Kalaya Kovidvisith, FabCafe Bangkok

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  • “When I came back to Thailand, my goal was to use technology – digital fabrication – to improve the way of constructing buildings in Thailand. Architecture is a man’s world but technology can make it easier for women to work in this industry. That’s why I had set up FabLab at Thammasat University, a fabrication laboratory, in 2008. It had received funding from the Thai government to buy machinery but eventually we ran into financial issues and didn’t get enough support from inside the University. So after 7 years, I had to close it down. After having to close FabLab, I was pretty beat. Then I talked to my friends from MIT who had opened FabLabs in other countries and had also failed, and we decided to leverage that experience to build something better. We changed the business model to diversify our revenue streams, leverage more partnerships to cut down investments costs, and changed the name from FabLab to FabCafe. We also operate as cafes and we run workshops for adults and kids as young as 3. We are a network of friends in different countries passionate about technology and using available technology to improve everyday life.”
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“Fab Cafes want to bring technology closer to the people. We work with different organizations to create content and new projects, and we keep on expanding our network around the world. Each café decides on its own direction and focus. For us in Thailand, we work with different customers and use technology to help companies refine their business model. We are also about to add another space where I want to focus on hardware and how to get Thais into making things, tech products. We want to give regular people more access to machines so that once they become familiar with them, they can purchase and use them on their own. Right now, many people don’t understand a lot of this technology but I believe things are going to change very fast and in the next 5 years.”
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  • “I used to be a researcher at Lifelong Kindergarten. It is part of the Media Lab at MIT and believes in the power of creativity. It gets kids to learn by designing and creating things on their own. So for example, one of our projects embedded sensors on LEGO bricks so that kids can create something that moves and reacts – a house with lights where the lights turn on and off or a door that opens up. I have developed most of my courses based on this method. We have taught kids as young as 3 but our main focus is on 10-15 year olds. The best part of my job is to see how kids get excited once they manage to build something on their own”
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  • “My goal is to open something like MIT Media Lab in Thailand, a school where different majors can work together to build things and change the future. Right now most universities work on getting students ready for the market so they follow rather than innovate. If we keep on doing so, we’ll inevitably be behind on technology and all future trends. For me if we have new technologies why don’t we just use it and learn from it? I want to create a space where students from different universities can come together. FIBO, the Center for Field Robotics at King Mongkut’s University, is the closest we have in Thailand but it’s only focused on robotics and the ratio of women to men is really low. We need to teach more women and get more girls interested into this”
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  • “One of the biggest challenges for me has been working with men. Geek guys tend to focus only on what they are interested in and not care much about the rest but we are service providers so we need to be sensitive to our customers and their needs. Originally I wanted to hire as many women as possible but there are so few it has been very difficult. It’s easy to find women to do business management but many get intimidated by the technology part. So we hire students to intern with us and teach them. We are trying to get more young women into this field”

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