Kenya has one of the highest rates of workers engaged in the informal employment sector in Africa. In 2016, the Kenyan Bureau of Statistics estimated that 83 percent of the country’s working population were part of the informal sector.
Kenyans call the informal sector Jua Kali—meaning "fierce sun" in Swahili—because it describes the tough conditions workers face from day-to-day, often labouring in the sweltering sun.
The informal sector provides essential economic opportunities for poorer populations, but the jobs can be precarious. Improving informal jobs and finding ways to integrate them into the formal economy are key to reducing poverty and promoting economic growth.
This is exactly what Lynk is doing through its platform.
A path out of poverty
The startup was partly supported by Mercy Corps’ Social Venture Fund, which invests and supports emerging businesses that have the potential to “pioneer paths out of poverty” and “improve people’s lives in enduring ways.”
Lynk was launched in 2015 in response to the growing challenge of youth unemployment in Kenya and throughout sub-Saharan Africa. The majority of Kenyans—especially young adults—are locked into undependable, low-paying jobs.
“Unfortunately, the average 21-year-old plumber in Kenya does not have access to (career centers) and faces the constant struggle of finding work,” says Adam Grunewald, the co-founder of Lynk, who left his job at Google to develop a platform to help workers in the informal economy. “That’s why we created Lynk, a technology platform designed to address the specific needs of informal workers and to help individuals grow meaningful careers.”
Lynk offers a network of workers, permitting employers to book services from over 100 categories, from carpenters and plumbers to tailors and caterers. The workers’ identities and skills are verified by Lynk before they are permitted on the platform.
Workers must go through a vetting process before joining Lynk’s platform, including background checks, interviews, and skills assessments. And they also must provide recommendations or references. In some instances, Lynk trials workers on smaller jobs before they become full participants on the platform.
Once registered with Lynk, the workers are able to access job opportunities that match their skill-set through text messages with the location of the job and the amount it pays. If the worker is available then they can respond, expressing their interest in the opportunity. After finishing the job, the employer writes a review of the job, which can improve the worker's profile and lead to more work.
Lynk is focused on acquiring verified workers, completing jobs, and doing so with high customer satisfaction. Customers can also select a worker based on their online profile with Lynk, so the greater customer satisfaction a worker has, the more likely they are to get jobs with other customers in the future.
Over the course of a worker’s engagement with Lynk, their job becomes more formalized. Lynk keeps a history of the jobs each worker does, the duration of the job, the amount they were paid, as well as a history of their performance. Over time, the workers can develop a profile to help them gain full-time employment in the formal sector.
Better work through data
Lynk is constantly refining its algorithm to improve the platform and provide better matches. It even considers factors like a worker’s transit time to get to a job, to avoid exorbitant travel costs.
Through the platform, Lynk is also able to collect a wealth of data about the informal economy that is not readily available.
“Using our strong experience in data science and statistical modeling,” says Grunewald, “We’re eager to dive into a wealth of data about a sector that remains relatively unknown by most governments, regulating bodies and research institutes.“
There are 1,200 active workers using Lynk’s platform to connect to employment opportunities in Nairobi, but the demand for the service is much greater. The opportunities provided through Lynk are generally short-term jobs, but the ultimate goal is that their work experiences will lead to fulltime employment.
Lynk’s greatest challenge is ensuring that the workers have the skills and experience that they claim.
“With high rates of unemployment in Kenya and low standards of certification and accreditation for vocational and technical skills, there are a lot of people who might say they are skilled in a trade but are not,” Grunewald says.
Lynk’s 15-member team is working to improve the platform before expanding to other major cities throughout sub-Saharan Africa. While Lynk is still a new business, it has proven that its business model is viable and has enormous potential to link workers to employment opportunities.
In the near future, Lynk aspires to be the leading career platform in the informal sector.
“We envision a world in which everyone can enjoy job security, fair wages, a safe work environment, and the opportunity for career growth,” Lynk says on its website. “Additionally, for a household, hiring someone for a job should be safe, convenient, and fair.”