A conversation with Gabriela Agustini, Founder and Executive Director of Olabi

Gabriela Agustini will be giving an inspiring keynote on ‘Social Entrepreneurship the Millennial Way’ on 24th July at the TFF Academy.

Olabi, is a Brazilian social organization focused on encouraging the use of new (and old) technologies for social change. Besides her work with Olabi, Gabriela Agustini is currently a professor of Culture and Technology at Candido Mendes University in Rio, and curator of Colaboramerica, the Latin America version of Ouishare Festival.

She is the co-organizer and the co-author of “De baixo para Cima”(“Bottom-up”), a book of articles about digital culture, new economy and peripheries in Brazil.

Your work builds around the topics of social innovation, technologies, and society. Tell us about yourself, your mission with Olabi and how it’s connected with TFF.

Olabi’s mission is to stimulate diversity in the tech and innovation scenes. We understand that technology plays a central role in future society and if we don’t democratize the access to its production, we will end up in even a more unequal society. We work in an educational field, helping people to understand/reflect/build things related to robotics, electronics, digital fabrication and more. We run a makerspace, part of the fablab network, where we democratize the access to new technologies and help people to understand that they can also do it! TFF is also focused on using technology and innovation as a tool for social change, stimulating people to look at real problems and how to solve them. At the end of the day, we’re striving towards the same goal: the democratization of technology for a better society.

How might makerspaces like Olabi activate innovation differently than common research centers and technology companies?

I think the main difference is connected to diversity. The diversity of backgrounds, of mindsets, of positions in society etc. So, it is easier to find in makerspaces people that usually are not part of tech discussions. An artist that wants to understand more about one specific technology because he wants to make an installation. A hobbyist that wants to just learn and play more with some cool stuff. A girl from favela who wants to use some tech stuff to solve a local problem etc. Altogether, discussing and interacting in a more informal style. Common research centers and tech companies usually have a more top-down mindset, while makerspaces are based on a bottom-up style. It means the traditional way to build stuff is more centralized, designed to achieve specific outcomes, while makerspaces are more exploratory. This is why they can complement each other and work together. A makerspace is about giving power to citizens, to people who are involved in the “problems” of the society to solve it.

Can you share a success story, a real project, that was created within the Olabi Lab?

Some of Olabi’s projects include the Pretalab, a network of coloured women in tech in Brazil, Minas de Dados, an educational programme focused on politics, transparency and citizen engagement, Gambiarra Favela Tech, a tech artistic residency to connect the culture of Brazilian peripheries to maker tools and Computacao sem Caô, a formational programme to democratize access to computational thinking and abilities of the future.

In your opinion, how exactly might new technology be leveraged to solve some of the biggest social challenges?

I think technology won’t be the solution only, but it can help people to scale solutions that work. Technology can help to design answers if we stimulate the right questions. This is why we understand makerspaces more as network and a place to chance mindset  – instead of a place of tools and equipment.

Apart from examples like Olabi, how do we create a shift in the use of technology towards creating impact and societal change?

I think the great shift comes from the change of mentality to stimulating dialogues and politics that connects people with problems in order to solve it. If we only focus on platform and solutions we are not going to achieve great solutions. We have to think about the politics, processes, and decisions that we, as a society, need to do in order to achieve this change. If we don’t change the structure of power, for example, technology won’t solve much either.

Could you share a little teaser of your keynote “Social Entrepreneurship the Millennial Way” at the TFF Academy 2018?

I will be showcasing impactful examples of Millennial-led projects that are changing the status quo in society in a non-traditional way. In addition, I will share how important it is to connect this “new style of production” with traditional players and resources – because, ultimately, it’s the dialogue between the “new” and the “old” that will change the society.


Curious to learn more about Gabriela Agustini and her experiences with social innovation and entrepreneurship? Join the TFF Academy and TFF Summit this July in Rio. Check details here