. Its pillar is the network grown around Make Magazine and Maker Faire. Make Magazine is a publication born in 2006 that connects a wide range of DIY projects related with technology. Makers Faire is a meeting held around the USA aiming at the connection of backyard inventors, artists and high-tech crafters. Behind this boom is O’Reilley Media, the publisher worldwide known for its software manuals and for the support to many initiatives related to technological innovation, social entrepreneurship and high-tech startups.

The Maker Faire is only the top of an iceberg of worldwide upturn in new forms of Do It Yourself, that includes communities and laboratories interested in hardware hacking (like Dorkbot), desktop manufacturing (MIT’s Centre for Bits and Bytes, the FabLab movement), DIYbio, and many others “backyard” approaches to material production. Similar phenomena have always existed in the world of geeks, but there is something radically new in what it’s happening now.

We can identify at least four main causes of this rapid social transformation. Firstly, there is an increasing number of people with high-level education in sciences and technologies. Secondly, this people is now connected through incredibly powerful means thanks to the rise of web 2.0 (and platforms, like Instructables, that allow to create and share extremely complex sets of informations in an easy way). Thirdly, desktop manufacturing technologies (like the open source 3D printing projects RepRap and the MakerBot) and services (like the on-demand lasercutting portal Ponoko) are becoming extremely accessible and cheap. Finally, there is an increasing interest in open hardware projects (think at Arduino: it’s cheap, extremely flexible, customizable and even kids can learn to use it). According to many observers, this situation is going to reshape the way we think at the relationships among material production, technology, innovation and society.



This panorama is extremely exciting, but it’s entirely based on north-american and european perspectives. What the makers are, what they do and what are their motivations is mainly defined within the boundaries of needs, wishes and imageries of rich countries.

In 2009 a group of social entrepreneurs and designers has started to re-think grassroots invention concept in an African frame, putting together makers from various countries and asking: “What happens when you put the drivers of ingenious concepts from Mali with those from Ghana and Kenya, and add resources to the mix?” (from their website). The answer to this question is Maker Faire Africa, an international organization founded by Mark Grimes ( along with Emeka Okafor (TED Africa), Emer Beamer (Butterfly Works and Nairobits), Erik Hersman (Afrigadget) and Henry Barnor (Ghana Think). The physical meeting Maker Faire Africa has been held in Ghana in 2009 and in Kenya in 2010.

Maker Faire Africa aims at documenting, connecting and organizing african DIY initiatives, with a specific focus on the possibility to launch in the markets some of the inventions. The project is of an extreme interest because it looks at bottom-up innovation where people decide what are their needs and what are the best ways to satisfy them. In african countries there is a strong need for this crucial switch in the approach to technology and society because it can potentially drive to a re-shaping of power balances with the rest of the world.

Waiting to hear news of makers networks in Asia and South-America, we have decided to interview Marc Grimes, one of the founders of Makers Faire Africa. He came to Italy for a talk at the Festivaletteratura in Mantua, invited by the non-profit Fondazione Lettera 27.

Read the whole interview on Digimag


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