Every February, more than 70,000 mobile tech experts and enthusiasts—including the CEOs of Vodafone and AT&T—converge on Barcelona, Spain for the Mobile World Congress. As the sector’s largest global event, the Congress is typically the place where Samsung rolls out its newest smartphone, and where tech geeks get to test-drive the latest Angry Birds spin-off.
But this year, as regions like Africa post the fastest-growing mobile penetration rates on the planet, the Congress placed new emphasis on the role that cell phones can play in empowering low-income communities—and youth in particular. In a special session this week, senior executives from manufacturers like Nokia and mobile networks like Telefonica met to discuss the potential of mobile tech to link youth with education and jobs. Souktel was honored to join the panel, sharing key “lessons learned” from the mobile job information services it operates in countries ranging from Morocco to Rwanda.
“It was a real privilege to be part of this conversation,” said Souktel CEO Jacob Korenblum. “We were honored to share insights from our work at the ground level, from communities where the services we’ve developed are helping young people to find jobs and training. But Nokia, Alcatel and the mobile networks bring the crucial ‘macro-level’ perspective: They’re in dozens of countries, reaching millions of people with key products and services. And while their roots are obviously in the private sector, they have a strong social responsibility component to what they do—and they have the broad reach to make it happen”.
One example of this focus on social action is Alcatel’s forthcoming report on the “Impact of Mobiles on Youth Employment”—the early results of which were presented at the panel. The product of research carried out with the GSMA Development Fund (the umbrella organization which connects the development sector with close to 800 mobile networks), the report surveyed youth in countries from Bangladesh to Ghana. Not surprisingly, it found that most young people in these markets had a strong interest in using mobiles to find educational content, get remote training, and look for work. And despite the gradual decrease in smartphone prices and data rates, most youth said they preferred to access this information via SMS.
“For us, the fact that industry leaders are partnering with the development community on this research is amazing,” says Korenblum. “It signals a growing recognition of the role that mobile tech can play beyond simple entertainment or communication. It can be a gateway for education and employment—and you don’t need an iPhone or Android handset to reap those benefits”.
While the Mobile World Congress wraps up on Feb. 28, the conversation on mobile, youth, and jobs is just getting started: A new working group on Mobiles for Youth Workforce Development, launched late last year by USAID and the MasterCard Foundation as part of the mEducation Alliance, will help shape this nascent sector through an ongoing series of events. The full Alcatel/GSMA report will be released later this year. “And from our end,” Korenblum adds, “we’ll continue to roll out mobile job-match services in the field—so that we can provide good data points to help inform the discussion, while helping youth find meaningful work”.