As part of the H2020-funded Critical Making project, we embarked on a series of initiatives that resulted in various interactive tools and literature tailor-made for academia, practitioners, and educators. A true gem among these initiatives was the Critical Making Mentoring Programme, a remarkable 9-month journey where makers received invaluable guidance from a group of esteemed mentors. They include Saad Chinoy, Co-Founder of SpudnikLab; Georgia Nicolau, Founder of Instituto Procomum; Bahar Kumar, Strategic Advisor at Communitere; Emilio Velis, Executive Director of Appropedia Foundation, and Aravinth Panch, Co-Director of DreamSpace Academy. We’re thrilled to bring you the exciting highlights of the mentoring program and our talented mentees’ inspiring experiences.

Together, they explored the fundamental principles of the critical making framework in open science hardware, social innovation, and environmental sustainability.

Our program welcomed 13 ambitious mentees from around the globe, including Brazil, Ecuador, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Iraq, and beyond!

It was a meaningful co-learning experience where mentees gathered online to share their visions of addressing specific community needs and challenges through their open hardware prototypes and their experiences in crafting these prototypes using tools that were readily accessible to them. The online mentoring sessions also provided a platform for mentees to learn from each other’s challenges and brainstorm improvements that could be made to their respective open hardware prototypes, fostering a spirit of collaboration and creativity amongst them.

Highlights of Critical Making Demo Talks

The pinnacle of our mentoring program was a vibrant public demo week featuring two days of inspiring demo talks, where mentees showcased the prototypes they had tirelessly worked on in the last months, their documentation, and discussed their perspectives towards the Critical Making framework. 

During Day 1, we witnessed much-needed prototypes, such as a gravity-fed water irrigation kit supporting refugee nutrition in Uganda’s Pagirinya refugee settlement. Additionally, a low-cost automatic water dispenser using an IR sensor to promote hygiene in refugee settlements was presented. The Xixi project showcased a device aiding cis women, non-binary, and transmasculine individuals in communities with limited basic sanitation to urinate hygienically. Water and hygiene took centre stage during day 1 of the demo talks, and the iterative development process was a topic of lively discussion among our mentees.

Check out day 1’s demo talks in the recording:

Day 2 of the Critical Making demo talks focused on education and eco-friendly open-source engineering. The impressive presentations included a portable 3D-printed water filtration system designed to support the STEM education of girls in Kenya’s coastal town of Lamu. An educational game crafted from wood and laser technology aimed to instil a sense of cultural heritage in children, highlighting vibrant architectural and cultural references from the city of Olinda. Moreover, a DIY solar mobile phone charger was showcased to power mobile phones in remote areas without electricity. During these sessions, we explored the potential of cross-cultural collaborations among makers worldwide, the importance of considering socio-environmental impacts when making, and the role of documentation in fostering openness and empowerment within the maker community.

Check out day 2’s series of inspiring demo talks in the recording:

With valuable feedback and insights from mentors and project partners during the two days of demo talks, the mentees completed the program armed with actionable advice they could use for their projects.

As we wrapped up the mentorship program, we were curious to hear from our mentees about their experiences in the program.

How Was Our Mentees’ Experiences?

Many mentees appreciated the incredible value they found in the global nature of the program, which broadened their horizons and promoted knowledge sharing. This was voiced by Mathew Lubari, co-founder of Community Creativity for Development in Uganda’s Rhino Camp refugee settlement, who had created an electrical extension board made from locally sourced recycled wood during the mentoring programme. Mathew emphasised how this global environment allowed everyone to “share experiences, learn new things from different continents or countries.” To him, the programme’s global component also helped mentees to “replicate what other countries are doing or come up with new ideas and create that environment for collaborations.” 

Similarly, Helena Le Grange, who prototyped a low-cost early alert wristband for maternal and child health, valued learning from others’ challenges and highlighted how “it’s different from every community… we all have similar challenges across the world.”

Building on the program’s global reach, mentees also cherished its networking opportunities. Sara and Patricia, partners in the Xixi project, expressed how it enabled to them to “make connections with people around the world and see how people can be creative in their environments and their situations.” Likewise, Wafela Andrew, who created a DIY ultra bass amplifier for electronic repair education in Uganda, emphasised how the mentoring programme “strengthened the ties between people living in different countries, so it means we can consult each other in case of a need.”

The program also served as a platform to spotlight the potential-laden open innovation projects emerging from the margins of society, dispelling stereotypes and highlighting the power of human creativity and resilience, particularly in under-resourced environments like refugee camps. As Mathew emphasised, “This platform has shown the world that despite being refugees, we can do something. Who would have known we are doing such amazing things at the refugee camps!” The program opened doors for Helena to a world of possibilities that she might not have otherwise encountered.

Most significantly, mentees found the real-world applicability of their experience within the program beneficial for the sustainable growth of their projects. They not only grasped the theoretical foundations of the Critical Making framework but also translated their ideas into fully functional prototypes with the support of their peers and mentors. For instance, Maliamungu Richard, who prototyped the automatic water dispenser for handwashing, was thrilled to develop a working prototype for his community and shares how “for the first time, I’ve developed a tiny prototype that works into a product, and people are using it. It is absolutely amazing.” 

Similarly, Helena noted the tremendous growth their group had experienced, from a mere idea to a thriving project with boundless potential, recounting how when she and the other mentees first came together at the start of the programme, “we just had an idea and nothing else. But now we have grown so much, and we’re still going to grow so much.”

What’s Next for Our Critical Making Mentees?

At GIG, we are delighted to witness the immense value mentees attained from knowledge sharing, networking, and practical application throughout the mentoring programme. Moreover, we are heartened to see how the program has empowered them to delve into the possibilities of creating products and solutions to address fundamental, real-world issues within their local communities. We cannot wait to see where their journeys in critical making will take them as they continue developing impactful and sustainable solutions for their communities!


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