“What do you want to do when you grow up?” Like many people, I’ve been constantly asked this question throughout my life. My answer has ranged widely based on ever changing interests – an architect, a professor, a burrito taster – but one thing has always stayed the same – a constant sense of empowerment. The mere fact that I was asked this question implied and reinforced that I had the opportunity to choose what I wanted to do in life.
For most people in the world, however, their answer to this question might simply be: “to find a job.” In a country like India, where over a million new jobseekers enter the workplace every month, finding a job – any job – is a challenge. Since most people are employed in the informal sector (drivers, maids, security guards, etc.), finding a job can be a frustrating and lengthy process- jobseeking practices range from asking friends and family, walking into nearby establishments to ask for openings, or scouring the local paper.
As someone who is fascinated by technology, a sight in India that has continually peaked my interest (and optimism) is the ubiquity of mobile phones. From the autowallas sitting in traffic to businessmen commuting on the bus to migrant laborers huddled together on the side of the road after a long day’s work, the mobile phone is an ever present sight. Given the incredible advances in mobile web and SMS technologies, every phone represents an unprecedented opportunity for people of all classes and backgrounds to access information they need to improve their lives.
That’s why I’m thrilled to be spending my fellowship with Babajob.com, a tech startup whose mission is to help connect informal sector laborers to better jobs through the web, SMS, and mobile services. By having more jobs posted online, India’s millions of informal sector workers can seek out better jobs, whether its a job with higher pay, with a closer commute, or with more favorable working conditions. Anyone who has registered on Babajob – through their computer or mobile phone, a visit to an internet cafe, or even a quick call to Babajob’s call center – can see and apply to jobs from thousands of employers.
Of course, as we were warned during the fellowship orientation, things in India are never as straightforward as they might seem. Over the last month, the primary problem I have been working on is an issue where jobseekers do not attend interviews. On the surface, this phenomenon is baffling since these jobseekers have taken the time to apply to these jobs and verbally agreed to go to the interview. As I begin to learn about the myriad of reasons why people don’t show up – from the expected (“My bike broke down”) to baffling (“I went to go visit relatives in my village”), I can’t help but think of my experience experiences as a small metaphor for working in India in general – fascinating, deceptively complex, often frustrating and slow, but always offering something new and different. And when I see the small fruits of Babjob’s work, whether its observing a semi-literate driver access the mobile site on his phone and successfully apply to a job, or seeing a small business owner hire new staff to grow his establishment, I’m inspired to know and see that technology, when done well, can have an incredibly positive impact on the world.