Hi-tech Platform Matches Mamas to Helpers
Homemakers and helpers find the training and hiring process tough; this start-up reaches out to the FDH community to ease the pain.
15 November 2018
Hiring domestic helpers is a challenging task for homemakers in Hong Kong. Potential employers review information supplied by agents, then need to line up to interview a prospective helper. After waiting for their chosen helper to wade through the paperwork, they often find the new hire is not up to the task; she does not know how to cook or care for children or the elderly.
Yan Leung, a graduate student from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), found there are many problems with intermediaries in the foreign domestic helper (FDH) industry. She sought to solve the problem by founding the data-sharing platform MamaHelpers. The highly transparent platform provides training for helpers and already lists 200,000 helpers; there are 3,000 users a day.
Care and Trust the Keys to Success
Ms Leung took the Technology Leadership and Entrepreneurship (TLE) programme at HKUST.
Hong Kong people find it difficult to be employers, she said. But looking from the foreign helpers’ point of view, it is also difficult for them to find jobs. Employment agencies often have opaque procedures and the helpers fear being deceived. These problems can make it difficult for employees and employers to establish trust.
MamaHelpers’ Operations Manager Wingy Chuang, who helped develop the service, said before creating the site the founders set up a Facebook page for the FDH community. The page generated a strong response.
“The FDH groups rapidly shared information on the site and the early-adopters created a cohesive community,” Ms Chuang said.
As soon as they set up the Facebook page, the founders put their focus on networking with the FDH community.
“We organise many activities,” Ms Chuang said. “We put together volunteer teams and organise holiday outings.” The founders sought to support the helpers, who often feel far from home, and celebrate events such as birthdays. This close relationship with the community meant many helpers supported the MamaHelpers site when it was launched.
Cyberport Creative Micro Fund awarded Ms Leung a HK$100,000 grant and they established the firm, MamaHelpers Co. After one year of research and development MamaHelpers began operating in September 2017.
The developers launched the second-generation platform in February. The mobile app can be downloaded free of charge through Google Play and App Store.
MamaHelpers has established partnerships with more than 100 agencies and training schools. The team has expanded from the initial two people to 14 staff based both in Hong Kong and the Philippines.
Partnering with Helpers to Create FDH Taobao
Another operating manager Joey Or likened MamaHelpers to the professional social network LinkedIn.
“The site provides information on agencies and the helpers themselves. Helpers can put their details on the platform. Employers can access the site through the mobile app,” she said.
Ms Or said the site has an evaluation system rating helpers and agencies. The site monitors helpers’ performance and keeps information on the database. There is a delisting mechanism to ensure helpers can provide quality service.
The platform is linking up with the main sources of helpers, including training schools both in Hong Kong and abroad, to ensure the authenticity of information, she said.
“The second-generation has brought in more agencies,” Ms Or said. “The model resembles a ‘Taobao of FDH’.” To safeguard integrity, the platform has a detailed agreement with each agency. If agents do not comply with the agreement, the relationship is terminated. MamaHelpers plans to take more agencies on board. Employers who hire helpers through the platform do not have to pay any fee to MamaHelpers.
Ms Chuang said the key feature of MamaHelpers, which differentiates it from other platforms, is that it provides training courses for helpers. This creates a win-win situation, increasing the value of service helpers can provide and reducing inconvenience for employers.
She organised courses on caring for the elderly and children, bringing in professional nurses to show how to look after such people.
“The course lasts for five months and takes up 64 hours,” Ms Chuang said. “Two classes have been run.”
Ms Or said the MamaHelpers Academy had proved a hit with helpers. “On Sundays and holidays not every helper wants to be on the street,” she said. “Some come here for further study.”
Ms Chuang said the firm planned to cooperate with environmental groups; they would organise workshops on waste sorting and producing environmentally friendly detergents.
Ms Or pointed out start-ups face many challenges. The site uses a fresh model but still needs to comply with legislative requirements. “We do not carry out the functions of a traditional agency but still need to have a labour licence and follow many complex regulatory procedures,” she said. “Regulatory authorities comb through documents, which slows down development.”
Ms Chuang said start-ups had to be quick-footed and flexible to succeed. “Sourcing funds is not important,” she said. “The main thing is to have the support of the FDH community and agencies.”
MamaHelpers has been active in start-up competitions. In early May this year they participated in a competition run as part of the Start-up Express programme organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council and became one of the 10 winning start-ups. “We visited the Dawan district and visited Tencent and other companies to broaden our horizons and broaden interpersonal relationships,” Ms Or said.
The company was also a runner-up in the 2017 Overseas Talent Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition. In addition they took part in such events as the “Challenge Cup” National Competition Hong Kong District Selection Competition, Hong Kong University Student Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition 2018 (Business Plan) Award.
“The award from the HKTDC and [the resulting] networking opportunities have also given users more confidence in us,” she said.
- Hong Kong
- Southeast Asia