The World Bank says a ground-breaking initiative designed and implemented in four months, with less than US$200,000, is creating thousands of jobs for young Jamaicans in the virtual global economy.
The Washington-based financial institution said on April 24 that Digital Jam 2.0 has created employment for more than 4,000 young people on online platforms.
It has also established funds to support start-ups in the app economy and the commercialization of apps.
In addition, the World Bank said Digital Jam 2.0 has created several internships with leading Caribbean telecom companies, ensured offers of scholarships for winners to a master’s program at Howard University in Washington, and created mentorship programs from national and international companies operating in the information technology sphere.
The World Bank noted that Jamaica has about 800,000 young people between the ages of 12 and 35, about 34 percent of the population.
In the coming years, it said job creation will not come from traditional sectors, such as agriculture, tourism and manufacturing, due to competitiveness disadvantages vis-à-vis other countries due to issues of scale, the country’s insular nature, the high cost of energy and high levels of crime and violence, among other issues.
The bank said previous approaches to solving the unemployment problem have concentrated on skills development, but vocational education training programs have reported limited success.
Much less attention has been given to the linkages with the labor market and facilitating students’ transition into it once they graduate, it said.
Furthermore, the World Bank said unemployment and underemployment are “endemic in all socio-economic groups – including people with secondary and tertiary degrees.”
In addition, the bank said Jamaica cannot borrow from international lending institutions “given its fragile macroeconomic situation.”
It said looking for solutions outside of the box was necessary to respond to one of the client’s most pressing problems: youth unemployment.
Therefore, the World Bank said Digital Jam 2.0 promoted solutions to high youth unemployment in Jamaica with new opportunities in the global virtual economy, microwork and e-lancing, and the booming “app economy.”
Microwork is a form of distributed work being performed online and generally paid by the micro task, image-tagging, data mining, which can be performed by people who do not need high technical skills.
E-lancing refers to the range of free-lancing professions that can be performed online, where the product can be compressed in a file format.
The World Bank said Digital Jam 2.0 hosted a marketplace with the participation of about 40 national and international companies who are leaders in the IT sector, giving an opportunity to youths to interact directly with businesses in that sphere.
It said Digital Jam 2.0 was launched in June 2012 and saw the participation of 2,000 young Jamaicans in a series of competitions – app contests and a hackathon on the sports industry, workshops, training on mobile software development, and presentations by industry leaders, as well as successful young Jamaicans who are currently working online.
In addition, the bank said Digital Jam 2.0 provided young people in Jamaica the stage to showcase the capacity, talent and commitment necessary to be “game changers” for the economy and drivers of a knowledge-based society.
As a result, the bank said about 4,400 new Jamaican youths are working on microwork and e-lancing platforms.
“Digital Jam 2.0 has sparked a lot of interest from a number of partners,” it said.
“Private sector partnerships are emerging between national and international players to establish microwork hubs in Jamaica,” it added, stating that these will be fully funded by the private sector.
The World Bank said it and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) are negotiating an externally funded output agreement to continue raising awareness about opportunities for work online and, in particular, in the niche of creative industries.
It said the government of Jamaica has requested the establishment of Digital Jam as a yearly event, adding that the bank is currently seeking options to make it happen.
“We truly believe this is the way forward for Jamaica, and the World Bank is certainly creating the momentum,” Marcelle Smart, country manager, Microsoft Jamaica.
“The World Bank has provided tremendous support in envisioning the event, bringing appropriate partners together, and facilitating our participation. Future support of this nature would be welcome,” said Anand Pramod Kulkarni, CEO, Mobileworks.
Roxanne Wanliss, a 25-year-old participant from Kingston, the Jamaican capital, told the World Bank that participants “had the opportunity to interact and learn with the game changers from Silicon Valley.
“It has also inspired our young people to have more confidence in entrepreneurship, by opening our eyes on ways in which we can use our skills and talents, offering first class IT services to the world, right here from our Jamaican IT hub.”