Al Akhawayn University
Mary Grace Neville
Moroccan widows, single mothers, and divorcees often face harsh stereotypes, making it very hard for them to find decent jobs through which they can generate income to support their families. Serve&Help was born as an approach to help these women improve their circumstances.
A group of students were involved in Enactus, a non-profit international organization that promotes social enterprises. Through the organization, those students learned about the importance of social entrepreneurship and became motivated to get involved in solving their society's problems. Enactus pushed them to go beyond the limits that their society has set for them as being irresponsible, young and inexperienced people who are not mature enough to impact their environment through their own innovation. Enactus has helped these students by paving the path for them to get all the information they need to create a start-up as well as giving them some funds and forging their functional and analytical skills.
The students imagined creating their own start-up enterprise in order to help people within their own community. Specifically, the students designed and launched an online web application that anyone can download from their smart phones; they named it: Serve&Help. This application plays the role of the intermediary between women who could not put their skills into use and people who need domestic services and have no time nor the energy to perform them. For example, customers who either have limited cooking skills or simply do not have the time to cook, can seek the services of Serve&Help. The application matches them with a specific woman who is listed in its database as being skilled in cooking. The same procedure is done with people who need cleaning services, baby-sitting services, laundry etc.
The number of customers who are in need of domestic services has exponentially grown in Morocco and shifted from a luxurious service that only wealthy people could afford to a normal and affordable one that is open to the Moroccan middle-class. Serve&Help capitalized positively on this fact to satisfy the demand and to tackle the irregularities in the sector at the same time.
"The were motivated, they wanted to work, they wanted to change their situation!" says Mehdi Benjelloun, the founder of Serve&Help. Who are they? Very skilled women offering their services in a "Moukef" in the city of Casablanca. A "Moukef" is a popular place where various people who want to find a job, stand there and offer their services for the day (cleaning, cooking, laundry, baby-sitting etc.). Usually these people have quite a reputation. They are viewed by the Moroccan society as being dangerous, thieves, and unreliable. These stereotypes are embedded within families and the way they were taught by their parents and the way they educate their children. This fact has made these stereotypes a part of the Moroccan culture especially that even the education children receive in schools, enhances these pejorative labels.
The founders of Serve&Help had the opportunity to meet with these people especially women and know them better. The founders discovered how miserable the women's situations were as they were treated unfairly by both their customers and their society. It was very hard for them to find a job and even when they did, they faced verbal and physical harassment and in some cases, they were not paid for their work. The founders were very touched by what they witnessed because the women they met were not only kind and motivated, but they also had the energy and the will to succeed in the job market. For example, one of the most heartfelt stories that Mr. Benjelloun shared was the story of a woman who never had a proper education but still could speak French fluently which is an advantage in the Moroccan job market regardless of the nature of the job. However, her society decided to cut her chances of being employed only because she was a single mother so she found herself with no source of income, standing next to other women in the "Moukef" hoping to find someone interested in her cooking services.
At that point, Mehdi Benjelloun and the co-founders decided to take action and help these women to escape from the hole of unemployment by hiring them and setting a detailed database with all the needed information (skills, availabilities, spoken languages etc.) in order to increase their chances of finding clients. Their online web application opened a wider market that these women had no access to before as they were always hunting for a job in the old traditional way.
Serve&Help succeeded in enhancing the social status of many women by identifying their specific strengths, teaching them to interview for stable jobs, helping them to enroll in the state funded social security system, and then to also help reintegrate these women into the Moroccan social establishment. Working with potential employers, Serve&Help corrected the misconceptions about single mothers, divorced women and widows.
In fact, these women were working in an informal sector, they were not paid enough, they were physically and verbally abused by their employers, they were not protected by any contracts or regulations and their work was not reported to the government which made it illegal. Thanks to Serve&Help, the women they recruited can now work without any fear or concerns as they are officially recognized by the government which gave them a lot of privileges that they didn't have in the past ( Social security, limited working hours ect.). In this way, Serve&Help shifted to status of these women from being exploited by their customers to being employed women that pay their taxes and have social advantages. The start-up succeeded in changing a socio-economic dynamic that makes the work of these women legitimate by identifying paying customers who would hire them legally.
As for Serve&Help's impact on customers, they guarantee them high quality services provided by trustworthy women that go through several interviews and a trial period to ensure the quality of their work. By doing so, they helped their customers change their mindset about these women and give them a chance to prove themselves. Serve&Help succeeded in providing the women they employ with decent jobs that pay a legal minimum wage and have flexible working hours so that they can still care for their own children, and cap daily working hours at a maximum of the seven hour legal limit.
For their future vision and long term goal, Serve&Help wishes to be able to improve the current laws regarding the domestic services sector in order to protect the women. They also hope to operate and expand in more Moroccan cities first, and inspire others young entrepreneurs in other countries, especially in the Arab world, to implement the idea in their communities.
Serve&Help plays the role of the intermediary between customers and housekeepers, therefore the company charges customers a 10% commission for locating and supervising quality domestic employees. Beyond being an intermediary, Serve&Help staff participate in various competitions about social entrepreneurship. For example, they had the chance to present their innovation in "Entrepreneur en Mouvement" which is a national Moroccan contest organized by Enactus in collaboration with Moroccan universities and sponsored by Samsung. Serve&Help was among the winners as they were one of the best 10 innovations that were competing. They won an award of 20,000 MAD and a free access to 2 of the best professional trainings in Morocco.
Serve&Help is currently working with 50 women who are regularly using the Serve&Help platform to match with clients (regularly meaning 4 to 6 days a week). However, the company has already impacted almost 250 women in total that were interviewed and listed in their database as well as being provided with special educational trainings about the work code and ethics. In fact, Serve&Help is not only securing a stable employment for marginalized women, but it also organizes workshops for women to teach them how to manage money and how to spend it efficiently. The approaches help women become aware of their true value, which in turn helps them to reintegrate into society. On the customer-employer side of the social equation, Serve&Help's initiatives have also paved the way for their partners to update the bad images and stereotypes which they had previously attributed to the women who they now value as quality employees for the home.
For the time being, and among the 50 women who are active within Serve&Help platform, 15 to 20 women are able to gain the minimum wage which was impossible for them to get while working in the "Moukef". Mr. Benjelloun says that his business actually surpassed the founders' expectations. The business is growing slowly but surely.
Mr. Benjelloun's vision of an idealistic Moroccan society is a society where education would be accessible to everyone everywhere. He encourages young Moroccans to be more interested in entrepreneurship and enhance their management skills by being involved in other educational projects that target young people and provides them with necessary workshops and trainings. He also sets an example to young Moroccans by showing them that age is not a limit to innovation.
Mehdi Benjelloun, Founder of Serve&Help
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Casablanca, Grand Casablanca, Maroc
Business Website: http://www.homymaroc.com/
Year Founded: 2014
Number of Employees: 11-50