BY LILLIAN KIARIE
NAKURU, KENYA: When two young Americans came to Nakuru in August 2011, on an academic visit, they did not foresee falling in love with the place. They even didn’t think about deserting their native home to realise the Kenyan dream. As they engaged in different community projects for their thesis, they couldn’t help but notice the many demotivated unemployed youths lazing around the town.
Christine Blauvelt and Arielle Sandor who met at Princeton University, US, realised most unemployed youth had education and work skills. They vowed to use their skills in technology to empower jobless youths get jobs they are qualified for.
They then left again for the US, after a month in Kenya. In their view, Kenya had capacity to utilise more labour unlike other countries, yet it was not hunting for these individuals.
They reached out to their former schoolmate Eric Kuto, a Kenyan. Together, they began looking for a viable solution to cure the menace. In September 2011, Arielle and Christine, came back to Kenya to brainstorm as they engaged in community-focused projects. Before the end of year, the trio realised that this section of unemployed people did not know how to find a fitting job, and saw it as a gap to start a new business. They came up with the idea for Duma Works, which began early last year.
The firm is a recruiting service that uses mobile and web-based technologies to make the best match between employers and job seekers. “We not only match based on skills but also based on social “referral” network and post-job ratings. This ensures trust between people as well as accountability,” Christine says.
Arielle says that matching youths to the job they are best placed to do increases their chances of employment and earning a steady income.
The service rides on mobile phone technology, which is quite popular in Kenya. Jobseekers and employers both create a Duma Works profile with their job skills or hiring criteria, geographic location, and ‘reference network’.
This network is essentially a list of people whom you would refer to for a job – it could be your brother, your classmate, or even your boss. It is a social network of sorts, but for job references.
“When an employer has a job opening, he calls or sends a text message to Duma Works specifying the type of job he needs completed, the number of workers he needs, and his geographical location,” says Arielle. The software system then finds workers in the employer’s extended social network who have the skills the employer is looking for. The swift process occurs on a basic cell phone, with limited access to the Internet.
Duma also has a targeted matching system to find and notify qualified workers about job openings the instant they become available. “This is crucial for short-term jobs, because people want to hire someone on the spot who they can trust to do a good job, “ says Christine. She explains that Duma Works does not require any payment from an employer until he successfully hires a job seeker whom it has recommended.
“When posting a job, the employer specifies how much he is willing to pay for a successful hire,” Christine explains.
Based on this price point, Duma Works offers several job matching services, including but not limited to: CV delivery, document verification, and phone or in-person screenings.
To make money, Duma Works charges job seekers a separate fee equal to 10 per cent of their first month’s salary since they work together with the job seekers to ensure they get the job.
Since the two did not have prior knowledge of running a company especially in the Kenyan market, they were faced with challenges such as the language barrier, how to structure agreements and the kind of partners to work with. Christine explains that being a white woman entrepreneur in Kenya has been both challenging and rewarding. “Many doors open for us because we bring a different energy and perspective that people find refreshing. On the other hand, some doors are opened for completely wrong reasons,” she says. The two believe that there are vast opportunities in Kenya for young people and women to start and run their own companies. “Both employers and youth just need an efficient network to tap into to make sure all available jobs are filled,” Christine says.