Fab Labs: The Birth of a New Society?


China has become the world’s workshop. ‪If I buy a parasol, a screwdriver,  or a stove, I can see all the objects marked “Made in PRC – People’s Republic of China.” ‪ Wood that is purchased in Europe is exported to China and then comes back in the form of furniture. ‪International transport of both raw materials and manufactured goods increases and contributes to global warming through greenhouse gas emissions. ‪Manufactured products are so inexpensive – through the exploitation of the vast Chinese labor force – that repairing products is no longer economical. ‪ Suppose that I by a lawnmower for 500 euros. If it breaks down and the repair costs me 400 euros, it is “better” to buy a new one. ‪The economics of waste are at full throttle.
 Many people are beginning to think that this system is no longer sustainable. ‪It is too costly in terms of both raw materials and energy consumption. ‪While it results in the growing industrialization of many countries, it keeps others in poverty. ‪How might we build a different society, based on simplicity, the sharing of knowledge, and local development?

The Fabulous Laboratories

Part of the solution may be emerging. ‪It’s becoming known as the Fab Lab:  “Fabrication Laboratory” in English, “Fab Labs” in French. ‪The Fab Lab concept applies to the industrial world the spirit of sharing and innovation that is presently encountered, free-of-charge, on the internet via shareware software and social networks. ‪The Fab Labs allow consumers to create their own futures!

Neil Gershenfeld, an American physicist and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), launched the first Fab Lab in 2002. At the Insitute, he designed a course entitled “How to make (almost) anything.”  In it, Gershenfeld has run sessions on designing prototypes to help students complete their research projects. ‪The course provides them with a wide range of digital production tools, particularly 3D printers, that can apply one or more layers of plastic to transform a file concept into a real object; as well as laser cutters and milling machines that are capable of cutting and carving wood and iron following digital commands.  ‪Quickly, this concept has captured the imagination of the MIT students, moved out of the college classroom, and developed far afield.  In his book, FAB, the next revolution on your desktop, Gershenfeld writes that instead of “providing information technology to the masses, Fab labs show that it is possible to give them tools to develop and find local technological solutions to local problems.”

‪In an article in Le Monde Diplomatique entitled, “Tomorrow: factories in our living rooms” (June 2012), Sabine White writes:  “Here is the blueprint for an economic policy that bypasses traditional industry. Your washing machine’s button is broken? ‪Using a computer and software for conceptualizing the problem [employing free software, of course], you draw up a plan, and the 3D printer models it, and you then produce the tangible object… the replacement washing machine button.‪  Of course once the artifact is produced, you can share the plans on the Internet with other users, offering them variations and enhancements, giving the product more life after its production.”
 The Fab Lab can also fulfill industry needs that cannot be met because of an insufficient market. ‪In Ghana, users take advantage of Fab Labs to develop solar stoves; while in Mali, digital radio can send video content for training programs in remote areas with tips found in Fab Labs. ‪In India, a Fab Lab produces devices for measuring the quality of milk from small producers. ‪In Kenya, Fab Labs make possible the manufacturing of water pumps without having to import parts from Europe. The Fab Labs enable students to participate in the creative process.  They help isolated populations in poor countries and can provide machinery for innovative small and medium enterprises.

The consumer becomes a producer

‪Allowing anyone access to simple industrial machines at low cost is a departure from conventional production. ‪This is why communities of hackers want to invest in Fab Labs. ‪Alexandre Korber, Member of TMP Lab, a place of innovation run by hackers in Vitry, near Paris, said:  “The Fab Lab uses the same principle as hacking: it teaches people to be themselves.”

The fabulous lab is conceptualized as a space in which to share skills, new technologies, and the art of recycling. ‪It contains tools ranging from the most rudimentary to the more sophisticated machines, all controlled by software:  saw, cutter, milling machine, free software, and small robots.  Download a model of bike or plan for a washing machine,  and then, thanks to a 3D printer that makes small objects and other machines which in turn cut and fold, you just have to assemble the final product.

So what are we waiting for?! ‪To your computers and your machines! ‪When will Indaba.Network set up its first Fab Lab?

Dominique Bénard

[Please see the Indaba Resources page’s “Social Economy” sheet: “How to install a Fab Lab”].

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Support for Rose Wakata in Kenya


Do you know Rose Wataka? Probably not. Her message came to us via indabaXchange, our social network project, like a message in a bottle thrown into the sea. It barely had any real chance to be read and taken into account.

Yet this message is not one that comes from another world. Rose Wataka lives in Webuye, a town of 19,000 inhabitants in the Bungoma District of northwestern Kenya. The neighborhood in which she lives is known as the Muslim Estate and has about 200 families. With some friends, Rose has created an organization: Muslim Estate Self Help Organization.

The purpose of this organization is to mobilize the local population to solve a crucial problem, that of collecting and recycling garbage.

Africa facing waste

Formerly, in African villages, most waste was organic and nature was able to recycle it easily. Today, the majority of Africans live in big cities and are gradually adopting Western consumption patterns. They eventually come to purchase the same food, same drinks, and the same consumer goods as people in Europe and America. For this reason, like us, they produce a considerable amount of waste, much of which is toxic and not biodegradable. Examples include aluminum packaging, used storage batteries, waste oil, and plastic bags. Today, plastic bags are utilized even in the traditional markets. In all African countries, tourists can see throughout the countryside black plastic bags caught in tree branches or strewn on the ground in fields. The bags will last hundreds of years, polluting the soil, while animals will swallow or become entangled in them and die. When the bags are burned, they give off dioxin, poisoning the atmosphere.

Recycling processes

Industrialized countries have made considerable progress in reducing pollution. They have managed to establish mechanisms for collection and recycling of waste otherwise destined for landfills. This implies:

1. An administrative control that regulates waste management and provides for penalties for non-compliance;

2. Education of the citizenry to incorporate new habits from new models of consumption, while developing awareness of environmental problems;

3. Financial mobilization for the implementation of an infrastructure that oversees the classification, collection, and elimination or waste.

Exported pollution

But all this is simply out of the reach of most poor countries. So, in effect, by exporting our products made in the industrialized nations to the those that are not industrialized, we export also our pollution. Sometimes we, in the wealthier countries, do even worse. Western societies are taking advantage of the weakness of some of the southern states (eg., Somalia), fraudulently dumping on their shores industrial and nuclear waste that is both very dangerous and very expensive to recycle. Apparently, Africans can go ahead and die of our waste if it saves us the cost of recycling.

The only solution within the reach of poor countries is to mobilize their people to make them aware of the problem and develop their own actions necessary for collecting and recycling waste. This is what Rose and her friends would like to do in Wataka with the Muslim Estate Self Help Organization.

Rose Wataka’s fight

Rose is 52 and a teacher. She is not an expert on the collection and recycling of waste. She is simply a woman aware of the dangers of not practicing waste management, and the threat that this represents to the environment and people’s health. We must help Rose Wataka.

I am in dialogue with her for several weeks, now, over the Internet. She probably is using an internet cafe computer to contact me. I am helping her, little by little, to build a viable action project. Not a ready-made model, projected to her from a distance, but an action plan built by her and her friends, related to their situation as well as the problems they experience, drawing on their resources. Soon Rose and her friends will create a group on IndabaXchange, enabling them to tell us directly their dreams and needs.

Helping Rose

Help us to help Rose:  Who among you has the skills or experience necessary in the field of collecting and recycling waste in developing countries? Do you have any ideas on generating income and jobs from recycling? Who might be available to help build a viable project? Who is willing to invest some money to help purchase equipment and basic tools?

Beyond the aid needed to start the action, the important thing is to help Rose and her friends to find solutions that will empower them and enable them to pursue the action on their own.

We are counting on you.

Dominique Bénard

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What is gender?


By Harriet Bjerrum Nielsen, professor at Centre for Gender research, University of Oslo.

Some weeks ago, Indaba-Network published an article on gender and gender prejudices. A large discussion started.  Today, Harriet Bjerrum Nielsen, professor at the Centre for Gender research, University of Oslo, tells us more on Gender. Let us hope that this will sharpen our debate and encourage youth groups to challenge gender prejudices and engage on issues related gender equity.

What is gender? Girls and boys, women and men, of course! Certainly, but is it so simple? Not all women are like each other, nor are all men. Different ways of being and behaving often cut across the gender divide. It is also a common observation that men and women may appear and behave in ways that do not match the different cultural expectations of what is seen as appropriate in relation to biological classifications. So to what degree does gender belong to the body, to self-presentation – or to the eyes of the beholder? The question arises because gender has many facets.  It is a dimension of bodies and physical reproduction, individual identities and personal experience, social relations and everyday interaction. It is central to divisions of labor, to the structuring of institutions such as families, schools, markets, and states. Last, but not least, it is also a forcefull frame of interpretation in our minds that imposes hierarchical dichotomies on differences that are actually much more varied and distributional. The personal, symbolic, social relational, and structural dimensions of gender are deeply entangled with other lines of difference and inequality, such as age, sexuality, social class, nationality, and racialized-ethnicity.  These entanglements contribute to shape the organization, salience, and meanings of gender in specific contexts.

Gender differences are distributional rather than categorial

A source of confusion is that gender as a concept is used to signify two quite different things: a categorical difference (meaning either/or) and a distributional or statistical difference (meaning more or less of something). The only close-to-dichotomous observable gender trait –  often named as the core of biological sex – is genital difference. All other gender dimensions — whether they are biological (hormone levels, secondary sex attributes, brain structure, motor performance), psychological (differences in motivations or cognitive capacities) or behavioural (differences in preferences, and ways of being and behaving) — involve complex variation, not dichotomy.  In most cases the variation within each gender group is bigger than the average difference between the two groups. Thus, almost all gender differences are distributional rather than dichotomous or categorical, most gender traits seem to be socially influenced and changeable over time, and they do not come in neat and one-dimensional packages in the person. A boy or a girl may be “typical” in some respects and “atypical” in others. So what is gender if what we see as  “masculine” and “feminine” traits can be found in both girls and boys? Questions like these have led gender researchers to conclude that divisions and hierarchies of gender do not follow from the difference between women and men.  It is rather the opposite: when gender is constructed as a difference empirical variation in its many dimensions becomes reduced to a simple dichotomy (Magnusson and Marecek 2012).

This does not mean that gendered patterns of behaviour are a mirage or that the patterns that do exist have no sort of biological basis (even if we do not know exactly what that basis is). The point is that there is no clear or straightforward connection between near-dichotomous dimensions of biological sex and the complex, multi-dimensional and context-dependent nature of gender differences.  Gendered patterns — with or without a biological basis — inform cultural norms and expectations about what is seen as typically feminine and typically masculine. Instead of recurring arguments concerning more or less biological determination, it has been suggested by Simone de Beauvoir and Toril Moi to view the body as part of our situation in the world. It means something what bodies we are born with – as it would mean something if I were born with one arm or eyes in my neck – but what it means depends on how it is interpreted in a given culture and society, and on my own actions. Biology does not have any meaning in itself.

Gender as cultural norm

Distributive gender patterns are found both on structural, symbolic and personal levels although they may vary both between and within societies and social contexts. Different cultures have different norms for what counts as desireable masculinity and femininity. However, also within the same culture there will often be several ways in which one can be masculine or feminine. Different social classes, ages and ethnic groups, for instance, will often have different ideas about what a real man/boy or a real woman/girl is. Within a society there will be ongoing symbolic struggles between such masculinities to gain hegemony, for instance by ridiculing or morally criticising each other. Some become dominant, while others are subordinated or marginalized.

Personal gender concerns the ways we fit into, identify with or protest against available cultural models of gender. Gender is a personal matter and a reality for each and every one of us, but it is also a dimension of social relations created between people and shaped through processes of interaction. While the individual perspective frames gender as something we “are,” the interactional perspective emphasizes gender as something we “do”. This perspective calls attention to the dynamics of power in social constructions of meaning. Gender as doing and gender as difference are not mutually exclusive perspectives; when children learn to “do” gender in their families, in schools, and with peers, they also “become” gender in certain ways and this will again form their responses to new social situations.

Gender as hierarchy

What characterizes gender as a frame of interpretation is not only the  tendency to split and dichotomize phenomena into two distinct groups, but also the tendency to read this dichotomy as a hierarchy: Things defined as feminine also tend to be seen as secondary or even inferior to things defined as masculine. This is also sometimes called the male norm: Men and boys represent the universal norm from which women and girls deviate. Gender as framework of interpretation may lead to gender stereotyping. This is the case if a gendered pattern of distribution is interpreted as a categorical distinction. Here the variation within each group and overlap between girls and boys is ignored.

People often tend to believe that the specific gender system their culture endorses is natural and even biologically founded. Why do we have this inclination to naturalize our own norms of gender? One reason could be related to the fact that in all known societies, structural and symbolic gender play an important role in the stability of the society. To question the naturalness of a society’s gender system challenges the stability, power distribution and values of that society. Gender arrangements are also important elements of cultural and personal identity – and thus also invested in emotionally. But ideas of desirable gender orders belong to the normative field, not to nature. There is a world of difference between saying ‘this is natural’ and saying ‘this feels natural to me’.

If you have been interested with this blog article, you can discover more about gender in a brilliant resource developed by Harriet Bjerrum Nielsen: Just click on this link.

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The world is fat


For better-off families, the December/January Holiday Season is a period of traditional overeating, while the millions of people who suffer from chronic lack of food and the millions of children who die of malnutrition, worldwide, remain forgotten. Yet paradoxically, diseases once associated with opulent societies and wealthy people increasingly affect both rich and poor countries.

A worldwide epidemic

Being overweight and obese (fat) are among today’s leading health risk factors throughout the world, causing 4 million deaths every year. Obesity is often associated with high blood pressure, high blood glucose (diabetes), cardiovascular diseases and cardiac failure.

Until a few decades ago, obesity was considered a condition associated with high socioeconomic status. Indeed, early in the 20th century, most populations in which obesity became a public health problem were located in the developed world. Beginning in the United States and then spreading to Europe, obesity is now fast emerging as the new pandemic (or worldwide epidemic) of the XXIst century.  It affects both sexes and all age groups and has a disproportionate impact upon disadvantaged population groups. By 2030, for example, more than 50 per cent of the adult population in the USA will be obese.

Dramatic increases in some developing countries

Now, however, the most dramatic increases in obesity are occurring  in some developing countries. In poor countries, initially the higher socioeconomic strata of the population were primarily affected but a shift is taking place from the higher to the lower socioeconomic levels. So, while low childhood weight is still responsible for the death of over 2 million children every year, mainly in low-income countries, it is not uncommon to find households with an undernourished child and an overweight adult, often a woman. In 2010, the World Health Organization reported that more than 42 million children under the age of five were overweight or obese, and, of those, 35 million lived in developing countries. In addition, obesity goes hand in hand with inequality.  In any country, the higher the level of income inequality, the higher the numbers of obese people.

What is the cause ?

In the long run, the rise in obesity will reduce overall life expectancy, while it is already increasing short-  and long-term healthcare expenditures, contributing to making such expenditures unsustainable in national budgets.

What is the cause of this catastrophic global rise in chronic diseases related to obesity?

If you think that fat people are solely responsible for their condition because of their individual behavior, or that their obesity is not your problem, you are wrong!

Indeed, at the individual level, obesity is basically the consequence of the imbalance between energy consumption (physical exercise) and energy intake (what and how much you eat):  individual choices.  Yet choices are strongly influenced by and increasingly dependent on powerful external factors. Let’s analyze them briefly.

Change in the global food system

The process of globalization has transformed the global food system: traditional food production, feeding practices and behaviors have been abandoned or have profoundly changed.  Local agricultural production has become increasingly dependent on resources (such as fertilizers, pesticides, genetically engineered seeds) controlled by powerful transnational companies at the global level.

To maximize their profits those companies, which often control the entire production and distribution cycle, push for increased consumption of food by offering their consumers ample opportunities to eat throughout the day. Global fast food chains are strategically positioned everywhere offering low cost, palatable,  high-sugar, high-fat, high-salt food. Sugar is possibly addictive and salt causes thirst which pushes people to consume increasing quantities of sweetened beverages which are of no nutritional value. Highly processed food is pervasively and persuasively marketed.

Industrially processed foods

Globalized diets based on industrially processed foods (with added sugar, fats, salt, and chemical flavor enhancers) have progressively substituted traditional diets based on locally produced and individually home prepared foods.  Such diets are at the root of the dramatic increase in chronic diseases and obesity. Concurrent causes are urbanization (with reduced distances and availability of transport) and new technologies, which have revolutionized work and entertainment and dramatically reduced physical exercise:  think of children and young people sitting many hours a days in front of the TV or computer, typically consuming popcorn, sweet snacks and beverages!

In addition, the production and distribution cycle of industrially processed food is not environmentally sustainable and implies enormous environmental costs, adding additional long term consequences to health, including unpredictable genetic effects.

Food waste

Obesity in the industrialized world goes hand in hand with food waste. Rich and fat societies are also squanderers. Yearly, at the level of the consumer, rich countries throw away 222 million tons of food, an amount which is slightly less than the total net food production in sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tons), where malnutrition because of the lack of food is still widespread causing the death of millions of children.

In synthesis, obesity is a very serious global problem increasingly affecting populations everywhere which is linked to disease, high mortality, unfair distribution of resources and destruction of the planet!  But the trend can be reverted and we can do a lot both individually and as organized groups, acting locally, nationally and globally through appropriate networks.

Let’s reverse the trend!

Let’s start by modifying our individual nutritional behavior. Avoid as much as possible industrially processed food, including snacks and sweetened beverages. Avoid fast-food and adding sugar to your food. Privilege natural food rich in fiber, such as fresh vegetables and fruits, locally produced and prepared at home. Increase the quantity of vegetables and reduce the amount of meat in your diet (meat consumption is related to cancer and meat production implies enormous consumption of water; furthermore, to produce a kilogram of vegetable protein costs far less in inputs than production of a kilogram of meat protein). Keep active and do physical exercise on a regular daily basis.

If we organize ourselves in groups we can do more. Those who live in rural areas may engage in local production of food and apply the rules of biological cultivation and farming (avoiding chemical fertilizers and pesticides, using instead dung and compost and organic repellants!).

Those who live in an urban area can create a consumer association to buy directly from farms in the region that use biological agriculture and farming techniques. This will grant both to consumers and the farmer fair prices and reduce for the latter the higher business risks of biological agriculture.

By networking nationally and globally we may engage in advocacy for public health nutritional education campaigns.  We must especially push for public policies that regulate the production and marketing of unhealthy food. Scientific literature shows that health promotion programs do not address the underlying social and economic drivers of the obesity epidemic and that policy-led approaches (such as banning high fat and sugar food in canteens, strictly regulating unhealthy food marketing, or using fiscal leverages to reduce incentives to consume and produce unhealthy food) generally show greater cost-effectiveness than health promotion.

No corporate social responsibility without a strong social control

Transnational companies control much of what we eat. Exercising social control on the food industry, for example participating in watch-dog networks, is another possible way to engage in a movement for public health. Industries are extremely sensitive to social pressure which may put their profits at risk, and they may respond to public health concerns and consumer demands to change their products and portfolios.

Nowadays, companies often point out their Corporate Social Responsibility policies, but without strong social control from civil society organizations, that claim may remain just another way to attract consumers, showing the company’s good face, while perpetuating malpractice and the marketing of inappropriate and unhealthy food. Too often, food industries resists national and international public health attempts to modify current practices through legislative changes. Companies eventually by-pass regulations governing marketing strategies, or simply sacrifice their profits in industrialized countries and turn to developing countries where both institutional and civil society responses are often weaker, whereas social damage may be even greater.

The overall model of development is the threat

As you can see, obesity and chronic diseases share an underlying cause with many other threats to humanity: namely, the overall model of development in which we live. Young people are those most capable of embracing a future-oriented vision but, to be effective, they should take advantage of the experience of previous generations and lessons learned. Obesity is another good indicator of the urgent need for a paradigmatic shift from today’s development model. To that end, let’s reduce inequalities, maximize health rather than profit, promote and sustain local knowledge, local production and local consumption, while enjoying our experience and sharing it with others!

Eduardo Missoni

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Social and Solidarity Economy


“…Poverty is created by the system, and therefore, if you want to fight against poverty, we must change the system.”

Muhammad YUNUS, Nobel Price 2006



We hear all about the social economy or solidarity economy but how do we define the social and solidarity economy?

The social and solidarity economy is an economy at the service of another type of development. Today, we speak of social and solidarity economy to refer to companies and associations whose purpose is more focused on the social or environmental value added than solely on financial gain.

The term “social and solidarity economy” (SSE) is an expression that emerged in the 1980s. It is more frequently used in some countries than in others. In Quebec and in English speaking countries, for example, the term “social economy” encompasses all of what is termed here the “social and solidarity economy.” While in France, as in some other countries, there are researchers and activists who believe that the social economy and solidarity economy refer to quite different approaches.

The Social Economy

The social economy was born in the 19th century with the idea of  basing the production of goods and services on the needs of all and not on the interest of a few. The aim was also to apply democratic principles, such as “one person, one vote”,  to economic activities; for example, the voting at shareholder’ general meetings.

Confronted with the damage caused by capitalism and the Industrial Revolution, during the 19th century, social reformers and utopian thinkers sought alternatives to the nationalization of the means of production. They would invent a collective way to produce goods and services. They created cooperatives, mutual benefit societies and associations. The term “social economy” now commonly refers to all these institutional structures, which are particularly active in complementary social protection: insurance, banks, welfare, public education, sports, culture, agriculture …

Solidarity economy

The solidarity economy appeared, in the 1970’s, within a context of mass unemployment, rising social exclusion and a search for a new mode of development. Alternative economic activities were created:  fair trade, organic farming and shortened distribution channels from producer to consumer, micro-credit (well developed in India), local exchange trading systems (LETS), structures of social integration through economic activities…

Social and solidarity economy

The term “social and solidarity economy” appeared in the early 1980s in France, following the actions of certain Socialist Party leaders who  favored these “other forms of entrepreneurship.” It is a term that has become common in countries where Latin languages are spoken (especially in French, Spanish, and Portuguese-speaking countries), but not in other linguistic areas.

Values of the social and solidarity economy

The social and solidarity economy combines reciprocity, the market, redistribution within a legal framework based on the freedom of membership as opposed to private profit making (surpluses are not redistributed as a return to capital provided), and equality based on real needs. The solidarity economy looks for a mix of various kinds of resources (market, non-commercial, non-monetary). The solidarity economy is not an economy of repair.  Instead, it renews the public debate on economic and social issues. Networks of the solidarity economy are at the origin of a myriad of social initiatives aimed at meeting new needs.

But to be concrete and practical …

The originality of the social and solidarity economy is to provide accurate and concrete answers to difficulties of linking local actions with a broader effort to democratize the economy. The SSE, indeed, was gradually defined from practices that have emerged within individual and collective actions, at the grass root level, developed by:

  • residents, users or professionals taking charge of the design of services they feel necessary
  • entrepreneurs, wanting to support the social integration of people in difficulty through utilization of economic mechanisms
  • consumers, organizing themselves to ensure the quality of products they buy
  • investors, willing to use their money differently …

All these practices, despite the diversity of situations, gather around a common feature: they put mutual aid and reciprocity at the heart of economic action; people associate freely to conduct joint actions that contribute to creating economic activities and jobs while strengthening social cohesion through new social relationships of solidarity. The individual and collective willingness for entrepreneurship, demonstrated by involved actors, cannot be explained solely by material interest. The risks taken by contractors are due to the   existence of a shared vision to democratize the economy.

These experiences are organized in a spirit of citizenship by fostering the creation of local public spaces, that is to say places allowing people to speak, debate, decide, design and develop economic projects tailored to the contexts in which they emerge. In this, they are widely reported to networks of civil society which, by their commitment, also contribute both to the production of goods and services as well as to the deepening of democracy.

Your project

So now you know a little better what is the SSE. You also know your home territory, your neighborhood. So, if you look at your environment, you may well be able to identify a space where you might set up a small social project. The Indaba Network can help you and guide you to be successful at implementing this economic project at the service of another ‘piece’ of broader development: the development that will change the system and that can save the world from the current economic crisis.

For more information, we invite you to look at ECONOMY AND SOCIAL SOLIDARITY on our Web site: http://indabanetworkfr.wordpress.com/champs-daction/economie-sociale/

Marcela Sepulveda

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