Arab World Social Innovator
Mohammed K.T. Zaid al-Kilany, Palestine
Overcoming exclusion and promoting employment using mobile-phone technology
Mohammed Kilany is using mobile-phone technology to connect young graduates with employers and to help international relief organizations reach rural communities more effectively. Mohammed co-founded the social enterprise Souktel to address the inherent inequalities within the labor market, where opportunities are often handed to the privileged and well-connected while the majority of young people struggle to even get information about local jobs.
Faced with the staggering reality that more than one third of Palestinian youth are unemployed and have few resources at their disposal, Mohammed saw an opportunity to use mobile phones as a cheap, accessible tool for finding work. With his innovative JobMatch technology, job seekers can search for and apply to job postings via SMS messaging on any basic mobile phone, without the need for Internet access or sophisticated smartphones. Companies can upload job postings and search for candidates using the same service. Both job seekers and employers pay a nominal fee for using the service, which covers most of Souktel’s operating costs; surplus revenue is allocated toward expanding into new markets in the Middle East and North Africa.
In each of its partnerships, Souktel’s model for expansion is based on a multi-stakeholder cooperative approach, where the organization collaborates with national mobile-phone networks, local universities, leading employers, and government ministries in new countries of operation.
Mohammad has been instrumental in Souktel’s growth. Souktel has recently expanded its market to include eastern Africa and Iraq, and aims to launch in Egypt and Jordan, where it expects to reach 16,500 new users. The venture has already recruited over 150 Middle East employers into its hiring community. Going forward, Mohammed is looking to expand the technology to reach more marginalized job seekers, such as those who are low-skilled or lack a university degree, in order to equalize employment opportunities across all social sectors.
Mohammed also seeks to grow Souktel’s secondary service, the phone-based Aidlink tool with which international-aid agencies can send information to communities in times of crisis.
In May 2009, Souktel was awarded the prestigious King Abdullah II Award for Youth Innovation and Achievement (KAAYIA) and was honored at the World Economic Forum in Jordan for its innovative approach to addressing the pressing issue of youth unemployment in the Arab world.
In June, Souktel entered into a summer-employment partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Middle East research project, which resulted in more than one hundred paid opportunities for Palestinian job-seekers—all of whom applied via mobile phone.
In July, Mohammed was selected as a 2009-2010 YouthActionNet Global Fellow, sponsored by the International Youth Foundation and Nokia in recognition for his work as a young social entrepreneur in Palestine—he is now connected to a global network of 150 entrepreneurs.
In August, Souktel launched the new Aidlink services to support USAID-funded youth programs in Gaza, enabling over one thousand youth leaders to share news and information by mobile phone.
By the end of 2009, three West Bank universities began piloting Souktel’s JobMatch technology directly on their campuses, allowing students to search for summer internships or part-time work directly through their mobile phones, where they can upload their mini-CVs and receive SMS “job alerts.”
Mohammed puts the value of his service into context by emphasizing the limited resources available to Palestinian students: “Remember—our universities are not like American schools. We only have very basic facilities and tiny budgets. So when you think about the cost of creating a physical career center with 100 computers-and compare this with the cost of running a job service all 5,000 students can use on their own mobiles, the value of Souktel’s technology becomes clear.”
Souktel has paired over two thousand young people with jobs and training to date, thanks to Mohammed’s talent for building strong relationships and effectively matching employment demand with supply.
- Watch a video about how Souktel helps jobs seekers (with English subtitles).
- Read about the impacts of Souktel in conflict and post-conflict areas in a UN Foundation report, “New Technologies in Emergencies and Conflicts,” featuring screenshots of JobMatch (page 45).
- Read a New York Times article about groups such as Souktel are using mobile telephony for social and economic change.