The making of the circular Economy HUB

May 2021

a state of art ITAD facility

From the dry, dusty roads of Jomvu, one of the six constituencies in Mombasa County, 18-wheeler trucks carrying sand, cement, logs, and other construction material can be seen barreling by the entire day. A one-hour drive from downtown Mombasa sans traffic, along pothole-ridden roads that seem perpetually under construction, Jomvu may not seem like an obvious choice at first glance.

But the compound where the brand-new Circular Economy Hub (CEH)–the first such electronic refurbishing center on the Kenyan coast–is in fact perfect for Close the Gap’s (CTG) needs. A short distance from both the airport and Mombasa port, CEH is strategically located to register and refurbish laptops, desktops, and other electronic equipment coming in from Europe before distribution to local markets.

A Belgian family-owned and operated social enterprise that specializes in distributing refurbished ICT hardware and providing an incubation center for local entrepreneurs, CTG connects emerging and developing markets and workers on the ground to the European market. Despite the onslaught of COVID-19, CTG proved itself to be largely undeterred by even a global pandemic. Last year in 2020, the CEH newly established in July 2019 in the Mihango district of Nairobi forged forward with its mission.

The Circular Economy Hub maintained a flow of equipment, supported local employment during extraordinarily difficult times, and met ongoing community needs for equipment all while abiding by mandated social and sanitization protocols. But it was time to move closer toward CTG’s ultimate mission of incorporating circularity on the Kenyan coast. CEH Nairobi shut its doors in August, 2020.

The ambitious CEH project in Mombasa–on the verge of being fully operational after some final touches and concluding employee training–has followed a similar trajectory. After a brief transition period, CEH Mombasa commenced operations in November of 2020 and will be officially launched as the county’s first ITAD facility in May 2021.

The process of establishing such a center where the whole refurbishment lifecycle can be conducted in-house encountered more than its fair share of difficulties, such as issues with the cement pouring of the warehouse space. The stultifying heat of Mombasa also takes adjusting to, as loyal members of the CTG team who have moved from Nairobi to Mombasa for the CEH–can attest to.

Social responsibility exists at the core of CTG’s vision. Not only does the CEH in Jomvu make sense from a logistical perspective, but it will also contribute to introducing work opportunities and higher and equal income for disadvantaged youth, especially women. The technical and business expertise imparted from employment also has the potential to indirectly impact the greater coastal community.

Kenya’s unemployment problem is one that is long-standing. According to a World Bank survey, the country’s unemployment rate averages around 10.4%–at least 900,000 jobs must be created annually between the present and 2025 to accommodate the youths entering the job market.

In its practice of circularity, Close the Gap understands the necessity of building communities to maximize its impact. Besides partnering with other social enterprises such as BOOST and MDF, both organizations geared toward training and impacting local youth, CEH will be the third pillar of technology in addition to the learning and business facets that CTG promotes in its co-working and maker space.

CEH Mombasa has also teamed up with Enviroserve Kenya, a local outfit that deals in both the collection and processing of e-waste. During the transitory move from the capital to Jomvu on the coast, Enviroserve kindly hosted CEH in their warehouse to help out with the changeover.

CEH facility neighbors a few other businesses–Ibrahim Abdulghani, a dealer in trucks and heavy commercial vehicle parts, and Simba Corp, which uses their warehouse space to store new tires for their motor vehicle assembly business. The space is owned by CONTECH, a company dedicated to transforming used shipping containers into beautifully creative habitable spaces and another fellow circular economy player in Mombasa.

The collaborative mindset that CTG harbors is vital to not only growing its network in a grassroots fashion, but illustrates its commitment to extending its impact beyond its own sphere of influence. “There is more than enough to go around,” says Ngosa Mupela, CTG’s business manager. “To fully embrace circularity we must be invested in supporting our partners and local community.”

CEH has also designed a 12-week  internship program that provides additional opportunities for university students keen on developing skills and work experience in a real-world employee environment. Since November of last year, CEH has already hosted two pairs of interns successfully. Alex Agutu and Laura Lesley were the first two interns.

Alex had recently graduated from the Technical University of Mombasa with a degree in IT, while Laura returned to her studies at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology-Mombasa Campus to conclude her Diploma in IT after working at CEH. The team looks forward to meeting and hosting future candidates.

The CEH facility is designated to be one of zero-emissions, starting with the construction of the facility from CONTECH-supplied shipping containers. Since March, 2021, CTG was welcomed into the Certified B Corporation community, which ensures that businesses meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability in balancing impact and profit. The B Corp community is committed to harnessing the power of business to use profits and growth for a greater positive impact on their employees, communities, and the environment.