Creating a Virtual Marketplace for India's Slum Dwellers

Jul 21, 2009, 10:00 ET from CHF International from ,LabourNet

CHF International receives $1 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to connect India's slum population with jobs using cellular technology

SILVER SPRING, Md., July 21 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- How do you create economic opportunities for thousands of workers who are excluded from the traditional employment market? You create a virtual marketplace. Through a groundbreaking mobile program called LabourNet, CHF International (CHF) is currently creating such a marketplace to connect day laborers in the slums of India with much needed employment.

CHF, the Silver Spring-MD based international development and humanitarian assistance organization, has received $1 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support this ongoing urban development work in India under the direction of Brian English, CHF International's new Country Director for India.

"These workers have nothing consistent and long lasting -- LabourNet is a bridge to giving them rights and jobs, using cellular technology to facilitate it," notes English. "The service in turn gives them equity -- a level playing field."

LabourNet uses mobile technology, such as automated, multilingual SMS messaging, GIS and GPS applications, to announce daily job openings. It provides training opportunities, access to health insurance, the ability to open bank accounts and receive proper identification cards for workers who have been denied these social benefits. The system also offers assistance to the growing professional class and mid-sized business community who find it difficult to access the "unorganized" labor sector. LabourNet provides an answer to this growing demand by providing simplified access to qualified, reliable, skilled workers, and taking care of the time-consuming hassle of training workers and arranging benefits.

"At one level, LabourNet is clearly impacting lives by providing services to workers ranging from job information to financial inclusion to health management systems," says Gayathri Vasudevan of LabourNet. "At another level, the effort is being recognized by NGOs and state governments, CHF's grant funding and technical support has enabled LabourNet to pilot various strategies and prepare its systems for scaling up across the country."

There are millions of informal workers in the slums of India struggling to find consistent employment. They work for low wages on a temporary basis, without health insurance or other benefits, at the whim of their employers. This grant comes at an especially important time: for the first time in history, more people are living in urban areas than rural areas around the world. As the population shifts, few cities and towns in developing countries have sufficient housing, infrastructure or municipal services to meet the demand. As a result, India's slum population has doubled in the last two decades, rising from 27.9 million in 1981 to 61.8 million in 2001. This social enterprise will empower this growing population to find employment, rather than continue to be marginalized.

"No place is stagnant and change can happen, sometimes rapidly," says English. "The challenge before us though is how to enable change for the poorest of this country -- how can we create more equitable access to housing, jobs and city services. CHF International's work on the LabourNet model is one answer to this."

LabourNet is an extension of English's work at CHF to develop the world's growing slums through better urban planning and infrastructure delivery. Political, economic, social, cultural, and ecological layers influence the shape of any given landscape, and understanding how these factors converge to influence the narrative of the slums is CHF's unique approach to the crisis of growing urban areas.

"Urbanization is a heavy term, but underneath it is a sense of place; a sense of what makes a place a home, a good work environment, or a place to play," says English. "There are micro environments -- so first we consider what influences the sense of place, then we look at urbanization."

This support from the foundation expands on an earlier grant given to CHF to begin the SCALE-UP program, which focuses on community-led development in secondary cities of India and Ghana.


CHF International is an international development and humanitarian assistance organization, currently working in more than 30 countries around the world. The organization's mission is to be a catalyst for long-lasting positive change in low- and moderate-income communities around the world, helping them to improve their social, economic and environmental conditions. CHF International programs are community-led initiatives designed to build a better world. For more information, visit


LabourNet is a facilitating body that responds to low skill levels and poor working conditions in the construction sector. It serves as a link between workers and users, such as contractors, end clients, construction firms, home owners, builders, to connect workers to jobs. Through this process, it provides training opportunities and basic social security coverage for workers.

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Brian English

SOURCE CHF International; LabourNet