Migrant Workers: Four Ideas On How Technology Can Support Skills Mobility


Migrant Workers: Four Ideas On How Technology Can Support Skills Mobility

Juliane Butty

OCTOBER 22, 2019

“Migration is an expression of the human aspiration for dignity, safety and a better future. It is part of the social fabric, part of our very make-up as a human family” Ban Ki-Moon, Former Secretary General of UN.

Migration is one of the key challenges of our time. It is a phenomenon rising across the world. An estimated 272 million people (over 3% of the world population) are living outside their home country, according to a recent UN Report. While some have moved voluntarily, others have been forced to leave.

The migration topic is wide. In this article, we will focus on the question of mobility skills, because building the right framework and policies to enable the movement of people is primordial for a sustainable economy and social wellbeing of the world’s population.

The relevance of this topic was even further highlighted by the International Organisation of Employers (IOE), which made mobility skills one of its priorities. In the words of the Secretary General of IOE, Roberto Suarez-Santos, “Well managed migration is a positive force of change. It is not just a vehicle for fulfilling personal aspirations, but a critical tool also for balancing labor supply and demand, for sparking innovation, creativeness (many migrant workers are entrepreneurs) and for transferring and spreading skills.”

Indeed, technology and entrepreneurship might have a key role to play in fostering innovative solutions both for the integration of migrants in the workplace in their host countries, as well as for the facilitation of access to information for the government in order to build appropriate policies.

In partnership with IOE, we are launching an open call for startups that offer promising solutions to promote mobility skills, due to migration tech gaining importance in the coming years. So, how exactly can technology ventures improve conditions for migrant workers? And how can technology be used positively to bridge the gap between the integration of migrants in the labor and economic markets?

Here are some ideas:

1. FinTech - from facilitating access to banking services to remittances

Financial apps, platforms and services can facilitate and lower the cost for migrants to receive, manage and transfer money. Access to banking and payment services is one of the most important needs for social integration, economic growth and safety (as opposed to cash, which is usually connected with informality and insecurity). Mobile technology can also support remittances, one of the most important income sources for many migrants families. Considering that the average cost of remittances is estimated at 7% of the transferred amount, FinTech might be the opportunity to reach the 3% target of the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.

For example, MFS Africa, a startup founded by Dare Okoudjou, which recently managed to raise its series B, is already facilitating remittances between over 170 million of mobile money users within most of the African continent.

MyCashOnline, founded by Medehi Hasan originally from Bangladesh, won Seedstars World Malaysia in 2016 for its inclusive online marketplace for unbanked migrants. Through the MyCash platform, migrant workers can top up their mobile phones, pay utility bills, purchase e-commerce products, bus tickets, air tickets and gift vouchers. In Bangladesh, remittances contribute to more than 10% of the total GDP of the country.

MyCash Online team

The team of MyCash Online dedicates its time to build a Fintech platform to better serve the community of migrants in the Philippines and Malaysia.

2. Digital Identity - from reducing bureaucracy process and long lines to impact healthcare and job opportunities

Digital identity solutions can disrupt and facilitate the lives of migrant workers in different ways. For example, the startup JUVO has established financial identities for billions of people worldwide, including a certain percentage of migrants, who are creditworthy, yet financially excluded. It can also help reduce fraud, streamline processes and operative costs for public and private sectors.

However, identity goes beyond the question of owning an official identity card (over 1 billion people do not have basic ID). Oftentimes, further requirements such as birth certificates, criminal records, driving licenses are requested to be granted access to some basic services such as opening a bank account, getting a mobile phone number and subscription, signing a lease, registering a business, enrolling into a university or accessing health services. For people living in developed countries who are rarely traveling or moving, it may sound like a simple formality but even for a Swiss or a US citizen, the adventure abroad can quickly become overly complicated because of the lack of a simple paper, a typing mistake between two formal documents or the loss of one of official documents, not to mention the cost associated with their renewing or re-issuing.

To a large extent, our identity is also defined by our education, from academic background to gained skills and work experience. The question of diploma recognition is another important challenge for migrants. Some startups have been developing innovative solutions, such as Accredible who created a badge and certificate systems enabling organizations to award their students with accredited proof of acquired skills.

Identity is also related to our “health identity” (such as our blood type, vaccinations, allergies, chronic diseases), which can have a direct impact on migrants' lives in certain situations. Solutions such as Minhealth, a blockchain-powered platform that empowers patients to manage their health information and records, are an interesting way to rethink the transfer of patient data and better coordinate healthcare mobility and access.

3. Data - from ensuring data protection and privacy to leveraging BigData for a better understanding of the future of migrant mobility and needs.

While digital identity is presenting great opportunities, there are risks to consider in relation to data collection and management. Technology ensuring data protection and privacy are at the core of this matter and, in general, another important area for innovation (encryption, tokenization, authentication, etc). Blockchain is one of the technologies expected to revolutionize data authenticity and security as it becoming more commonly used across industries.

Companies developing smart algorithms to support the analysis of large and complex datasets could support different decision processes, such as visa attribution.

Here’s a story to present the case. Berat Kjamili had to move from Macedonia to Turkey. He is a migrant, but also an entrepreneur. He founded a startup called Migport, a knowledge-sharing platform where migrants (essentially refugees) can get answers and support with daily questions and problems, such as education, financial or bureaucratic barriers. Thanks to the data gathered, the platform is able to aggregate information that can help to better predict the needs of newcomers. The startup is also working with the Turkish government to assist with their registration system (you can find more info on the podcast of Startup Without Borders here).

4. Education - from democratizing access to education to fostering communication between a teacher with parents of migrants

Talking about mobility skills implies talking about education, especially on the question of academic skills recognition within the topic of identity. E-learning platforms such as Coursera and EdX often provide migrants with low-cost and remote learning opportunities, so to improve the migrants’ curriculum or set of skills and consequently be able to access better opportunities on the labor market. Mobile apps for learning languages can also help migrants to improve the command of the spoken language of their country.

Platforms such as Blended, winner of the global Seedstars Summit 2019, facilitate the communication between teachers and parents and are also useful for the integration of migrant children. Parents can better follow what is going on at school and have a better understanding of the curriculum. It would be particularly interesting for those platforms to integrate instantaneous translation since parents don't always speak the language of the host country.

Moreover, education has a great role in preventing the forced movement of people due to a lack of opportunities in home countries. Supposedly, with the rise of remote work, more and more people with the required skills and internet access will be able to work from their origin city without having to move.

This is actually a trend that we increasingly see in Latin America with developers working from Peru, Mexico, Guatemala or Venezuela for companies in the US. Following the vision of fostering job opportunities, Platzi, a Latin e-learning platform, provides 1,000 scholarship for Venezuelan learners living in Venezuela in order to support them to access educational courses, considering that in the current context of the Bolivar hyperinflation, even $1 a day is an investment that most of the locals cannot afford.

Establishing programs to teach entrepreneurial skills and help young local talents to run a business is another high impact initiative to prevent forced movement of talent. As an example, Seedstars is currently working with the Ivory Coast government to train youth with the skills needed to successfully launch and manage new businesses.

Seedstars Ivory Coast

Startups and mentors from the Seedstars Academy program in Ivory Coast.

5. HRTech, Civic Tech, Insurtech, shared economy and much more...

The scope of solutions to foster skills mobility and improve migrant workers’ integration is wide:

  • HRTech startups could help connect migrant workers and employers, matching job profiles and skills.
  • Civic tech solutions can provide different benefits for the integration of migrants, access to information as well as working on the possible existence of cultural barriers. Check out, for example, Integreat, a German app and website for newcomers in Germany that provides them with all the necessary information for settling in their new host country.
  • Shared Economy startup models, such as Airbnb, have simplified massively the arrival process of migrants in a new country, facilitating access to temporary housing.
  • Speaking about insurance and migrant workers, there is a massive untapped opportunity. Swiss Re has mentioned in a recent report that insurance-linked to remittances in emerging economies could represent a US $1 billion opportunities over the next 10 years. Health insurance, travel insurance, identity and data related insurance: these are all various products can be created with a specific focus on migrants' needs.

Fostering migrant workers’ integration and ability to enhance their conditions with technology is a multi-sectoral and multi-dimensional approach. This article just presented some ideas and examples, but there are definitely more options to explore.

Finally, it is to bear in mind that technology is a tool, not a solution. Technology can certainly bring a lot of positive outcomes to the challenges of mobility skills. But it can also add complexity and new risks if not well planned.

#MigrationChallenge - calling promising startups

Seedstars is proud to partner up with IOE to give exposure to startups that have solutions with the potential to promote mobility skills through products that bridge the information gaps in global migration systems with a specific focus on Latin America and Africa.

The solutions should assist with better matching employment sectors facing skills shortages with trained regular migrants - expats, temporary workers, seasonal workers, intra-company transferees. The solutions should also provide ways for governments to share information and best practices to improve their policies. Finally, they should provide migrant workers with access to financial, educational, labor mobility services.

If you have a startup and think you have what it takes, apply through this link by 25 October.

We would strongly appreciate receiving any recommendations of tech ventures that could fit the needs per email. For this purpose, please contact our Challenge Leader Yanira at [email protected].

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