Innovations in Platform-Led Upskilling: FUNDIS
FUNDIS invests in digital and soft skills to help workers become independent and digitally savvy professionals
FUNDIS—a word that means “fixer” in Swahili—is a mobile-based platform in Kenya. FUNDIS taps into the extant skills in the informal sector and connects carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and many other “fixers” to customers.
We talked to the co-founder and team leader at FUNDIS, Alex Kamanga, about their dream of enhancing the human capacity of the informal sector in Kenya through platform led upskilling.
“Even if we train the workers and they end up going to other platforms, it is not a loss to us.”
Founded in 2018, FUNDIS currently has a database of about 1100 registered workers, but Kamanga says that because they can’t guarantee work for everyone at the moment, the company has selected 50 fixers to work with initially; this was an intentional choice meant to keep things more manageable while the platform is in its early stages. Currently, the 50 technicians provide about 13 services, such as appliance repair, plumbing, and construction, and FUNDIS plans to add three more services in the near future. Since its founding, FUNDIS fixers have completed approximately 1000 jobs.
Many of the fixers already have the technical skills required to, for example, repair a fridge, make a wooden table, fix tiles, or paint a house, but Kamanga says the majority lack both basic digital skills and the soft skills that are key to keeping customers happy.
Only about 10% of the fixers have attended a vocational school, and many dropped out of school along the way. Kamanga says the low literacy levels and a lack of exposure to digital tools while working within the informal sector, means that many fixers are unaware of the opportunities that come with owning a smartphone and being connected to the internet. A fundi (fixer) often chooses a feature phone, which stays powered longer than a smartphone, instead he says.
Accordingly, the 50 fixers who were selected from the hundreds who signed up on the platform have been trained not only on how the platform works but also on basic digital literacy and soft skills. Kamanga says the training is important because it improves the quality of the fixers’ work, brings in more jobs, and could help bridge the gap between informal and formal work.
As part of their upskilling program, FUNDIS has developed a fixers guide on which the bulk of the training is based. The guide is updated frequently in response to feedback from both fixers and customers.
The soft skills training that Kamanga says makes up the bulk of their upskilling program focuses on professionalism and ethics and covers several areas including language, etiquette, presentation and tips on how to ask questions, pay attention to details, take notes, and so on.
FUNDIS’s digital literacy training involves teaching the fixers about the basic features of a smartphone, the importance of owning one, and social media training. The platform wants fixers to be able to, for example, document their work by taking photos and sharing them on social media.
“When they understand the importance of owning a smartphone, affording it is not an issue. Those who do not have smartphones have not gotten to really seeing the need and we think our main work is drilling a 'gig work mindset',” Kamanga adds.
By offering all this training, Kamanga says that FUNDIS’s end game is to create independent, digitally savvy, professional fixers with the ability to market themselves individually and even find more jobs outside the platform.
Kamanga adds that the company does not have the technical or financial capacity to provide vocational skills, but they do offer what he calls “semi-technical” training: FUNDIS’s in-house lead fixers help fixers on the platform brush up on skills as they take on new jobs. They also provide remote on-boarding training and technical assistance when less experienced fixers need help finishing a job.
Because of COVID-19, Kamanga says the company is devising new ways to help customers remotely, and also conduct online training for fixers. The company is toying with the idea of running Zoom training sessions by partnering with internet cafes in fixers’ neighborhoods.
Through the Zoom calls fixers on the platform would engage with the lead fixers, ask questions, and even work with design teams when jobs involve making something for a customer.
FUNDIS wants to position itself as the trainer for fixers in Kenya—for both soft skills and digital skills—whether they are on the platform or not. The company is interested in partnerships with training institutions, including appliance companies that can provide technical training. Kamanga also says they are considering a system whereby FUNDIS pays for worker training from an external institution and then deducts the costs from their earnings.
“We don’t mind if the workers end up on five other platforms. Our success depends on the success of the worker. The business is pegged on these professionals and not the customers.”
Finally, Kamanga says that FUNDIS wants fixers to see the value of cultivating digital skills and using smartphones to perform various functions related to their work. In future, FUNDIS wants to help the fixers acquire phones and is reaching out to low-end smartphone makers like infinix, Itel, and Huawei to secure good deals.
“Dependable smartphones, reliable data, and power banks is the starter kit we want each technician to have,” he says.