Africa’s First Mobile Career Opportunities Community Launches at Tech4Africa

By: Gustav Praekelt

Africa’s first mobile career opportunities social network was launched today at Tech4Africa by Gustav Praekelt, founder of Praekelt Foundation.

Called Ummeli – the Nguni word for “mediator” – the mobile platform went live on October 27th on YoungAfricaLive, a community to share and discuss critical issues such as love, sex and relationships of over 500 000 active participants and that celebrates its second birthday on December 1st.

Already over 3000 users have joined Ummeli in its first day, a mobile social network that focuses on creating opportunities for young, primarily poor, Africans – the segment of society most affected by unemployment as several recent YAL polls have potently shown.

One, asking YAL’s community what the single biggest challenge facing today’s youth is, drew close to 4500 responses – 2233 of which said a lack of jobs was an even more significant challenge than HIV/AIDS. Additionally, in a recent poll to ask YAL’s users how the mobile community should expand, an overwhelming 65% of respondents asked for “jobs and education” to be added to the platform’s mix. As one YAL user, Judge Jury, movingly put it in a community post, “I passed my matric very well, applied for NFAS loan, but didn’t get. Applied for low standard job but didn’t get it. Now the community thinks I am lazy but that’s not the case. I cry everyday, I’m so stressed”.

Ummeli is founded on the principle of Ubuntu (“I am what I am because of who we all are”) – resulting in the creation of a supportive community of young jobseekers who use the platform for advice, suggestions, connections, and an ideas exchange. In addition, registered Ummeli users will be able to share job posts and relevant information around bursaries and grants. Easy-to-use practical tools ensure users can edit their CV on their phones, and submit their CVs for jobs they may be interested in – or even use the CV Coach tool in creating this vital part of job-seeking.

“Ummeli is a much more than simply a portal to find a job through,” explains Shikoh Gitau, who developed a mobile job board and CV builder as part of her PhD in Computer Science at the University of Cape Town. “The emphasis is very much on a community where young Africans can support each other in the development of their careers, share ideas, act as connectors or even just be a sounding board when things seem hopeless.”

Hailing from Kenya and currently working for Google, Shikoh was motivated to come up with Ummeli whilst observing the sometimes overwhelming unemployment faced by Africa’s young citizens.

“In Kenya, like in so many African countries, it’s the youth that is most affected by unemployment. But as YoungAfricaLive has shown in the territories where it operates, Africa’s youth are fully switched on to mobile technology and Ummeli is a way of using that to help young Africans in developing countries on their journey to find employment.”

Currently, the official stats for unemployment in South Africa sit at 25.70%, although this is widely considered conservative. Earlier this year, the South African Institute of Race Relations published its South Africa Survey in which it showed that unemployment amongst 15- to 24-year-olds is 51 percent, more than twice the national unemployment rate. Unemployment is highest among African women aged 15 to 24 years, coming in at 63 percent.

“This is a horrific figure,” says Gustav Praekelt. “Building on the success of YoungAfricaLive in getting its users engaged around the issues that affect them, including HIV/AIDS, we believe that Ummeli has every chance of making a real impact – of really changing people’s lives and positively impacting the cycle of poverty.”

In this, Ummeli fits into Praekelt Foundation’s mission of building open source, scalable mobile technologies and solutions to improve the health and well-being of people living in poverty. Already, with the support of funders like Omidyar Network, programmes that have emerged out of Praekelt Foundation and its partners have reached over 50 million people across 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. On October 26th, the Praekelt Foundation-driven Project Masiluleke, which uses mobile phones and other technologies as high impact, low cost tools in combating HIV/AIDS, was named the first winner of the Tech4Africa Innovation Award, created to encourage innovation in solving uniquely African problems whilst also encouraging global thinking.

Working with Gitau, the team at Praekelt Foundation – led by computer science graduate Milton Madanda – has built the Ummeli platform specifically for mobile devices, aiming to harness the power of this technology in the hands of young Africans . Among its users will be people looking for employment in developing countries, companies seeking employees, NGOs looking for volunteers and community-initiated projects.

Ummeli can be accessed for free, with no bandwidth charges, while users are on the YoungAfricaLive platform on Vodacom. Once users click on a job link or the URL of a company advertising a job, they will be charged normal bandwidth rates to access that URL. Ummeli will be initially tested within YAL while a standalone Ummeli mobi platform is created.