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The year of shouting

Sep 6, 2022 | Jobtech Alliance Memo

By Chris Maclay

I have a kid called Callum. He had his second birthday last month. He’s a pretty great kid. He’s into helicopters, trucks, and ice cream. I’ll spare you photos (for now). 

You know what else is due its birthday next month? The Jobtech Alliance. We launched on 26 October 2021 with a small webinar with 40 or so invitees. We refrain from navel-gazing in the Jobtech Alliance (as an ecosystem-building initiative, it’s explicitly not ‘about us’), but now, almost a year on, it’s worth a brief reflection on what’s happened since our launch blog

This is the first of two parts explaining what’s coming next from the Jobtech Alliance. I’m going to milk the baby analogy though.

Year 1: The year of shouting

Being a parent is exhausting. Lack of sleep. Increase in workload. Constant fear of killing something. Nothing is more stressful though, than the baby screaming. Always at the best worst times; in a restaurant, in the background on a critical poorly-scheduled zoom call, on an 8 hour redeye flight. But screaming is important – it helps parents know that the baby needs something. They’re just not very good at articulating what that ‘something’ is yet.

Year 1 of the Jobtech Alliance was the year of shouting. ‘Look at me. I’m here. And I want your attention’. As we outlined in our launch blog, a critical first stage of this ecosystem-building initiative is to ‘thingify’ jobtech – to give it a name, build familiarity around what it is, and to get people (investors, entrepreneurs, and development actors) excited about it. We were not aiming to add new jargon to a crowded lexicon, but to create a common language that enables different actors to work strategically in a common space. Intelligent shouting, but shouting nonetheless. 

We think it’s been working:

  • Funders and investors: We’ve been having dozens of conversations with donors and investors to build their understanding of jobtech, and we’ve seen many of them jump on to the theme. One of these donors, for example, was the Dutch Challenge Fund for Youth Employment. After our conversations, they then realized that >60% of their portfolio were jobtech start-ups. They’ve since dived in, and are working with the Jobtech Alliance and the ILO to better understand the jobtech sector and its developmental outcomes (more here). We’ve been having loads of chats with investors, particularly impact investors with a jobs lens, though there’s still more to do (see below).
  • Start-ups: We’ve heard countless start-ups explaining that they’ve – for the first time – been able to place themselves in a sector, and a sector which is building momentum. Check out this message I received from a jobtech CEO after a chat with an investor:
  • Researchers, podcasters, and sector leaders: We’ve seen jobtech picked up by a host of actors, from ODI’s report on the topic, Microsave’s analysis of models in the sector, to start-up commentators calling out the sector (Justin Norman’s excellent The Flip newsletter driving forward thinking on the sector here, including jobtech takeovers from Kandua’s Sayo Folawiyo here and Shortlist’s Paul Breloff here)

You can also expect a whole bunch more shouting over the next few months. 

In the context of baby analogies, we’d be remiss not to quote the overused-but-still-great ‘it takes a village’ African proverb. The jobtech ecosystem will only grow and thrive if we all work together to nurture it. So far, we’ve grown membership of the Jobtech Alliance entirely organically as we didn’t want to actively grow membership until we had ‘gas in the tank’ (more below). However, in early October, we’ll begin reaching out to 400 jobtech start-ups on the continent to invite them to join the community. You’ll also see a whole bunch of different actors hosting events on “jobtech” over the next six months (we’ll keep you updated on the newsletter)

Year 2: Move from ‘keeping the baby alive’ to ‘meaningful nurturing’

So far, so shouty. Shouting is fine for an 11-month old. Maybe even forgivable if you’re an unlucky neighboring passenger on an 8-hour redeye flight. But it’s not a good look on a 2-year-old. If Callum whines on a plane now, man those looks…

As we expected (and intended), the role of the Jobtech Alliance will evolve. We’ve also got some really strong feedback from the community of what members want to see. Notably:

  • More learning and research: People want more (1) short, punchy write-ups of lessons learned of different jobtech start-ups (2) landscape studies to understand more about what’s going on and (3) meatier studies on emerging themes.
  • More community: We need more active efforts to connect community members. Quarterly in-person meetings. A more curated CEO WhatsApp group. Active socials.
  • More work on funding: A consistent bottleneck for the ecosystem will be funding. We need to build a network of investors interested in jobtech, and help the philanthropic cash to better engage smartly with the sector.
  • More ‘doing stuff with start-ups’: This wasn’t something that we expected, but we have received wholesale encouragement to ‘start putting all this learning into practice’, so we’ll be launching a whole range of accelerator and start-up support offerings for jobtech start-ups over the next six months.

The Jobtech Alliance so far has been an entirely unfunded endeavor, so we’ve been somewhat limited by what we could achieve on the above to-date. But it is also a matter of timing. As we move into the second year of the Jobtech Alliance though (and having secured our first funding), we’re going to be able to begin working on all of the above. And that is a story for Part 2…

As we’re in the spirit of self-indulgence, I’d like to thank all working group and steering group members of the Jobtech Alliance who have guided things so far: Amadou Daffe (Gebeya), Corinne Ngurukie (Generation Kenya), Femi Longe (Qiesto), Gituku Ngene (Mercy Corps), Jenn Otieno (EDU), Molade Adeniyi (WAVE), Paul Breloff (Shortlist), Sayo Folawiyo (Kandua), Sharmi Surianarain (Harambee), Shikoh Gitau (Qhala), Yatin Nana (Chancen)

The author is the Program Director of the Jobtech Alliance at Mercy Corps. He was previously the COO at Kenyan gigmatching platform, Lynk.


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