What can 250,000 people do in their spare time to earn money?
September 21, 2011 3:07 AM   Subscribe

What's the best way to help 250,000 unskilled, decentralized workers on a flexible part-time basis earn money at home in their spare time? Solutions should be a) legal, b) scalable, c) easy to learn/implement.

Where I live there are a large number of maids (250,000) whose time is under-utilized at the households they live/work at. It would be great to find a way to help them make a bit more money to send back to their home country, but how? I've thought about ways to help them make better use of their spare time, maybe through manual means (ie. crafts) or possibly online (ie. character farming on online games). The best solution will give opportunities to people who are willing to work for them...not exactly like micro-financing, but in the same spirit.

I'm really interested in building a sustainable model that can help them earn money to send home, and also give them a sense of confidence and ownership over their lives beyond their maid services.

Are there some ways that can help these maids make money in their spare time that takes into account:
- decentralized location (they all live at their employers' homes)
- largely unskilled, but all are literate in English
- legal and non-demeaning options only (ie. nothing sexual)
- scalable - a solution that could grow exponentially, (maybe technology-related?)

posted by KiddAnnica to Computers & Internet (32 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
What sort of hourly rate would be necessary to get them to participate, and what languages or other educational skills are they likely to have?
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:38 AM on September 21, 2011

I'm guessing that the majority of them, if they follow the pattern of domestic help here in Singapore, have mobile phones and text plans that allow them to stay in touch with their family.

There's work on text based income earning opportunities - TxtEagle is one of them. And a snippet about it from MIT's Technology Review:

Now Nathan Eagle, a research fellow at the Santa Fe Institute, in New Mexico, is launching a project similar to Amazon's Mechanical Turk but that distributes tasks via cell phones. The goal of his project, called txteagle, is to leverage an underused work force in some of the poorest parts of the world.

Eagle says that distributing questions to participants in such developing countries via text messages or audio clips could make certain tasks more economical, such as the translation of documents into other languages, or rating the local relevance of search results. It could also provide a welcome source of income for those involved.

"We're trying to . . . tap into a group of people to complete these tasks who haven't been tapped before," says Eagle. "And we're using mobile phones, which have a high penetration rate. More people are mobile-phone subscribers in developing countries than in the developing world, so we can get a user base of billions of people."

If it doesn't suit your own location, then perhaps given the large number of people you'd to help, perhaps something similar can be set up for them/with them?
posted by infini at 3:38 AM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

Also I'm not really sure how you know that 250,000 people are looking to earn more money to send home?

Migrant workers - domestic help - The Philipines - statistics and data
posted by infini at 3:41 AM on September 21, 2011

You say not micro-finance, but I think that is what you want.

Otherwise, education. Either delivered by mobile or by finding local organisations who could provide training to reduce travel. Find a platform to build skills. I would be surprised if there was not already organisations doing this, however.
posted by wingless_angel at 4:13 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Educate them. They should get their next highest degree that prepares them to do more and follow their individual interests.


This has got to be the weirdest question I've ever seen here.
posted by Murray M at 4:50 AM on September 21, 2011 [5 favorites]

Educate them. They should get their next highest degree that prepares them to do more and follow their individual interests.

I'm jumping in because I've done some work with domestic workers from the Philllippines in particular (and if they're migrant workers the OP is referring to) the majority of these ladies are literate college graduates, one in particular had a Master's Degree. Education is not helping in some of these countries where there are no jobs to be had.
posted by infini at 5:01 AM on September 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

Really 250,000? If only ten percent of them are really smart, that's 25,000 really smart people stuck sweeping floors and cleaning toilets who could instead learn how to do just about anything you throw at them. Give those 25,000 really smart people something mentally challenging (compared to what they're doing) that also pays well and they will run with it.

Programming? Get someone to provide basic computers or phones they can use in their downtime to learn Java. Is it possible to program on (not just for, but directly on) a smartphone, maybe by adding a proper keyboard so you don't have to type everything on a tiny phone screen?

They could use the same phones to provide part-time telephone support for existing products. Maybe the phone manufacturer could provide the phones as part of an experiment to see how this goes.

So, for example, they start by offering phone support for certain Android phones (or some other products), meanwhile learning how to program for those Android phones, and then they sell their services as Android/Java programmers to the phone manufacturers or start their own software companies.

3. ???

4. Profit!

No, I think something like that might actually be possible. With a lot of luck and backing.
posted by pracowity at 5:03 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Pracowity, just taking your idea a step further - Android apps are free to start off with (I believe but don't know for sure, it costs money to even begin to do any dev on iOS) - this might be interesting for those with the requisite interest/ability.
posted by infini at 5:15 AM on September 21, 2011

If they have computer access, get them to do Mechanical Turk. It's not exactly a career or a future (or a lot of money), but it's a way to make small amounts of extra cash. And unlike most things you can do it in tiny little bits in whatever odd time there is, without training.
posted by forza at 5:22 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sewing, mending, dressmaking, alterations, per skill level. For a lot of it you need your own machine, but not all. Can start with work from their present employers and go from there.
posted by skbw at 5:29 AM on September 21, 2011

Education is not helping in some of these countries where there are no jobs to be had.
QFT. Even first world countries are finding out that throwing a college degree at a problem doesn't make it go away. More graduates does not automatically equal more graduate jobs.
posted by missmagenta at 5:31 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Teaching Spanish to neighborhood kids a/o homework help--the Filipino version is close enough for many purposes.
posted by skbw at 5:32 AM on September 21, 2011

Education is not helping in some of these countries where there are no jobs to be had.

Not to derail - I'm interested to know if skills training based on local needs, and microfinance has made a difference in jobs in these areas. Would be quite relevant to know this for some of the work I do actually.
posted by wingless_angel at 5:34 AM on September 21, 2011

So I'm going to be a parade-rainer.

I'm not sure about this whole idea. If you have a full-time, live-in maid, and you notice your maid is spending 20 hours a week moonlighting on a separate project while collecting a paycheck from you and living in your house, would you be happy about that? Even if there's only 20 hours a week of housework to do, I think you'd be very concerned that your maid would have the incentive to cut corners to spend more time attending to the marginal income from her other project.

For this reason, I think anything you find is likely to get people thrown out on the street, and the likelihood of this is proportional to how successful your idea is.

Given that, I think the first step wouldn't be finding additional work; it would be organizing. If they can do all the house work necessary in 20 hours instead of 40, maybe some of them should partner together and offer their employers a competitively-priced package based on part-time work. Then--franchise this model out! Build a brand! And so forth.

Afterwards, the 125,000 people who just got laid off can go be Android programmers or whatever.
posted by goingonit at 5:44 AM on September 21, 2011

All I can think of is small handicrafts, providing you coordinate export and sales via 10,000 Villages or some other vending-to-Westerners-willing-to-pay-a-premium channel.
posted by argonauta at 5:49 AM on September 21, 2011

you notice your maid is spending 20 hours a week moonlighting on a separate project while collecting a paycheck from you and living in your house,

Eh. I've never had a maid and surely never will, but one of the worst things about having a maid must be having her underfoot all the time when you wish you had the place to yourself. If she could clean everything I wanted her to clean in even less time and then get out of my way, I wouldn't give a damn if she spent the rest of her time quietly raising sea monkeys for fun and profit.
posted by pracowity at 6:10 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Another thing to take into consideration is what the labour laws are in the country you're talking about. In the UAE, for example, it is illegal to be working for someone other than your work visa sponsor. In the case of maids, that sponsor is usually the person whose home they work in; it could be a cleaning service in some cases. While many people do have side-jobs, it's something they have to be very quiet about, because they AND their sponsors can get into serious trouble with the law.

If she could clean everything I wanted her to clean in even less time and then get out of my way, I wouldn't give a damn if she spent the rest of her time quietly raising sea monkeys for fun and profit.

While I share that sentiment, I have realized over the years that I am in a very small minority. The vast majority of employers do not want their household help moonlighting.
posted by bardophile at 6:25 AM on September 21, 2011

Agreed on the country's laws for where and what kind of work the maids can do, but the ones I've observed (technically observed) who tended to do stuff for extra income did things like sell airtime for particular services (such as for Smart telcom who have packages for lowcost comm with the Philippines specifically from anywhere) and it was done after her official hours were over (unless you plan to have the maid oncall 24/7, most get off after dinner & clearing up).

It does indeed depend from employer to employer - though some can get themselves and their maids into trouble with the law for making small loans to other maids they meet (so I'd be careful with the microfinance business - unless its savings side and not loans side)
posted by infini at 6:33 AM on September 21, 2011

Might be most beneficial to teach them the nuts and bolts of entrepreneurship and bookkeeping so they have the skills (and confidence) to be able to come up with their own ideas and make them workable. If they are maids that move from house to house, I can see some of them being quite successful at those "Tupperware Party" style home furnishings businesses.

Other ideas might be (if this is the case) to help them with learning the language of their host countries so that they are able to fit in better and be more marketable. Along with that, better communication might help them converse with their hosts and have them be able to say "is there anything else I can do for you when I have downtime?"
posted by gjc at 6:37 AM on September 21, 2011

Have them start their own bank.
posted by jeffamaphone at 6:52 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding the sewing/piecework recommendation upthread. I've been thinking lately that with the current popularity of vintage clothing, there's a viable business model for the taking for whoever can get a good vintage repro service up and running. Like, I send you my beloved but fragile 1950s dress, you copy it and send the new dress back to me with the original. Or you take vintage patterns and make them in a range of modern sizes. There's at least one eBay seller I know of who does that successfully.
posted by nonasuch at 8:52 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think it would be hard to generalize about such a large and diverse group of people. Do they all want more work on top of their duties now? I'm sure they want more money, but how much spare time do they have realistically? And anything that's going to take up their employers' resources (like power, fuel, space etc.) is probably not going to be encouraged.
I'd say--is there a way for them to pool any spare money they have and invest it? I know that if they're in the UAE or the Mid-east, any sort of inter-group loans that generate or charge interest might be frowned upon.

Most of these maids wouldn't be underfoot--they're not living in 1,500 sq ft. bungalows.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:04 AM on September 21, 2011

Foreign missionary kid here. My family had both a full-time housekeeper/nanny and a groundskeeper in South America. Together, they were like second parents to me.

But it's true—some weeks there was MUCH to do for the house and the kids (my brother and I), and other times there was little for them to do.

A lot of it was seasonal, for example, if it were "Back to School" time, the housekeeper/nanny would have to help us gear up. If it were "Planting Season," the groundskeeper would have to supervise.

But there were many weeks where there was little to do, so my parents kind of let them loose to go make extra cash within our network of other missionary families. It was more like day labor, and they'd come home at night. For example, if a visiting family came to stay for a month, my parents would highly recommend our housekeeper for cleaning their house once or twice a week.

This is all anecdotal at best, but maybe it has more to do with the attitudes and behaviors of the employers, versus teaching these workers an entirely new skill.

Maybe there's some sort of infrastructure that could create a community of employers that would:

a.) change the conception of "it's my money, worker has to stay put"
b.) give workers a bit more freedom to go use the skills they already have
c.) build a network of "recommenders" that could help them find the extra work

Just a brainstorm, and I have no idea how scalable it is to 250,000, but it worked pretty well for our little missionary community of about 500 or so.
posted by functionequalsform at 9:40 AM on September 21, 2011

Thanks for the replies.
More education is a great suggestion, but unfortunately the environment is also racially biased and so even a high school or college degree won't get them a job. In fact some of the maids are college graduates but since they can earn more abroad than in their home countries, they give up their degree to support their families back home.
Risking employment visas by doing extra work is a fair point; the current system doesn't allow for it, but from a fairness standpoint, the maids have a day off and also evenings, so there is plenty of time outside of working hours that they could spend in good conscience (though strictly speaking not allowed by law).

Sewing/crafts could work, but trying to figure out the logistics of this and how it could scale. Also quality control would be an issue.

I like the idea of text messaging income, and will definitely look into that.

I think programming might be a bit difficult and intimidating for most.

Entrepreneurship is great, and definitely want them to nurture that sense of personal responsibility and opportunity.

I'd love to explore other ideas related to apps and mobile phone platform as infini noted the penetration is so high.
posted by KiddAnnica at 9:57 AM on September 21, 2011

Teaching Spanish

linked to this askme http://ask.metafilter.com/196581/Existe-esto with an realtime human app ... :)
posted by infini at 10:37 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

btw, KiddAnnica, I've sent you a Memail
posted by infini at 10:40 AM on September 21, 2011

Have you gotten a focus group of the people in question? What do they say? Who among them wants to organize it?
posted by skbw at 2:33 PM on September 21, 2011

In Singapore, it could lead to the maid's visa being revoked and her employer being fined. Employers do sometimes turn a blind eye to some extra work on weekends, but it couldn't be systematic by law. The domestic workers visas are designed to restrict what work temporary migrants can do in order to control employment access.

Here, domestic workers are meant to live on the employer's premises and there's no real time off mandated. That means a lot of maids are essentially 24/7 in a house with no regular downtime except by the family's schedule. A part-time job, even online (and how would they get access to a computer? Or afford a smartphone?) requires reliable repeating time to work, and they would either have to have an understanding employer or cut into their rest/sleep time which is not healthy long-term.

To read up more, http://www.twc2.org.sg/ Transient Workers Count Too is a great local NGO focusing partly on domestic workers.

There's also a lot of diversity in the domestic workers - the Philippine group here is tightly knit, has good support from organisations and the embassy, and are largely fluent in English and highschool or college graduates. Ditto for the smaller Burma/Myanmar group. The Indonesian maids are much more likely to have lower education and limited English/Chinese, and are not as organised.

The focus here is generally on skill training on off-days. (http://www.todayonline.com/Singapore/EDC110711-0000025/More-employers-sending-maids-for-skills-upgrading) The local community centres have courses for English and basic skills, while some employers allow or sponsor their maids to go for longer courses in languages or business skills.

I just don't see how you could do this on a large scale legally, and the sheer diversity of the domestic workers (most of whom are in one country/one family situation for 2-4 years max) would make scaling a single solution difficult.

Focusing on a niche market/skill might work better.

Also: yes, their time is under-utilized, but that's part of what they're hired for, to be on stand-by and available whenever there's a need. Domestic workers, especially live-in domestic workers act as housewives do - they fill in the gaps and make everyone else's busy lives easier. That they have periods of low activity is intrinsic to the job, otherwise the cost/privacy benefit of a cleaning service would be superior.
posted by viggorlijah at 6:01 PM on September 21, 2011

Or afford a smartphone?

viggorlijah - do an informal survey as you meet them, I think you'll be surprised.
posted by infini at 8:16 PM on September 21, 2011

Infini, I did actually ask around for that and it came down to what the employer allowed (which I think is ridiculous - she's an adult, she should be able to have a phone if she wants) and money. The maids on lower salaries have cheaper phones, while the better paid, typically Filipino maids, have nicer phones. However, most of them have chosen to get netbooks not smart phones because of the data plan costs here. If the employing family has wifi, their internet access is free, and they can do more on a netbook like decent video Skype. A smart phone with a monthly data plan or pre-paid data plans is not as good a deal for most of them, although if it meant you could earn more money through work on it, I'm sure they would. I'm a heavy iphone user and my bill is about $100 a month for data/voice. If I had a regular phone or a prepaid, I could cut that to $30-$40 instead. Interesting discussion!
posted by viggorlijah at 8:06 PM on October 1, 2011

However, most of them have chosen to get netbooks not smart phones because of the data plan costs here. If the employing family has wifi, their internet access is free, and they can do more on a netbook like decent video Skype.

Now I'm surprised! Interesting indeed. My regular conversations must be with the upper median of phones (neighbours) because she was the one who told me about smartphones becoming far more popular (she's the one who sells airtime at night, by simply keying in the pin numbers on her own phone). I wonder if the netbook phenomena is among a slightly younger crowd with better education?
posted by infini at 8:49 PM on October 1, 2011

Another question strikes me, are asking more among the expat employer community vs my neighbourhood is HDB? Wondering about the source of the netbook idea..
posted by infini at 8:52 PM on October 1, 2011

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