Young Makers in Vietnam work to change the lives of Children with Disabilities

From June 3rd to 5th 2016, 7 teams consisting of  over 70 young people including designers, engineers, artisans, medical professionals and children with disabilities gathered on the campus of the Vietnam-German University (VGU) in Binh Duong, Vietnam to contribute to a better world. For 72 hours these youth participated in the inauguralT.O.M:Vietnam Makeathon to apply their skills to design and prototype open source solutions for children with disabilities.

What’s TOM got to do with it?

Children with disabilities are among the most vulnerable and marginalized in Viet Nam. According to official statistics about 85% of Children with disabilities do not complete primary school and just one in five children with disabilities use special aids and devices.

T.O.M, which stands for Tikkun Olam Makers, is an initiative borne out of the realization that the growing global Maker movement could apply their talents and creativity to design assistive technology for people with disabilities all around the world. A key component of the TOM model is that the Need Knower, or the person that lives and experiences challenges in their daily lives, is a part of the team throughout the design and prototyping process (See UNICEF Innovation Principle #1 – Design with the User).

Another important part of the TOM process is that everything that teams develop during the event is documented and shared via an open source license (See Innovation Principles 6,7 and 9)  on the TOM Open Makers Market, ensuring that change makers around the world have the opportunity to build upon the efforts of the young innovators. For the emerging Maker community in Vietnam, TOM represents a tangible opportunity for young people with technical skills to connect and collaborate with Children with Disabilities to create an inclusive environment for the development of accessible solutions.

72 hours after they began, the participants gather for one last cheer. UNICEF Viet Nam\2016\Truong Viet Hung
Even after 72 hours, our young makers were excited to showcase their prototypes. UNICEF Viet Nam\2016\Truong Viet Hung


Bringing together 7 teams consisting of need knowers, students, and professionals, providing them with appropriate resources and guidance and keeping them nourished and motivated for 72 hours is no small feat, and it doesn’t happen without strong partnerships. The execution of the inaugural event included a multi-stakeholder approach, with significant support from UNICEF Vietnam, the Israeli Trade Mission to Vietnam, The US Consulate General of Ho Chi Minh City, FABLABSaigon, Disability Research and Capacity Development (DRD), and VGU.

It takes more than 72 hours from Design to Reality

Teams were initially gathered to meet each other and start the design process on May 8th in Ho Chi Minh City. There they worked to map out the challenges they faced, started the human-centred design process, and made paper and cardboard prototypes.


From May 8th until June 2nd, the teams went through multiple design phases and PiNG’s (in TOM languages this is a Progress, Needs, and Goals meeting) to help the FABLABSaigon team identify exactly what materials and machines they would need. When the day finally came, June 3rd, all of the teams’ necessary machinery would be at hand and they would have a budget of $200USD for materials to create their prototype.


Young Makers got to access tools at Vietnam-German University. UNICEF Viet Nam\2016\Truong Viet Hung
Young Makers got to access tools at Vietnam-German University. UNICEF Viet Nam\2016\Truong Viet Hung

Adaptations through user feedback

The Need Knowers didn’t arrive on site at VGU until the morning of the 4th, but the teams worked hard through the night to get the initial products ready to test.  Upon testing, some of the teams realized that they needed to do quite a bit more work, or even start all over again! Others received feedback that the product worked well, but it didn’t look good and the need knower wouldn’t enjoy using it, a valuable lesson in product design for sure.

Need Knower H. An gives the team feedback on the prototype. UNICEF Viet Nam\2016\Truong Viet Hung
Need Knower H. An gives the team feedback on the prototype. UNICEF Viet Nam\2016\Truong Viet Hung

Achieving Tikkun Olam

At the final celebration on the evening of June 5th, the teams presented their products to the need knowers, peers, government officials, and a panel of distinguished judges. While the progress they made in just 72 hours is amazing, many of the products are not ready for everyday use. The teams have made the commitment to continue to move forward with the products the best they can with support from the TOM:Vietnam organizers, the global TOM developer groups, academia, and local funders.

Need Knower M.Tam and his team. UNICEF Viet Nam\2016\Truong Viet Hung
Need Knower M.Tam and his team. UNICEF Viet Nam\2016\Truong Viet Hung

Next steps

From the very first meeting of partners, the goal was to spur the creation of a community of Makers doing good, to ensure that Children with Disabilities were included as contributors to the project, and that the end of the event was not the end of the product. While it is too early to say if any of these products will be commercially available, we can be sure that the Maker movement is aware that they really can achieve “Tikkun Olam”, they can repair this world.

Written by Brian Cotter (UNICEF Innovation Lab, Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam)

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