Dr. Kamau Gachigi
Executive Director at Gearbox
“We are in the fourth industrial revolution, and to be competitive, you have to have tools,” starts Engineer, and Founder of Fab Labs and the initiative Gearbox, Dr. Kamau Gachigi. He describes himself as a trained scientist who also values the importance of education in both formal and informal sectors. Throughout his career, he has consistently wondered how he can reach back and help others follow suit.
This is essentially what he hopes Gearbox can be for both people with formal education backgrounds in engineering as well as those who have natural inclinations towards it. The initiative works with young men and women in order to build their skill sets and networks through the entire process of the development of an idea to production. Gearbox is also a makerspace that allows engineers full access to their equipment and space to trial and develop their projects.
Tinkering is an important first step in the life of an engineer. Dr. Gachigi began as a young man fascinated by the sciences. His father, although not a professional engineer, loved to dabble in designing and making new things. Dr. Gachigi remembers working with his father fondly. From extracting silver from used x ray films, washing them in acid and creating chemical reactions that would leave them with silver metal, to melting brass to make hot combs for straightening hair, they were always experimenting.
Dr. Gachigi believes that a similar formalized approach to the sciences in education would be beneficial for students as well as the future of engineering in Kenya. He wonders why a student’s practical experiences in an apprenticeship or internship cannot be placed on the same level as academic achievements. “There are different types of intelligences,” he emphasizes, and he would like to see an education system that catered to that idea.
As for Gearbox, Dr. Gachigi feels as though the sky is the limit. For now, the focus is on creating infrastructure for increased innovation as the lack of adequate equipment and mentoring can often hinder development. Gearbox can offer a space and culture that allows for progress. A recent partnership with the Kenya Commercial Bank Foundation will enable Gearbox to train people in the ‘jua kali’ sector on a human-centered design curriculum, meaning a curriculum that takes into account the usefulness of a design for human development, as well as hands on lessons on digital fabrication tools which will enable precision production. A select few who go through the course will then be awarded loans by KCB to invest in their businesses. With Dr. Gachigi’s initiative, he is creating a ripple effect where more and more engineers in Kenya will have the right tools to be competitive in the global market.