By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions
SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY
An innovative job-matching service from Pakistan is trying to bring together people who normally live separate lives. It is eliminating the middlemen who gouge both employers and employees for job-seeking fees and opening up a new world of opportunities for the poor.
Connecting employees and employers is a problem being compounded in countries all over the world by the global economic crisis, as people retrench to their own communities and stick with known and trusted contacts. While this is a natural response to crisis, it is highly damaging to economies and social mobility.
Pakistan (http://www.tourism.gov.pk) has had to contend with multiple challenges in the last few years. It has been hard hit during the global economic crisis. It is also experiencing stress from the ongoing conflict resulting from terrorism and the nearby war in Afghanistan. And 2010’s floods devastated large swathes of the country’s crops.
As the World Bank noted in its Pakistan Economic Update June 2011, “Pakistan continues to face significant political challenges in achieving durable development. The domestic security situation as a result of (the) campaign against terrorism is a direct and indirect tax on the costs of economic activity and the achievement of the kinds of social stability required to promote a supportive environment for businesses.”
The World Bank estimates that 30 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, although Pakistan’s finance ministry has recently estimated it to be 43 percent.
“Due to the global financial crisis, many businesses in Pakistan either scaled down their operations or had to close down,” said Asim Fayaz, one of the people behind Pakistan Urban Link and Support, or PULS (http://www.puls.pk).
“As a result, the income of the informal sector was also affected because many of them became unemployed. In turn, the supply surplus meant the job market became more competitive, further affecting their income growth.”
Job-hunting is time-consuming for everyone involved in any country, worse still during an economic downturn. The hunt for a job or for the right employee is part and parcel of a dynamic economy. The more dynamic and fast-evolving an economy, the more employees will move around looking for the best deal and the more employers will need to seek out people with the latest skills and best attitudes to stay competitive. A fluid labour market is a good thing if a country wants to be competitive.
PULS bills itself as a “Telecommunications Software Platform for Job Search and Networking between the Working Poor and Educated Elite of Pakistan” (http://www.puls.pk). It was a semi-finalist in the 2011 Dell Social Innovation Competition (http://www.dellsocialinnovationcompetition.com/ideaView?id=08780000000DaC6AAK).
“Conventionally, the informal sector workforce has found employment primarily through personal connections,” explains Fayaz. “In cases where that doesn’t work, they approach employment agencies and get enlisted. These employment agencies, behaving as middle men, charge both the employer and the employee upon making a connection. PULS removes the need for the middle man. Employees sign up on this platform themselves. Employers will only be charged a very small amount if they wish to contact a listed employee. If the employee is actually hired, PULS does not find out about the transaction and does not make anything off it.”
As an e-marketplace accessible through SMS and Web, PULS matches the working poor to the educated elite of Pakistan. It is hoped it will boost the creation of jobs in Pakistan and help in raising incomes. PULS defines working poor as skilled but undereducated domestic workers (cooks, drivers, guards, gardeners, tailors, etc.), independent laborers and self-employed craftspeople.
Pakistan has a population of over 169 million (World Bank, 2009). Of that, PULS estimates there are 20 million people who are literate and have access to mobile phones but not the Internet.
Then there is the elite, defined as educated employers and formal-sector professionals. They live in extended family households and employ one or more domestic workers. Of this elite group, around 10 million are regular Internet users.
The much larger group of working poor have little access to the resources found on the Internet or in employment databases. Because of this, most turn to word-of-mouth and informal connections to the elite for new jobs and upward mobility.
These groups have traditionally failed to meet. The educated elite, with their access to online search-engines and classifieds, only ever see other people engaged with the formal employment sector. Those in the informal sector are left out of the loop in accessing these better quality jobs with better pay.
Fayaz says PULS enables jobseekers to “get access to more employment opportunities outside their network.”
“They will be able to contact those potential employers directly without going through a middle man,” he said. “Most importantly, this service will be free for employees.”
He says the platform could potentially be used for other transactions, such as buying and selling cars, electronics and other equipment.
PULS has built a multi-use, “mobile-to-web software platform explicitly designed for semi-literate mobile phone users and fully literate Web users.”
The first version, PULS 1.0, has an SMS (short message service) interface in the Urdu language and enables domestic employees to register, create a profile, and communicate with employers. All an employer has to do is pull up the PULS 1.0 website. The employer creates a profile as well, searches for potential employees, and sends SMS messages to employees through an anonymous gateway.
“In addition to employer-to-employee broadcasting, PULS will also (eventually) provide the informal sector a simple means to self-promote and broadcast custom messages back to employers,” Fayaz said. “Presumably PULS will eventually offer a multi-use tool for advertising, networking, job search, and even financial transactions, all via SMS-to-Web.”
PULS is a non-profit entity developed by a team from The Fletcher School, Tufts University in the United States (http://fletcher.tufts.edu) and aims to be financially sustainable as it grows and the service stays affordable for its users. Employees can use the system for free as long as they pay standard SMS charges, while employers must buy credits. To get things started, employers are given 1,000 credits for free. PULS is also offering premium services such as mass-communication surveys, market research, and advertising.
Developing the technology didn’t prove difficult in Pakistan, Fayaz says.
“We have a large of pool of skilled workers equipped to develop such platforms, very high cellular penetration and one of the lowest SMS rates in the world!”
Fayaz advocates taking an organic approach to developing a new technology like PULS.
“Setting up the technology is just one part of the picture,” he said. “You should identify a problem, look at how it’s currently being addressed, see how you can improve, research on how it’s being addressed in similar circumstances elsewhere (in our case, India works best), design your solution with just the main use cases addressed, and aggressively roll out.
“You should remember that you have to make revenue at some point but don’t let it be a hurdle in the short term. Don’t jump back to the drawing board if the first few people find your service hard to use. Also, you may want it to look fancier than Facebook but remember, they also took time getting there!”
1) Dell Social Innovation Competition: The competition is looking for students with the most innovative ideas to solve a social or environmental problem anywhere in the world and the first prize is US $50,000. Website: http://www.dellsocialinnovationcompetition.com/
2) Taka Taka Solutions: TakaTaka Solutions is a social enterprise that collects and recycles waste. It aims to bring about social and environmental change through a commercially viable business approach in Kenya. Website: http://www.facebook.com/pages/TakaTaka-Solutions/101240103296048
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