Africa Rising with Gearbox

Roughly 51% of Africa’s population is under the age of 19, and it’s estimated that fewer than 70% of the population will attain salaried jobs upon reaching adulthood. Improving access to technology and entrepreneurship will become vital in ensuring Africa’s youth are able to build their own futures in the face of employment scarcity. Innovation hubs, makerspaces, AI, software development and robotics are all forming the backbone of what is being described as the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

One makerspace based in Kenya, Gearbox, provides low-cost access to digital fabrication technologies. Through shared and flexible facilities, training, mentorship and investment, Gearbox increases access to hardware entrepreneurship — in a way that particularly benefits young people. We spoke with Dr Kamau Gachigi, executive director of Gearbox, to find out more.

LVC: What kind of person uses Gearbox?

Kamau Gachigi: Gearbox is very much an ecosystem, where you can network, meet other innovators, and so on. The kind of person who typically we will be serving could be anything from an engineer to a maker. And our definition of maker, which I think is quite common, is someone who doesn’t have a formal engineering background but they have the engineering gene. Once they have learned a few fundamentals and been exposed to some methodologies, they can then be very active and productive with the tools. Even if you don’t have much education, we can introduce you to the tools at a high level.

LVC: What is it that interests you about the Lake Victoria Challenge?

Kamau Gachigi:: Technology can help to leapfrog deficit, especially if they’re technologies that don’t require large capital investment. In remote parts of the country, having drones build on other existing systems that have been adopted and adapted for the local pop-ulation — like mobile money, for example — is very interesting.

LVC: Where does Gearbox fit in with the tech development in Africa?

Kamau Gachigi:: Most African countries are trying to make sure that they’re able to produce more of what they consume locally. To make sure that new technologies stick, it is im-portant to ensure local participation at a grassroots level. With drones, for example, someone will need to learn how to maintain them, build replacement parts. You could even train people in design, which is what we would love to see happen.

Find out how Gearbox is helping people to build an African future.