By Allan Kai & Mike Baraka

In 2016, the coastal city of Mombasa witnessed a remarkable transformation – the birth of the Swahili Pot Hub. What began as a visionary idea has since become a driving force of change in the lives of countless young people in the region. This inspiring initiative, founded by the now Managing Director of the Hub, Mahmoud Noor, is a testament to ambition, hard work, strategic planning, and a deep commitment to community development.

A Visionary Journey to Connectivity

Mahmoud’s journey to Mombasa was initially rooted in his technical work on the undersea fiber-optic cable that connects Africa’s eastern coast to the world. This groundbreaking project aimed to replace satellite communication, which had long been the region’s sole lifeline to the digital world.

“I came for the first time to the coastal part of Kenya in 2007 to survey the first undersea fiber-optic cable that now connects the coastal part of Africa to the rest of the world. I was among the team under Sea-Com surveying from South Africa to Djibouti on opening the Eastern coast of Africa that entirely depended on satellite communication. So that is how I came here.” Mahmoud Noor on his arrival to Mombasa.

As Noor delved into the community, he quickly realized a pressing issue: the lack of affordable and stable internet connectivity. This problem hindered many young people who wanted to embrace technology and innovation. Noor’s passion for community-driven change led him to advocate for corporate social responsibility initiatives, eventually supporting tech hubs in Nairobi, Kampala, and beyond.

Mahmoud Noor (right) taking part in a community initiative.
Photo: Mahmoud Noor – Facebook

“Even as I was working with the under-sea optic cable, my passion has always been with the community. I reached out to universities and Centers where I felt it was important to our young people to understand the technology around fiber-optic… one of their biggest problems they told me was internet connectivity was expensive, and it was unstable.” Noor on the issue of internet access for youth and affordability.

However, the question remained: Why focus on Nairobi when the cable landed in Mombasa? This query gave birth to the Swahili Pot Hub, and with the Ministry of ICT and partners like Cisco on board, the journey began.

Empowering Youth Through Creativity and Technology

The Swahili Pot Hub quickly emerged as a unique player in the Kenyan tech landscape, becoming the first tech space of its kind and possibly in all of Africa. Their vision extended beyond just technology; they recognized the immense creativity of the coastal youth and sought to harness it.

“We thought then one of the areas that most of our young people along the coast are also strong is that they are creative. Creativity is wide. So, we decided to fuse it into our tech-oriented space and become the first tech space within Kenya and probably within Africa (to do so). And I think our journey started”, Noor on fusing Mombasa youth creativity and tech at Swahili pot Hub.

Through programs like Pitching Thursday and the Pwani Innovation Program, the hub provided a platform for young minds to showcase their ideas, intelligence, and brilliance. It is no surprise that participants proudly associate themselves with this thriving hub.

Transforming Lives and Fighting Drug Abuse

One of Noor’s primary goals was to offer equal opportunities for all youth to grow and develop in their chosen fields. By productively engaging the youth, Swahili Pot played a pivotal role in reducing drug abuse in Mombasa. The transformation from hopelessness to hope is a testament to the power of innovation and community engagement.

“One of the biggest challenges in Mombasa was drug abuse. Making technology accessible and creating a place where youth can interact with one another positively and productively has helped reduce the trend. Before, when we talk of tech, they assume there are a lot of technical things and cording… we realized these are the young people we are dealing with who feel hopeless”, Noor on the hub as a refuge for at-risk youth.

Mahmoud Noor (right) and Jomvu MP Badi Twalib during a youth engagement in Mombasa. ]
Photo: Facebook – Mahmoud Noor

Uniting Stakeholders for Change

The Swahili Pot Hub’s impact has resonated with numerous stakeholders eager to support its mission. Organizations like the Kenya Red Cross and Huawei joined forces to provide resources, mentorship, and connectivity to the hub. The result was a thriving tech community eager to make a positive impact on its surroundings.

“The Kenya Red Cross is partnering with the Swahili pot hub to organize the pitching Thursday and we have judges who come every week and also we provide them with some of our entrepreneurs who are being trained in pitching through the women social entrepreneurship institute and take the pitching Thursday as an opportunity to improving their skill.” Says Hellen from the Red Cross.

“We also brought in Huawei who brought in connectivity at the hub. Once we had connectivity, we reached out to the tech community. Now when the tech community came in, we were able to successfully begin operations,” Noor adds.

Fostering Prosperity and Safe Spaces

The hub has become a nurturing ground for success stories, with countless individuals from Kwale, Kilifi, and Mombasa attributing their personal growth and prosperity to this safe and inclusive space. It’s more than just a tech hub; it’s a place where dreams are nurtured and realized.

“We have a lot of success stories that have passed through here. Most of them are from Kwale, Kilifi, and Mombasa and they all consider Swahili pot as a safe space to even continue their operations from.” Noor on the many youths that have benefited from the hub and its programs.

Pwani Innovation Week: An International Platform for Ideas

Attendees at last year’s Pwani Innovation Week. This year’s event will take place from 2nd October to 6th October.
Photo: Facebook – PIW

Perhaps the culmination of a successful existence at the coast, Swahili Pot Hub organizes the Pwani Innovation Week every year. Here youth are exposed to the many opportunities in the tech, entrepreneurial, and creative development aspects. They get to interact and network with industry giants and experts to gain much-needed insight on how to scale their innovations.

Initially, a local event has evolved into a marquee gathering where young innovators are exposed to a vibrant ecosystem of African innovation. This year, the event has expanded its horizons, drawing youth from countries along the Swahili Coast, including Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Mozambique. This year’s theme is ‘Sailing Beyond Borders: Empowering Youth in the Digital Economy for a Sustainable Future.’

Swahili Pot Hub is more than just a tech space; it is a beacon of hope and transformation for the youth of coastal Kenya. Mahmoud Noor’s dedication to community development and technology has created a ripple effect of change, empowering countless young minds to dream big and achieve their goals. As the hub continues to thrive and expand, it serves as a shining example of how innovation and community engagement can create a brighter future for all.