Column of a material maker (25)
Published 10 October 2017 by Caroline Grellier
Start of the school year update for our maker and her bio-sourced material agency, Termatière. Or how to adapt one’s strategy to reconcile maker aspirations and social entrepreneurship.
Back in France, the summer tranquility allowed me to focus on the strategy of my company creating bio-sourced materials, situated between France and West Africa. I will be able to consider the next steps through the three offers of Termatière: consulting, training, collaborative R&D.
On the consulting side, the quotes sent to Africa were not successful in the end. As for internal collaborative R&D projects, we are facing blocking points. Why? Because I thought I was dealing with potential clients or partners who in fact didn’t prove to be creditworthy.
Supply, demand and funding
Yet, during five months travelling in Togo, I validated the local needs and the pertinence of what Termatière had to offer: upcycling local bio-sourced material waste. On the one hand, managing agricultural waste is a real issue here and it is often burnt, for lack of thought on their upcycling. On the other hand, the supply of healthy, economical and lasting materials is almost non-existent, despite the demand. There is also a true challenge regarding the professional training of the young in rural areas, the creation of jobs to avoid the desertification of these remote territories. I met a number of solid actors, excited about the approach, willing to diversify their activities, but tied by strong financial constraints. Money, money, always money…
Pas question d’abandonner ! Encore une fois, le positionnement et le modèle économique de Termatière étaient donc à revoir, pour les adapter à ce marché africain, aux challenges qui me motivent à bloc !
I also found that Termatière offers much more than a technical solution on the means of turning waste into material: it implements a whole approach of social design based on local bio-sourced materials to add value to the resources (human and material) of a territory and contribute to its sustainable development. Difficult to consider this approach in the form of a service billable in days. Furthermore, with limited means, carrying out project tracking with an empowerment logic was looking very tricky. And the problem was going to recur for each project, for each beneficiary…
Giving up is not an option! Once again, the positioning and the economic model of Termatière were therefore to be reviewed, to adapt them to this African market with challenges that fully motivate me!
Returning (temporarily) to university
I therefore worked on a new strategy: divide Termatière in two parts. I am pursuing on the one side the two service offers that are working, consulting and training, in order to contribute to the self-funding of the second part, closer to an association. I have in mind a program over two years for two or three pilot projects among those that I identified during my field prospection. Objective: launch in 2018 a patronage campaign and create a pool of funders.
A temporary return to university studying for the master’s degree design, innovation and society allowed me for four small months to get up to speed on social design methods to co-design with the beneficiaries of a project. A true source of inspiration that motivates me to re-examine Termatière’s methodology of action, in order to re-inject all my maker aspirations that I had put aside a little…
Following a primary diagnosis phase in the field, with the partner and the beneficiaries (interviews, socio-economic study on the impact of waste upcycling on the territory, documentary survey on the technical potential of waste, etc.), the idea is to set up in situ an ephemeral fablab, equipped with low-tech machines made by the labs of the territory, in order to make sure to work from local and economical processing methods.
Revive my maker DNA
Different actors will be invited to take part in this second phase: architect students, makers, artists, craftsmen, employees from agricultural cooperatives and, of course, men, women and children from the locality. From this collaborative and open source material library, phase three consists in co-developing (with the support of a technical committee) the material recipe(s), then to transfer the know-how via trainings.
Is all this rather theoretical? I am busying myself making this project concrete with help from partners and beneficiaries I met over these last few months for two pilot projects, in the south and the center of Togo. And I still have the feeling I am (at last?) making it happen with this new operating mode by rediscovering my approach as a material maker, that is part of Termatière’s DNA, sharing it, spreading it, by training and awakening other material makers to have a positive impact on the territory.