We first got wind of Konbit, an interactive skill-indexing communications platform for Haitians looking for work, last March when it was announced by MIT students Greg Elliott and Aaron Zinman. The platform allows locals to call an automated service, record their skills, and get jobs from NGOs that want to use local labor to assist in earthquake recovery efforts. Konbit went live in December and over 600 Haitians have since called the service to offer themselves for work.
It's been a long road to launch for Elliott and Zinman. The Konbit prototype was introduced last March in Miami at Konbit for Haiti, an unrelated community center for Haitians, whose members were interested in volunteering for earthquake relief. The 30-person trial proved that the automated service worked, but the MIT students had another problem: getting nonprofits to sign on.
"We spent quite a few months trying to approach NGOs and get them to put a stamp on the project. We kept hearing 'It sounds great, let us know when it's available,'" Zinman says.
So Zinman and Elliott put the finishing touches on Konbit and mounted a PR campaign in Haiti that included voiceover work from a well-known Haitian radio personality. Now that Konbit has messages from hundreds of Haitians, the organization is working with 1000 Jobs Haiti to translate recordings from Creole into English. This will give Konbit a searchable database of workers for NGOs to peruse.
"The aim is to get as many callers as possible translated in the next couple weeks," says Elliott. "Once that's done, it will be the best time to start approaching NGOs." The service is a finished product—it just needs organizations to step up and take advantage of the local talent it has to offer.