Today we’d like to introduce you to Sherry Lassiter.
Sherry, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I started at MIT at the Center for Bits & Atoms in 2001 as an administrator for an innovative research group exploring the boundary where bits meet atoms. On a lark I helped set up the first Fab Lab (Fabrication Laboratory, or FABulous laboratory) in 2002 in rural India. These laboratories are facilities that use digital design tools and digital, small-scale manufacturing tools that enable users to make almost anything they can imagine. Like a creative, playful sandbox on digital hormones! When I returned from India, I was extremely excited about digital fabrication and making that I took the How To Make Almost Anything class at MIT. It was so inspiring and life changing, that I learned to be a Maker with digital fabrication tools and I went back to school to get my master’s in education, while continuing to grow the global network of Fab Labs.
Since 2001 and the first Fab Lab in India, I have helped to grow a distributed network of over 1200 labs in 100 countries. This network is filled with change agents, who want to share knowledge, collaborate, and make the world a better place, using technology as their platform for change. We are educators, innovators, and entrepreneurs, engineers and designers, architects and software designers. One of our goals is to democratize access to the tools for innovation and invention (free access), as well as the knowledge to use these tools, and thereby improving lives and livelihoods across the world. Along with Professor Gershenfeld at MIT, I have spun off a non-profit organization to support the growth of the global network, creating resources to support its use in education, entrepreneurship and economic development. Currently I head the Fab Foundation outside of MIT, and simultaneously run the global program from MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms. From the Foundation we run global educational programs for K-12 STEM, as well as advanced technical education programs through our distributed Fab Academy. We also support and facilitate globally distributed research projects such as the Floating amazon fab lab, Fab Cities (research and finding solutions for sustainable manufacturing and consumer practices in the City) as well as global collaborations like the Global Humanitarian Lab (turning makers in to humanitarians, and humanitarians into makers, as well as accelerating innovation for the Humanitarian Sector). I could go on and on…
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Scaling the network at the rate of Moore’s Law (doubling in size every 18 months), is challenging! The world is pulling for digital fabrication in education and technology innovation, and so we’re having to build the airplane as we fly it. And we’re doing it in an extremely distributed way.
Challenge is how to let a very democratic, anti-authoritarian, exceedingly distributed community grow and invent and prosper and have a voice, without centralizing, without taking over, and without dissolving into meaningless activities that go nowhere.
That’s in addition to constrained schedule (OMG I travel so much and I have 149,000 emails in my queue over the last few years, several thousand unread…) cash flow, organizational structures that work for a very distributed community, community building and so on.
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about The Fab Foundation – what should we know?
We set up Fabrication Laboratories (Fab Labs) and networks of Fab Labs around the world in educational and entrepreneurial settings. We advise governments and organizations on STEM education, entrepreneurship programs and economic development. We develop education programs related to STEM for K-12, for entrepreneurs and people retooling their careers. We develop resources for middle and high school teachers in STEM leveraging digital fabrication. We provide jobs for tech makers.
We are actually fairly unique.
I’m quite proud of Fab Foundation (grown with my own blood, sweat and tears) but I am most proud of the network that we have grown and what that network is doing: humanitarian outreach, exploring and creating sustainable working and living technologies, educating future generation of workforce and entrepreneurs, reaching into communities that don’t usually have access, and the diversity of our community is quite astounding.
Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Patience, flexibility and the willingness to listen and risk trying new ideas.
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