Saudi Arabia’s restrictions on women’s rights are well known, from the banning of driving cars to the requirement of male permission for travel or making many fundamental decisions. That aspect made our visit to TekSpacy in Riyadh all the more significant. The makerspace holds all the features you’d expect to find in a normal shop, minus one: men.
The venue, co-founded by Sarah Al-Dosary in December 2016, is a symbol of women in a repressive environment finding ways to express themselves through creativity and entrepreneurialism. It also lets women work in comfort without the abayas (long robes) they’re required to wear in public. The space holds 3D printers, a CNC router, vacuform machines, laser and vinyl cutters, and more. Impeccably clean (especially by makerspace standards), the projects on display all show touches of the region’s aesthetic, from the intricate geometric patterns on dessert boxes to the swooping curves underneath the workbenches. (Those workbenches, by the way, were constructed in-shop using an interesting plastic connector piece that, Al-Dosary explains, turns any flat stock into Ikea furniture.)
Al-Dosary is a facilitator in the Summer Innovation Program, a three-week maker-ed camp for both boy and girl high school students. Hosted by Sabic, a massive Saudi industrial corporation, Make: has developed curriculum for the program that focuses on electronics, fabrication, and robotics. When Al-Dosary offered to show us the space, we eagerly accepted.
TekSpacy is open to any women that want to come in and work on a project. It is funded by Saudi tech incubator Badir.