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Getting Real on Job Creation

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We don't need more jobs.

It's true we need to "add jobs" to the economy. But more jobs is not the same as new jobs. We need new jobs.

Real job creation is about new jobs in expanding markets that provide products and services that are growing in demand. But all too often, increasing employment means propping up failing industries, supporting artificial labor markets or giving people a paycheck for making and doing things the demand side doesn't need them to do.

Maintaining a bloated U.S. auto industry to propel the waning American habit of buying a new car every three years is not a plan for the long haul. Neither is training a small group of artisans in the developing world to make tchotchkes out of recycled materials and sell them in impossible-to-find online boutiques. These two examples, on opposite ends of the spectrum, highlight the same problem: a lack of innovation in the creation of quality, sustainable jobs.

What the unemployed and underemployed all over the world need -- and what will benefit us all -- are sustainable jobs, making useful stuff that can be easily sold to people who want to buy it.

Hot Bread Kitchen is doing that. They have connected a skilled but underemployed and low-wage pool of potential workers with a growing demand for variety in a product pretty much everyone buys: bread.

The demand for baked goods is high and will remain so in virtually every culture, at every economic level, in every community. What's new about Hot Bread Kitchen is that it provides new kinds of bread to meet the expanding tastes of consumers -- by employing immigrant women who already know how to bake the unique breads of their home countries.

The production skills are there, and the demand is there. This is a highly efficient, market-based solution that has put the products of immigrant women into some of New York City's largest and most successful retailers.

"What Hot Bread Kitchen is doing," explained founder Jessamyn Rodriguez, "is capturing the skills that women already have when they come [to the United States], and helping them parlay those skills into better jobs -- in the baking industry and in food manufacturing.

"And in a large number of cases, we help women launch businesses in food manufacturing, building household assets so that families can live better."

All over the world, matching market need to qualified people has been a hard nut to crack. But Tiago Dalvi is doing it, too. His Solidarium in Brazil has put local producers to work in a way that is much more viable and sustainable than the typical artisan enterprise many in the United States associate with developing world job creation.

"Before we launch a product, we make sure we really understand market demand -- what the retailer and, more importantly, the consumer needs," Dalvi said. And by retailer, he meant none other than Walmart.

Solidarium has its own section on Walmart's Brazil website, with about 400 items for sale. Solidarum thoroughly understands its customer base - professionals, homemakers, and college students - and only produces products these shoppers need. Solidarium has done essentially the opposite of what artisan-training programs often do: It has brought the demand side to the place where experienced workers are.

And they are everywhere in Brazil, from large cities to small remote villages. The trouble is, despite their skill and hard work, their offerings are not aligned with market demands, and so they remain underemployed and frustrated.

"The jobs available to them are low-profile jobs with minimal qualifications -- people aren't happy in these jobs," Dalvi explained. But that has changed for those who have become part of Solidarium's network of producers.

"When they're producing something and they see it in the major retailer in the world, it motivates them."

In China, similar initiatives are improving the efficiency of the job marketplace by putting people to work in sustainable careers where there were none before. Zuodao is an online collaborative platform that connects businesses and organizations with young people and underserved populations that have spare time to work on tasks such as data entry, translation and inquiry processing.

Most who find work are living in small and shrinking cities, helping support communities that are at risk of becoming permanently economically depressed, and stemming the great migration to overcrowded, urban centers.

Zuodao uses powerful technology to break down a company's work needs into many small "mini-tasks," then distributes them to hundreds of workers whose skills match the task. It uses human power to identify qualified job-seekers (mostly looking for part-time and flexible hours) and to ensure quality control for the finished work.

Co-founders Eric Liu and Samuel Li have written about some of the shortcomings of the Chinese job market they want to address: "We have observed, in disbelief, hardworking people being arbitrarily deprived of opportunities due to social bias, coworkers spending extraordinary amounts of energy engaged in office politics, women being discriminated against, and job promotions often based on favors rather than performance. Inexperienced workers become poorly motivated and unproductive at work.

"Furthermore, many young, white-collar workers receive little or no respect; they suffer through lengthy and extremely congested commutes, have no choice in what they do, and are susceptible to abuse in the absence of strong labor law enforcement. Many of them are also paid barely enough to cover their living costs.

"We realized that these problems can be alleviated or even eliminated if we can create an online work 'utopia' based upon meritocracy and self-improvement (and we know we can)." Zuodao's cloud-based platform could do just that, and could be easily scaled and transported to many places around the world.

These examples -- and hundreds of other initiatives aimed at putting more people to work in better, lasting new jobs -- are a glimpse into a more efficient, healthier job economy. Hot Bread Kitchen, Zuodao and Solidarium are among the 15 stand-out semi-finalists currently vying for the opportunity to win $50,000 to take their innovations to the next level. Online voters in the eBay Foundation and Ashoka Changemakers competition can choose the ones they think are the best ideas for Powering Economic Opportunity: Create a World that Works.

"We're part of the social business movement," Dalvi said. "I feel that we have a responsibility to succeed, to become a case to inspire young people to become part of this world. We need not only generate income and inclusion, but also inspire people."