Crystal Watley Kigoni – “I got the idea to bring 3D Printing to Africa when I was hospitalized in a rural village hospital on top of a mountain”

Crystal Watley Kigoni is dedicated to the use of information and communications technologies for personal and community development. She began her work in this area in 2007 with the Kenyan subsidiary of Intersat, a leading provider of satellite-based data solutions in Africa offering Internet via Satellite. Later, she founded and directed Voices of Africa for Sustainable Development through Information Empowerment that has implemented small innovative projects in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. Voices of Africa worked in many of the low-income communities including rural Tanzania, Mwanza, Arusha, and Dar es Salaam also in Kenya she frequented Nairobi, Mombasa and the Dadaab Somali refugee camp. Crystal has shifted the focus of Voices of Africa to Dar es Salaam where she is working primarily with 3D printing of medical tools as a youth driven sustainable enterprise.

Crystal, could you let us know about your background and what brought you into 3D printing in the first place?

I was born in St. Petersburg, Florida and spent the first 13 years of my life there. I then moved to Asheville, NC where I stayed until I moved to New Orleans to do my Master’s in public health. During grad school, I first started traveling to East Africa. I moved to Kenya in 2006 and have been working on using technology for development through Voices of Africa and consulting services since.

What was your very first experience with 3D Printing?

My first experience with 3D printing was on YouTube when I was trying to find a way to make medical tools in Africa. I was first able to access the technology at the Buni Hub and then was hired as the World Bank Project Coordinator under contract with ReFab Dar where I was able to focus and study the sector with others internationally.

You are the co-founder of Voices of Africa. Could you explain furthermore what Voices of Africa’s mission is?

The mission of Voices of Africa is to using technology to empower youth and women and to promote fair trade.

How did you come to build the organization?

I built the organization slowly and have done many research and pilot projects throughout East Africa over the past 10 years. My work as a consultant has also helped to fund ideas into testing. Now, with this 3D printing medical tools project, we believe we can become self-sustaining and have a concept that will scale with some small refinements.  

You had a Kickstarter campaign, Designing the Future: 3D printing medical devices in Africa. How did it go and where do you stand now on funding? 

The campaign failed despite our best efforts. We are continuing to try to raise a total of $30,000 to build a well-equipped Makerspace that will allow for the refinement of the machine prototype designs being currently made and manufacturing of printers and drones for development can begin in Dar.

Do you have any (fun or not) story about your experience in 3D Printing to share with us?

Well, I got the idea to work on bringing 3D printing to Africa when I was hospitalized in a rural village hospital on top of a mountain. I, unfortunately, needed a number of operations to survive and ended up being hospitalized for nearly 6 weeks. The hospital had a nursing school and they had no medical models to be able to teach the students. Also as there were only 2 doctors for the population of 500,000 everyone who came to deliver babies from the region came to this hospital and the nurses often complained how they did not have the tools and resources required to handle the influx. What was the worst according to the medical staff at the hospital was the home births that went wrong, and how the hospital had to deal with many needless deaths.

As a woman entrepreneur, what was/ is your biggest challenge? Any challenge specific to the 3D printing industry?

Being a woman and an entrepreneur working with emerging technologies is challenging because most people have no clue what you are talking about or its potential and importance. It is also exciting because it is a blue ocean as really there is only one other ongoing organization working in this space in the Tanzania so access to new technologies other than our own is often an issue.

What was the most impressive or impactful use of 3D printing you’ve seen so far?

I am most impressed by bioprinting applications because as the technology is developed we will see phenomenal breakthroughs in how healthcare is treated and managed. At no point has such individualized and personalized care ever been available.

What makes the 3D printing industry particularly interesting for you? 

3D printing is incredibly interesting as a business opportunity in Africa because there is so much space for creativity, expansion, and growth. I am interested to see where the technology and its applications can go as we continue to work to train people in 3D software and they start designing their own products. As a woman, I was concerned for the safety of women and newborns during childbirth and delivery especially with the very high rate of unassisted home births in Tanzania. That is why the first practical focal application of the technology for our organization has been the birthing kit tools. We hope for this to grow and expand to serve other needs including but not limited to healthcare applications.

What do you think of the 3D printing industry today? And how would you like to see it evolve?

I would like to see the 3D printing industry evolve into a mini manufacturing revolution where everyone can use their natural creativity to design products and create small businesses. In Africa, there are millions of youth, women, and the physically challenged who need jobs. I would like to see the industry develop in such as a way as to make the technologies available even to disadvantaged people to better their quality of life in multiple dimensions.

In your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with 3D Printing?

We can encourage more women to be involved in 3D printing by reaching out to girls and young ladies in schools and helping them to learn the technology and its applications. Currently, very few young ladies have access to 3D printing technology and learning how it works. This is one of the challenges our Makerspace will seek to address with hands-on practical training.


Thank you for reading and for sharing! 

We invite you to join Women in 3D Printing on LinkedIn and to like our Facebook page for further discussion.

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