David Rochelet, who spent some time at the Electrolab in Nanterre, founded the Doualab in Cameroon. He is also part of the adventure of the Ongola Fablab, the first in the capital Yaoundé. He tells us about its opening on April 6.
How does one bring to Africa, its vast spaces and its dawning entrepreneurial system the whole dynamism created by its common workspaces and the sharing of knowledge? The Ongola Fablab, the first in Yaoundé, capital of Cameroon, was inaugurated on April 6, fruit of a partnership between the University agency for Francophone countries (AUF) and the Orange foundation. A hundred or so people rushed there, including members of the Cameroonian government, superintendents and other representatives of state and private universities, members of the Orange foundation and of Orange Cameroon, media, and of course the young at the heart of the project.
There exists in Cameroon a whole ecosystem linked to education (universities, research centers, prestigious schools) that needs tools that are not only technological but also sharing spaces to see projects through successfully. The level of equipment is not the same as in Europe: many students graduate with very limited practical experience, not guaranteeing a successful entry into the working life. Based on these observations, these actors had in mind to develop a common platform. It was therefore perfectly natural that the call for project solidarity Fablabs from the Orange foundation caught their attention.
In fact, the Orange foundation set up an education program on the digital world intended to favor the integration of the young through a network of 51 fablabs allowing everyone, especially underprivileged populations, to have access to this wonderful tool with the purpose of also being able to build their future.
After several months thinking about what equipment to gather, budgets and organizing the premises, a first pre-study was carried out by a European partner that had extensive experience of the makerspace world and permitted the writing up of educational files. The support was entrusted to a Cameroonian team to guarantee a good adaptation to the local context, especially concerning accounting with the logistic and electric local constraints.
A second pre-study carried out locally by the team permitted to fix the main sectors to incorporate in the fablab: 2D and 3D creation, electronics and Internet of Things (IoT), but also machining and laser cutting, wood work and sewing all have their dedicated area in the new premises.
Several 3D modelings later, everyone was in agreement and the search for suppliers was able to begin.
Paris, Douala, Yaoundé
You come up against serious difficulties when you want to work on a Fablab in Cameroon. It is especially necessary to create a whole ecosystem of users, suppliers, partners and businesses that will bring their contribution to the fablab or use its services.
As a first step, working with several partners from different worlds on such a projects requires a lot of adjustments, due in particular to the fact that the people were located in Paris, Douala and Yaoundé.
Then come all the stages of fine selection of equipment, selection of suppliers depending on the ease of procurement, the adaptability to the local context, groundwork projects to carry out, without forgetting of course the objectives of the project: allowing underprivileged populations to have access to these technologies and favor open technologies compatible with the MIT fablabs charter and the will to turn everyone into an actor of the construction of the space.
The rush before the opening
Until early April, it was a rush to find equipment, organize the space (with construction work in the premises not always easy to manage), and to prepare a training program adapted to the managers and the beneficiaries of the space according to the delivery schedule. Of course, as for every project, everything arrived at the same time early April and the training, the receipt of equipment, the inauguration and the final completion of the construction work all had to be carried out over a few weeks.
The day before the inauguration, the first beneficiaries of the Asseja association were able to take part in a workshop on 3D printing, digital embroidery, vinyl and electronic cutting. A great moment of discovery not only of the fablab equipment but also of good collaboration prospects to come.
The future of the project also relies on a network of partners allowing the support of the young and the project leaders towards the entrepreneurial ecosystem and new work methods. But the Yaoundé fablab must also give ideas to many people in Cameroon, and more largely in Central Africa and in the region of the Big Lakes by proving that yes, it is possible to have common work places allowing everyone to innovate, become an entrepreneur and find solutions to local problems.
The Ongola Fablab is open to the public since mid-April, via the OpenLab days. Many visitors have already come to meet us and ask questions about the project, showing their keen interest for this space. So, if you are in Yaoundé, come and see us 😉
See David Rochelet’s previous column for Makery