By Joseph Ajao
Joseph Ajao is a Singularity University alum who co-founded Oacsoft Technologies-a Nigerian company that develops low-cost software for SMEs, Schools and Government agencies.
In November 2012, I spoke to a security guard in Lagos, Nigeria about his current job. He works at a popular hotel. He is a 43 , he uses the Nokia 1100 phone and barely has access to the internet. He got his current job after working as security guard for 11 years in a popular Nigerian bank with over 5,000 employees. Due to the recent crash of the Nigerian Stock Market, he was sacked at the bank before he found a job at the hotel. I wondered endlessly about how he found out about his current job since he doesn't even have a CV.
He received a phone call from his friend who heard about both the hotel and bank job a from another friend . Now, he is under-employed and may never be able to find a new job. Even if he finds a new job, can he negotiate properly? He is currently paid 70% less than he was paid when he worked at the bank.
Like the security guard, there are over 85 million economically-active people and 35million unemployed people in Nigeria alone. Of this economically active population, there is a high number of informal workers. By informal workers, I will mean people like Mechanics, Drivers, Office Helpers, Plumbers, Messengers, Office Helpers, Cooks, Security Guards, House helpers etc.
Recently, I also had a chat with Godwin Ehigiamusoe , the CEO of LAPO Microfinance, a microfinance company that has giving loans to more than 700,000 SMEs in Nigeria. He complained about his ugly experience while trying to hire a plumber to do some plumbing works in his home. He spent more than a week talking to his friends about recommending a reliable plumber. The plumber he found did a bad job, he had to spend another week trying to figure out where to find another plumber that is reliable. After 2 weeks of searching, he found none. He had to make do with the poorly skilled plumber.
If you are reading this and you live in the US or another developed economy, what comes to your mind is Angie"s List or other similar platforms. Well, this will not work for the security guard. Though it may work for Godwin if there is a similar platform launched in Nigeria.
It's not just Godwin that has the problem of finding qualified, reliable and trustworthy informal workers. Millions of families, SMEs and companies have the same problem. It's a great business opportunity with so many problems.
Any company that attempts to solve this problem must be prepared to address these challenges. Such company will have to answer questions such as:
- How will the problem of trust be managed? Most people in Africa will only work with you if they trust you. People will only hire someone that can be easily tracked. Unfortunately, there is no centralized government database from which you can get data about people.
- How do you handle receiving a large amount of application? There is a high rate of unemployment in many developing countries, hence, if a job is posted, more people than expected will apply. A company must be able to address this problem by allowing employers to easily select those that qualify for the job posted without wasting a lot of time.
- Like the security guard, most informal workers will at least have a mobile phone. However, only a few of them can navigate this phones, but they are usually able to send and receive SMS. If a company will be connecting such informal workers to job opportunities, they must have this in mind.
A Singularity University company, MobiTrader, is on the verge of attacking this problem. The startup starting operations in Nigeria has a big vision of connecting 1 billion informal workers in Africa to local job opportunities in 10 years. Even the governments of most developing countries have tried organizing this informal workers especially via trade unions, but all efforts has been abortive. How do you get millions of informal workers who may not have access to the internet organized into an online job economy?
I am a data nerd and know what having an organized informal work-force would mean for economic development in Africa. If MobiTrader succeeds, then informal workers in Africa will find better job opportunities, make better employment decisions and have an improved standard of living.
This material published courtesy of Singularity University.