OuagaLab is a fablab in the most radical sense of the word. Not only are technological prototypes built and developed, from a drone to an intelligent parking lot, but even space has been self-built. The community contributed the money to start it; the community raised the building with their own hands; and the community decides, every day, what is the spirit of the lab. OuagaLab is an innovation space located in Ouagadougou (two million inhabitants), the capital of Burkina Faso.
In 2013, they organized a crowdfunding. They got the 7,300 euros with which they started the adaptation of the space. Gildas Guiella (Ouagadougou, 1984) had been developing itinerant activities for two years. I had started animating an Open Street Maps (OSM) community that was, in fact, an excuse to extend the values of open source and collaborative work. During that time, the community had consolidated and a group interested in the development of prototypes had been formed, the "do it yourself" (philosophy DIY, do it yourself), "But we lacked our own space, a place to go and where we could meet," Gildas explains.
80% of the Burkinabeans are engaged in agriculture and the performance is not good. Our weather station will help find more efficient methods. "
And so, they started to lift themselves the first fablab from the Burkinabe capital. On a site located barely 200 meters from the back wall of the international airport of the city. The tranquility of the surroundings can not hide that it is located at the end of Kalgondin, one of the most popular neighborhoods of the city. Kalgondin is strategically located between the airport and the old administrative district. It is said that the youth of the neighborhood are especially predisposed to mobilization.
Perhaps it is not coincidence that Kalgondin is home to the most popular traditional pharmacopoeia market in the country, because the movement maker in the African continent it is characterized by having found a curious balance between technological development and deep-rooted social practices, related to creativity, recycling, the transmission of knowledge and community work.
"We have built the space ourselves, since the creation of the blocks. This has allowed us to cultivate, from the beginning, that spirit of teamwork and to show an example of a youth that wants to equip itself to the maximum and develop things for itself, "the initiative's promoter proudly comments. The space was operative, definitively, in December 2014, but until it was opened, its orientation was not defined. "Our intention was to say Here you have the place. We wanted people to come and end up conditioning them according to what they wanted to do with it, "explains the young Burkinabe technologist.
For Gildas that was the only formula to get, in one place, met without distinction "engineers, schoolchildren, technicians, illiterate, artists and all kinds of actors working together and collaborating, making the space their own".
The three main areas of work in the area are education, health and agriculture. The community itself defined these guidelines months after the doors of the space were opened, after discussing and arriving at the conclusion that they were "three pillars to accompany the development and that, in addition, they influence the rest of the key elements that the people need to move forward, "he says.
Gildas Guiella's approach to work in laboratory education is, at the very least, provocative. "Our dream at OuagaLab is to create a school in which the pedagogy of error is practiced. Learn to make mistakes. My experience is that when you obsess about not making a mistake, you limit yourself to a minimum part of your capacity, you act like a machine, you only do what you have been taught ", regrets the impeller of space.
And that is why he proudly points out that in children's activities they transmit to children that "if you do not accept that you can make mistakes, you do not produce anything new, you do not advance; What is going to determine your growth process is what you are going to do after making a mistake. Errors have never been the worst in the world; Do not get up later, do not rely on mistakes to find solutions, that's the bad thing, "convicts Guiella.
Content and own developments
With this approach, the laboratory uses Legos for children to build and learn to materialize the images; they accompany them in the creation of their own computers, with the Jerry workshops, in which computers are assembled, often with recycled components, inside plastic drums.
And they invite these same children to tell their stories weekly, "to accustom them to the production of content and change the dynamics that make 90% of the content we consume in Africa through the Internet have been produced abroad" , as they approach the programming through the game.
The search for simple, close and achievable solutions is reproduced in the work that OuagaLab does in the field of health. "We do not try to find magical solutions, we work rather with a focus lo-tech [baja tecnología]. We can propose fairly simple solutions to achieve some important improvements, "says Gildas Guiella.
In this line, they launched a collaborative map project to identify the areas with the highest risk of malaria, so that measures to combat the disease have the appropriate data. With the same spirit, they organize hackathons in which they seek solutions to problems related to the health field. The condition to guarantee the lo-tech approach: that these solutions can be developed in four days.
We do not try to find magical solutions, we work rather with a lo-tech approach [baja tecnología]"
With this obsession to collaborate with local development, the Burkina innovation space accompanies the cooperatives of agricultural producers, trying to offer simple technological solutions to their needs. "We have a small meteorological station that we have developed. It offers meteorological data that will help experts to find the most efficient methods ", explains the head of OuagaLab. They have also detected the need to improve the rice drying process, a critical moment that could cause a good loss of harvests. That's why they have developed a solar dryer with humidity sensors that provides information to farmers and reduces losses.
Gildas Guiella is especially proud of one of the examples of the initiatives that emerged from Ouagalab. In the innovation space, a refrigerated backpack project for the transport of vaccines was developed in its most embryonic state, Laafi Bag. Guiella explains that the inventor of this backpack, Christian Cédric Toe, developed his prototype in the innovation space and that he was able to continue with the materialization thanks to access to different prizes and investments.
Now, on top of a work table you can see the model of a smart car park, which a user of the innovation space devised after the jihadist attacks last March in the capital of Burkina Faso. The prototype improves identification systems to increase safety. Next to the model, a 3D printer partially formed by reused pieces. And, next to the printer, an artisan stethoscope built with printed plastic pieces, which could be the beginning to solve the shortage of basic medical equipment.
Meanwhile, Yanogo Rashid fights with a metal plate to shape a propotype, still in a very early state, and Bassirou Ouédraogo reconstructs an elemental drone. He says he started doing it at home, but he did not have the tools or the help he needed there. "I would like it to be used to film in the city or in the fields, to help people," says Ouédraogo.
Diera Kevin arrived to do training in robotics and 3D printing; Wendpagnagda François Xavier Minoumgou is a computer science student and stays at OuagaLab, which is bringing him closer to social entrepreneurship, an approach he does not find at the university; and Diallo Boubakar is one of the members of the technical team. These three 20-year-olds join forces to develop a pump for controlled watering through temperature sensors.
OuagaLab is a sample of a phenomenon that not only enjoys good health but also is on the rise: the emergence of innovation spaces in the continent. It is true that tech labs or tech hubs that work in the software environment, the development of apps or coding are more common, but, these others, the labs of technological manufacturing, have also been made with a gap: from Lomé to Nairobi or from Dakar to Limpopo, some thirty cities in sub-Saharan Africa are home to these places where they try to build creative solutions, close and simple to all kinds of local problems, combining technology and creativity.