Market Research for a post-Ebola Liberia

by tuftsigl
Aug 30
Eric Jospe is a candidate for the Master’s of Law and Diplomacy (MALD) at the Fletcher School and an Empower Fellow.
In my first blog post, I wrote about the objectives of the market research I was doing for Mercy Corps that will be used to set the stage for a social enterprise targeting youth employment and entrepreneurship in Liberia. As many of you will recognize, Liberia is the country at the center of the Ebola epidemic, which has killed over 1,500 people and is suspected to have infected many more. At the time of my first blog post, Ebola was present in the country, but had not yet spread beyond the three initially affected countries or become a major international story. Things are different this time around, with the virus having spread to Nigeria, infecting western expatriates, and prompting widespread flight cancellations and border closings. By the time I left the country, the American missionary doctor Kent Brantly had been evacuated to the U.S. to receive treatment, the crisis was receiving worldwide media coverage, and many organizations were evacuating their foreign staff.
My first instinct, therefore, was to not to write about my research findings, but instead concentrate on my experience living inside a country going through an epidemic. Surely the social enterprise that my research was contributing to would be delayed until the disease could be halted. How much did it even matter if the health systems were crumbling in the face of this emergency? 
Upon further reflection, however, I decided against this course of action. Yes, Ebola is one of the biggest threats to the health, stability, and development of the region, and yes, it will take many more months and countless victims before it is brought under control. Yet it will eventually be brought under control. If my time spent in this country has taught me anything, it’s that Liberians are survivors. Most of the people I met lived through a lengthy, brutal civil war and struggle every day to provide basic necessities for their families. When this crisis ends, these same people will be here to pick up the pieces and rebuild. Hopefully, Mercy Corps will also be there to help rebuild, and my research on youth employment will be as pertinent then as it was when I began my internship, if not more. 
So without further ado, I present the six most interesting findings from my market research in Liberia, which will be the basis for a social enterprise that helps young people find jobs and start businesses, as soon as Ebola goes away.
1. Over half of youth are self-employed. Among the other half, most youth are unemployed, in vulnerable employment, or unsatisfied with their job. 
Even though formal, salaried jobs are scarce – only 8% of young people in Monrovia have one – there was a shockingly low rate of job satisfaction. Among all of those who were in jobs or who received contract jobs (i.e. plumbers, electricians, etc.) 82% of them would prefer to be doing something else. Many of them actually want to start their own businesses. This finding will lead Mercy Corps to focus more on short-term contracts and entrepreneurship than on formal, regular jobs.
2. Technical skills, CV & interview skills, and business skills were the three areas where youth felt the least confident.
When asked about the areas where they felt like they were lacking in for getting a job, 48% of respondents said technical skills, 45% said CV & interview skills, and 44% said business skills. These were followed closely by work experience and information about jobs, at 41% and 40% respectively. Therefore, in addition to its planned business providing information on jobs, Mercy Corps will also continue working with technical colleges to provide apprenticeships, offer workshops on CV & interview skills, and expand its business skills trainings.
3. Speaking with close personal contacts is by far the most common way of looking for jobs, and it is also the most effective method. 
78% of respondents said that they use close contacts when looking for a job, and 64% said that it is effective all or some of the time. Nearly half of respondents got their last job through contacts, by far the largest of any method. Furthermore, three quarters of respondents claimed that they had never gotten a job with an organization at which they did not have a close contact. 
This chart shows the most common job-seeking strategies, their use rates, effectiveness and which method was used for the last job that respondents had:
To respond to this reality, Mercy Corps will design its business around social networks, possibly as a LinkedIn-style recommendation network for Liberia.
4. Applying for jobs is expensive, with much of the cost going towards transportation.
Most job seeking methods have direct and indirect costs, such as the price of a newspaper, or the cost of transportation to a business. When asked to add up all the costs incurred for the last job application, the average cost across all respondents was LD 293, or slightly over $3. Most of this cost went to transportation. This is a significant sum of money for most Liberians, and if Mercy Corps can allow job-seekers to find and apply for jobs without leaving their home, it could be a win-win.
5. Most businesses do not advertise job vacancies
Only 7% of businesses advertise job openings. Many businesses only hire family members, and among the ones that hire employees, many have so much demand for jobs that they do not need to advertise at all. This will prove to be a significant challenge to the success of the business, and will require a concerted marketing effort to change the recruitment practices of businesses.
6. There are low awareness and usage rates among all existing job information services. 
We tested people’s awareness, use of, and likes and dislikes of four job-information services, including one newspaper and three websites. The results were even lower than expected. No more than one third of all youth were even aware of each service, and no more than 14% actually use them. This is likely because the information they provide are all targeted towards the higher end of the labor market. This leaves a large gap that Mercy Corps might be able to fill.
I would like to thank Empower for providing the funding that made this internship possible, my family and friends for keeping calm and trusting me throughout this summer, and every Liberian I met for showing me the meaning of resilience.


Add new comment