The voice on the other end of the line had a heavy Brazilian accent. “Olá, this is Linamara Battistella, São Paulo’s State Secretary for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities…” To ROI and Reut Institute staffer Arnon Zamir, the phone call seemed out of the blue. But several weeks later, he and a small team boarded a plane to Brazil.
The challenge presented by Battistella? To lead a São Paulo-based, 72-hour “TOM” – a “Tikkun Olam Make-A-Thon.” A concept advanced by Zamir and his colleague, Josh Gottesman, TOM brings together engineers, physical therapists, people with disabilities, and all the high-tech and low-tech tools of modern manufacturing – including 3D printers – to create real solutions for some pressing challenges faced by people living with disabilities.
Luckily, Zamir and Gottesman were up to the task.
The story begins a year ago when the pair was chosen to produce a three-day gathering as part of an innovative program backed by the Schusterman Family Foundation called Connection Points. There, Gottesman, Zamir and 20 other talented, young Jews from around the world received eight days of capacity training to design, implement, and facilitate a gathering that would not only bring together some of the top minds in the field, but would also channel the participants’ ideas, creativity and enthusiasm into feasible Tikkun Olam projects. Gottesman and Zamir championed Reut’s concept of TOM, the Tikkun Olam Make-A-Thon, a riff on the more commonly known “hackathon:” gather a bunch of talented people in one room for 72 hours and let the magic happen.
Zamir and Gottesman’s vision was to use 3D printers, laser cutters, electronics and old fashioned drills and saws – among other tools – to create real and affordable gadgets that would make everyday life easier for people with disabilities. Their dream sprang from their involvement with the Reut Institute’s Cross-Lab Network (XLN), whose goal is to place Israel at the forefront of the emerging “self-manufacturing revolution” by tapping into the power of 3D printers and making it possible for individuals to transform into potential manufacturers – or “makers,” as they are referred to in the 3D printing world.
“The world is about to go through a major industrial revolution through the opportunities that 3D printing provides, it’s essentially a socio-economic equalizer. Our idea is to mobilize the innovation that is so commonplace in Israel and among Jews to serve both those in developing countries, and the one billion poor people living in first world countries, too,” said Gidi Grinstein, founder of the Reut Institute.
Long story short, at the end of Zamir and Gottesman’s first wildly successful, three-day TOM, held this past June at Stef Wertheimer’s new Nazareth Industrial Park, their gathering had created several low-cost, life-changing prototypes including: a plastic prosthetic arm that enabled a 9-year-old born without a left hand to put on a watch and catch a ball; a device built into a hat that helps people with visual impairments identify obstacles using ultrasonic waves; and a stand that can hold a yogurt for a blind woman so that it doesn’t topple over. These devices each cost less than $20 to create, but had an immense impact on the lives of the people for whom they were produced. And Zamir and Gottesman had the videos to prove it.
In a modern-day version of the Butterfly Effect (in which a small insect flapping its wings on one side of the world eventually causes a tsunami on the other), the TOM videos that were uploaded to Grinstein’s Facebook page eventually caught the eye of an attaché at the American consulate in Brazil. She forwarded it on to São Paulo’s Disability Minister, Battistella who, within minutes of watching the video, decided she had to create a TOM in her city and picked up the phone to call Arnon Zamir. The rest, as they say, is Tikkun Olam history. As Zamir put it: “TOM São Paulo … recreated the collaborative and creative atmosphere of TOM Israel and left a huge impression.”
But the story doesn’t end here. And neither does the Tikkun Olam tsunami that was triggered in Nazareth this past summer. In addition to the wonderful prototypes that were created at TOM São Paulo – including a device that allows quadriplegics to take photos with their cellphones, and a 3D printed computer mouse operated by facial muscles instead of finger clicks – this model for gathering people with a purpose holds a huge promise for success.
“The experience of being thrown together for 72 hours with a bunch of brilliant minds from different fields in an open, loft-like space, with all of the latest digital fabrication tools at your disposal, is a sure recipe for ingenious creativity” said Gottesman.
“In my eyes,” shared Justin Korda, the Executive Director of ROI Community, which oversees the Connection Points program, “this gathering has already measurably impacted so many lives, and has the potential to impact so many more in the future. This was truly a model partnership where ROI and Reut each brought its unique skill set to the table. By pairing Reut’s technical know-how with ROI’s networking methodologies and training we got results that are tangible, far-reaching, positive for Israel, and have infinite potential to improve the lives of people – Jews and non-Jews alike.”