The Migrant Worker’s Smartphone

The Migrant Worker’s Smartphone – The forgotten worker and their phone.

The bulk of remittances that countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc. receive from the Middle-East comes from blue-collar workers who are involved in all facets of construction and the ancillary industries circling construction. The migrant worker essentially.

We have all heard the horror stories about the working labor camps in the rural outskirts in UAE, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, etc. — believe me, its true. Whilst the conditions are deplorable in general, there is s unique communal sense amongst these workers who toil under the hard sun all day long and send their money back home to support their families.

This is the money that the respective governments need to counter the current account deficits that they have.

I visited three labor camps in Dubai, and though I did photograph these locations, I am by virtue of an NDA not allowed to publish them publicly.

You really cannot understand remittances until and unless you immerse yourself in the thick of things. With Billions of Dollars sent home by these workers, I could not have opted for a better place to visit.

The Smartphone Play with Migrant Workers

One question that is often asked and answer is: Do these workers have access to a smartphone? Probably Not! (is the usual answer).

Well, turns out, by my count over 85%+ have smartphones. Almost everyone has a featured phone (if not two), the smartphone they usually have to wait 3-5 months, before they take the leap and invest in one.

New arrival to the camps, cannot afford one, and hence the number is not higher like 98%-99%.

I bet you did not think these people could afford a smartphone. Let me tell you why the smartphone rules in these construction camps.

The accommodations are crowded and cramped. The notion of personal space literally evaporates. 16-20 people in a room with bunk beds, it is crowded, noisy, hot/humid, air flow is limited, everything is hot to touch including the cemented floor, bedding is bland and uncomfortable and other than the bed, there isn’t any concept of “my space”.

This is where the physical worlds (atoms) trade place with the virtual world (electrons).

The most cherished possession these workers have, is their smartphone.

The smartphone screen is their utopia.

Migrant Worker use Smart Phones to do video chat.

It is their escape pod.

They watch movies on it. Listen to songs. Some of the lucky ones who have learned how to use Facebook, use that heavily. Many have stored pictures of their loved ones one it. Some use Skype (if they have the phone balance) and a few lucky ones sometimes do video chat.

Within each labor camp, there are a few dozen so called smartphone gurus, who help others (for money) to load money (balance), movies, apps, configure Skype for them, or teach them how to use Facebook or IM chat apps.

Migrant Workers watch movies on smartphones

The smart phone is their own Private Idaho. It is for a few hours, their escape to a world free from the daily aches and pains of physical labor. The phone brings tears of joy to them. Makes them laugh and above all reminisce.

Invest in the Community and the Smartphone

Most Remittance companies and Banks (who have not visited these camps and don’t understand them), tend to classify these workers at the lowest rung of human achievement & priority.

They could not be more wrong.

The truth is, these are the people who keep countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Philippines, Indonesia, Egypt, Jordan, etc. afloat.

For all the startups in the western world, who are aiming their mobile payment apps and venturing into the world of remittances, kick off your Allen Edmonds and don a pair of good ol’ sneakers and visit these camps. You will learn more in two days on the world of workers remittances than all the Glenbrook courses combined together.

I cannot stress enough. Visit, observe and experience it for yourself, for Billions of Dollars (literally!) are sleeping with their smartphones clutched in their hands. If you want to target a market, this is it.

Question is – are you up for the challenge?

This page was last updated on September 6, 2015.

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