Can I make you some bucks?

how the net is transforming the way we work and earn

The friend-of-a–friend network September 28, 2008

You may recall that as part of this blog I wanted to set up an online employment agency for domestic workers in Grahamstown. And I’ve gotten as far as setting up a blog which, to my surprise, a few people found and posted comments on. None of these people were domestic workers, however. No surprises there.

———

They were all people with internet access. The one is someone looking for a domestic worker – and this could be useful avenue to explore. The other a student, looking for work. And even someone in Uganda expressed interest in finding a job with the help of the blog.

————

But this still hasn’t achieved much. I haven’t succeeded in creating a sustainable online social network for people who are ignored and excluded by the internet. Does this mean the internet is a space that discriminates? A space that only webworkers and those who effortlessly throw terms like 3G or GPRS into conversations can use to find employment?

————

I think it certainly is an indication that the internet is a space that needs to be opened up and made to be more accessible. But that requires educating people about the internet and how it works. And if that isn’t difficult enough, in a place like South Africa there are the language barriers.

————-

I did phone a few of the domestic workers who had placed adverts on the notice boards at Pick ‘n Pay. They thought I was offering them a job. They couldn’t understand what I was trying to do. In fact, I even approached some community workers at a local community outreach centre to get some advice and a sense of how the community might react to my project. They too couldn’t quite grasp what I had in mind. And these are meant to be ‘technologically literate’ people.

———–

I’m starting to think perhaps certain types of employment are only made possible by the informal friend-of- friend network. Where you employ a certain domestic worker because your friend down the road only has good things to say about her and how she has never stolen or broken anything. Because face it, that’s how people are. No one wants to let some stranger loose in their house.

———-

But the nature of the internet and online social networks challenges these tried and tested friend-of-a friend networks. It opens what are localised, personal interactions which take between people who are generally friends to anyone. And for some social networks that works. But in a case like Grahamstown where it is not even a guarantee that every prospective employee will have access to the internet it is difficult to bypass this informal network.

———-

And maybe there is no need to. I was having tea with a friend the other day. She mentioned that she knew a really good domestic worker who was looking for work. And of course, as is customary in this network, went on to ask if I knew of someone who might consider employing her.

———–

I could just email the women who left a comment on my blog about needing a domestic worker. But I feel that would defeat the purpose of my online employment agency experiment. It would just be a good example of a friend-of-a-friend network. But I have to start someone.

———-

So, as a way forward I plan on approaching this domestic worker and trying to explain what I am doing. If she agrees I will then give her details to the women who posted a comment on the blog but will also post her details on the blog. And this is where the friend –of-a-friend network as well as the offline network comes in. I’m going to then promote the blog through my friend-of-friend networks and see where that takes me.

———–

If you have any thoughts or suggestions, I am all ears. In fact, I would love some suggestions.

 

A town where it’s easier to beg April 7, 2008

When in a dorpie you take what you can find. If it’s a salmon coloured bra you want , be prepared to settle for the drab, old black or white nylon lace specials. Or maybe it’s a tin of Chickpeas you’re after as I often am. Well, be prepared to hunt or compromise. Baked Beans aren’t too bad – or so I keep telling myself. On this particular day in the little Eastern Cape dorpie of Grahamstown, my best friend and I were not searching for bras or chickpeas. Scatter cushions. That’s what we were after. You see, she’d recently bought a burnt orange duvet cover with splotches of maroon and now the appropriate cushions had to be found.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

And it was on that day, whilst looking at cushions and discussing colour schemes in PEP, that I met someone who I now think would have an easier time begging. I don’t remember her name. I was so taken aback. I remember the bits of small talk: “Hello Sisi … So you live here or you stay at the University?” She asked about our work and seemed liked a distant friend trying really hard to rekindle a friendship. The catch was the piece of paper she soon took out of her bag. It was a reference letter. She was an unemployed domestic worker and while we were looking for scatter cushions she was trying to find what in Grahamstown can almost be considered the impossible: a job.

…………………………………………………………………………………………..

The reality of Grahamstown is that there are more people who are unemployed and searching for a job than with one. And with no employment agency, notice boards at local supermarkets are full of mostly unemployed domestic workers’ contact details (see flickr photos in sidebar for some examples). To be honest, I rarely read these notices partly because I don’t need a domestic worker but also because if I did, I’d ask a friend to recommend one. I may be wrong, but I think most people would rather go that route. So maybe all unemployed domestic workers in Grahamstown should book a pavement corner; practice putting on their sad faces and wait for the passers-by to empty their pockets? Or they could turn to the internet.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

The internet? It didn’t cross your mind, did it? Well why not? There are many online employment agencies – too many to list. There are also useful directories like gumtree which allow you to post and search for jobs. The problem is domestic workers don’t feature here. Enter Facebook.

………………………………………………………………………………………….

Part of my aim in this blog is to see if it is possible to find a Grahamstown domestic worker a job through a Facebook group , still to be set up, called “Need a reliable domestic worker”. Welcome to a different way of finding work. Where the contacts you make online can stand you in good stead for that job you want. But does this apply to everyone? For example , there is a Facebook application , careerbuilder, which is designed for people looking for jobs. But it’s only really aimed at university students. Is there space for Grahamstown’s unemployed domestic workers or should they continue putting notices up at Pick ‘n Pay? Or better yet, maybe it’s time for them to seriously consider begging?

………………………………………….

Any comments? I’ll periodically document my progress on this blog as well as on my Twitter page – feel free to comment and join the Facebook group once it’s set up … I’ll keep you posted.