MEET: iHub PR man, wordsmith, music lover Evans Campbell

We all want that guy in our life who sends us mind-altering links, sorts out our techy problems and worries, makes sure our Uber knows where to go, knows those people we didn’t even know we need to be connected to, makes us laugh and discover amazing music and also uses the letters in the alphabet like a wizard (and sends instant urgent messages when he sees you have committed a typo crime). Oh, we do want some of that. And iHub does too. Meet Evans Campbell, the coolest nerd, techiest poet & most genuine networker and connector that we know.

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How would you describe yourself to someone who does not know anything about you?
EC: I’m an ambivert, a wordsmith, deep thinker, grammar nerd, music lover and champion of chivalry.

For readers not familiar with iHub (probably also some have heard about it but don’t understand exactly what it is about), could you describe what exactly it is and how did you end up there?
EC: The iHub is so many things, but the definition I’ll choose for this particular interview is “a nexus point for technology, innovation and community in Kenya”. We exist to connect people, support startups and surface information. If you’ve been by the space, you can easily see how conducive the environment is for all that. I’ve met so many incredible people there, and I’m not even a techie.

I ended up at the iHub because of an e-mail I received during my third year at Strathmore University. We were all looking for internships and a classmate of mine, Brian Gachichio, forwarded us an opportunity to apply to intern at iHub Consulting. I thought it would be a cool gig, iHub had come up in some conversations and sounded like a place I’d like. So I applied, got interviewed, made it in and it’s been a love affair ever since.

If knowledge is power, then my job is empowering.

What do you do at work at iHub?
EC: I run Public Relations & Communications at iHub. That involves “policing” what’s written about us— making sure it’s accurate and representative of what we do — while also putting out the word about events and activities for the benefit of the general public: through our blog/newsletter, Twitter and Facebook.

It also involves meeting a lot of brilliant people and connecting them to other brilliant people, within or outside the iHub. I take great pleasure in knowing that I can help people simply by sending an e-mail or making a call. I show people around the space and guide them through the history of how each initiative (UX Lab, Consulting etc.) started, what purpose it serves today and how they all fit into our grand vision to catalyze the growth of the Kenyan tech community.

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iHub. Photo from whiteafrican.com

Why is iHub important?
EC: I feel Kenyans need spaces like these that challenge them to open their minds and think beyond individual perceptions of the world. At the iHub, it’s not easy to make an assertion based on an assumption and go unchallenged. You have to argue beyond opinions and defend points with facts.

Failure is also embraced and encouraged at the iHub. That is not commonplace in a society whose education system drills students to be top in their class or else be considered unable to excel. Spaces like the iHub give you room to discover your entrepreneurial path through trial and error.

Lastly, I think the iHub gives access to a vital support network for any startup founder. iHub UX Lab, Consulting and Research provide various opportunities for the members to gain design thinking skills, build their capacity and make informed business decisions. m:lab East Africa offers incubation, connections to investors and venture funds and trainings around mobile development. Gearbox serves the needs of upcoming hardware entrepreneurs, providing a space for them to design and prototype their ideas, a process that has historically been costly and inaccessible for most.

MiKE: We can’t resist sharing one of the many inspiring events that iHub has organised, the Fireside Chat with guru Joi Ito. 

Why has Nairobi become such a digital hub?
EC: I think Nairobi has its fair share of problems, which, for the entrepreneurial society have proven to be viable opportunities. The widespread availability of good connectivity in the city also means information is easier to access and share. Throw in the large number of spaces for people to meet and collaborate, including universities, and you have a melting pot with the right ingredients for a digital revolution.

When do you feel the most excited about your work?
EC: When I get to connect people. There is something powerful about assisting like-minded individuals to make a game-changing connection. I came to learn quickly in life that the people you know are sometimes more valuable than what you know. So whenever I can help out with connections, I’m happy to.

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So, what do you do when you’re not at iHub?
EC: I pursue my music interests. I have always loved music. It has a way of changing how I feel, making work easier and just giving me a high. This year I started collecting vinyl. It’s been a slow process (got 14 records so far), but one I’m very proud of. I also got a guitar so I can start working on actually learning to play some music. A home studio may be in the works. A lot more vinyl is definitely planned.

In January I got a chance to join a team of passionate fellows looking to build a community around underground dance music. We co-organize Temple Nairobi, a monthly event that is our way of catering to that community. We celebrate 2 years in February 2016, but in the short time I’ve worked with the lads I’ve learnt so much about perseverance, sacrifice and patience. This has been something I have come to love deeply.

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Campellesque record collection. Photo by @a_nativeson

Tell us about some current projects that you are involved in.
EC: Temple Nairobi is definitely one of them. I consider building my vinyl collection a project too. A night out in Amsterdam’s famous Trouw gave me a chance to witness the beauty of this physical form of music first-hand. I think after seeing nd_baumecker for about 3 hours, I was in love — sold on the idea that I needed to get myself acquainted with records.

I’m also working on a few cool things at work around telling the stories of lesser-known, impactful people and their projects. More on that will show up on the iHub blog over the next few months. I have been working on improving my writing skills to shine a light on people who I feel don’t receive enough credit as they should or need to have their story told.

Who inspires you?
EC: Several people inspire me. My late mother had a tenacity that I think I’m always trying to emulate. I always thought she pushed me too hard as a child, but soon learnt how important it was that she did.

People I’ve met in the course of my career have also encouraged me. The coolest boss I’ve ever had — Kennedy Kirui — gave me so many chances to grow and was always a great listener. He’s extremely intelligent, refreshingly honest and inspiringly passionate about what he does.

Kenn Lisudza, a dedicated chap that I have come to greatly admire in a very short time. He listens and is not afraid to engage in long conversations about life, work and everything in between. He has shown me the value of pushing yourself to achieve greatness, taking time to think before making hard decisions and knowing what you’re worth.

…pushing yourself to achieve greatness, taking time to think before
making hard decisions and knowing what you’re worth.

Lastly, Eric Lusava. He co-founded a company I admire for its customer focus, attention to detail and fresh, hip vibe: Sticks & Stones. He has given me sound advice over the years, and helped me find grounding when things felt confusing and overwhelming. He never minces his words either, which has always made for sobering conversations.

Other sources of inspiration?
EC: Jemir Blanco, Resident Advisor, Medium,

What are you passionate about?
EC: Music. Long-form writing (I consume it more than I produce it). Travelling. Dancing.

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Evans’ records. Photo by @a_nativeson

Inevitably, we then have to ask you: five artists/tracks noone should miss out on?
EC: These:

Five artists: Chronixx (yes, I listen to other genes too), HVOB, Nils Frahm, Session Victim and Valentin Stip.

What is your plan for the future? Dream projects, collaborations, goals?
EC: I know I definitely want to travel a lot more in future, maybe even live in another country for a while. My favourite destination so far is Berlin and my dream destinations would be New York, Chicago and Detroit for music and for travel in general Mauritius, Cape Town and the Caribbean.

Other plans: I’m looking at picking up French again and finally getting the hang of it. Music-wise I have so many dreams. Closest to my heart are learning to DJ on vinyl, training myself to play live electronic music (something like this) and learning how to describe music and the experiences it creates more vividly (see this). I also dream of seeing aficionados like Nicolas Jaar and Nils Frahm live.  And maybe sitting in for a studio session with Just A Band as they do their thing.

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How would you spend a perfect weekend in Nairobi?
EC: Saturday: I would love to watch the sunrise from the top of KICC (Ngong Hills if I can’t get up there). Then I would proceed to stuff myself with an Art Caffe breakfast before heading out to Uhuru Park for a simple paddle boat experience (I think this experience is underrated). Lunch would not be necessary considering the breakfast I’ll have had so off to Cold Stone for an ice cream before heading out to Karura Forest to wait for sunset while strolling through the peaceful greenery.

Sunday: Sleep in… This is my most relaxed day of the week.

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Campbellesque weekend food.

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Karura sunset. Photo by Evans Campbell.

What is your best general advice?
EC: Opportunity only profits those who seize it.

The two questions we always end the interviews with: why do you love doing what you do? And what do you wish that people in the world knew about Kenya?
EC: I feel it makes a difference in people’s lives. If knowledge is power, then my job is empowering; it involves sharing a lot of just that with others.

I wish people knew that Kenya (2 syllables) can’t be said as Canada (3 syllables). You’d be surprised how many times I’ve heard that. It should also be known that we’re a country of warm, welcoming folks who can do more than win marathons; we can also make kickass music, take great photographs and design mind-blowing stuff.

Evans, Evans! Thank you so much for sharing your creativity and visionary mind as well as some gems from your playlist. Keep doing great things, we’re watching you ; ) 

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