Amid a proliferation of tech-based services disrupting age-old systems and practices, Hellotask strives to formalise the most informal service – domestic help
Shamsunnahar stepped out of her home at Shah Ali slum in Rayerbazar in the afternoon upon receiving a request for her service on her phone. Within 20 minutes, she reached the doorstep of a residence in Dhanmondi area for doing household chores.
Her every move from entering the house, sign-in to sign-out was recorded in a software of the app she is registered with – Hellotask. The tech-based service provider also takes feedback from both the service seeker and the provider.
After sweating over as a traditional domestic help for years in the capital, the 21-year-old woman is now trying to cope with the new job pattern for about a month.
Amid a proliferation of tech-based services disrupting the age-old systems and practices, Hellotask is striving to formalise the most informal service sector mostly navigated by women. These women do not even fall under the definition of "a labourer" in the country's law; so, they do not enjoy any job entitlement.
Shamsunnahar is one of some 1,200 domestic helps registered with the app. Two brothers – Mehedi Shoron and Mahmudul Hasan Likhon – had initiated the service in 2017. Now with the support from Oxfam Bangladesh, they hope to get a boost from next year.
A few months ago, Oxfam Bangladesh signed a deal with five local NGOs to create a pool of trained female domestic helps in the capital. After the training, they will be encouraged to work in a regulated environment under Hellotask.
Beginning of the journey
"One night, we posted an offer of 'housemaid service on-demand' on Facebook without even planning our next step," Mehedi Shoron.
"The following morning, we received thousands of responses and decided to go ahead with the idea."
One day, Mehedi went near a garment unit in Mohammadpur that hired female workers at the beginning of every month.
"The lucky ones would get the work and others were shooed away. But some women still would wait there in the hope of getting some work. That day I asked 22 women to come with me and told them I will give them work," Mehedi said.
Only two of them trusted Mehedi and grabbed the opportunity to get trained and continued working under the platform.
Another challenge they faced was giving training on how to use the app to the less educated and poor women who cannot afford a smartphone.
Mehedi and his elder brother Likhon then employed some people as "Helloboss", who are also domestic helps mostly, to receive requests on behalf of the women living in close vicinity and to inform them about their destination workplace, which must be within one kilometre from their homes.
In return, the "hellobosses" receive a 5 percent share from the payment.
Hellotask quickly became popular by the word of mouth in the slum areas including Korail, Rayerbazar and Mirpur, inspiring more women to join.
The start-up app gives very basic training focusing on communication, simple cooking and cleaning techniques.
Oxfam to use Hellotask to formalise household service
Under the new arrangement, the women will complete a government-certified training course. The module of the course will be designed by the Campaign for Popular Education and implemented by the Underprivileged Children's Educational Programmes.
The project targets to bring about 16,000 women to domestic work by 2024.
Household service providers like Hellotask have a scope to expand to a new height, said Mehedi, as 10.5 million people are working as domestic helps countrywide, 90 percent of them being women.
Hellotask is looking forward to expediting its operations with the help of local and foreign investors alongside its engagement with Oxfam.
Bigger purpose: Safe workplace, higher pay
The new project aims to bring changes in the work environment of domestic workers and to change the perceptions about them, said Tareq Aziz, in-charge of the Oxfam's project.
He further said, "Through training and certification, we hope to persuade the government into listing the household service as a formal job."
Every year, thousands of women fly to the Middle East to make a living as domestic workers, said Mehedi, adding that many of them return home with horrifying tales of abuse and sexual exploitation.
Hellotask has not received a single case of abuse so far as it introduced monitoring and accountability to its service.
A woman can earn as much as Tk15,000 monthly, excluding the app's service charge, if she works six hours a day.