Interview with founder of HaHu Scripts, Nigist Goytom.
Curbing digital inequality by making underrepresented African writing systems accessible.
Brandbuch: Tell us a bit about yourself. You live in Switzerland but you were born in Ethiopía. What is your story?
I was born to an Eritrean father and an Ethiopian mother in Ethiopia. Which was a pretty politicized existence, at times, due to the war and conflict between these countries. But my childhood in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia, was more or less normal and magical. It’s where I was raised and educated, all the way to my bachelor’s in Architecture.
Brandbuch: How did you come up with the HaHu Scripts idea? How did the ‘Eureka moment’ happen?
After becoming a mom, it became clear that there were no beginner-friendly learning materials for my children. I knew I needed to educate them myself since there were no Amharic classes or schools for my kids around me. Which meant preparing all the files and documents needed for early education and small children.
It was an overwhelming and daunting idea at the beginning, especially since there are more than 238 Amharic alphabets. That’s why I started by doing what I knew – illustration and drawing. I started illustrating simplified Geez/ Amharic alphabets for my kids using architecture software from my old office. A friend’s husband who’s in tech then suggested I make an app out of these illustrations. And the rest is history.
Brandbuch: Tell us more about the purpose behind HaHu Scripts. What’s your dream vision?
Our purpose is to make early education and literacy available to children and adults alike, no matter their location. It’s about curbing digital inequality by making underrepresented African writing systems accessible.
Our long-term goal is to integrate other indigenous scripts and writing systems, as well as educational content, with our platform.
Brandbuch: From your perspective, how has technology changed the way children learn?
Traditionally, they needed to go to school and be present in the school environment to get educated. Technology has made it possible for that to not be necessary. For example, there’s a war in Ethiopia that’s devastated the schooling infrastructure. It will take time to rebuild it all, which means education is paused for children and young people in the area of conflict.
But with platforms like ours, there’s no need to wait years to get basic literacy. It’s available on any smartphone, and users can download resources like our alphabet learning game, and in the future our e-books. So they can continue to learn even when they’re offline.
Brandbuch: As an architect, how has your background helped you design and build a digital product? Are there connections between the two fields?
Very much so! I’ve used my architecture and design skills on a daily basis since the very start. I’m also using the same software from when I was practicing in offices. Architecture is a lot about ease of use, functionality, context and aesthetics. These are basically the core foundation to HaHu Scripts user interface design.
Brandbuch: What are the three main challenges you face as an entrepreneur?
As a mom of three kids, balancing life and staying focused is not easy. Also motherhood in Switzerland is pretty isolating and I work from home. So being far away from a like-minded creative environment is difficult.
The same goes for fundraising. It’s not easy to know where to begin when one is so detached. That’s why I’m extremely thankful to the Capacity Zurich team – also the reason I got to know the Brandbuch team.
To sum it up: balancing, focusing and isolation (not being in the creative environment) would be my main challenges.
Brandbuch: You’re also a mother, how do you manage your time between work and family? Any tips for other entrepreneurs in a similar situation to you?
As a mother of three, all of whom are under four years old, I don’t have the privilege of managing my time. I actually barely get time I can call mine. The only thing I can manage are my to-do lists. I make a to-do list and make sure I tick them off one by one, step by step. That way I try not to get overwhelmed while somehow staying on track. My tip would be, taking small steps one at a time will eventually culminate in something large. So try not to stress and just take it step by step.
Brandbuch: Finally, where do you see HaHu Scripts in 5 years?
As a vibrant and vital educational platform where people from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds come together, exchange and actively develop!
Brandbuch: Thank you Nigist! Looking forward to seeing your vision becoming a reality.