A New Plan for Job Growth in Haiti

Friday, January 7, 2011

Unemployment and underemployment were huge problems in Haiti even before last year’s devastating earthquake. And despite the influx of aid groups, and millions of dollars in aid, many Haitians remain without a job. But two students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are trying to help Haitians get back to work by using a tool many already carry in their hands – a cell phone.

Aaron Zinman and Greg Elliott, both with MIT’s Media Lab, got the idea after sitting in on a class that MIT pulled together in the wake of the earthquake. The purpose of the class was to brainstorm ways MIT could help.

Zinman remembers one fact he learned in the class that astonished him. “In Haiti, NGOs bring in their own outside labor,” he recalls, “rather than trying to hire locally.”

Not all NGOs do this, says Greg Elliott. The established ones that have been working in Haiti for a long time and have strong contacts in the community, he notes, tend to hire more locals.

But many of the new aid groups that have arrived in the past year do not have that network, or the language skills. “And because they’re such a dominant force in the country, that’s really a problem,” Zinman says. “Especially post-earthquake, when you have all this money being pledged and not much of it making it to the Haitian public.”

So Zinman teamed up Elliott, and the two started thinking about ways that technology might be used to match Haitians, and their job skills, with NGOs in need of workers. They batted around a few ideas, but ultimately decided to design something around the cell phone.

“A lot of people, despite their living conditions would have some sort of cell phone or access to a cell phone,” says Elliott.

Source: PRI’s The World (link opens in a new window)