Since 1983, people have been creating objects from digital files, layer by layer, with 3D printing. Just as the Internet has leveled the playing field for people and industries, this technology did the same for manufacturing all over the world.
In 2014, the Youth for Technology Foundation (YTF) launched an effort to empower youth, women and girls in Africa and some other underserved countries of the world through 3D printing technology. Since the Industrial Revolution, manufacturing has been synonymous with factories, machine tools, production lines and economies of scale. We were fascinated that modern manufacturing was being removed from a factory setting as 3D printing services emerged. It is strange to think about manufacturing without tooling, assembly lines or supply chains. However, that’s what is emerging as 3D printing takes hold.
Riding a Revolution – How We Do It
YTF envisioned that a new Industrial Revolution in Africa would come from 3D printing technology, turning individuals, small businesses and even corporate departments into “makers.” Once you dig into the 3D printing environment, it isn’t hard to see why it’s so enticing. 3D printing technology creates an easy path for products to hit the markets. It has customization capabilities to personalize production that meets the customer’s specification. The technology allows everyone from digital artisans to DIY buffs to produce objects independently, creating projects and prototypes at a low cost. The large-scale spread of this technology has enabled the creation of objects previously impossible to make and, in parallel, has created a new market.
YTF introduced a new program called 3D Africa in 2014. This initiative aims to help African youth, girls and women find innovative ways of supporting their lives by becoming makers and reducing their dependency on engineers.
After a testing period, the second phase of 3D Africa included 300 girls from different secondary schools in Nigeria. YTF taught the girls how to model their ideas and print them into tangible products using 3D printing machines. YTF also taught them how to market their skills online through many available 3D printing online marketplaces. The knowledge made them self-reliant and more resilient to Nigeria’s current high rate of unemployment. They are now able to participate in thousands of easy-to-win digital job services online that directly require their newly acquired skill.
In practice, this project included leveraging a tailored tutorial with ideo.com called human-centered design. With this knowledge, participants can either create a model and sell them online or hire the required skill through many available online skill markets.
Participants are given templates for a range of products and then have the option of tinkering with the color, design and other elements. Their models or services can range anywhere from about $5 to $100.
YTF helps the participants with modeling or 3D printing skills register with many of the online skill marketplaces, like freelancer.com or fiverr.com, where they can bid for projects, get hired, complete projects and be paid electronically.
The Good News – It’s Working
There has never been a better time for women looking for business opportunities. An annual report from online marketplace Etsy shows 86 percent of its sellers are women. Amazon just added an artisan maker category, called “Handmade.”
One success story from YTF’s 3D Africa model comes from Mrs. Afoma, the CEO of HairWizard Gold, a beauty salon in Owerri, Nigeria. Afoma was able to hire a service of a CAD operator online to model her innovation – a cordless hair dryer. Some of the product’s components were even printed and assembled in China.
Teaching 3D printing to women, combined with the business opportunities, is one among the many efforts of YTF to bridge gender gap in financial service and to encourage financial inclusion in a growing maker economy.