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TOM Bootcamp Inspires Hands-On Innovation to Help People in Need


TOM Bootcamp Inspires Hands-On Innovation to Help People in Need

by Bob Kilmer

I started off 2023 with a life impacting new experience. I traveled to Tel Aviv, Israel, for the first time for an event called the Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM) Bootcamp. Tikkun Olam means “repair the world” and is a concept calling upon every person to make a contribution toward improving the condition of their community and the world. Makers refers to the maker movement and the growing power of “do-it-yourself revolution” to use tools, materials, and processes to solve a problem or meet a need.

TOM is dedicated to finding affordable solutions to support people living with disabilities, the elderly and the poor. The TOM Bootcamp brought together people from seven countries, including leading secondary and college educators focused on design, engineering and assistive tech. The idea was to create a forum sharing knowledge and collaboration. At the week-long event, we became the hands on “makers’’ who worked together on solutions directly with people living with disabilities, who guided this process of finding solutions as the “need knowers.”

We learned about how TOM uses a systems process known as a “clearing mechanism” to identify how to best support people with unmet needs.



There are four key steps in the process:

  • Identifying the challenge – neglected challenges that do not have market solutions
  • Prototyping – meetups between “need knowers” with disabilities and makers at events called make-a-thons to identify challenges
  • Productizing – developing prototypes into products that meet needs
  • Dissemination – sharing out the products to those who need them and evaluating scalability

We participated in many hands-on experiences to put this solution process into action. For example, the delegates made kits for pediatric wheelchairs out of CNC cut pieces and 3D printed pieces, cardboard-carpentry constructed easel stands, and assembled individualized maker-space kits.

Materials for the pediatric wheelchair build at TOM Bootcamp


I was joined on this once-in-a-lifetime adventure by Phalana Tiller from Bendable Labs and Brian Copes, a manufacturing teacher and 2021 winner of the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence. Each of us had a favorite memory from the event:

  • I enjoyed when the group delivered the assembled pediatric wheelchairs to patients at a local clinic, seeing how kids operated the chairs and evaluating them for adjustments to obtain the perfect solution.
  • Phalana loved visiting a rural Bedouin school where a 3D printer had been donated as an ‘aspirational’ acquisition to prompt problem-solving thinking – how do we make use of this? Do we need to invest more in solar energy to power and facilitate?
  • Brian’s favorite site visit was a ‘Dinner in the Dark’ experience, where the group was served a three-course meal in total darkness by people who are completely blind to help frame thinking around blindness accessibility. Brian noted that his own mother has recently been losing her sight and that the event helped him understand what the experience must be like for her. He said the experience has become a touchstone to empathize with an underserved population.

If you want to learn more about how your students can get involved in making a difference, check out the TOM Global Innovation Challenge at