Enabling Ethical Hiring for migrant workers
WE ARE CARING
David Bensadon’s story is one of the most impressive among those we’ve collected so far. He decided to take on a challenge which many would consider unsolvable.
In Singapore, like in many other countries particularly in Asia and Middle-East, the Government allows families to hire foreign workers, or helpers, to help them with taking care of their children, the grandparents or mainly the housekeeping. These helpers work and live at the home of their employer and are typically hired for two years. There are approximately 240,000 foreign domestic helpers in Singapore, most of them coming from rural areas in the Philippines, Indonesia and Myanmar. The average monthly salary of a Filipino helper who works in Singapore for the first time is S$ 570 (US$430), it is usually less for other nationalities. It is very low compared to the Singapore standard but it is higher than the salary they could obtain in their home country.
The problem is that a helper must pay very high fees to the employment agency here and in her home country to get a job. Since she does not have savings, she would typically receive no salary at all for the first 4 to 6 months due to salary deduction! During this period of time, she cannot help her family back home, pay any school fees or cover any medical expense that could occur.
Also, if a helpers changes job and gets another employer in Singapore, agencies would charge her an additional 1 to 2 months of salary deduction.
The Singapore Government is aware of this situation and implemented a cap on the salary deduction (2 months max) to be taken by local agencies, while the Governments in the sourcing countries are now following the same trend. However, regulating a sector of thousands of agencies on each side is difficult and takes time.
We Are Caring is the first agency to change this pattern in Singapore and to promote a debt-free recruitment model.
We are 100% free for helpers. They can apply online or visit our office. We also empower them: while agencies traditionally provide prospective employers demeaning information about applicants such as their height and weight, we invite applicants to record short introduction videos in which they can freely talk about their experience but also about what they like, their personal projects. It makes the matchmaking easier.
Also, we optimised the administrative side of our activity: we are now a paperless company and the hiring process is entirely managed with electronic signatures and some level of automation.
So while we earn less revenue per matching (families pay the same price as in other agencies, but helpers do not pay anything), we are able to sustain our activity by relying on volume and scalability.
Right now, we focus on helpers who are already in Singapore and we provide for them the way to find a new job. It’s working, we proved the concept. The good news is that now we have a Facebook group with 1000 helpers. They became our ambassadors, helping us to spread the word.
And that’s just the beginning.
At the end of the year, we are planning to open an agency in the Philippines to create the first debt-free migration channel for domestic workers from a sourcing country to a destination country. In the long term perspective, we want the debt-free model to be the norm not only in Singapore, but also in other main destination cities in Asia. The ambition is to have a real impact in terms of social issues to free migrant domestic workers from all forms of potential debt exploitation.
Previously, I worked in my home country, France, for a couple of years on how to improve elderly care, from a public health perspective. Then, I decided to pursue an MBA in Tel Aviv university, with an exchange semester at the National University of Singapore (NUS). At that time, I discovered that both countries were relying to some extent on migrant workers to take care of their elderly population. Singapore is a great place to start a business, everybody speaks English, the Government is open to innovation, the quality of life is high and it is a strategic location in South-East Asia, so I decided to set up We Are Caring at the end of the year 2015. I came here and now I work 7 days per week, till late hours, on this project.
I guess the usual answer is that I feel useful. And that’s true. You see that the challenge in front of you is so big, you can’t stop on the way, it would be a shame. What’s very striking is that there is absolutely nothing that prevents other agencies from doing what we do. But until now it has not happened. We Are Caring must be strongly business-oriented, but feedback from NGOs is positive and we work well together. We really manage to make a change together and I cannot wait for a bigger impact.
So far it really works. When we interviewed David it was just a small project, nobody was sure it would survive. Today, it is a well organized agency, hiring and changing lives of thousands of helpers.
I think you don’t need anything particular to make a change. Most of the time it’s possible and easy, so just do it. Along the way you get connections that you didn’t expect and this helps you to move forward. There are two ways to build a start-up: You can spend a lot of time and energy to build the perfect product or you can start without the final product but strongly focused on getting your first customers and learning on the way. So get the first customers, even if it’s messy: they will forgive you as you are just starting. It’s easier to go from a first experience and improve it than thinking a lot on how to make this super-cool stuff and feel overwhelmed with it. The small steps approach is always preferred.
Update 23rd March 2018: It is an important milestone for We Are Caring. It took us longer than expected but we just obtained this week the accreditation from the Philippines embassy! We are now allowed to offer our service to helpers located in the Philippines, and to provide them jobs in Singapore without any salary deduction! It’s gonna be a great change for helpers, we are prepared for it, and it starts this coming April!
More about We are caring: wearecaring.com