At the start of May, Madison and two of her fellow Kaospilots joined the Floating Fab Lab (FLF) team on an investigative excursion into the Amazon. They visited two villages near Iquitos, Padre Cocha and Manacamiri in the Maynas region, and set themselves the task of discovering how exactly the FLF will best be able to serve these and similar indigenous communities. A tentative approach is necessary for ambitious, modern projects such as the FLF. If the project busts in delivering education and new technology to people who never even completed primary school, their reception will not be great. That would be scary. It would feel like a cultural coup. And that’s why the FLF is taking its time with investigation, finding the best angle to bring their hopeful project to the world of these indigenous communities. Understanding the context of where they’re going and who they’re helping is key to being able to initiate positive change. The FLF project is undeniably a force for good, but there’s still a right way and a wrong way to go about implementing it. The appropriateness of their goals is important to understand.
During their visit to the indigenous communities, one obstacle became immediately apparent; the FLF team felt like their presence wasn’t exactly wanted. These communities rely heavily on selling artisanal goods to tourists, and when it became apparent that the FLF team, though composed largely of jungle outsiders, and even a few Gringos, wasn’t there to buy things, the communities became resistant and negative. Under pressure, some members bought items, but it wasn’t enough. The locals were never hostile or aggressive or anything like that, but still the investigative team from the FLF felt unwelcome.
Despite this, they managed to secure a meeting with the village chief, and it proved a very valuable interaction. Madison and the team used an appreciative inquiry approach, asking locals questions such as, “What do you imagine the future of your village will be like?” and, “Is there a specific memory that reminds you of your home?” Their research was starting to develop a common thread; most interviewees, including the chief, acknowledged the need for improved access to technology, but even more essential than that, they expressed a need for improved access to education. In a world where only 1.6% of the population receives an education beyond primary school, many desired that future generations receive a better education and have more opportunities to travel, after which they could return to their native region with the tools and understanding required to tackle their community’s problems.
Madison and her fellow Kaospilots embarked on this trip from Denmark to Peru as a part of their study in design thinking, a method of structuring and measuring innovation. They held three workshops in design thinking, one in Iquitos in collaboration with IIAP, the Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonía Peruana, and two in Lima, one for the Fab Lab community and one for the general public. They were very well received; the workshops were a huge success. They drew a couple conclusions about Peruvian and Amazonian society, and also about the organizational structure of the FLF. “Peru is entrepreneurial by nature,” Madison told me over Skype last night. “They invent their own jobs, like the liaison between the bus drivers and commuters–there’s no app for that, it’s a person who handles the money and knows when the bus is coming. They invented that job. Plus, they’re very artisanal. But the problem is the market is over-saturated, everyone is selling the same thing. They need new products and training.” Madison cited an article on CNN Money that states that Peru’s “economy grew more than any other in Latin America last year: 3.3%. And it could be the top performer again in 2016, according to IMF projections. Peru’s growth stands in stark contrast to the historic recessions underway in Venezuela, an oil powerhouse, and Brazil, the biggest economy in the region. Both are suffering under political instability, rising inflation, populist policies and public outcry for new leadership. ‘Their models didn’t work. [There’s] a shift away from populism,’ in Latin America, Peru’s finance minister, Alonso Segura, told CNNMoney recently.”
The FLF aims to be a source of cultural and environmental conservation in the Amazon, but this can only be achieved if the local communities it intends to serve welcome the change and developments it proposes. Madison and her Kaospilot friends determined that in order for the FLF to prove most effective, founder Beno Juarez needs to delegate more. In my own work for the project, I’ve begun to see this shift take place. Even since I started blogging for the FLF, more people have been inspired to get involved. Norella Coronell has absorbed most of the internal project organization, and Gabriela García, founder of Project A+, takes care of external project management. The project has come a long way since its conception three years ago; it’s now a concrete initiative. Plus, the slightly haphazard division of duties is a reflection of Latin culture. It may be a form of organized chaos, but it’s strangely functional.
Speaking of concrete initiatives, Madison was lucky enough to witness a huge step forward for the FLF. We now have a boat! His name is Jonathan! He is a donation from the marines, a former vessel for narco trafficking, now granted a new life to bring education and technology to some of the world’s poorest communities. ¡Que emocionante!