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To Do: Get Hands Dirty, Make Something Useful, Solve World’s Problems

We’ve never built anything in our lives. Certainly not anything that could charge an iPhone and would cost less than $5 to make.

But at a SwitchPoint Maker event at HQ Raleigh, we took the challenge.We joined fifty or so industrious locals who gathered to talk humanitarian design, make connections, and watch some MacGyver for inspiration before building something side-by-side with speakers from the upcoming global SwitchPoint 2015 conference.

There was a lot of trial and error. There were a few bruises, nicks, and minor electrical shocks.

But together, using some old Altoids tins and 9 volt batteries, we made phone chargers with our own hands. And we were pretty excited when they finally worked

.“I was blown away,” says Lee Ann McClymont, an attendee and host of the Courage Cocktail radio show. “It restored in me a sense of agency. I was so impressed with myself. I was inspired by the integrity of the message—that we need new ideas, we need to make things better.”

But how does getting your hands dirty and learning something new bring out your inner innovator? And what do you learn in the process?

Think pregnancy kits out of Legos, microscopes out of paper, water purifiers out of drinking straws.

Namely, that with a little incentive (there was free pizza and beer) and a lot of patience, you can create something useful—possibly even lifesaving—out of nothing. Think pregnancy kits out of Legos, microscopes out of paper, water purifiers out of drinking straws.

Our phone chargers are just one example of a low-cost solution to a high-cost problem. Lack of power can, for example, prevent health workers from utilizing key information that would otherwise be available to them through their mobile phones.

SwitchPoint 2015 will offer even more maker opportunities for those who want to innovate and create for good:

  • Betaversity’s BetaBox will be onsite hosting microlabs and inviting experimenters to play with 3D printers and scanners, laser cutters, and speed-of-thought materials.
  • Alamance Makers Guild will show you how to build it instead of buy it.
  • Nadia Hitimana will showcase how SHE is turning banana leaves into sanitary napkins and, in turn, helping women and girls continue their education. 

It’s easy to be intimidated by the incredible people SwitchPoint brings together—brilliant entrepreneurs and innovators who are working on ingenious yet simple solutions to the difficult problems facing the world today.

But what makes SwitchPoint distinctive is that it allows everyone—tech savvy or luddite, public health visionary or do-gooder just looking for a place to start—to discover the innovator within.

SwitchPoint is a place to get inspired by others but also to be inspired by yourself. Come make your heart out at SwitchPoint 2015!

Photo courtesy of Lisa Mangiapani.