infoDev launches micro-work challenge

By John Kieti
m:lab
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As February came and brought with it reality checks for many of us to settle firmly into the new year, infoDev and Nokia’s IdeasProject launched the m2Work online challenge. It is a challenge that might drastically change the state of affairs with respect to micro-work. The challenge is backed by funding and support from UKaid and the government of Finland.

Micro-work implies knowledge work being transferred over to the internet. It is about short, simple tasks that a company or a more economically endowed individual outsources for a small fee, mostly over the internet to workers particularly in the third world. Examples of tasks that have easily rendered themselves for delivery as micro-work are :-

  • Verifying information on a website
  • Searching for ingredients in shampoos and lotions
  • Verifying business listings
  • product catalog building and enhancing
  • transcribing handwritten documents
  • classifying the products in an online store’s catalogue
  • Image tagging
Examples of micro-work may also include some not so noble assignments such as signing up as a bogus fan of a consumer brand on Facebook or some other social-networking site.

A 2011 report commissioned by infoDev titled Knowledge Map of the Virtual Economy, assessed the development potential of micro-work. The report noted a fairly prominent example of micro-work and virtual economies in the third-party gaming services industry. According to the report, an estimated 100,000 young, low-skilled workers in countries such as China and Vietnam earned their primary income by harvesting virtual resources and providing player-for-hire services in popular online games such as World of Warcraft. The report observed further that the gross revenues of this third-party gaming services industry were approximately $3.0 billion in 2009, most of which was captured in the developing countries where these services were produced. interestingly that compared to the global coffee market, on which many developing countries are highly dependent, being worth over $70 billion—but only $5.5 billion was captured by the developing countries that produced the coffee beans.

In the recent past, micro-work distribution platforms such as Samasource, txteagle and Mobileworks have sprung up with much success, attracting significant investments charitable foundations and venture capital firms. With ubiquity of mobile phones, improving mobile networks infrastructure and growing levels of education in East Africa, much potential lies in creating socially and economically relevant innovations around micro-work. More specifically there is potential for creation of mobile innovations that facilitate serving, executing and paying for micro-work. Currently, micro-workers need access to computers, which are expensive and require relatively expensive infrastructure. If more micro-work could be channelled and completed through the millions of mobile phone handsets in the hands of East Africans, that would imply creation of more such jobs.

The above prospect is why infoDev wants local entrepreneurs, developers and creatives to submit their ideas before April 2, 2012 for a mobile micro-work application that has market potential and can have a meaningful impact. The ideas needs to tackle existing problems or needs that can be addressed by micro-work. Ideas may be submitted alone or as part of a team. The regional tech and entrepreneurship community is also invited to be a part of discussions on other ideas from the m2Work community.

infoDev, a global partnership program in the World Bank, will be using its vast network of Mobile Applications Labs (mLabs) and business incubators to help tech entrepreneurs every step of the way, from a seed-stage idea to a thriving start-up that creates sustainable jobs. The m2Work challenge wants to fuel the race for the best ideas, and to spark a goal-oriented, global discussion about mobile micro-work.

With individual cash prizes of up to US$20,000, organizers of the challenge will be assembling a high-profile jury consisting of representatives of Nokia, the World Bank, academia, the micro-work industry and the wider technology investment sector, who will select the prize winners. They will judge all submissions based on the criteria of potential development impact, innovativeness, feasibility and clarity of presentation.

Six finalists, who will receive coaching before a final pitching event, will be announced at the end of April. The grand prize will be awarded later in the year.

For more information, visit m2Work’s official website, www.ideasproject.com/m2Work

Contact person: Nicolas Friederici (infoDev / World Bank), email: nfriederici@worldbank.org

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