Note From the Horn of Africa: Leveraging Mobile Technology to Link Somali Youth with Jobs
Thursday, January 12, 2012
Read the news, and initial reports about the Horn of Africa1 are grim with famine and conflict dominating the headlines. But despite a food crisis and flare-ups of violence, key areas of the economy are growing steadily. Even in the face of limited infrastructure, large numbers of young Somalis are embracing new technology, especially mobile phones. In a single 5-year period, cell phone penetration in the region has jumped by 1,600 percent-an increase that outpaces neighboring Kenya and nearby Sudan.2
Leveraging this trend, mobile phone software venture Souktel has partnered with US-based NGO Education Development Center (EDC) to develop a cell phone-based job information service for youth, called JobMatch. The service is being implemented through funding from USAID as part of EDC’s “Shaqodoon” project (which means “job seekers” in Somali). JobMatch aims to tackle youth unemployment by providing real-time, accurate information to youth about where work can be found. The service’s underlying logic posits that youth unemployment is due not only to economic conditions, but also a lack of good resources to connect youth with employers. Across the Horn of Africa, web access is low, many communities don’t receive newspapers, and social networks are limited. Through mobile technology, youth can leapfrog these obstacles and get regular access to employment information.
The technology itself is sophisticated, but easy to use. As part of training courses delivered by EDC and local NGO partners, young job seekers create “mini CVs” by answering a short series of questions via SMS (text message). These questions ask youth about their location, skills, experience, and more. At the same time, local employers (who learn about the service through EDC staff outreach) create “mini job ads” through a similar process. Both sets of information are uploaded from users’ phones to a central database. Then, at any time, youth or employers can text “Match Me” to a 3-digit service hotline to receive an instant listing of all jobs or potential candidates that match the criteria in the mini CV or mini job ad. Once they are matched, employers and job seekers can contact each other directly, using contact details provided in the match message, to set up in-person job interviews.