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  • Come with me to Agbogbloshie,

  • a neighborhood in the heart of Accra,

  • named after a god that lives in the Odaw River.

  • There's a slum, Old Fadama,

  • built on land reclaimed from the Korle Lagoon,

  • just before it opens into the Gulf of Guinea.

  • There's a scrapyard here where people take apart all kinds of things,

  • from mobile phones to computers,

  • automobiles to even entire airplanes.

  • Agbogbloshie's scrapyard is famous

  • because it has become a symbol of the downside of technology:

  • the problem of planned obsolescence.

  • It's seen as a place where devices from around the world end their life,

  • where your data comes to die.

  • These are the images that the media loves to show,

  • of young men and boys burning wires and cables

  • to recover copper and aluminum,

  • using Styrofoam and old tires as fuel,

  • seriously hurting themselves and the environment.

  • It's a super-toxic process,

  • producing pollutants that enter the global ecosystem,

  • build up in fatty tissue

  • and threaten the top of the food chain.

  • But this story is incomplete.

  • There's a lot we can learn from Agbogbloshie,

  • where scrap collected from city- and nationwide is brought.

  • For so many of us,

  • our devices are black boxes.

  • We know what they do,

  • but not how they work or what's inside.

  • In Agbogbloshie, people make it their business

  • to know exactly what's inside.

  • Scrap dealers recover copper, aluminum, steel, glass, plastic

  • and printed circuit boards.

  • It's called "urban mining."

  • It's now more efficient for us to mine materials from our waste.

  • There is 10 times more gold, silver, platinum, palladium

  • in one ton of our electronics

  • than in one ton of ore mined from beneath the surface of the earth.

  • In Agbogbloshie,

  • weight is a form of currency.

  • Devices are dissected to recover materials, parts and components

  • with incredible attention to detail,

  • down to the aluminum tips of electric plugs.

  • But scrap dealers don't destroy components that are still functional.

  • They supply them to repair workshops like this one in Agbogbloshie

  • and the tens of thousands of technicians across the country

  • that refurbish electrical and electronic equipment,

  • and sell them as used products to consumers that may not be able to buy

  • a new television or a new computer.

  • Make no mistake about it, there are young hackers in Agbogbloshie --

  • and I mean that in the very best sense of that word --

  • that know not only how to take apart computers

  • but how to put them back together, how to give them new life.

  • Agbogbloshie reminds us that making is a cycle.

  • It extends to remaking and unmaking

  • in order to recover the materials that enable us to make something anew.

  • We can learn from Agbogbloshie,

  • where cobblers remake work boots,

  • where women collect plastic from all over the city,

  • sort it by type,

  • shred it, wash it

  • and ultimately sell it back as feedstock to factories

  • to make new clothing,

  • new plastic buckets

  • and chairs.

  • Steel is stockpiled separately,

  • where the carcasses of cars and microwaves and washing machines

  • become iron rods for new construction;

  • where roofing sheets become cookstoves;

  • where shafts from cars become chisels

  • that are used to scrap more objects;

  • where aluminum recovered from the radiators of fridges

  • and air conditioners

  • are melted down

  • and use sand casting to make ornaments for the building industry,

  • for pots which are sold just down the street in the Agbogbloshie market

  • with a full array of locally made ovens, stoves and smokers,

  • which are used every day

  • to make the majority of palm nut soups,

  • of tea and sugar breads,

  • of grilled tilapia in the city.

  • They're made in roadside workshops like this one by welders like Mohammed,

  • who recover materials from the waste stream

  • and use them to make all kinds of things,

  • like dumbbells for working out out of old car parts.

  • But here's what's really cool:

  • the welding machines they use look like this,

  • and they're made by specially coiling copper

  • around electrical steel recovered from old transformer scrap.

  • There's an entire industry just next to Agbogbloshie

  • making locally fabricated welding machines that power local fabrication.

  • What's really cool as well is that there's a transfer of skills and knowledge

  • across generations,

  • from masters to apprentices,

  • but it's done through active learning, through heuristic learning,

  • learning by doing and by making.

  • And this stands in sharp contrast

  • to the experience of many students in school,

  • where lecturers lecture,

  • and students write things down and memorize them.

  • It's boring, but the real problem is

  • this somehow preempts their latent or their inherent entrepreneurial power.

  • They know books but not how to make stuff.

  • Four years ago, my cofounder Yasmine Abbas and I asked:

  • What would happen if we could couple

  • the practical know-how of makers in the informal sector

  • with the technical knowledge of students and young professionals

  • in STEAM fields --

  • science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics --

  • to build a STEAM-powered innovation engine

  • to drive what we call "Sankofa Innovation," which I'll explain.

  • We took forays into the scrapyard

  • to look for what could be repurposed,

  • like DVD writers that could become laser etchers,

  • or the power supplies of old servers

  • for a start-up in Kumasi making 3D printers out of e-waste.

  • The key was to bring together young people from different backgrounds

  • that ordinarily never have anything to do with each other,

  • to have a conversation about how they could collaborate

  • and to test and develop new machines and tools

  • that could allow them to shred and strip copper instead of burning it,

  • to mold plastic bricks and tiles,

  • to build new computers out of components recovered from dead electronics,

  • to build a drone.

  • And here you can see it flying for the first time in Agbogbloshie.

  • (Applause)

  • Yasmine and I have collaborated with over 1,500 young people,

  • 750 from STEAM fields,

  • and over 750 grassroots makers and scrap dealers

  • from Agbogbloshie and beyond.

  • They've joined hands together to develop a platform

  • which they call Spacecraft,

  • a hybrid physical and digital space for crafting,

  • more of a process than a product,

  • an open architecture for making,

  • which involves three parts:

  • a makerspace kiosk, which is prefab and modular;

  • tool kits which can be customized based on what makers want to make;

  • and a trading app.

  • We built the app specifically with the needs of the scrap dealers

  • in mind first,

  • because we realized that it was not enough to arm them with information

  • and upgraded technology

  • if we wanted them to green their recycling processes;

  • they needed incentives.

  • Scrap dealers are always looking for new scrap and new buyers

  • and what interests them is finding buyers who will pay more

  • for clean copper than for burnt.

  • We realized that in the entire ecosystem,

  • everyone was searching for something.

  • Makers are searching for materials, parts, components, tools, blueprints

  • to make what it is they want to make.

  • They're also finding a way to let customers and clientele

  • find out that they can repair a blender

  • or fix an iron

  • or, as we learned yesterday, to make a french fry machine.

  • On the flip side, you find that there are end users

  • that are desperately looking for someone that can make them a french fry machine,

  • and you have scrap dealers who are looking how they can collect this scrap,

  • process it, and turn it back into an input for new making.

  • We tried to untangle that knot of not knowing

  • to allow people to find what they need to make what they want to make.

  • We prototyped the makerspace kiosk in Agbogbloshie,

  • conceived as the opposite of a school:

  • a portal into experiential and experimental making

  • that connects local and global

  • and connects making with remaking and unmaking.

  • We made a rule that everything had to be made from scratch

  • using only materials made in Ghana

  • or sourced from the scrapyard.

  • The structures essentially are simple trusses which bolt together.

  • It takes about two hours to assemble one module with semi-skilled labor,

  • and by developing tooling and jigs and rigs,

  • we were able to actually build these standardized parts