This week, we present Tunga as our WIP of the Week. Tunga, founded in 2015, is an innovative work intermediation platform that connects tech startups and other businesses with software developers in Africa. Tunga is still in a pilot and prototype stage, but what it is and what it can do is nonetheless very instructive for practitioners interested in the future of work intermediation platforms.
One of the goals of this WIP of the Week series is to educate our audience on the extreme diversity of these platforms and to suggest how a network of platforms could yield a broad range of new sources, channels and modalities for sourcing talent and services. Tunga is a fine illustration. Since Tunga is a very unique platform that is at a seminal stage, we are going to depart somewhat from our standard WIP of the Week format.
To understand the significance of a platform like Tunga, four converging trends should be considered: talent shortages in developed economies, growing populations in developing economies, increasing focus on technical education in the the developing world and increasing global diffusion of digital technology and networks that can globally connect talent and businesses.
Different organizations, including the following, have become focused on adding impetus to the last two of the above trends through monetary and other resource contributions: (1) the Rockefeller Foundation, (2) The World Bank, (3) various NGOs and nonprofits and (4) large corporations.
A major focus of the Rockefeller Foundation has been on the creation of digital jobs in the MENA and Sub-Saharan Africa. (See the 2013 report “Digital Jobs Africa: Connecting Africa's rapidly growing youth population with sustainable employment opportunities.”)
The World Bank is also participating in these developments, including a joint program with the Rockefeller Foundation. According to the article, “the business model being pursued in this cooperation — ‘online outsourcing’ or online work — demonstrates the power of the Internet to not only catalyze new economic growth, but also to leverage the potential to drive social inclusion.”
The World Bank and the Rockefeller Foundation have also supported a significant research study (in partnership with Dalberg Consulting) on “online outsourcing” to help “interested companies, governments and individuals connect to outsourcing through a new report and online toolkit.”
These initiatives combine two key developments for global access to talent and services: “online outsourcing” (as described above) and “impact sourcing.”
“Impact sourcing” is defined in an Everest Group/Rockefeller Foundation report as “a business process service delivery model that provides quality and cost at parity with traditional business process outsourcing (BPO) services, but with optimized enhancements, such as: (1) a qualified, trained and untapped talent pool with skillsets aligned to match client needs, (2) lower attrition rates and higher corresponding levels of employee engagement and (3) opportunities to fulfill corporate social responsibility and diversity objectives while operating within a traditional BPO framework.”
Hence, though not very visible, something is going on in developing economies with respect to online work and different sourcing models.
According to Tunga’s founder Ernesto Spruyt, the word Tunga is Swahili for “to devise,” to build something through intelligent planning. Tunga, he says, stands for self-empowerment, human connections, innovation and social impact.
It is important to note a number of things about Spruyt. He has an extensive background in social enterprises: He worked for the NGO that invented the Fairtrade Label, he is a visiting professor of sustainability marketing at EADA Business School (Barcelona) and lecturer on social entrepreneurship and he has also assisted major corporations like Unilever, FrieslandCampina and Wolters Kluwer helping build “social enterprise” business cases. Finally, Spruyt is the co-founder of an innovative online work intermediation platform in the Netherlands called Mobbr.
Mobbr is both a payments platform based on bitcoin and a work management collaboration platform through which software can be created for customers by teams of online developers using the GitHub development platform. A unique feature of Mobbr is the “social salary,” which algorithmically distributes money to workers based on their contributions to a project. According to CryptoCoinsNews, Mobbr is “the first, and only, payment platform designed specifically for online labor and is a full-fledged e-wallet and payment solution that facilitates the tapping into the collective workforce of crowds.
Spruyt has said that “at Mobbr, we figured out a way to have coders from anywhere work in our GitHub workflow and distribute money among them in line with their contribution. But each time we actually needed them it was still a major hassle to find and engage them.”
So at the end of 2014, he started thinking about how to create an on-demand workforce. “I needed a place where I could connect with people who want to work for me before the moment I actually need them. Where I could just dump a link to our GitHub workflow, have it show up in my followers’ notification streams, pledge a fee and arrange the payment once the work is done. A sort of marketplace meets social network: a market network. But where could I find a motivated workforce that can deliver solid quality at affordable fees?”
As a social entrepreneur committed to finding shared value opportunities, he found the answer in Africa. It turned out that a design studio called Butterfly Works, which was also working from the Netherlands, had been involved in setting up digital design schools under the Bits Academy umbrella throughout Africa since 2000. Here was a robust community of more than 6,000 alumni that had the skills and the willingness to work on international software projects.
Basic Facts About Tunga
Tunga “came to be” as a kind of “social joint venture” of Spruyt and Butterfly Works.
Butterfly Works is a social design studio that helps NGOs implement development aid solutions using new technologies. The organization is not an NGO or a fund, but rather an entrepreneurial service provider that has been pioneering digital design and web development education in Africa as a key partner in setting up the Bits Academy network of schools since its inception in 2000.
Spruyt and Butterfly Works have been implementing the project, and they have each invested a significant amount of money and sweat equity. Tunga has also received funding (to date, about $230,000) from a number of other organizations, including the DOEN Foundation, Dioraphte, Oxfam, Edukans and the Triodos Foundation. The current plan is for Tunga be incorporated in Uganda and eventually be fully African run and owned.
The initial source of the Tunga developer talent pool has been (the Butterfly Works) Bits Academy alumni numbering about 6,000. And there is also a vibrant and growing developer community in both Nairobi, Kenya, and Kampala, Uganda, outside the Bits Network.
For now, Tunga focuses on Kenya and Uganda, but it may eventually expand to where the Bits schools are, in Tanzania, Ethiopia, Ghana and Nigeria, and probably also South Africa. A Bits school is already being set up in Nigeria.
Now, just several months old, Tunga has 95 vetted developers (and counting) on the platform. Spruyt is confident that number can easily grow to 1,000 within a relatively short period of time.
How Tunga Works
Being what Spruyt calls a “market network” (sort of marketplace meets social network), Tunga facilitates transactions in a social network infrastructure. The social part, Spruyt says, “allows participants to make connections beforehand, so that they can be mobilized. That's also what makes Tunga really different from traditional marketplaces. You basically remove all the barriers for mobilizing externals in your own existing workflow on-demand. Whereas on traditional marketplaces there is still a lot of friction.”
Clients will work with teams of developers who collaborate on projects. The platform supports a kind of value-adding web or ecosystem for developers. For example, there is a feedback loop from the platform to the curriculum of Bits Academy. Spruyt clarifies that Tunga's community approach promotes peer control, learning and knowledge exchange.
The platform brings together business demand for software development and a vetted community of software developers. Clients may have the project performed on their choice of many different development workflow platforms (GitHub, Gitlab, Bitbucket, Jira, Trello, etc). The client then pastes a link (to the project) into Tunga and pledges the amount of money that will be paid for the completed project; the link then shows up in the notification stream of the client’s pre-formed team.
All money management (from pledge to payout) is processed through the Mobbr platform, which is used to distribute the money to team members. When possible, this is done automatically using a trigger (for example, a merge in GitHub) and an algorithm.
Payments to workers in Africa present challenges: many workers do not have passports or bank accounts. And if they do, available money transfer services, such as Western Union, can be prohibitively expensive and slow. Thus bitcoin seems to be a good option.
Spruyt reports that “bitcoin seems to have found a huge remittance market, where Africans living abroad send money home to support their families. A service like Bitpesa is capitalizing on this, offering a conversion service from bitcoin to local mobile money wallets in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Nigeria at around a 3% conversion fee. This makes Bitpesa about 80% cheaper than its traditional alternatives. Plus the whole process of sending bitcoins to someone and converting them into a local mobile money wallet is extremely simple and takes minutes to hours instead of days to weeks. In other words, for payments from Europe or U.S. to Africa, bitcoin is a no-brainer.”
The current pilot version of the Tunga platform only facilitates bitcoin for now, following these steps:
- Business pays bitcoins to a bitcoin address generated by Mobbr (doesn't need to have a Mobbr)
- Mobbr distributes the bitcoins to the developers' Mobbr wallets
- The developers retrieve the bitcoins within their local mobile-device money wallet using Bitpesa.
While the platform is still a prototype at this time, bitcoin appears to be one of the ways for the platform to work.
The next version of the Tunga platform will be released in April 2016.
Spend Matters Viewpoint
We see Tunga as an important illustration of the ongoing innovation and evolution occurring in the growing, highly diverse global population of WIPs. Though at an early, seminal stage and certainly facing challenges and uncertainties of any startup (to say the least), Tunga still has much to teach us and has given us much to think about as buyers of talent and services in a “flat world” economy with growing regional talent supply/demand imbalances and expanding digital connectivity:
- New populations of skilled talent are emerging in places we probably would not ordinarily think about.
- Governments and major global organizations are building (educational and technical) foundations for 21st century work and exchange. Unlike mineral extraction and manufacturing, workforce development is probably less capital intensive and more reliant on social capital and knowledge contributions (for example, through MOOCs).
- Different approaches to sourcing and engaging valuable resources in developing economies are appearing.
- Technical and other knowledge work and services can be arranged and performed across digital networks (especially it the local nodes of the network allow for working vetting and localization, including legal compliance and payment methods).
- Technology can radically reshape how external resources can be sourced and utilized.
- Alongside digital networks, online platforms and ecosystem complementors are becoming configurable components that make up the network. Tunga, for example, functions across Internet and mobile networks, and it integrates with other systems/services (Mobbr, Bitpesa, development management systems like GitHub and educational services like Bit Academy).
- New technologies and applications, like bitcoin, can be leveraged in powerful ways, especially in developing economies.
- Finally, new solutions and models can be spawned in unexpected ways (e.g., the path of social entrepreneur) and through unconventional enablers (e.g., well-funded, social-mission NGOs, crowdfunding) — in effect, unpredictability increases as a “new normal.”
In world of technology and talent supply and demand imbalances, we begin to see how global talent sourcing networks of connected work intermediation platforms and ecosystems can arise. Making a few inferential steps, a Tunga can allow us to better see the possibility of such a scenario.