This project, which I’ve devoted most of the last 13 years to, is a dream about using tools to change lives.
Across the developing world, in crowded slums and tiny villages, poverty traps millions in their circumstances. Country after country is flooded with young people without opportunity, whether in the Gaza Strip, the slums of Rio or in rural Kenya (more on that last one later). Young men in particular need jobs, for both economic and practical reasons — under-occupied young men are an ingredient for social instability (they’ll always find some kind of trouble to get into).
But flooded with cheap goods from the industrial world, local companies can’t compete and hence can’t employ. My answer: start from the bottom up. Give people the information they need to create their OWN tools and build (and repair) their own agricultural, household and even light industrial goods. And, design the instructions in such a way that they can use materials at hand just about anywhere on the globe, from concrete to the engine block of a junked car. The results can run a metal-working business, a trade school, or a village shop…and give people economic power in the process.
How Did It Start?
In one sense, my story started the first time I saw a machine and tried to figure out how it worked – I’ve been fascinated by the mechanical world longer than I can remember.
But what got this particular project started happened sometime around the year 2000. I remember hearing a story from someone who’d done missionary work in Africa, in part in a village on an island in the middle of Lake Victoria in Central Africa. What astonished me was when he told me about a tool one of the African men was using: a machete that had been so ground down by resharpening that the blade was the size of a butter knife.
When I imagined that man using a tool for so long that it had basically worn to nothing, it made me think – if I were in the developing world and didn’t have ANYTHING, how would I build my OWN tools?
Thirteen years later, over 7000 people have joined a group working online to help me answer that question, and in the process, we’ve developed ideas that might help that Lake Victoria man – and many others like him — take control of their economic lives.