"Makers with Ph.Ds stood next to makers from the side of the road - it is not about who you are or where you come from, but what you have done." At A Better World By Design, a three-day conference organized by students that I attended last weekend, founder of Maker Faire Africa (and creator of TED Africa) Emeka Okafor shared with us his hopes for the continent's future of innovative technology design and enterprise.
A self-described venture catalyst, Emeka Okafor is a man that champions unsung heroes. When organizing Maker Faire Africa, he witnessed the coming together of hundreds of traditionally overlooked individuals who build everything from beekeeping mechanisms to windmills, birdfeeders, and distilleries. "From hi-tech to low-tech, these people are making products -- not because they are told to, but because of necessity."
Okafor asks, "What can we do to nurture and nudge the self-sustaining fabricative process?" Scrolling through project after project of simple ingenuity, he states that these people do not need position papers, or grandiose speeches—instead they need a platform. "We're in the process of identifying, locating, and invigorating them," he says. "[We are] trying to create an arena for bottom-up self-selection, a culture that nurtures invention."
Unlike Maker Faires in the United States, where there is already a community in place, one of the greatest challenges of Maker Faire Africa was reaching the people and getting them to actually attend. An incredible amount of outreach was necessary -- through word-of-mouth, phone, email (though many didn't answer) -- a challenging situation that still is the case.
Okafor invites us all to Maker Faire Africa 2010, to be held in Nairobi, Kenya.