Assembling in the Garage: Mbadika Students Get Hands-On Tech Experience

| MSNE Staff

At Microsoft, we’re always looking for new ways to support our mission of empowering every individual and organization to achieve more. With the opening of our new Garage makerspace in Cambridge, we’re excited to have a dedicated space on campus to further that mission.

To celebrate our opening, we were lucky to be introduced to Mbadika, a non-profit organization that empowers international innovators and leaders in various fields to develop new ideas to tackle the enormous range of problems facing the world today. Mbadika, (pronounced bah-GEE-kah), is part of TUGG’s portfolio, where we’ve partnered with many portfolio nonprofits that are using technology to propel social change, like Tech Goes Home, Resilient Coders, and YearUp. Mbadika, which means “idea” in Angola’s Kimbundu language, embodies the spirit of ideation by providing opportunity and access to new innovations — and we knew that the Garage at NERD was a great space for this organization.

Mbadika was founded by Netia McCray shortly after her father passed.

“People like my father and myself were not given enough opportunity or access,” McCray explained. “Mbadika is what happens when you’re able to share your blessings with other people so they can unleash that talent. Everyone has an idea, but not everyone has a platform to share that idea with everyone.”

Since 2011, McCray has led Mbadika to more than 13 countries, where the organization has benefited 1,500 students, overseen the development of 200 prototypes, and guided 30 student-led startups.

This April, Mbadika hosted a cohort of students in grades five through eight from Hawthorne Youth and Community Center (HYCC) in Roxbury in an April Vacation Week program called mLab (Mbadika Laboratory). Over the course of a week, students were given the opportunity to use maker tools to build prototypes inspired by the latest Marvel film “Avengers: Infinity War.” And we were amazed by what they built in our Garage makerspace, where they had access to 3D printers, soldering tools, laser printers, and more.

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For this class, McCray wanted her students to work autonomously and understand design directives. Driven by the question “How do you dress superheroes?” students partnered with Ministry of Supply to design superhero accessories one could wear on a wrist or arm.

“We decided to limit the scope of what they were designing,” she explained. “We wanted to teach them client needs and limitations of design. You can’t throw the kitchen sink in because it’s available — you have to make decisions.”

And that limited scope yielded incredible results.

One mLab student team designed a lightning-powered smart watch wristlet for Thor, “because he never shows up on time.”

Another complained that not every superhero has high-tech tools (like Iron Man would), and designed a projector system for heroes to have a portable call signal.

And some students “remixed” the Kimoyo Beads from “Black Panther” to look more natural, 3D-printing them into wearable, fashionable jewelry.

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“It’s not about us getting all this information to somebody [client],” she says in regards to helping mLab participants understanding how to design for a client. “It’s about guiding students through the design process. We’re not simply giving them an idea and turning it into reality — we’re taking what they [the client] give us and learning how to be multidisciplinary in order to fulfill someone’s wishes.”

Mbadika is continuing to work with local students while also continuing its reach in Brazil, Mexico, and Chile. For McCray, this means continuing her own education and exploring new technologies such as virtual and augmented reality as she supports those who come to her for help.

“You have to learn a little bit of everything in order to do this work,” she says. “I just happen to be an engineer/maker who loves to have fun and share that with people.”

Learn more about Mbadika’s programs here.