Putting Yemen's crossroads online

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Every morning in Sana’a’s Alqa’a square, dozens of unemployed men wait on the side of the street hoping to get work.

Towns and cities across the Middle East feature crossings where, each morning, men waiting for a construction site foreman or farm owner to swing on by looking for a few men to do a day’s work. More if they’re lucky.

This is the reality of thousands of Arab men, but it’s usually poorly paid and insecure.

Many mornings, Saeed Alfagieh would pass through Alqa’a on his way to work while a founding member of real estate platform Aqarmap.com. He would see these workers hanging around and saw an opportunity.

Alfagieh decided to create a social labor marketplace, connecting NGOs, corporations, and even private households, with professional and nonprofessional workers. He wanted to move beyond the intersection.

In 2014, he joined the business incubator Block One in Sana’a. After taking part in their competition for new startups, which was sponsored by the US Embassy, he launched his recruitment site Ana Mehani (I am professional) in 2015.

Jobs available through the Ana Mehani site.

However, his venture faced a problem. In a population of nearly 27 million, the internet penetration is only about six million. Furthermore, while 17.7 million do have mobile numbers not all of those have smartphones. So Alfagieh had to go manual.

Along with cofounders Osama Alshami and Maher Alrahomi, he set about visiting these intersections in order to sign up the workers who were not going to be naturally heading to a website in order to find work.

“We spent a long time gathering the workers’ information,” he told Wamda. “We would find out their experience, get their contact details, and create profiles for them.”

The second problem - a lack of jobs.

Saeed Aflagieh. (Image via Ana Mehani)

Conflict in Yemen now sees nearly 30 percent of the population unemployed, a rise on the 17.9 percent of 2010. This is added to a population that is currently seeing 80 percent in need of humanitarian assistance, and 50 percent of the population as malnourished. “Those who are marginalised in modern society are the ones we want to target,” he said. The intention is to help those who don’t have daily wages and struggle to feed their families, he explained.

Since 2011 the country has also seen closures of businesses, both foreign and local. In 2014, Ousama Al-Fosayel, a consultant for a World Bank project in Yemen, told the Yemen Times that 57 percent of businesses had closed their doors partially or completely between 2010 and 2013.

But things seem to be going well. Alfagieh told Wamda that to date, there are over 3,500 workers signed up to the site, and that this number is increasing daily.

Ana Mehani is operating in six cities in Yemen: Sana’a, Ibb, Hadhramaut, Aden, Al Hudaydah and Hajjah and there are 3,000 users advertising jobs. He also said that over 2,500 requests have been received and over 10,000 job opportunities have been provided. Transactions so far have totaled 15 million Yemeni riyals (nearly US$60,000).

Creating partnerships with local NGOs and corporations is a way for them to keep up the stream of workers, as well as train them in various skills from plumbing, wiring, painting, mechanical engineering, to tiling, carpentry, and prepare them for the job market.

The Ana Mehani app.

After an initial interview, the job seeker is signed up to the site, and the matchmaking can begin. Employers pay a monthly subscription fee to be featured on the site, and when a match is made, the employer and the job seeker work directly with one another to decide upon fees.

Alfagieh is not the first to tackle the employment issue. In 2008 Rafat Mahmoud, a web developer, founded Yemen Jobs. It has been a challenge from the start and right now, given the country’s situation, they are continuing to see the problems. “We charge $25 a month to advertise on the site, and most can’t afford that,” Mahmoud told Wamda. Instead many employers are opting for Facebook or Twitter to advertise job openings.

The social media and digital marketing agency Yemen Icon said that Facebook has about 1.5 million monthly users.

Mahmoud’s numbers are quite different from those of Ana Mehani, and that traffic to their site is about 5,000 visits/month.

Ana Mehani now has 12 staff throughout Yemen and they are looking to grow. Last year they were named by the World Economic Forum as one of the 100 Arab startups shaping the fourth industrial revolution. Funding so far has come from Block One and a local Yemeni investor, Ibrahim Nijad, as well as their own money.

Currently looking for investment, their plan is to launch in Egypt and Morocco later this year.

Feature image of Sana’a via Wikimedia Commons.

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