The Maker Movement & DIY Development

The Maker Movement refers to the democratization of access to industrial grade tools, along with the sharing of knowledge of how to operate said tools. According to Dale Dougherty, the founder of Make Maganize, Making can refer to any human activity including cooking, knitting, engineering, design, and gardening. Makerspaces are an outgrowth of the Maker Movement, and are community workshops where members share tools for do-it-yourself and do-it-together projects. The projects can range from an entrepreneur tinkering with the product to a community coming together to develop tools they need for daily challenges. With access to tools of all levels comes the ability to identify unique problems faced on the community level, and control of the means of production for solving those problems. 


Every situation will be different, and any attempt at developing a Makerspace will have to adapt each aspect to local customs and culture. By giving beneficiaries a high degree of control in development, the maker model has the flexibility to accommodate diverse situations. There is no “right” form for a Makerspace, other than that which serves the creative purpose of its members

Fab Labs are a type of Makerspace that comes from a course at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where a course titled “How to Make Almost Anything” started in 2002 and displayed the power of unstructured use of industrial machinery. Fab labs have rapidly spread worldwide, with 437 locations in 67 countries as of the end of 2014. The quick spread of fab labs throughout the world indicates that there is local demand for them and that they are, at minimum, implementable in non-Western contexts.

Making is not a wholly unique idea to apply to refugee or developing situations, but is largely untested. Questions answered below are drawn from lessons learned during site visits for Makerspaces across the United States. Every situation will be different, and any attempt at developing a Makerspace will have to adapt each aspect to local customs and culture. By giving beneficiaries a high degree of control in development, the maker model has the flexibility to accommodate diverse situations. DIY Development has the potential to benefit refugees by empowering them to solve daily problems, gain employment training and by supporting entrepreneurship.

Who would manage the space?

Individuals from the community should be given ownership of the space, just as is done in Makerspaces in the Western world. Every Makerspace serves a unique cliental and has unpredictable emphases,, and thus each evolves based on the interest of members. They cannot be preplanned to serve social entrepreneurship as opposed to community development. The tools for each are shared, and the needs of the community direct how the space is used. Often spaces are managed as a “do-ocracy,” whereby any member that desires to and is capable of performing a project does so.

Where will tools come from?

The critical resource that goes into building a Makerspace is the tools members can use. Initially, tools may need to be imported by governments and NGOs to get the space started. In addition, members of the refugee community may have tools of their own, which they may be willing to donate or loan to the Makerspace as part of their membership. With a simple base of tools, members can endeavor to add to the spaces' functions by building new machinery. Websites such as and are replete with guides on how to build 3D printers, milling machines, lathes and others. While these machines will not be professional in condition, tools built by users will be easier to maintain and repair. In addition, they add to the skills of the members through their construction. With a basic set of tools, the needs of the community can direct what the space needs to reach its ends.

What kind of space is necessary?

Any space that is safe to use for the use of machines is applicable for a Makerspace. The primary concern should be maintenance of the machines and ventilation. For camps in rural areas this may require the construction of structures, while urban refugee camps call for vacant warehouses or other preexisting buildings.  In the United States, Victorian style homes, Mason’s Lodges, church gymnasiums, elementary schools, warehouses, former factories, and more are all homes to Makerspaces. 

What will they build?

The honest answer is whatever they can devise out of the materials and tools they are provided. There are guides available online from to build nearly anything that can be imagined, including water pumps, water purifiers, bicycles, solar panels, and raised bed gardens. Those projects may not be appropriate to the circumstances faced, which is why Makerspaces put such great emphasis on flexible design and self-direction. Those examples are provided to indicate the scope of projects that can be developed, not to indicate what should be built. 

Where will they get materials to build?

Refugees often arrive in camps with only the barest of materials. Finding materials to use to build new items will be a challenge. Materials do not need to be new to be useful; projects are often built out of recycle parts, and many Makerspaces feature scrap piles where extra metal and wood are saved for future projects. 

Who will instruct?

Anyone that has a skill is qualified to instruct in a Makerspace. The skills and experiences members already possess can also be put to use teaching others; a critical component of Makerspaces is the free exchange of information, be it around the world between makers or within a camp. The knowledge required to train others is already present in refugee camps, yet underutilized. 

For full text, see Eric Van Holm's paper "Applying the Maker Movement to Refugee Situations." 

Organization Profiles

Refugee Open Ware

Refugee Open Ware is building a digital fabrication lab in Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan to serve Syrian refugees in solving the pressing problems created by displacement. Although the resources are limited to basic tools, the center is still functions as a refugee community resource. As an extension of a larger fab lab in Amman, Jordan, the Refugee Open Wear focuses on research for 3D Printed prosthetics to aid those who lost limbs in the Syrian conflict. The emphasis is placed on using shared technologies to address refugee problems, while creating capacity in the refugee camp itself by building vocational skills.

ArcKenya and ARO FabLab

ArcKenya has run a fabrication lab since 2009 in a rural village 50km outside Kisumu City in Kenya. The fab lab was developed to aid the development of businesses and provide for community development in the sparsely settled village. The mechanical offerings are not extensive, featuring computers, a milling machine, vinyl cutter, laser cutter, and full electronics bench, but the organization continues to service local needs sustainably.

ARO Fab Lab, an offshoot of ArcKenya, is an innovation and design center focused on designing and creating low-cost and effect green products for local communities. ArcKenya and ARO Fab Lab's solar school equips locals with the ability to understand how to maintain, design and manufacture solar products. 

Liter of Light

Liter of Light runs an international program empowering rural communities to use a metal roof, empty plastic bottles, lightbulbs, and a small amount of bleach to capture refracted sunlight to electrify the community at night. The program is run internationally by Liter of Light but is managed locally with community members building and installing the Solar Bottle Bulb. Step-by-step guides are available online so that any community can implement the idea cheaply and effectively. Once installed the bulbs are estimated to last 5 years before requiring replacement.

Examples of DIY Development Solutions

Solar cooker “CooKits

Solar cooker “CooKits” have been used in refugee camps throughout Africa. They are a cheap way to cook food by harnessing solar energy rather than relying on firewood or expensive fuel.


The "6 Block" Dual Burner Rocket Stove DIY

Rocket stoves are a quick and easy build project for emergency food preparation. Repurposed construction blocks create a low-cost, energy-efficient stove in minutes. The clever, modular design of the stove requires less fuel than open-air designs. The link illustrates versatility and ease of construction.

Arvind Gupta:

Turning trash into toys for learning

Education in refugee camps is often irregular and inconsistent. Arvind Gupta’s creative teaching style exemplifies the maker movement model: communal learning sparks creativity and imagination.


More On the Maker Movement

The Hackerspace Movement:

Mitch Altman at TEDxBrussels


We Are Makers:

Dale Dougherty at TED@MotorCity

The Beckoning Promise

of Personal Fabrication 

Neil Gershenfeld at TED2006

For more general information on the Maker Movement, see Eric van Holm's paper:

What are Makerspaces, Hackerspaces and FabLabs? 


"Makerspaces, hackerspaces, and fab labs each developed independently but have appeared to converge towards a similar structure and use. Each can be characterized as a community workshop where members share access to tools in order to produce physical goods. At present, researchers are divided on whether to treat the three concepts as distinct or synonymous, meaning that clarification is needed for research to move forward. The present analysis uses content analysis on the self-definitions of makerspaces, hackerspaces, and fab labs to locate similarities and differences between the three organization types. The results are clear that the three are substantially similar, although differences are explored."


This website is simply a classroom project that uses a conventional study abroad trip, student talent, and faculty expertise to fill an important information gap concerning Turkish politics and the Syrian crisis. Overseen by faculty mentors Dr. Abbas Barzegar and Dr. Rashid Naim of Georgia State University, advanced graduate students and undergraduates from various disciplines were placed in small working groups tasked with explore key subject areas. They did this by conducting research before their trip and interviewing experts. During their three-week trip they continued this process as they visited NGOs, think tanks, and cultural sites. Every day they documented their experiences through the content material that can be found on this site. See this brief article about the project for more information.





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