Using crowdsourcing and technology to empower underprivileged talent with fair and flexible work opportunities - China

Competition Finalist

This entry has been selected as a finalist in the
Powering Economic Opportunity: Create a World that Works competition.

With a highly scalable model, we seek to connect businesses with untapped talents across geographic boundaries and create a fundamental shift in the way work is done in developing countries, providing the greatest degree of flexibility, transparency and fairness in a work space.
We have empowered over 1000 young people to work for themselves, gain experience and earn additional income that would lift them from a life of distress to a life with choices. The majority of our workers are located in second- and third-tier cities, where jobs are hard to secure and labor law is weakly enforced, and 86% of them are female.
Through a powerful technological solution and a persistent emphasis on humanity, we provide masses of underprivileged talent an alternative to work with dignity and fair pay.

About You

Organization: Zuodao (做到) Visit websitemore ↓↑ hide↑ hide

About You

First Name

Dongli

Last Name

Zhang

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About Your Organization

Organization Name

Zuodao (做到)

Organization Website

Organization Country

China

Country where this project is creating social impact

China

Is your organization a

For‐profit

How long has your organization been operating?

Less than a year

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Innovation

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Entry Form title

Using crowdsourcing and technology to empower underprivileged talent with fair and flexible work opportunities - China

What change do you want to bring to the world?

With a highly scalable model, we seek to connect businesses with untapped talents across geographic boundaries and create a fundamental shift in the way work is done in developing countries, providing the greatest degree of flexibility, transparency and fairness in a work space.
We have empowered over 1000 young people to work for themselves, gain experience and earn additional income that would lift them from a life of distress to a life with choices. The majority of our workers are located in second- and third-tier cities, where jobs are hard to secure and labor law is weakly enforced, and 86% of them are female.
Through a powerful technological solution and a persistent emphasis on humanity, we provide masses of underprivileged talent an alternative to work with dignity and fair pay.

What are the primary activities of your project?

Zuodao is an online collaborative platform that provides cloud-based labor for businesses and organizations, leveraging the spare time of young people and underserved population to work on business processes such as data entry, translation, and inquiry processing.

Our primary activities are:
1. Getting work assignments from customers and delivering with speed and quality.

After we make a sale, the digital assignment from our customer/client is submitted to our system. Our system breaks the assignment up into thousands of mini-tasks and distributes them to hundreds of workers. Once a user (worker) completes his/her piece, the system runs a quality check then recombines the high quality pieces. The final project is reviewed and submitted to our customer.

2. Building our user/worker base into a community and serving its needs.

We identify skilled talents in need of part-time jobs through targeted advertising, partnership with non-profits, as well as word-of-mouth. We screen their applications and accept them in small increments. After examining workers’ online behavior and performance, we upgrade them to paid jobs and arrange payments via Paypal and Alipay. Various mechanisms, such as a levelling system and competitions, motivate our workers and build their skills at the same time.

3. Ceaselessly improving the underlying technology that makes our platform possible.

To ensure quality of deliverables, a significant amount of our efforts are invested in improving the technology and developing new functionalities to enhance the online collaborative work process.

What is innovative about your initiative? How is it a new contribution to the field?

Crowdsourcing has started to revolutionize a fundamental aspect of human life – work. The functional improvements we are making enable our initiative to be a lot more effective in developing countries.

On Zuodao, large assignments are broken up into small pieces, which are allocated to different users according to their capabilities, interests and availability. Therefore, as long as there is Internet, our users can determine where to work, when to work, how much and what to work on completely out of their own choices. This is especially helpful in developing countries where people have less choice in their work schedule.

Because our powerful technological platform replaces redundant middle management typically required in traditional outsourcers, we are able to pass down a substantial amount of revenue to our workers and increase their earnings per hour by a large margin.

All our workers are evaluated solely based on their performance and effective contribution. They can track their work approval history and challenge its results at any time. Thus they are paid for what their work is actually worth, without dealing with office politics or being implicitly or explicitly discriminated against any social, gender, physical or religious factors.

Unlike many outsourcing enterprises that turn workers into a mindless assembly line, our priority is to create a community that enhances mutual learning. On our platform, they can review each other’s work and also invite friends from across the world and help each other do better.

What stage is your project in?

Operating for less than a year

Tell us about the community that you engage? eg. economic conditions, political structures, norms and values, demographic trends, history, and experience with engagement efforts.

In China, 8.5 million people graduate from college every year. According to the 2010 Employment Report on Chinese College Graduates, nearly 1 million of them cannot find jobs; for those who do, 40% quit within the first six months due to low pay, unsatisfactory work environment, and glass ceiling barriers. The average salary for a college graduate, around 2100 RMB per month is barely enough to cover high rent and food costs. On top of that, it is common for employers to exploit them with unfair compensation practices, such as so-called “training” that takes advantage of their free labor or extended probation periods without pay.

Though not traditionally considered to be the target of poverty alleviation efforts, this demographic is close to the Base of the Pyramid. They face tremendous difficulties in finding jobs, struggling to make ends meet, and often having multiple family members to support. Despite the country’s seeming prosperity, many young people hold pessimistic views toward adult life and lack career motivations. However, their happiness is the keystone to a healthy, prosperous society.

This demographic makes up the vast majority of users on our site. Most of them are from Central, West and Northeast China, such as Hunan, Sha’anxi and Liaoning Province, outside the centers of economic prosperity. 86% of them are female.

Within two weeks after launching the beta in mid-May, we received over 4000 applications to join our platform, confirming our initial assessment of demand. By the time of entry submission, we have approved over 1000 users and the number continues to grow every day. We estimate 5000 people will have registered to work on our platform by the end of August. Users typically sign in once every two days, indicating strong engagement and a constant demand for the platform.

Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project

Having grown up in both the US and China, we (Eric Liu and Sam Li) had the opportunity to compare, first-hand, the state of work in China to that of a developed economy. Seeing many of our peers and friends from childhood here get stuck in stressful and unproductive work environments, we realized that the combination of modern office culture and a rapidly developing society in China has caused a myriad of serious work-related issues.
We have observed, in disbelief, hardworking people being arbitrarily deprived of opportunities due to social bias, coworkers spending extraordinary amounts of energy engaged in office politics, women being discriminated against, and job promotions often based on favors rather than performance. Inexperienced workers become poorly motivated and unproductive at work. Furthermore, many young white-collar workers receive little or no respect; they suffer through lengthy and extremely congested commutes, have no choice in what they do, and are susceptible to abuse in the absence of strong labor law enforcement. Many of them are also paid barely enough to cover their living costs.
We realized that these problems can be alleviated or even eliminated if we can create an online work “utopia” based upon meritocracy and self-improvement (and we know we can). Sam left his job as a software engineer at a Silicon Valley powerhouse and Eric quit his management position at an entertainment and talent management firm in Beijing. Together, with the help of many friends who share our beliefs and with our savings, we have built our company and our platform.

Social Impact

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Please describe how your project has been successful and how that success is measured

Transparency and merit-based evaluation: We track every task a user has done and allow them to view which part of their work is approved or rejected with just one click. We also give users a clear idea of how their pay is calculated, so they would not worry about their efforts and contribution not being compensated. So far the number of users that have challenged any rejection of their work is less than 0.5% of registered users.

Income raised: Working effectively on our platform can earn a user 14-28 RMB per hour on average (depending on experience). Our top 1% users currently earn 300-700 RMB per week by utilizing their spare time. Since they were initially at subsistence level, this additional income can make a substantial difference to their life.

Worker satisfaction: Many users have expressed appreciation and gratitude to us in writing. They are happy to be able to work from home, apply their knowledge and improve their skills, and be part of this community. Many pledge to work harder and some have even started to work on a nearly full time basis.

Skills improved: All users are building their work experience over time and are climbing up the performance charts. We also design and offer tips and guides on our site to help them learn and grow. This enables our users to become more effective workers not only on our platform, but also in their day jobs.

Project quality and efficiency of delivery: So far all our customers have commended on our fast turn-around and professional standards and are recommending our service to others.

How many people have been impacted by your project?

1,001- 10,000

How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?

More than 10,000

How will your project evolve over the next three years?

Our roadmap for the next three years:

1. Expand to other service sectors. The beginning phase of our project focuses on limited types of business processes. Once we are technologically and financially ready, we will add other service lines.
2. Diversify worker demographics and skill sets. Besides students and young office workers, we will leverage new partnerships to engage more women and disabled workers.
3. Increase marketing and build partnerships with a variety of organizations.
4. Ceaselessly improve the supporting technology, making our platform more effective and more robust.

With our scalable model, we also aim to expand globally, in terms of both users and customers, to provide an alternative way of working to millions of young people.

Sustainability

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What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

Cloud-based labor force is a new concept and many enterprises have yet to realize its value. Since outsourced tasks are not core functions of their business, enterprises may stick to the convention and use companies with existing working relationships. We will start by working with forward-looking customers one-on-one to enhance the quality of our service. We will work on educating our customers with regards to our model and methodologies and highlight the significant cost and efficiency advantages our solution represents when it comes to large-volume projects.

The balance of work supply and demand is another major challenge. Since some of our workers may depend on us for the extra income, it is essential that we maintain a stable supply of work and avoid significant fluctuations so as to make a sustained impact over time. We plan to solve this issue in two ways: first, focus on securing long-term contracts with large customers; second, allocate a portion of our billings as well as fundraising for a reserve in case work supply is low. When that happens, we will take on more NGO work for free and use our reserve to pay our workers.

Since we are quite new, there may be credibility issues from both users and customers. We will do our best to serve the users, inform them of our mission, and make our process as transparent as possible. We will continue to build on our momentum, educate the public and enhance our brand by launching social media campaigns and receiving recognition and support from prestigious personae and institutions (e.g. Ashoka and the eBay Foundation).

Tell us about your partnerships

To benefit those who are most in need of our service, online service must be coupled with offline recruitments and training. We are working to partner with a number of local NGOs focusing on youth, women and marginalized population to increase the number of users and provide them with appropriate training. Some of them may already have programs that enable their target beneficiaries to do digital work for large corporations. Our system can easily integrate these efforts and maximize their impact.

Our business partners include international and local organizations that endorse our mission and have substantial task needs, typically large volume projects that require relatively quick turn-around.

We are also working with the Chinese Academy of Sciences to study user behavior, improve system efficiency and design better metrics to measure both quantitative and qualitative impacts.

Last but not least, we partner with our users, whose feedback is a constant source of encouragement and inspiration. We make improvements to our platform and develop an ever-increasing set of features that better help our users work, learn and grow . Annie, a 19-year-old girl studying at Nanchang University, wrote to us saying “Thank you! I really love this place and I will work very hard.” Ellen, 21, from Shenyang, Liaoning Province, said in her message “Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity, to work on a part-time job outside my studies. I can not only apply knowledge I learned in school, but also improve my skills. This is a magical website.”

Current annual budget of project, in US dollars

$100,000‐250,000

Explain your selections

Clients pay at market rates. Due to our low-cost model and strong technological solution, a majority of the fee we charge is allocated for the workers based on their effective contribution, at a ratio significantly higher than conventional outsourcers.

Our budget covers operational and developmental expenses including staff’s living costs, server hosting, office supplies and sales efforts. We have a team of software engineers working to respond to feedback from users.

The initial launch of the platform was financed through the founders’ own savings, with in-kind support from friends in law, consulting, IT and media. With Zuodao now ready to scale, we aim to secure additional funds to expand. We are applying for government funding that supports entrepreneurship and also talking to investors and venture philanthropists.

How do you plan to strengthen your project in the next three years?

Our strategy is tied to the three core priorities: users, customers and technology.

Zuodao’s unique model will be strengthened through scale. Once we have more users, we will have more capacity to serve more customers who can offer a wider variety of work types, thus giving users more choices. With more users, a sustainable community can then form. To achieve this, we plan to gain a diverse range of workers and expand our service offerings by deepening existing partnerships and sourcing new opportunities with a long-term prospect.

Once our domestic platform is robust enough, we can scale to other countries. After all, the problems that we are tackling exist in many other transitioning economies, and we want to explore ways in which our technology and approach can benefit the younger generation across the world.

In terms of technology, our platform will become more effective and robust as we continue to improve its features and iterate on existing functionalities. We also plan to develop mobile applications as an extension to our online platform. This will significantly enhance our model, enabling users to truly work anywhere and anytime. We will also work with experts on human-computer interaction to design and implement sustainable community-building strategies.

Challenges

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Which barriers to employment does your innovation address?
Please select up to three in order of relevancy to your project.

PRIMARY

Underemployment

SECONDARY

Lack of efficiency

TERTIARY

Inadequate transparency

Please describe how your innovation specifically tackles the barriers listed above.

Many people in developing countries have a hard time finding jobs due to shortage of local employment, lack of mobility or poor working environment. Zuodao connects workers to a cloud center of tasks, enabling them to work from home and get paid online.
This method also provides efficiency advantages – each worker gets to work on what they want to do and are capable of, and all this is arranged by technology, replacing human management that is often ineffective.
Many are unmotivated and frustrated at work because of poor performance metrics and overly subjective management decisions. Our platform offers incentives on a structured pay scale based purely on various performance indicators. It also provides comprehensive tracking and a summary of all evaluations easily accessible by users.

Are you trying to scale your organization or initiative?
If yes, please check up to three potential pathways in order of relevancy to you.

PRIMARY

Grown geographic reach: Multi-country

SECONDARY

Repurposed your model for other sectors/development needs

TERTIARY

Leveraged technology

Please describe which of your growth activities are current or planned for the immediate future.

For the next six months, our growth activities will include:
1. Engage and partner with targeted customers, such as large international NGOs and medium to large size corporations with ongoing labor outsourcing needs.
2. Market our platform through online advertisement, social media campaigns and offline events to potential users in and outside China and continue to expand our community.
3. Integrate our service into existing government and NGO programs focusing on labor training.
4. Continued iteration on the features and functionalities of our platform.

Do you collaborate with any of the following: (Check all that apply)

Technology providers, NGOs/Nonprofits, For profit companies, Academia/universities.

If yes, how have these collaborations helped your innovation to succeed?

We have provided service for some customers, including local for-profit enterprises as well as international NGOs, such as the World Food Programme and Junior Achievement. They help us grow our business, engage and excite users, as well as testing and strengthening our project management.

We also collaborate with researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and California Polytechnic State University to collect and analyze data from our system. They have helped us better understand user behavior, identify loopholes and bugs in the system, and design overarching as well as specific mechanisms to better serve our workers.

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148 weeks ago updated this Competition Entry.
148 weeks ago submitted this idea.