CHF International Receives $1M to Empower Slum Dwellers via Mobile Technology

This article originally appeared in SocialEarth

Mobile innovation and social change go hand in hand. From micro-volunteerism to SMS for microfinance, change agents are leveraging the potential of mobile technology to create positive social change. On Tuesday, CHF International (CHF), an international development organization, received $1 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to connect people in India’s slum with jobs using cellular technology.

CHF plans to create economic opportunities for thousands of workers who are excluded from the traditional employment market by creating a virtual marketplace. Through a groundbreaking mobile program called LabourNet (see top picture), CHF is currently creating such a marketplace to connect day laborers in the slums of India with much needed employment.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation wanted to support this ongoing urban development work in India under the direction of Brian English, CHF International’s new Country Director for India.

“These workers have nothing consistent and long lasting — LabourNet is a bridge to giving them rights and jobs, using cellular technology to facilitate it. The service in turn gives them equity — a level playing field.”

LabourNet uses mobile technology such as automated, multilingual SMS messaging, GIS and GPS applications, to announce daily job openings. It provides training opportunities, access to health insurance, the ability to open bank accounts and receive proper identification cards for workers who have been denied these social benefits. The system also offers assistance to the growing professional class and mid-sized business community who find it difficult to access the “unorganized” labor sector. LabourNet provides an answer to this growing demand by providing simplified access to qualified, reliable, skilled workers, and taking care of the time-consuming hassle of training workers and arranging benefits.

“At one level, LabourNet is clearly impacting lives by providing services to workers ranging from job information to financial inclusion to health management systems,” says Gayathri Vasudevan of LabourNet. “At another level, the effort is being recognized by NGOs and state governments, CHF’s grant funding and technical support has enabled LabourNet to pilot various strategies and prepare its systems for scaling up across the country.”

There are millions of informal workers in the slums of India struggling to find consistent employment. They work for low wages on a temporary basis, without health insurance or other benefits, at the whim of their employers. This grant comes at an especially important time: for the first time in history, more people are living in urban areas than rural areas around the world. As the population shifts, few cities and towns in developing countries have sufficient housing, infrastructure or municipal services to meet the demand. As a result, India’s slum population has doubled in the last two decades, rising from 27.9 million in 1981 to 61.8 million in 2001. This social enterprise will empower this growing population to find employment, rather than continue to be marginalized.