This is the third post of a series of profiles on GOSH community members who were featured in the GOSH Community Events Framework. You can access the framework, along with this profile in its original format, on the GOSH website at https://openhardware.science/gosh-community-events-framework/.
By Marcela Basch, independent journalist, Argentina. Twitter: @marbasch
With a background in biochemistry, environment and health, Gameli Adzaho is a researcher, educator and community leader.
He leads the Africa programme at Just One Giant Lab, a distributed innovation lab, and curates the Global Lab Network, a community of STEM for social impact. As a researcher, he is focused on the potential of open science and the maker culture in fostering transformations towards Sustainable Development Goals. He is also a member of the Steering Committee of Africa Open Science & Hardware, which put up the Africa OSH Summit (2018 and 2019).
Ten years ago, as he taught science, he discovered the do-it-yourself bio and Biolabs movement. Later, studying at the University of Exeter (UK), he ran into air quality sensors, environmental monitoring and citizen and community science. “I thought it could be a good way to bridge the gap between science and society”, he remembers.
While affiliated at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, he read in the mailing list about the second Gathering of Open Science Hardware, in Santiago (Chile). “I was trying to join, but I couldn’t. My friend Jorge Appiah, who was setting up one of the first maker spaces in Ghana, participated and shared a lot of information about his experience there. I thought: ‘this is the path to go’. A couple of months later, another friend and mentor, Connie Chow, connected me to Thomas [Mboa], who she met together with Jorge at the Global Community BioSummit (hosted at MIT). They were beginning to discuss plans for Africa Open Science and Hardware, so I joined them, and we put together the first summit in 2018 in Kumasi, Ghana.”
A welcoming community
“I connected with the global community and I got accepted for GOSH 2018 in China, but I couldn’t attend, because of visas and other plans”, he remembers. He kept in contact through the GOSH Forum. “It’s a welcoming community, and it’s always great to connect to other people. They are very open, people have been very supportive of my work. Beyond just having a global conference, they are actually interested in supporting initiatives at the regional level. That collaborative ethos is a great feature”, he highlights.
Organising Africa OSH Summit
“To make sure that the focus areas that we choose are relevant and helpful to the community, we often go back to get their inputs”, says Gameli. “For the event, we welcome contributions from people around the world, so we don’t decide the program, but we open up the content. That also forms the basis of who we accept, because we want people who want to participate and who are open to learning”, he remarks. “We are also very mindful of the financial aspect. When we don’t have the resources to support flights for everyone, we waive the participation fee for some people, especially local students”.
“It’s helpful to take time to study the ecosystem, to understand who the potential participants could be. In the application form, apart from collecting ideas, we ask about the organisational affiliations, to have an idea of the kinds of backgrounds that people are bringing. You try to reach out to the right communities, people who are already showing interest in what we do. We also look at gender, trying to ensure that we don’t have only a bunch of guys. We try to encourage more applicants”, explains Gameli. “Also, there is stronger participation of people from Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya, countries with very vibrant tech ecosystems. We struggle to find people from other countries. So these are quite challenging things, like people needing access to the internet to even apply.”
Finding your people
“Even within the academic community, these open mindsets are new. We are talking of going above and beyond the disciplinary confines, to a more interdisciplinary and participatory work, that should allow us to go outside every ivory tower. It’s not something for just people with PhDs in some universities, but we are trying to get everybody to connect”, remarks Gameli. “You don’t typically find people with similar mindsets in your everyday life. So when you come to a space where the next person to you, from a different country halfway across the world, shares that spirit, that open ethos, is like you found your people”, he says. And that translates into practice: “We asked people ‘what do you want to talk about’, ‘what’s your proposal’. So if your proposal is accepted, you feel ‘ok, I am contributing to this’, and so you are really looking forward to being part of it. Empowering everybody who has brilliant ideas to come forward to contribute is very important to create the right spirit. It’s all about trying to find the right people and help them to connect. And then of course, the unconference format also encourages participation”.
Familiarity always helps
“In Africa OSH summits, normally a bunch of us will come two days before the actual event to introduce ourselves, get to meet the local organisers, bond with them”, says Gameli. “In the last summit, we also had one day for visiting the local maker spaces and innovation hubs and universities. There’s already networking before the actual event starts. Familiarity always helps. We like to have a meal together, somewhere nice. We have parties almost every evening during the event. These social activities make things easier, more interesting, and improve the overall experience.”
Keep in touch
“With África OSH we do lots of social media content during the conference. After the events we share lots of pictures and videos on YouTube”, says Gameli. “We also have a WhatsApp group for Africa OSH to keep the conversation going. There are more than 80 people, we use it to share information about opportunities and updates.”
“It’s really important to focus on local issues, and try to showcase the local country and city”, wraps up Gameli. “Be ready to experiment, and be confident: do things that work in your context, and not necessarily what other people would do.”