Can technology really help people in the world’s poorest countries to get a leg up in the job market? Wall Street Journal economics editor David Wessel threw out this hard-hitting question while moderating a new type of World Bank panel last month in D.C.—one that saw tech practitioners, rather than economists, on the speaker’s list.
Souktel president Jacob Korenblum took a seat next to Jonathan Donner of Microsoft's Technology for Emerging Markets Group and Gary Swart, CEO of oDesk, in what became a lively discussion about the challenges of bringing IT innovations to emerging job markets. Called “An Open Conversation on Technology and Jobs”, the event formed part of the World Bank’s Jobs Knowledge Platform launch.
With attendees from Tunisia to Bangladesh in the room, as well as viewers who logged in to a simultaneous webcast, the panel took a truly global perspective on IT and job creation. Speakers focused on the role of technology—especially mobile phones—in “leveling the playing field” of access to work. But they also answered candid questions about whether tech-based job services are actually reaching those who need them most.
"We were honored to be part of this panel,” says Korenblum. "It’s a great opportunity to share and learn from others who are working in the tech space. And it's also important that we keep asking questions about who’s benefiting from the latest technologies, and how we can ensure no one gets left behind”.
He adds: “Although mobiles and laptops are getting cheaper in regions like Africa, most job seekers still only use basic, low-cost devices. As a result, we’re focusing our efforts in that area to make sure that anyone who wants to use our job info services can do so".
After the panel, Korenblum also taught a seminar at the World Bank as part of its Labor Market Core Course, a two-week staff training program that focuses on new job creation strategies. Here, participants worked to turn discussion into action—learning how to plan and deliver projects that boost employment and entrepreneurship.