Gender-inclusive making: Olabi

Olabi / Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)

Olabi ( works in the areas of social innovation, technology, and creativity. They started in 2014 as a space dedicated to technology learning in Brazil, part of the FabLab network. Their initial focus was to build an environment that would allow ordinary people to get closer to technological making. They started mobilizing people from different areas and backgrounds (artists, scientists, technicians, activists, etc.). This mix of people and interests made them create new teaching methodologies.

Olabi’s core mission is to diversify the innovation and technology scenario as a way to reduce social inequalities in Brazil, expanding the population’s access to important tools, actions and discussions in this 21st century. During seven years, Olabi has created dozens of projects, actions and content with an educational focus, including supporting the creation of other spaces, which now became a strong part of their activities. All projects aim at creating networks and democratizing access to innovations and technologies. They range from technological training to cultural change, including political activism.

Gender and other inequalities

Two women, Gabriela Agustini and Silvana Bahia, direct Olabi. Focusing on diversity, addressing gender and social needs are at the heart of all their projects.

They provide training exclusively for women, taught, created and facilitated by women; they create campaigns that emphasize the need to work on gender issues in companies and society; they assist companies and other civil society organizations to create diversity policies and curate events that seek to showcase the work of female protagonists. All their communication brings female protagonists as a way to generate inspiration and representation. Even when the action is not focused only on women, communication focuses on women.

Their approach is intersectional. For Olabi’s founder, Gabriela Augustini, gender is the relations of power resulting from a social construction of the role of citizens based on their differences (from sexual issues and identity choices made by each individual). They are addressing Brazil’s colonial and slavery past, and therefore placing black women at the centre of their actions. Their targeting of black women includes all issues of social class and access, since in Brazil black women make up the population group with the worst social indices in all spheres.

In that sense, Pretalab is an Olabi project that has existed since 2017 and brings together black women from the Brazilian technological scene, creating content, courses, spaces for dialogue with companies with a focus on increasing the employability of this audience (which brings together the worst social indices in Brazil) and the at the same time diversify the technical teams of the companies. At “Pretalab” they seek to improve the employability indices and spaces of power in Brazil for black women, combating historical issues of machismo and racism, especially in the technology industry.

Best practices and challenges

The socio-political and economic context in Brazil is a challenge itself. According to WHO (World Health Organization), Brazil is in the 5th place of the countries that kill the most women in the world in the context of domestic violence and almost half of Brazilians women have already suffered sexual harassment at work. In the context of Black women they represent 27% of the Brazilian population but in 2016 only 0.5% of the elected officials were black women. And they represent 57.6% of domestic workers, a bad legacy of the slavery past.

The greatest impact of Olabi in the Brazilian context is therefore on a macro level to point out themes that must be considered and are socially relevant and on a micro level to allow people to access knowledge and cultural capital. Creating culture and networks as well as being adaptable is their best practice, as well as a major challenge as it is difficult to measure this kind of impact on a short term basis.

Until the beginning of COVID, Olabi maintained a physical space, which hosted workshops and events, which sought to bring together these audiences and people engaged in social transformation present in the city of Rio de Janeiro, but they are now mostly focused on projects beyond the physical space.

ProtegeBr is a project that was created during the pandemic to accelerate the alternative solidarity production of PPE carried out by universities, fablabs, makerspaces. The platform provided open protocols validated by hospitals in Brazil, the necessary contacts in each state and brought together 250 producer groups in the 27 Brazilian states. Bloco is the name of our platform curating events and public discussions. Through it, they connect thinkers and doers from the country to discuss topics they believe to be relevant at the moment.

Gender is the relations of power resulting from a social construction of the role of citizens based on their differences – from sexual issues and identity choices made by each individual.