Meet the creator of ShaqoSearch, a tailor-made job connection platform that matches young adults with applicable skills to employers with open positions in Kismayo, Somalia.

What is ShaqoSearch?

Morgan: ShaqoSearch is a tailor-made job connection platform that matches young adults with applicable skills to employers with open positions in Kismayo, Somalia.

How does it work?

Morgan: On ShaqoSearch, young adults create a personal profile to market their skills and experiences while employers create profiles indicating open employment opportunities. 

Young adults on the platform will range from those with little to no education but that have work experience to those with professional degrees, whereas employers will range from community members seeking help for short-term projects to those seeking a full-time employee. 

Using artificial intelligence and the profiles available on the platform, ShaqoSearch determines preliminary employment matches between young adults and open employment opportunities. Those matches are sent to Alight’s staff for an additional verification and final determination on an employment match. Once a final match is determined and locked in by Alight on the platform, the employer and employee are given each other’s contact information through the platform.

Throughout the duration of employment, ShaqoSearch seeks feedback through the platform ensuring both parties are satisfied and with the partnership with Alight any challenges that surface can be assessed and addressed. Once the employment partnership is completed or two weeks have passed in the case of full-time employment matches, the employer pays for the employee’s service through mobile payment transfer on ShaqoSearch. This payment includes a small service premium fee paid to Alight to financially sustain the venture.  

One thing that is really cool about ShaqoSearch’s partnership with Alight is how many young adults and employers the platform will be able to reach regardless of a person’s technology access, education level or literacy rate. This is because Alight can receive phone calls and walk-in appointments at its Kismayo support center to collect profiles verbally, removing the need for a user to read or write. Additionally, those lacking access to technology can create profiles in Alight’s computer lab. For young, literate adults, ShaqoSearch will have language options of Somali and English to alleviate language barriers. It really goes to show that ShaqoSearch is centered on inclusion and aims to provide access and opportunity to all.

So what kind of jobs are coming through?

Morgan: It’s not live yet and we are still in the testing phases but the idea right now is that the jobs will range from someone who needs help painting their house or carrying water, so more of the day to day jobs every once and awhile, all the way up to an NGO who is seeking an administrative assistant or someone to work in HR. It will have a full range of jobs. Right now, we’re seeing that a lot of the jobs available are more in the retail space, mostly restaurants or stores in the community or in the construction sector. Those are the sectors we will probably target first as we are piloting everything, but eventually we’ll have that full range of employment opportunities.     

How did you come up with the idea?

Morgan: It all started in the Grand Challenge Course looking at solutions to global health challenges around the world. I have always been interested in global health but when the class started, I had no idea what kind of project I wanted to work on. However, after reading the book “City of Thorns” and hearing about one of my professor’s recent travels to Africa I asked to be put on the team assigned with developing an intervention that would improve young adult livelihoods in Kismayo, Somalia. When I first entered the course, I never would have imagined working on an intervention for a community in Somalia, however, the initial discussions and projects in the grand challenge course made me realize I was very passionate about improving young adults' livelihoods. This passion only continued to grow after our team was connected with our partner organization, Alight.

So, before we could even think about an intervention it was really important that we understood the problem and what stakeholder needs were present. Our team did this through weekly conversations with Alight’s Somalia team. Through these meetings our class team quickly learned that young adults in Kismayo, Somalia, are a passionate and talented group looking to make a change in their country following the Somali Civil War and closing refugee camps but are struggling to find employment opportunities due to traditional word-of mouth hiring practices and employers hiring through clan and family ties. 

ShaqoSearch developed from this realization during one of our team’s many brainstorming sessions that were aimed at finding a solution to that problem. We thought of some really crazy solutions during these brainstorming sessions on how to improve young adult livelihoods ranging from uber eats for fish to starting an entrepreneurship program, however, our conversations with Alight always seemed to circle back to the job connection platform. Simply put, it was the solution that presented the most potential to create a lasting impact for the community.

What challenges did you run into?

Morgan: Oh wow, so many. Coming up with a solution to a grand challenge is really not an easy feat. I think the first challenge our team encountered was really trying to ensure what we developed as a solution would have a lasting impact and not just end when the class ended. We wanted to ensure the solution had potential to really make an impact. Saying this and doing it, however, are very different. A large challenge was simply thinking of a solution. Like I said earlier it took a lot of brainstorming sessions to think of our final solution. Even when the idea for a job connection platform was determined there were additional challenges with designing it for a population halfway across the world.  We had to think of challenges we never would have really considered if we had been designing it for a population in our community. For example, technology access in some parts of Somalia is much different than in the United States. Additionally, we had to consider the literacy rate of young adults in the community, their education levels and what past experiences they would have. 

I think the biggest challenge our team faced and that I still have to address every day as I continue to develop the platform are the cultural differences and traditions in Somalia. Hiring practices are vastly different in Somalia than they are in the United States and ShaqoSearch has to address these in its design. Additionally, there are language barriers and different time zones to consider. So while ShaqoSearch on paper may sound like everything is figured out and running perfectly I think it's important to recognize that everyday a new challenge presents itself that I did not think of the day before and it is back to the drawing boards to figure out how best to tailor the platform to the community it is being built for.

What was the biggest thing you learned during the process?

Morgan: I have learned so much throughout this process, but I have two main takeaways. The first is that when developing a solution to a grand challenge you have to remember who you are developing the solution for and constantly ensure you are meeting their needs. You have to start with the community you are working with and make sure that everything you do is being done to ensure the product works as well as it possibly can for them and is helping to fill a gap or solve a problem. This often means making sure you are meeting with your stakeholders and those who understand your stakeholders the best as often as possible. For me this was done through weekly Skype meetings with my team in Somalia and through that team conducting interviews of young adults and employers in Kismayo. I am currently getting fun interview transcripts back from my team that are translated from Somali back to English for me to read in order to really understand what the young adults and employers in Kismayo are saying. 

This process has also taught me incredible skills for how to lead multicultural teams. During our team meetings it is my responsibility to ensure we make it through the agenda and that everyone understands their tasks for the upcoming week. Having this responsibility has improved my leadership skills immensely. Additionally, while it may sound kind of silly it has also taught me how challenging it can be to work across time zones. My team calls are often early in the morning for me due to the time difference between the U.S. and Somalia and when I send an email I cannot expect a response back in a few hours but have to understand it might be 1-2 days before I hear back. This has taught me the importance of planning and how important it is to not procrastinate. While multicultural and diverse teams bring about challenges that other teams may not present, they are also extremely beneficial, and I think necessary when developing a solution to a grand challenge.

What are the next steps?

Morgan: I was originally planning to travel to Nairobi, Kenya in June 2020 to work with my team in person on piloting ShaqoSearch, but due to COVID-19, this has been pushed back. I will be traveling as soon as possible to Nairobi, probably over winter break or even next summer, in order to work with Alight’s Somalia and Kenya teams to further develop and implement ShaqoSearch in Kismayo. Kismayo’s office and team works directly with the team in Nairobi in order to design and implement interventions, so this is a good connection point.

In the meantime, this summer I will be leading my team virtually. I am currently developing ShaqoSearch’s website MVP in order to launch and validate assumptions in Kismayo. Another exciting thing that I’m doing right now is beginning the process of hiring ShaqoSearch’s first employee in Kismayo. I’m working with Alight and looking for our first employee who will be working with me personally to design and code the final platform. I am extremely excited because the whole platform is about improving young adult’s livelihoods, and the business will actually create a job itself.

Over the summer I’ll also be working with Alight to plan ShaqoSearch’s future. I graduate this year, so we’re trying to figure out where the project will go when I graduate. Right now, they are thinking of possibly expanding to other African countries in which Alight has offices. I’m working with the country director in Somalia to figure out not only how we can tailor the platform to the population in Somalia, but also communities across the continent.

How can people find out more?

Morgan: If anyone wants to find out more I would love to hear from them through email at [email protected]. ShaqoSearch does not have a website quite yet so the best way to learn more is to connect with me personally via LinkedIn, social media or email.