With little but locally sourced recycled materials, innovator Alex Odundo invented two low-cost machines to help process fibers from drought-tolerant sisal, boosting the economy of his susbsistence farming community. Now he’s ready to give other local innovators the opportunity to make their own ideas real, while taking his own inventions to the next level. He’s just launched an Indiegogo campaign to help establish the Victoria Innovation Center in Kisumu, Kenya. Here, he tells us all about it.
What is the innovation center, and who will it serve?
I’m running this campaign to to raise funds for the purchase of tools and machines for the Victoria Innovation Center in Kisumu, Kenya. I am establishing this makerspace to help innovators, engineers and designers who have good ideas to walk in and be offered the tools to do their work, and test and produce products. It will also be a place to educate, innovate, and develop manufacturing skills. The hope is to increase empowerment, income and quality of life.
When completed, the space will be equipped with modern tools to make the gears, screws, bolts, sheet metal, and so on to help make durable and productive machines efficiently. Our inspiration is the TechShop in the US, and this will be one of the first-ever machine shops in Kenya.
Tell us more about the community this will serve.
The innovation center is aimed at serving the Kisumu county, Siaya County, Homa-Bay, Migori, Makueni and Kitui. These counties lie within semi-arid areas, where farmers experience inadequate rainfall throughout the year, subjecting small-scale farmers to poverty due to crop failure. Because sisal grows everywhere, is perennial and drought resistant and its fibers have a ready worldwide market, we encourage and teach farmers who live in semiarid lands to plant sisal as an alternative sustainable cash crop. We also teach them to use our sisal-processing machines to process the plants for the valuable fiber.
In addition to serving as an innovation hub, how will the innovation center enhance your sisal work, specifically?
The center will act as a production space for our sisal processing machines. Currently, we use low-tech recycled scrap to produce our machines and borrow middle tech for complicated parts, but this is making it impossible for us to meet market demand and produce cheap and efficient machines for our people. We hope to solve this when we get funding for proper production technology.
How has your life and work changed since you began your TED Fellowship in 2012?
Through TED I met a friend who has changed my life through fund donation, paying for me to train at TechShop in San Francisco. I have since been connected to several individuals and shared ideas that have changed my way of life.
To contribute to this project, please visit the Indiegogo campaign page here.