Nathan Eagle's challenge to the global business community is mind-boggling. While the U.S. Federal Reserve is scrambling to stabilize the economy, the CEO of txteagle, and visiting assistant professor at the MIT Media Lab, is busy assembling the world's largest workforce: Two billion people in 60 countries.
"I need any ideas you can send me," he challenged the standing room only crowd at the Ted-x Boulder conference. "I have tapped into a mobile workforce of two billion people and can put them to work for you. Any ideas?"
Nathan, a 30-something celebrity in the technology world, with multiple degrees from Stanford, and a Ph.D from MIT, is ramping up the next generation of crowdsourcing, using mobile technology.
He's riding a rocket that is rising so fast that even he feels a bit queasy from the G-force that comes with being able to instantly mobilize a global workforce of two billion.
In 2006, Nathan launched MIT's EPROM initiative, developing a mobile phone programming curriculum that has been adopted by 12 computer science departments across Sub-Saharan Africa. He also spent time teaching computer science to students at universities in Kenya and Ethiopia. In the process, he gained firsthand information about the mobile marketplace in Africa, and in developing countries throughout the world.
For example, there are 3.7 billion literate people in the world. Three billion of them use mobile phones. The global air-time purchased is $200 billion dollars a year.
Of the mobile phone users in the developing world where $5 a day is the average pay for work, 1.5 billion are unemployed. Can they text a message linking them to their next job assignment? Yes. Can they also receive payment for this job on their mobile phone? Again, the answer is yes.
The "mobile money" service option in Africa makes this possible; that is, each mobile phone user in Africa can send and receive money over the phone. Nathan can take a cab to the airport in Nairobi, Kenya, and pay the taxi driver with money stored in his mobile phone. Mobile money doesn't work in the U.S.
"I can't pay a cab driver in Boston from my mobile phone," Nathan says.
Mobile money, African-style, is friction free banking, with no middlemen. And job assignments can be "just in time."
In "old" Africa, say five years ago, if someone wanted a job, they had to show up at a central warehouse, and wait until someone showed up who wanted to hire some workers. If they were lucky, they might end up with a job. Most returned home empty handed. Another day wasted, waiting for a job assignment.
Now, the person digging a ditch beside the road, the one walking to town, or the one talking to friends, can receive an instant text message asking if they want a job. If they respond yes, they are asked to report to the nearest cyber café for an assignment. When they complete the assignment, the payment for the job shows up immediately in their mobile money account on their cell phone.
What is missing, however, is accountability. The confidence factor. Did they really get the job done in the manner that was required? Without a manager to provide oversight, how does the employer know that the job got done the way they wanted? Or that it even got done at all.
Solving this managerial challenge with a computer-based algorithm became the winning ticket for txteagle to ride the entrepreneurial rocket to the stars.
What we created, says Nathan, is a Confidence Measurement Tool. How confident are we that each person did the job that was assigned? And more to the point, how well did they do it? The answers each person gives to a series of computer generated questions determines the amount they get paid for the day, for example: a pay scale that ranges from zero to $5 a day.
If they did an excellent job, the confidence tool will compute this and give them a high rating. They will rise to the top of the pay scale for that particular job. If the confidence factor is moderate or low, they get a lower rate of pay for the day. If they didn't do the job but said they did, the confidence algorithm detects this, and the pay is zero.
So what type of jobs would you assign if you could mobilize a two billion global workforce in major cities in 60 countries around the world? That opportunity is Nathan's biggest challenge. Any ideas? What solutions to population growth, health care, education, business, could they deliver at the local level? If you like, post your ideas here.
Alexia Parks is founder and director of Parkinomics, for the New Economy. She is also author of 8 books, including Parkinomics, an Amazon business and motivational bestseller. It offers 8 great ways to thrive in the New Economy, for the individual who wants to lead a life of "meaning, prosperity, and purpose." Parkinomics includes ideas and links to resources.