« Panama education is mainly theory » « We lack of manual workforce to attract companies here » These are examples of headlines Mathew can read in Panamanian newspapers when he was in India designing LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified buildings. Building the first fablab in his native country became an evidence for him. He used to share the pleasure of manual construction with his father and he discovered the fablab concept during his studies in USA. The idea of bringing such place in his country to tackle social issues rose until he decided to return in Panama to give it a try 7 years ago.
His first move was to create a NGO, called Ecostudio, whose mission was to empower people by giving them access to technologies reserved to elite and also the knowledge to used it without limit of age or educational level. But at the beginning, he didn’t have space. He first started to give talks and workshops to raise awareness about the potential of Makerspace and to start become recognized until the «City of Knowledge » knocked at his door. When US left Panama canal, this foundation acquired a former American military base to gather NGOs, schools and companies in order to transform society together. They believed in Mathew’s vision so they decided to support it by renting him a place in their campus.
If you pay attention to the logo, you will understand the steps of the lab story. First it starts as an NGO, the Ecostudio, in 2014 without a space. Then, in June 2016, he opened the doors of the makerspace mainly composed of traditional machines. One year later, in May 2017, it became officially a Fablab and 2 users, including the founder, were graduated from FabAcademy in 2018.
Contrary to Matthew’s expectations, people started to come in the Fablab not to learn how to create anything but to ask for production services. He took the opportunity to develop the commercial activity to earn money and time to adapt and strengthen his pedagogic approach. This strategy increased progressively his revenues while making him aware of a local challenge that can be addressed with digital fabrication : the recycling issue. Because of a lack of waste treatments infrastructure, the country faces a huge problem to store and reused recycled material. In addition, every day, each cargo waiting to cross Panama Canal are throwing lot of materials that can be reused.
In order to produce an effective impact on society, Matthew opened 3 areas of actions which served each other interests: commercial (.com) to raise money, education (.edu) to empower people and social (.org) to make people using digital fabrication to improve their environment such as recycling area. Later, he plans to open a biolab where people can learn and discover the biodiversity of Panama with searchers studying all the species and a fabric section to where people can rediscover the pleasure of design and production with daily products.