FAB24 Mexico

Community Innovation & Impact

Published on June 28th, 2024

Alejandro Mayoral examines the relationships between digital technologies and traditional knowledge, exploring the implications of their conjunction. Combining a formal education that spans computer science, interdisciplinary studies, and communication & culture with a lived experience that is the very definition of intersectionality, he brings a diverse skillset and a rich perspective to his work with Indigenous communities throughout North America. Executive Director and Founder of the Indigenous Friends Association in Canada, President of Magtayaní in Mexico, and a Leader of the Indigenous Tech Circle representing the entirety of Turtle Island, he dedicates himself to bridging gaps between Indigenous communities and technology by means of mentorship, the development of ethical and inclusive digital technology, and advocacy efforts focused on systemic change in the modern workforce.

A newcomer to the Fab Lab Network, Alejandro is excited to be a Keynote Speaker at FAB24, where conversations will be centered on the concept of Fabricating Equity. We spoke with him recently about his mission-driven work. Fabbers around the world will no doubt see some familiar themes emerging in our discussion, which we hope will spur future collaborations as we welcome Alejandro into this dynamic community.

Fab Foundation: Our annual conference is designed to be an opportunity for professional growth, interpersonal connection, and deep community engagement for those leveraging technology for social impact. What are you hoping to take from the FAB24 experience?

Alejandro Mayoral: The event intersects really well with the work that we are doing. Approaches in design and creation, the principles that we're exploring—they can be applicable in many different areas. I'm very interested in networking with other people that are also in the design stage in technology. One common and very frequent request that we get is about hardware. We have been focusing on software, not on tangible or physical tools. So, I would really like to connect with others that are in that space to start seeing synergies with these principles that we have been exploring.

I’m particularly eager to engage in conversations and networking sessions focused on how Indigenous principles and values, which we have successfully applied to software solutions, can be extended to hardware and solutions outside the digital sphere. These discussions are crucial, as they provide an opportunity to explore the broader applicability of systems of Indigenous knowledges and ethical frameworks in various technological contexts.

The conference site is in a state with a lot of Indigenous communities. It's important to connect with local communities. We're not going to save the world with a tool or a product or a mobile application. However, you can tackle one specific problem from a specific community; then you see how the struggles are actually common and can start addressing other issues.

Let’s talk a bit more about that. What sort of issues are you tackling in the work that you do, and what role does technology play in those efforts?

Much of it is about changing narratives. For example, the narrative of the digital divide has always been about bringing access. We just talk about access. The problem with just providing access is that you are creating a dependency on an external stakeholder. In reality, you’re not giving control and ownership of the technology. We need to provide access, as well as control, possession, and ownership of the technology. That's a completely different narrative.

Digital tech was born with these liberal values of creating democracy and expanding knowledge-sharing. What if we embrace those principles—not the principles of profit—and really bring them to community approaches? When you are talking about a community-based technology, you are not thinking about just the profit. You are talking about how this is going to impact the community as a whole, how this is going to impact the environment, the entire ecosystem.

It's also important that we see that technology has an impact, but not necessarily just positive, also negative. Technology is not neutral. It can harm people, and you need to be aware of that. There is still a lot of implied racism, implied biases when we are talking about technology design. When we think about customers, we think about certain types of customers, but not all types of customers. We need to start thinking and trying to really make an effort to acknowledge that we all have biases that affect product design. It's very important to take these aspects into consideration.

Part of the challenge is considering other perspectives, speaking the language of the person that you are talking to, understanding what this person is facing. And, of course, this requires a little bit of humility from a lot of people. It requires empathy, especially in this moment of radicalization and polarization. How can we at least start having a conversation?

Can FAB24 provide a platform for you to host some of those necessary conversations?

Yes, of course, this is the moment where everyone gathers and exchanges all their points of view. And the strength of this type of conference is the transdisciplinarity. You are not just bringing academics; you are bringing people from industry, from not-for-profits, and from government. So, you can have different sectors talking to each other to start creating more sustainable solutions—solutions that actually lead to implementations.

I am keen to continue the ongoing dialogue about ethics in artificial intelligence. As AI continues to evolve, it is imperative that we address the ethical considerations and implications of its use, particularly concerning Indigenous communities. These discussions can help ensure that AI development and deployment are aligned with values of equity, respect, and sustainability. A lot of the challenges that we are facing now at the global level with the ethics of AI can be solved through traditional knowledge and the practices and protocols long established in Indigenous communities.

My ideal outcome from these interactions would be to forge new collaborations and partnerships that integrate Indigenous perspectives into diverse technological domains. I hope to gain insights and practical strategies that can be implemented within our organization, promoting the integration of ethical principles in both digital and non-digital technologies.

Keep an eye on the schedule to catch Alejandro live at FAB24 later this summer!