This is a long journey. I always enjoy hearing new stories from people so I hope that my journey can inspire young designers to take action.
Everything started in 2013 when I studied product design in École Boulle, France. During these studies, the school organised a trip to Benin in partnership with La Cité de l’Architecture. It was the first time that I was visiting West Africa. It opened my mind. I had a real cultural shock… in a very positive way.
So, one year later, when I graduated from my Master’s degree, I applied and received a grant from the Municipality of Paris to travel back to Africa for a one-year break with a Fab Lab in Lomé, Togo. During this year, I met all the communities of makers from West Africa: Abidjan, Ouagadougou, Takoradi, Dakar, … It comforted me to say that West Africa was full of brilliant designers. Surprisingly, none of them, even the most experienced, called themselves designers because they didn’t have degrees from formal design schools. Instead, they were all seeking advice from me, the official designer.
These observations accelerated my will to conduct more research about endogenous knowledge and the place of design in a multicultural context. I started to analyse the differences and similarities between expert and non-expert pedagogies, and the place of a foreigner intervening in such a context.
Editor’s note: in biology, endogenous means that it originates from within a system. Understand “endogenous knowledge” as the knowledge that originates from within a system such as a culture or a community.
Inspired, I went back to France in 2017 to continue this research during a Master’s degree in Design Innovation Society, at the University of Nîmes. I collected more tools and methods to facilitate collaborative and innovative projects. Then, I immediately went back to Benin for the post-graduate internship with the University of Abomey-Calavi (Cotonou) on another great topic of interest: the creation of local biobased materials which I experimented with for a few years by founding Termatière.
Since 2018, I have been working with Africa Design School during the week and with the association L’Atelier des Griots during the weekend:
– The French design school “L’École de design Nantes-Atlantiques” contacted me because they had just won a call for tender, organised by the Beninese government, to create the first design school in West Africa. They wanted me to become the first Program and Executive Director of Africa Design School. I accepted this great opportunity as I always wanted to create a school. But after two years of hard work, I quitted this position and I am now solely teaching to Africa Design School’s students.
– L’Atelier des Griots is a Beninese association specialised in architecture and design. They are supporting and revitalising districts by collaborating and co-creating with local communities.
The contrast between my full-time work in a large building with computers, classrooms, and teachers, versus my weekends with a non-formal community-led association, is sometimes funny. The dynamic is very different but they are both teaching relevant skills, which is very inspiring.