Souktel – Mobile Phone Job Information Service - Palestine

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Souktel – Mobile Phone Job Information Service - Palestine

Palestinian Territory
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$500,000 - $1 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Souktel seeks to transform labor markets and economies from opaque systems that exclude the average citizen to transparent systems that empower even the most marginalized workers. In Palestine- where our project began- and throughout the Middle East, a lack of information about job opportunities has made work available only to a privileged, mostly male minority who have access to Internet and elite social networks. Souktel set out to change this through a simple, yet powerful technology. Our job-matching service leads to more income for needy families and to more productivity for businesses that need qualified workers. By scaling up Souktel’s impact, we aim to promote economic growth and reduce poverty and inequality throughout the region.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Because our technology works in almost any location—urban or rural—we are able to serve a wide range of citizens in need across the Arab World, but with one common criterion: The main beneficiaries of Souktel’s innovation are job-seekers from poor rural communities, marginalized urban communities, or refugee camps. We focus on the poor in general, because wealthier job-seekers in the Arab World have far better access to information and resources that help them get jobs easily. Wealthier families typically have computers and Internet at home, and/or strong family connections which virtually guarantee them jobs at leading firms. The poor have none of these things: They have no social networks, they have no technology, they don’t know where to look for services. My team’s innovation helps reduce these differences and equalize the opportunities of the poor so that even from a simple mobile phone they can get the same information as someone in the wealthiest part of town with a personal computer. Within poor communities, we focus mainly on helping young people, since the need for job information and support is often greatest for those who are entering the labor market for the first time. We also place a strong emphasis on helping young women, since this demographic is often the most marginalized and excluded in the Arab World. Traditional families usually don’t allow young women to search for jobs in person, and Internet cafes are usually dominated by men—leaving female job-seekers with few resources for finding work, and with a far greater chance than men of remaining unemployed (and entering into early marriages). We aim to overcome these barriers by giving women a safe, discreet way to search for work without leaving home or using the web in public.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Our project is the first in Palestine to use mobile phone technology to give people information about jobs. We are addressing a root cause responsible for a large part of our unemployment: lack of good access to information. We are changing the pattern of how people get information, making it easier for the poor and marginalized to find the key info they need. Souktel shows people that you don’t need sophisticated systems to empower your communities, sometimes the most basic device can be the most powerful. Even though most Palestinians having low mobility and lack of information resources (only one-third use internet), almost 80% of people in the West Bank and in Gaza are using mobile phones. The mobile phone is an extremely useful device in Palestine for three main reasons: First, it is cheap to own and operate, so it’s accessible to poor Palestinians. Second, it doesn’t need regular electricity or internet access, since it is battery powered and takes its signal from the air. This makes it accessible to people in rural areas. Third, you can use it anywhere, at any time, which makes it practical for communities that are isolated. They don’t need to travel. Rather, they can get information right at their fingertips. We make it faster, easier, and cheaper for all people to get equal access to the important information they need.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

We created an SMS service which makes it possible for anyone with a basic mobile phone to search for thousands of jobs and for employers to find new staff, thereby tapping into new labor pools that were previously unreachable. A job-seeker can create a “mini-CV” by answering series of questions by SMS (text message). The CV lists their basic skills, location, availability and more. Then, they upload this CV from their phone to a main database. At the same time, employers create a mini Job Ad by the same process. The Job Ad has information about skills needed, place of the work, hours per week, and more. Job ads are also uploaded to the database. Then, the database matches “mini-CVs” and “Job Ads” that have similar information, and alerts the employers/job-seekers that they have a match. Each user gets a message with information and a contact phone number, to set up an interview. We have also worked with universities to introduce our Job Match platform to their students, as well as to encourage internships, training sessions and informational programs that can be sought out via our mobile platform. In this way, we fill a key gap in the region’s education provision and workforce preparation. On average, only 3% of instructional time in Middle East high schools is devoted to job preparation. In the West Bank, none of the 12 major universities has a full time career resource center or counselling services. In technical colleges the situation is no different. In a country like Palestine where few information resources exist, people don’t have good internet access, and movement is limited by military checkpoints, this innovation is a key solution to unemployment.
About You
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Organization
Organization Name


Organization Country
Country where this project is creating social impact
How long has your organization been operating?

1‐5 years

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What stage is your project in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project

I don’t think my story is any more special than millions of other Palestinians; but it has influenced me to focus on mobile phone job technology as my life’s ambition. I was born in Kuwait in 1982, but after Gulf War my family was expelled like most Palestinians. We came back to our homeland and faced major financial problems because my dad couldn’t find a job. We were outsiders and had no connections. He was out of work for many years. After high school I wanted to go to university, but my family could not afford it. By a miracle, I was chosen for a scholarship. However, in my last year the scholarship ended and I couldn’t pay the fees. I was ready to give up my dream of working in the IT sector. Finally, a tough decision was made: my mother sold her dowry (gold from her wedding), so that I could finish my degree. I felt extremely sad because of her sacrifice; yet also happy because I now had a future and could someday repay her generosity.

I finished my degree and wanted to repay her right away, but it was impossible to find a job. The pressure on me was huge: I knew my family’s savings were gone, but I had no idea how to find work. I struggled with small jobs for a long time: cleaner, waiter, but all of these were short and paid poorly. Finally, by pure luck I found a job at Paltel Telecom Group. But I am one of the lucky few. There are millions of Palestinians with brains and energy, but no way of finding the jobs that exist in our economy. I co-founded Souktel to ensure that no one else would have to repeat my family’s situation.

Social Impact
Please describe how your project has been successful and how that success is measured

Today, 15,000+ job-seekers and 400+ employers use our JobMatch technology every day. Each of these users benefits from our technology, but for women in traditional communities, the impact of low-cost, accessible job-search resources has been especially dramatic: 83% of females surveyed in a late-2008 Souktel poll said their families forbid them outright from traveling to look for work; 78% said they were jobless for 6+ months as a result. Now, by using Souktel through their phones, 90% report increased access to employment, resulting in job offers.
In addition to helping users save money and find more job opportunities, Souktel also helps job-seekers and employers increase their earnings: In 2007, 75%+ of employers using our pilot JobMatch service had cut hiring time and costs by over 50%. Palestinian employers surveyed by Souktel in late 2008 reported an increase in gross revenue of $500+/mo. At the same time, Palestinian job- seekers finding work through Souktel have also reported clear income gains, with a majority citing new monthly wages of $400+ after finding jobs through the service. Taken altogether, these results are dramatic: 2,000+ newly-employed workers have earned a combined $9.6 million a year in new income; and with each worker supporting 5+ family members, an additional 10,000 people have benefited indirectly from Souktel technology.

How many people have been impacted by your project?

More than 10,000

How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?

More than 10,000

How will your project evolve over the next three years?

Over the next 3 years, Souktel will continue to expand into new markets, and reach more jobseekers and employers. In addition, we’ve begun to pilot an IVR (Interactive Voice Response) job service which replicates the utility of the SMS JobMatch, but instead uses audio services. Texting necessitates that the user has attained a level of literacy that the most economically impoverished users may not possess. Beginning in Somalia, where literacy levels are very low, Souktel has begun to run its job matching service via an audio hotline, whereby users call a number and are able to use their touch tone dialpad to input their information, rather than reading and responding to texts. Over the next three years we hope to improve and expand the reach of this service.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

A primary barrier facing Souktel’s technology is the fear of adoption. In many communities, youth and employers initially doubt that phones would actually be an effective mechanism to find jobs/staff- either because they perceive mobiles to be frivolous “toys” for youth or because they are intimidated by the SMS sign-up and processes. Fear of new technology has also emerged as an unintended challenge among peers: In Palestine, where executive-level jobs are typically advertised through newspapers, these print publications initially saw Souktel as a threat, believing that our technology would make their ads obsolete. A classified advertisement in a Palestinian newspaper costs around $500 per day; an SMS ad costs a fraction of that amount.
Another key challenge Souktel has faced relates to the labor market itself. In most communities where Souktel technology is in use, local labor markets often shrink or shift, decreasing the number of jobs posted by employers on the service. In our work to date, we’ve addressed these issues: Our strong PR efforts show users how simple it is to get job market information by phone. Local demonstrations & a support hotline offer a close-up look at Souktel and 24-hour assistance. This demonstrates to those who may initially be intimidated by the process that ample support exists to get them started and they soon realize how simple it is to use Job Match. A mix of jobs, apprenticeships, & training listings across sectors help insulate against market shocks.

Tell us about your partnerships

Souktel works closely with three types of partners--government, civil society, and the private sector--to achieve maximum impact. In each country of operation we partner directly with the Ministries of Labor and Education to harmonize our service with national job creation plans. In the civil society sector, we work closely with NGOs to ensure that our service also reaches the “less reachable” female job-seekers outside the education system. We also work directly with village and town councils; we encourage local leaders to present Souktel to the community as ‘their service’. Finally, we work closely with private sector organizations--to build a strong cadre of employers who will post jobs through the service and hire job-seekers. In each country, we start by targeting sector leaders. When a company with international brand value, like Deloitte or Ernst and Young, publicly commits to posting jobs on our service, other employers follow suit. We also enter into partnership agreements with private sector association. These entities promote the Souktel Job Match service to their member companies (who typically number in the hundreds), and encourage them to post jobs on our service.

Explain your selections

As explained above, we partner with NGO’s in order to reach the vulnerable populations, including rural women and refugees. We forge relationships with a broad swathe of local businesses in order to create a diverse pool of jobs available to our users and to help small businesses establish more effective hiring processes. Our customers are, of course, our prime beneficiaries; however they also provide an important source of our funding.

Souktel is a social enterprise. While we’re a non-profit by nature, we cover almost all of our running costs through corporate-style revenue generation. Job-seekers pay a modest “premium SMS” fee to search job ads or post their mini-CVs; employers pay higher per-transaction fees to post jobs and search CVs. Through this model, we earn an average of $1/month per job-seeker (net of mobile network revenue-share) and an average of $10/month per employer. Any surplus revenue finances R&D and new market expansion. We also look to foundation/government funders for grants to support us in these areas. We believe this social enterprise model is both innovative and extremely successful. Most NGOs in our region rely exclusively on donations and grants, and spend many of their resources simply trying to acquire more money so they can stay afloat. Almost no non-profits have been structured with sustainable revenue generation in mind! Souktel, in contrast, earns income to support our running costs by directly doing our core work: matching young people with jobs. This gives us regular, reliable income that will continue to flow in over time.

How do you plan to strengthen your project in the next three years?

In 2011, as our new regional expansion programs move from piloting to full roll-out, we estimate that we’ll reach 20,000 new job-seekers in the Middle East, 10,000 job-seekers in North Africa, and 1,500 job-seekers in East Africa. By leveraging existing partnerships with national Ministries of Education and local NGOs, we believe we can double our outreach to over 60,000 beneficiaries. Over the next 3 years, working through our current partners will enable us to scale up our existing services without a major investment of new resources.
Illiteracy is a major Arab World challenge that affects millions of job-seekers—preventing them from getting work simply because they cannot read job ads or write a simple CV. In Egypt, almost one-third of the population cannot read; close to 40% of women lack basic literacy skills. In order to reach this population, we are developing IVR (Interactive Voice Response) technology—a function that allows users to send voice commands and get job information from our database. We have piloted this service in Somalia and now intend to expand it into one of our current markets, likely Egypt or Jordan. After getting feedback and retooling the service, we’ll work to launch it on a larger scale in all markets of operation. We believe that an advanced Souktel service with SMS and voice could make a massive difference in the lives of illiterate, unemployed job-seekers, enabling us to extend our social impact to hundreds of new communities and thousands of new beneficiaries—particularly in lower-skilled employment sectors, where we’re looking to grow.

Which barriers to employment does your innovation address?
Please select up to three in order of relevancy to your project.


Lack of access to information and networks


Restrictive cultural norms



Please describe how your innovation specifically tackles the barriers listed above.

In the Middle East, governments typically offer few services to help workers find job. Nepotistic hiring practices are rampant. When we conducted a survey of over 8,000 Somali youth in 2009, 75% of respondents thought that the only way to get jobs was through personal connections. Securing employment is particularly difficult for women in marginalized communities. Most Internet cafes are dominated by males-making them unsafe or unwelcoming. The preferred means of job-hunting in Palestine (i.e. door-to-door in-person searches) is often frowned upon or forbidden by families. Not only does Souktel provide access to job information for those who have no other resources, we also provide a safe and socially-acceptable way for women to find employment.

Are you trying to scale your organization or initiative?
If yes, please check up to three potential pathways in order of relevancy to you.


Grown geographic reach: Multi-country


Enhanced existing impact through addition of complementary services


Please describe which of your growth activities are current or planned for the immediate future.

Souktel is designed to be easily scalable and replicable across the developing world. Our “plug-and-play” modular application requires minimal hardware, minimal set-up time, and minimal added cost. For technical scale-up, our database and gateway structure are easily expandable to accommodate thousands of new users. For 2011 – 2013, we aim to leverage these conditions to expand Job Match into one new market per year, likely Egypt and Kenya. Given these countries’ high rates of mobile phone use, low rates of web access, we feel we can make a real impact in the lives of disadvantaged job-seekers in both locations. We believe these growth plans are realistic—however we also feel that additional funding could allow us to expand the depth and breadth of our work dramatically.

Do you collaborate with any of the following: (Check all that apply)

Government, Technology providers, NGOs/Nonprofits, For profit companies, Academia/universities.

If yes, how have these collaborations helped your innovation to succeed?

Souktel leverages the pre-existing networks on the ground in order to better integrate our innovative technology with traditional practices. We’ve found that the best way to do this, and to build upon local knowledge, is to collaborate with partners like government bodies, NGOs and universities. For example, universities were an integral part in introducing JobMatch to graduating students in Palestine so that they could more easily find a job post-degree. We also work with ministries like the Ministry of Education in order to publicize our service, to indicate the areas of most need and to create national job creation plans. Local NGOs and nonprofits also help us to create local buy-in and generate trust and familiarity amongst local populations.