Africa is in the vibrant phase of technology. It is as if the continent is awakening from a technological slumber which has kept progress behind! We are moving forward and catching up with the rest of the world. Thanks to incubators that are popping up in every across Africa, young innovators are being given space and tools by incubators necessary in facilitating innovation.
This is a story that is taking root in Africa and we are here to capture the continent fast track its way to modern technology being implemented in advanced nations.
Today we catch up with Woelab, a technological hub based in Lome, Togo. The Lab shot to limelight when one of its innovations, a 3D Printer created from e-waste as an idea of one of the hub’s members made headlines across the world.
Here is an exclusive interview with sénamé koffi a., an administrator at Woelab Lome.
Q:What prompted the start of Woe Lab Initiative?
At the beginning of all this, there was a correspondence initiated between the “Hacker Ethic” and “African Traditional Societies Values”. I explored possibilities of an alternative to the architecture as currently practiced in Africa by bringing up-to-date the traditional forms and promoting a local know-how, dynamics, and resources. This posture seemed doomed to remain at the gates of the city. After discovering the “Maker Movement” in 2012, he found there the potential to help expand this “neo-vernacular” ethic to the urban context. He theorized this approach in #LowHighTech concept that aims to highlight this paradoxical closeness with our traditions and make possible a new approach to technology; aimed at putting in the reach of all; including the poorest strata of society.
#LowiHighTech finds its application at the urban scale in “African HubCities,” an African “smart city” project. “HubCity” explores the relevance of thinking the development of African cities around open events and innovation places developed in a strictly African perspective. The goal is to provide a given territory many points in tech-incubators thus promoting low footprint uses that restore some cohesion and ability to provide the professionalism and the potential of prototyping down to a sub-scale. That could help increase the general level of populations and consider developmental issues approach that is not elitist but vernacular. And that gave birth to WoeLab!
WoeLab is modeling this type of “DemocratyTechnology” or “Sharing Space “. It is now a 20- members strong community of makers.
Q:Has the Lab gained any achievements since its launch?
The first project that came out of our hub is the W.Afate. It is the first 3D printer developed in Africa. It has the specificity of being thought based in e-waste. It is a project that has received many awards including the Global Fab Award, in June, for best invention born in a Fablab.
How have the achievements benefited the Lab?
I can say that this has brought us some legitimacy. We are a small and marginal Fablab grassroots initiative. In overall, it has strengthened the confidence of the very young members of the community at WoeLab.
Q:Do the Lab participants gain economically from their innovations or is the initiative a not-for-profit initiative?
WoeLab is a social system financed entirely by myself and my association “L’Africaine d’architecture”. We wanted to start our stay closer to the “hacker ethic” and be independent enough to deploy as we wanted our philosophy.
Now, to manage a growing community and to bring a little professionalization, we needed a business model. To make sustainable this #LowHighTech initiative and enable young people to gain some money with what we do, I launched a business creation program some time ago. This program gave birth to 5 startups including one that won theBest Entrepreneurial Projectaward by the Government for the year 2014. But all this is still running. We do not even earn money with our businesses.
Q:Tell us more about the 3D Printer developed by your Lab
This is a project in the spirit of #LowHighTech. It started after we built a RepRapPrusa Mendel in WoeLab. Afate Gnikou, one of the youths of the community suggested that we replicate this printer with electronic waste. I ascribed his name to the machine.
The W.Afate, like everything developed in WoeLab, is a collaborative initiative. Our entire community has been involved, from the beginning, and helped develop it. So it is one of the very first African-symbols of this contemporary movement of ‘Commons’ which is being developed around the world-this is the intuition behind everything we to in Togo- echoed in our African traditions
Q: What’s your advice to young innovators and upcoming African entrepreneurs out there?