Old networking meets new in India

Office blocks and residential buildings tower above the notorious slum colony of Dharavi in Mumbai

TEXT OF STORY

Renita Jablonski: In India, about 1 in 4 people live in poverty. But India's middle class is growing. That potentially means better jobs for the poor as more Indians look to hire people like housekeepers, gardeners or drivers.

A new start-up company is trying to make it easier for illiterate workers with no business network to find out about those jobs. Rico Gagliano reports from the Indian city of Bangalore.


Rico Gagliano: Anita is a maid. A tour of her family's immaculate apartment lasts about 20 seconds -- it's 15 square feet. There's a kitchen, two beds and a sewing machine. No bathroom.

Gagliano: How many people live in this home?

Anita: Four.

Gagliano: Four people?

Anita: Mmmm.

But she says the family used to live in an even smaller, unheated hut. This home is a huge step up, and they were only able to get it after Anita got a new job earning twice as much as her old one.

Gagliano: How did you find your current job?

"Through Babajob," she says.

Ira Weise is the company's managing director. He says it's a newfangled version of India's old-fashioned hiring practices.

Ira Weise: In India, if I need a driver, I ask my building's watchman "Where do I find a driver?" Well, he has a friend who knows somebody. It's closely related to how an Internet social network works.

And that's what Babajob is: a business networking web site like "Linked In" that lets employers and poor workers find each other online through mutual acquaintances. There's just one issue:

Weise: Poor people don't know how to use computers.

In fact, most poor Indians don't even have access to a computer. So on Babajob, workers don't post their job experience and references. It's done for them by people Weise calls "mentors."

Weise: They work for an NGO or charity, maybe they want to help a friend get a job.

And for each registree who is hired, the mentor gets 5 bucks. Employers pay $17 to search the site for workers.

R. Baskaran sells power tools in Bangalore. He says it's worth 17 bucks to find the cheap, trustworthy labor he's looking for.

R. Baskaran: With the experience, but not with much education. It will be difficult for me to go on the road to find them, also.

Gagliano: What makes it difficult for you to find it on the road?

Baskaran: I can't do that; I have to find people who knows the person.

Gagliano: Somebody who can vouch for them.

Baskaran: Yeah.

Job seekers on Babajob benefit, too. For maybe the first time in their lives, they can compare multiple job offers.

Still, after nine months, there are 10,000 workers on the site, and only 180 employers. But Weise says with around 300,000 households seeking domestic help in Bangalore alone, his business model has room to grow.

Weise: We literally get an e-mail a week from all over the world where someone says, "When are you gonna come to Brazil? Mexico? Ireland?"

Because when your clients are the poor, your market is global.

In Bangalore, India, I'm Rico Gagliano for Marketplace.

About the author

Rico Gagliano co-hosts and co-produces Marketplace’s “Small Talk” segment.

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