Just next to the mighty Fort Jesus in Mombasa, sits Swahilipot Hub, Kenya’s coast region premier technology hub. It takes pride in many successes, but the biggest, apparently, is the successful persuasion of the coastal youth to chart the waters of tech.
The hub, which started as a pure technology centre, was forced to accommodate other services such as culture to meet the needs and desires of the local community.
“When it was started five years ago, Swahilipot was meant to be a hub for innovation and technology only. However, we realised that most locals, especially the youth were interested in creatives and arts more than tech, and so we had to factor that in,” says Shufaa Yakut, who heads the communication department at the institution.
“Today, Swahilipot is a hub for technology, arts, culture and heritage.”
The land on which the centre sits was donated by the National Museums of Kenya (NMK). The hub has, therefore, collaborated with Fort Jesus and NMK to preserve and propagate culture and heritage.
“We have an amphitheatre where various cultural events and activities take place,” Yakut tells Afcacia.
The amphitheatre, which is on the seashore, is currently under renovation, but it is without doubt, a perfect place for outdoor activities, owing to its serene location and the soothing breeze that caresses the body and mind of those at the hub.
Swahilipot hub has partnered with various stakeholders to train its members on cutting-edge skills and provide a platform for them to grow. One of the partners, Yakut says, is Cisco academy.
“Cisco trains our members in networking and other services at the cheapest fee in Mombasa.”
Perhaps the most outstanding fact about the hub is its internet connectivity and speed, which clearly Yakut takes pride in.
“We have the fastest Internet speed (40mb/s) in Kenya and perhaps in East Africa,” she narrates with a smile.
“We get it directly from the sea cable station, which is located within this facility. It’s from here that the Internet is distributed to the other parts of the country.”
Users pay Sh2,200 yearly to use the hub, though that is not absolute. Sometimes, Yakut says, one can come in and offer their expertise in the institution, and they earn points which can be converted to the membership fee.
Besides its partnership with Cisco, NMK and other stakeholders, Swahilipot has regular events which are meant to connect its members to funders, clients and other potential stakeholders.
“We hold an event, Pitching Thursday, every end month, where our members pitch to partners and stakeholders. In addition, we hold a Pwani Innovation Week every end of the year. Here, we invite stakeholders and partners from all over the country and outside the country,” Yakut tells this writer.
She reveals that Swahilipot has incubated many innovations, including Tech Kidz Africa and Rocker Bags Africa. In the Tech Kids Africa programme, children are taught robotics. The training happens every Saturday and during holidays.
The hub has a unit dubbed RoKa Bags Africa, a programme that uses innovation and technology to recycle worn-out billboard materials to make bags.
Through its notable services and innovations, Swahilipot hub has twice won recognition by the Kenya Chamber of Commerce as the most outstanding community service in the country.
However, she says that dealing with creatives and techies in the same facility sometimes proves challenging. “Some creatives are difficult to handle but we do our best to co-exist.”
Another challenge, she says, is the unwillingness of the Coastal locals to participate in innovations and competition for grants.
“They don’t turn out in good number and more often than not, you find that it is people from other parts of the country who win these grants and competitions,” she says.
“Nonetheless, we are always working to change their mindsets and to teach them that technology is not rocket science and that it is just creativity in another aspect. The education is working because, in our five years of existence, we’ve seen a difference.”
Until late last year, Swahilipot hub was operating as a community-based organisation. In that period, Yakut says, almost everyone used to work there as a volunteer.
“We used to get some money to run and maintain the facility by hiring out space, and also from well-wishers,” she states.
However, since this year started, the hub morphed into a foundation and is now getting various sponsors who fund its activities and pay the staff.
Yakut says the space of innovation and creatives is growing in the country, especially as a result of various collaborations to facilitate and source funds.
The hub is also planning to set up a library in its facility to promote the reading and writing culture in the region.