Note: The following is an interview between Bilal Ghalib and Omar El-Safty conducted at the Fab Lab Egypt in Cairo about the very first Maker Faire in Egypt. The event is happening this weekend, March 7, 2015. Go to the Cairo Mini Maker Faire website for more information.
Bilal: Hello Mahmoud, how are you? Let’s start with how you are introducing the concept of the Maker Faire in Egypt?
Omar: Well, we wanted to start with something everyone can connect to, so we ran a campaign named Maker Man. We did this to remind people about how they were when they were children – and it really helped! We just had to remind them that you’ve already been a maker since you were young but you’ve forgotten that. We made a icon of a Maker Man and shared it on facebook, inviting people to share projects they had made, either new ones or ones from when they were kids. Then they started to come in. We saw crochet projects from years ago, and one of our own- moody, shared an awesome project of a robotic arm he made as a kid. Funny thing was it was made out of a cheese container.
Bilal: Why does the Maker Man have three sides?
Omar: Three sides! Well, I think the most obvious connection is with our history, the pyramids. Secondly it references our more recent history from the islamic design tradition. And lastly it’s a nod to geeks since the triangle is the one shape that you can use to tile any other shape completely, it’s the most basic shape for a 3d model.
Bilal: What does the word maker mean here, is it the same? What’s the arabic language equivalent?
Omar: Well, it doesn’t really translate well. صانع (Sani3) is the closest word we can use. مبتكر (Mubtakir) is the second closest word and means innovation… You know this is a tired subject, we’ve really had a lot of discussions about this but we haven’t come to a conclusion.
Bilal: What’s up with the Maker Movement and the Fablab. Can you share with me some stories?
Omar: Well, in the years since our inception in 2012 we’ve held over 1,100 workshops and 8,000 people have been to to our space. We’ve also had over 250 different projects coming out of the lab from a simple woodworking project to a microcontroller enabled drawing bot.
A nice story I like to share is just shows a bit of our diversity, we’ve had folks join our maker camp who are six years old. And just the other day a 96 year old man came in to print parts for his own homemade 3d printer.
We’ve been working with the first STEM schools in the region, integrating making within the egyptian educational system. We helped build out and support two stem schools in Egypt.
Bilal: What projects are excited to see at the upcoming Mini Maker Faire?
I really love crafts! Really. There are some great people who come to mind – this woman who does stuff with clay. Selsal makes and sells amazing clay objects.
Also, I’m really excited to see knitting bombing – people who make crochet nets to cover objects in a colorful way :)
Bilal: How many people do you think will be attending the Cairo Mimi Maker Faire this year?
2,500 people. We sold 1900 tickets already and we’ve invited many more. We have 80+ makers / 26 workshops – all day activities.
Bilal: Why is the Maker Faire only one day?
Omar: Well, first there’s the cost associated with running two days. Also there’s the benefit of not diluting the energy of the festivities. Big groups of people all coming in for one day has a powerful effect.
Bilal: Is the City government interested, how are they participating?
Omar: The minister of communications will come do a speech and it will help give our event positive publicity. Also will encourage more gov officials to take note and not be afraid of these types of activities in the future.
Bilal: Are you thinking of any ways to follow up on the excitement after the faire?
Omar:Yeah, Fablab Egypt has a big reputation but there is also Qafeer in October city – Zone Fab maker space in Abbasiyya, Ice Alex, Alex hackerspace in Alexandria, and Cloud in south Egypt. There are spaces for people to visit after the event to be able to continue to feed their excitement.
Bilal: That’s awesome, why do you think they’re spreading so fast?
Omar: It’s spreading partially because the White House showed interest with the White House Maker Faire and really legitamized the movement. It gave it the push to really take off and the values entrepreneurship and making started to become more common.
Bilal: Why are these spaces helpful, why should we make?
Omar: We have a ton of problems in masr. TONS. And so when people learn tools the problems will start to become manageable.
Bilal: Do you see people using makerspaces to solve civic problems?
Omar: Well, our first problem is the lack of facilities, so we are solving it – through crowd funding and by running workshops in universities. Also, people need an income and we’re definitely seeing more people making things and selling them, although there is no social mission behind it.
There have been a few interesting problems that have been tackled. One of our members has started a project along with Misr Kheir – this person wants to make a prototype device to help people who can’t see know when their clothing is dirty. It takes a scan of their body and does a comparison to a “clean” scan.
Bilal: I’m curious, how do you think we can expand the idea of doing great things with our great tools?
Omar: I’m not sure everyone will agree with me, but I see it as a problem that the trend in making is mixed with the trends of entrepreneurship. It’s becoming too money centered and that’s a bad motivation. We could be focusing on what’s fun for people to do, to be more creative, to use our tools to solve our own problems. Not identify a market opportunity. I don’t want to see people learn stuff just to make money, although if they start working on a project and realize that it can bring in an income, that’s great! I just don’t want to miss out on the creativity, exploration, openness to play that this movement brings.
Part of the issue is that the access to the tools and time to work on the people’s problems fall into the hands of the top 10% of society. So I’m really excited to see when people here come fo the Fablab and learn about that can really improve their lives directly by using our tools without having to have a large structure with bad motivations looking to make money.
Bilal: Thanks Omar, I’m really excited about the event that’s coming up and all the great work and thoughtfulness I see with you and the Fablab. Time to get ready for my workshop.
Omar: Thanks, yallah. It’s time to get some Koshari!