Open AIR North Africa Distinguished Speaker Series: Ibrahim Al-Safadi on Makerspaces and Employment Opportunities

By Mohamed Hosny and Nagham El Houssamy

Open AIR’s North Africa hub had their first Distinguished Speaker event with Ibrahim Al-Safadi, the CEO of Luminous Education. The Access to Knowledge for Development Center (A2K4D) invited Al-Safadi to speak about the role of “makerspaces” to tackle unemployment and to share his experiences in how to create a makerspace that ensures that the individuals involved end up with jobs.

Education for Employment

Luminus Education is built around the idea of education for employment. The company works with several firms in the Arab world to identify needed market skills and then uses this information to devise courses that makerspaces can provide. Luminus Education adopts a novel tailor-made approach to ensure that makers are provided with the knowledge and skills that will allow them to succeed outside of the makerspace and to scale their businesses. These makerspaces have an educational structure where meticulously planned courses are offered on how to use the available tools. Eighty percent of the “makers” that attend these courses receive certificates, which they can use to boost their resumes and job applications.

In March 2016, Luminus Education received a EUR 5 million grant from the European Union to encourage innovation and increase work readiness and entrepreneurship among Jordanians and Syrian refugees. This three-year grant will help establish three Fab Labs throughout Jordan. Al-Safadi’s also plans to establish similar makerspaces across North Africa in the future. The makerspaces already established by Luminus Education are part of the MIT Fab Lab network, and are equipped with prototype products such as 3D printers, laser cutters, and fabricators, and are currently hosting 45 startups.

Makerspaces as Education

In the most recent report from the International Labor Organization (ILO), Arab States have the highest percentage of youth unemployment rates in the world, recorded at an alarming 30.6% in 2015. For the North African region, the ILO reports that youth unemployment is the second highest in the world, at 29.4% in 2015. These alarming figures call for novel approaches to boost youth employment in these regions. One such novel approach is being undertaken by Luminus Educatio, through their curriculum focusing on demand-driven skills and using makerspaces to teach vocational training. For youths who often lack higher education, these makerspaces can help reduce unemployment and boost entrepreneurial mindsets. In this way, makerspaces can become informal education arenas, teaching makers skills that are needed in the market.

Al-Safadi’s strong emphasis on the educational aspects of makerspaces to provide practical job training rather than solely focusing on creating new products, is a refreshing new take on what makerspaces could be. This does not mean that aspiring entrepreneurs developing a new product are not supported in these makerspaces but that these spaces can serve multiple, overlapping roles for the betterment of society.

In a previous Open AIR blog post, Meika Ellis stressed the importance using the maker movement to make a difference. In a region with soaring youth unemployment rates, investments into the skills of youths/makers, is making a difference. Such novel ideas may make a difference elsewhere in the world as well, having been pioneered in the MENA region.