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Creating employment solutions for young Jamaicans in the virtual economy
Published on April 26, 2013 Email To Friend    Print Version

KINGSTON, Jamaica -- Designed and implemented in four months with less than US$200,000, Digital Jam 2.0 is an initiative to promote Jamaican youth employment in the virtual global economy. Concrete results include over 4,000 young people being employed on online platforms, the establishment of funds to support start-ups in the app economy, the commercialization of apps, a number of internships with leading Caribbean telecom companies, offers of scholarships for winners to a Master’s program at Howard University in Washington, DC, and mentorship programs from national and international companies operating in the IT sphere.

Challenge

Jamaica has about 800,000 young people between the ages of 12 and 35, approximately 34 percent of the population. In the coming years, job creation will not come from traditional sectors (agriculture, tourism and manufacturing) due to competitiveness disadvantages vis-à-vis other countries due to issues of scale, the country’s insular nature, the high cost of energy and high levels of crime and violence, among other issues.

Previous approaches to solving the unemployment problem have concentrated on skills development, but vocational education training programs have reported limited success. Much less attention has been given to the linkages with the labor market and facilitating students’ transition into it once they graduate. Furthermore, unemployment and underemployment are endemic in all socio-economic groups – including people with secondary and tertiary degrees.

Finally, Jamaica cannot borrow from international lending institutions given its fragile macroeconomic situation. Looking for solutions outside of the box was necessary to respond to one of the client’s most pressing problems: youth unemployment.

Solution

Digital Jam 2.0 promoted solutions to high youth unemployment in Jamaica with new opportunities in the global virtual economy (microwork and e-lancing) and the booming "app economy." Microwork is a form of distributed work being performed online and generally paid by the micro task (image-tagging, data mining) that can be performed by people who do not need high technical skills.

E-lancing refers to the range of free-lancing professions that can be performed online where the product can be compressed in a file format.

Digital Jam 2.0 hosted a marketplace with the participation of about 40 national and international companies who are leaders in the IT sector, giving an opportunity to youths to interact directly with businesses in that sphere.

Results

Digital Jam 2.0 was launched in June 2012 and saw the participation of 2,000 young Jamaicans in a series of competitions (app contests and a hackathon on the sports industry), workshops, training on mobile software development, and presentations by industry leaders as well as successful young Jamaicans who are currently working online. In addition, Digital Jam 2.0 provided young people in Jamaica the stage to showcase the capacity, talent and commitment necessary to be “game changers” for the economy and drivers of a knowledge-based society.

• About 4,400 new Jamaican youths working on microwork and e-lancing platforms.

• The establishment of a funding window for start-up companies from the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce.

• Commercial interest expressed by investors in acquiring apps completed as part of Digital Jam 2.0.

• Eight internships at leading telecommunication companies in Jamaica and the Caribbean.

•Two full MA fellowships at Howard University offered to app competition winners.

• Winning apps showcased at Jamaica House at the London Olympics in August 2012.

• Mentoring by Microsoft Jamaica and MobileWorks in the Silicon Valley of the winning applications.

• An agreement with University of Technology for incubating app development start-ups in collaboration with their Technology Incubation Center.

• Partnership with US Agency for International Development (USAID) to implement a pilot project in the digital creative industries.

• Requests from the Development Bank of Jamaica, The Grace Kennedy Financial Group, the Jamaica National Building Society, and Microsoft Jamaica to submit proposals for funding of specific activities, including the incubation of app development companies led by young Jamaicans, the facilitation of payment to microworkers via mobile-banking solutions, and the digitalization of Government records and a move to e-government.

World Bank Group Contribution

The World Bank provided roughly US$200,000 of technical assistance to design and implement this program.

Additional resources were provided by Flow Columbus Business Solutions, the JNBS Group, Landline Internet Mobile and Entertainment Services (LIME), USAID, Microsoft Jamaica, Research in Motion (RIM) Blackberry, Telegens, and Kariblink. These consisted of about US$100,000 in cash, prizes for competitions, air-time on television and radio stations, connectivity costs, and the renting of the event facilities.

A strong endorsement was given by the government of Jamaica including the Minister of Youth and Culture, the Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce, and the Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining. Partnerships were also established with industry leaders, including key companies from the Silicon Valley such as Samasource, Microworkers, MobileWorks, Freelancer (from Australia), Soundtracker, Wildfire Interactive, and 500 Startups.

Moving Forward

Digital Jam 2.0 has sparked a lot of interest from a number of partners. Private sector partnerships are emerging between national and international players to establish microwork hubs in Jamaica. These will be fully funded by the private sector.

The Bank and USAID are negotiating an externally funded output agreement to continue raising awareness about opportunities for work online and, in particular, in the niche of creative industries.

The government of Jamaica has requested the establishment of Digital Jam as a yearly event and the Bank is currently seeking options to make it happen.

Bangladesh and Russia have expressed interest in replicating the event.

Beneficiaries

“We truly believe this is the way forward for Jamaica, and the World Bank is certainly creating the momentum.” - Marcelle Smart, Country Manager, Microsoft Jamaica

“The World Bank has provided tremendous support in envisioning the event, bringing appropriate partners together, and facilitating our participation. Future support of this nature would be welcome.” - Anand Pramod Kulkarni, CEO, Mobileworks

“We had the opportunity to interact and learn with the game changers from Silicon Valley. It has also inspired our young people to have more confidence in entrepreneurship, by opening our eyes on ways in which we can use our skills and talents, offering first class IT services to the world, right here from our Jamaican IT hub.” - Roxanne Wanliss, a 25 year old participant from Kingston.
 
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