The maker movement is gaining ground in Asia, with 3D printing and localized manufacturing facilities popping up throughout the region. At the moment, the maker scene in Asia seems more focused on gadgets and trends rather than truly disruptive innovation — but it doesn’t have to be this way, according to MakerBay co-founders Cesar and Abbie Jung-Harada.
A little background
Cesar Jung-Harada is an inventor who’s poised to change ship-building technology as we know it, and Abbie Jung-Harada is the founder of Synergy Social Ventures, a non-profit that funds socially responsible ventures in developing countries. The two found a rundown space in Yau Tong two years ago and turned it into MakerBay, a creative workspace that encourages fellow makers and entrepreneurs to be sustainable and socially responsible in their endeavors.
5 things you should know, according to Cesar and Abbie Jung-Harada:
1. The maker movement is more than just 3D printing
Cesar: I think the tip of the iceberg [of the maker movement] is 3D printing. People say that instead of buying stuff from other countries, they’ll be printing it themselves, and I think the maker space is just the prototype of the factory that produces everything in the future, locally. And it’s interesting because we’ve reached a world that has really truly been globalized, for the most part. And at the same time there’s a counter-reaction, re-localization.
For example, America is trying to buy as little as possible from China because they want to be independent, and that’s a good thing. People are trying not to be energy-dependent, and I think that’s a very good thing.
The idea now is: you can actually give work to your [own] people, you can produce something that’s relevant to your culture rather than just chase the cheapest thing. You can create more sustainable, more resilient economies in a globalized world. Local sustainability — a maker space supports that.
2. We might be making things, but we’re forgetting how to fix things
C: Nobody knows how to fix things anymore. They just buy a new one. I was looking for a mechanic to help us with a project, and we talked to guys downstairs in our building who run a garage, and he told us there are no good mechanics in Hong Kong because the real estate is so expensive. He said, “We actually don’t have time to fix things, we buy new parts and we just replace the parts.”
Abbie: It’s so wasteful. And if you think about it, anything in the house that’s broken, we just replace it. We’ve gotten so wasteful and so cavalier about stuff, fast fashion and all that, we really want to change the mindset and get people to think about being less wasteful, consume less, fix things. Fix whatever it is so it lasts longer.
3. The maker movement in Asia needs to be more than a trend
A: All over Asia, there are tons of maker spaces. We went to this conference last year and there were already three or four maker spaces in Thailand, a few in Singapore, Southeast Asia. But then I realized all these spaces were just building gadgets for the landfill. No one was focusing on the problems in their country. There was dire poverty, dire issues in their country, but no one was focusing on it, everyone was just focused on the gadgets.
A lot of it is trend-driven, it’s all robots and gadgets. There’s so much potential in 3D printing, it’s true, but I think it’s important to think about how we can make it more meaningful. 3D printing is a tool. It’s one tool. And there are so many other tools.
4. Hong Kong could pave the path for socially responsible makers
C: So many countries have maker spaces, but I think Hong Kong has amazing potential to become a maker space for social and environmental impact.
A: I only learned about the whole maker movement from Cesar, but in my world the ventures we support are also making things — they’re making cleaner water filters, irrigation pumps, things like that. They’re makers, these little organizations in Cambodia or Indonesia. They’re not a part of the global maker movement, or the technology world, or whatever, but they’re really trying to do similar things. I thought, what if we can tap into that expertise and knowledge and mindset and direct it towards development challenges and toward helping the poor? Wouldn’t that be amazing?
C: One of the reasons I’m here is because Hong Kong’s between the east and the west. We can have the freedom of the west, the manufacturing capability of the east, and you can have this holistic perception of the universe.
5. There’s still prejudice against people who work with their hands
C: What I find fascinating in the maker movement is that you need to be well versed in science, and also be creative and get your hands dirty. But people who are white collar tend to look down on people who are getting their hands dirty. That’s something I’ve experienced a lot. This kind of classism, if you will. Everybody deserves respect and a chance to express themselves.
A: Chinese people tend to want their kids to have white collar jobs, so there’s that inherent bias already, and I understand that. They want their kids to earn higher pay, it’s more respectable. But if you carve it out differently and talk about [the maker movement in terms of] using your creativity and making things, it’s kind of a luxury in a sense.
And looking towards the future?
C: We were an agricultural society, then an industrial society, then it was industrial services. So what’s the next thing? It’s a data society. and even our government has recognized that what’s going to create the most value in the future is innovation, technology, and arts and design. The maker movement is exactly at the intersection [of all these subjects].
A: Everything is becoming more computerized and more automated. The things that still can’t be [automated] are creativity and innovation. The robots haven’t figured that out yet. They’re super smart in terms of processing but in terms of creating new things they haven’t gotten there. When they do, we’re going to be in trouble.