FabLab Starter

A blog about building fablabs

Makers, Impact, Society

Some ideas on how makers should help the business community and their role in innovating the country.

A different perspective on how inventing the future should not stop us to think about the current times and the social issues surrounding us.

Introduction

I’m thinking to write this post since I started the blog.

I postponed it because I felt I needed a deeper understanding of the issue.

But also because I think this is one of the most important issues I want to address with my work and the lab I’m trying to setup.

Lots of people think of FabLabs and the Maker movement as the future way to work and provide value, that in the future will free us all from the current unfair and unsustainable business and labour environment.

But I think there’s much we can do NOW to address the issues of our society, with the technology and most important, culture brought by the movement.

In my opinion, makers should immediately start helping existing small businesses, which in my country are the majority and provide a huge percentage of jobs, that are struggling in the global economy.

Factories are closing, traditional artisan crafts are disappearing, lots of people is losing their jobs.

Some might say that the old “way” of working is dead, or destined to be so.

But there’s lot of good stuff that deserves to be saved from this sure end.

I’m talking about craftsman hand-working on wood, stone, wool, leather, glass, steel and so on.

All these people have spent a significant amount of their life following their passion.

They are true makers, the ones that create beautiful things with their hands.

They don’t know technology, and maybe don’t even like it very much.

In my country, one third of the population has never accessed the Internet.

One of the other two thirds, don’t use it daily to solve their problems, share, learn and communicate ideas.

In this situation I think that today, the maker’s role should be different from the one we foresee for the future.

Technology-savvy people, inventors, creative are those who could help getting us all out of this situation.

For sure it is very exciting to be able to build products and sell them and be independent.

But nobody lives in a glass bubble. The society is strictly connected.

And the community wellbeing affects our lives too.

Technology transfer

During the last twenty years, the term “technology transfer” has been repeated and included in all kind of community development projects.

Millions or better billions of Euro have been spent to “speed up and facilitate” technology transfer between University and Technology Excellence Centres and those called SME (small and medium enterprises).

Well, except few cases, I must say that didn’t work very well, or at least not as expected. Otherwise we wouldn’t be facing this huge economic crisis.

People wouldn’t lose their jobs at this astonishing rate.

Sure the businesses are not innovating. True they don’t speak English, they are not addressing “globalization”.

Basically they are not accessing the wealth of technology and information needed to be competitive.

But what this has to do with FabLabs and Makers, you might ask.

Well, where technology transfer has failed, the makers could succeed.

Where researchers, professors, facilitators and all those who have tried to bring innovation to the SMEs, they failed.

Because they where expecting to find the same mental setting into the “crafts” people.

They didn’t talk the same language.

They where expecting small companies to shell out money on expensive equipment and methodology.

Or to adopt production processes which were too distant from the old business mentality.

A different way of thinking and providing technology transfer is what makers could do for small businesses.

The maker Tutor

What I propose is that every maker could help a business.

We, and I include myself as part of this, should “adopt” a business in a way a parent adopts a child.

We should explain that technology can be also a hack downloaded from the internet and not only the expensive product sold by white collar consultants. I admit I’ve been one of those some times ago, but at least sold them consultancy on open-source software.

We should tell them what is available now, what can be built on top of all of the off-the-shelf stuff available on the Internet.

We should show how new products can be built out of rapid prototyping and agile development. We should browse the Internet for and with them, provide suggestions, improve their crafts.

The Maker Tutor looks like a funny name, but at the end is just helping small business people the same you would help a guy showing up with a nice idea and providing him pointers on where to start.

Lifestyle

But there’s more. Makers should help old-fashioned businesses in other ways.

Because they learnt it is possible to start a business and build a product without hiring lawyers, consultants, and all the “professionals” which are just after their money.

Yes, i speak about the two thousand Euros per page web designers.

Makers should teach businesses to blog, go on social networks, share daily all their work and knowlege, build value out of it, as much as they do.

Another help could be to show how tele working is so easy today, how to use Skype and VNC to access the office PC and speak to customers.

We would see much happier people on the street, out of their boring, expensive offices, having a life apart from work.

Finally, the lifestyle.

Many makers and digital people make their living out of small earnings; build a sustainable life camping out of Europe, sharing offices in Co working spaces.

Grow their own crops, barter their services with neighbours.

Conclusions

Aside from inventing the next huge killer product, or most probably the next Arduino Controlled robot, the responsibility of other, less skilled or older members of our community rely on us.

Think about it when building your next project.

Go outside of your lab and seek ways to improve your neighbour business, it might save few jobs.

Personally, I want to do this on a big scale.

I want to build hundreds of labs around my region.

I want them to help the small businesses; I want this to build wealth not only for me, but also for the benefit of all the community around me.

This is what I’m after, and what I ask you to do too.

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