Smart City

How can cities better connect residents with economic opportunities? The French Answer

This blog post is a submission to a group blogging event being put on by Meeting of the Minds and Living Cities. Click here for more information about the event.

The city in itself is a place where people come to find economic opportunities, get a job, or create business. However, cities have failed in many aspects to provide these kinds of opportunities to everybody, especially geographically or socially excluded people. By developing horizontal links with the Internet and new technologies to support it, there seems to be an interesting way to “connect” people with economic opportunities.

Representative of this is an initiative of the Belgium bank KBC, which launched last year with the advertising agency TBWA a website called “La lacune sur marche” or “The Gap on the Market”. This collective intelligence platform enables crowdsourcing local business opportunities, aggregating data and presenting it back to local entrepreneurs.

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171,157 gaps in the market were reported in three months – an average of 560 reports per town or city – and 1500 business ideas were submitted. Considering the potential social and economic impact of this project, I was amazed it hasn’t been developed elsewhere, all the more so as Yelp can provide a lot of data as a first layer.

Another example is an initiative led by the Region Plan Association (RPA) in the New York metropolitan area that consists of measuring and mapping the accessible jobs from a given origin by walking, biking, public transit or car.

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Looking at the data sources, it is a good example of the wide range of applications enhanced by open data in combination with other data sets, and even the whole “open knowledge” movement. The tool uses US Census’ LEHD Origin-Destination Employment Statistics data set to measure jobs. Driving, walking, and biking was calculated using the OpenStreetMap data set, a free and editable map of the world, while public transit travel times were calculated with open data sets. Finally, OpenTripPlanner, an opensource software package, enabled calculable travel times across all modes.

As seen in these two examples, the Internet turns out to be a good way to better link citizens with economic opportunities.

I would like to highlight the role of open data itself in connecting citizens with economic opportunities. Since 2011, France is fully engaged in the open data movement with Etalab, the government agency in charge with releasing public data – inventory of public real estate, national Social Security expenses, list of train stations, etc – and developing the French platform for open data.

Besides improving transparency and civic engagement, open data provides huge economic opportunities. A number of technology startups have leveraged these publicly-available data sets to create businesses. For example, Home’n’go or Kelquartier makes it easier to look for an apartment by publishing private and public information on every neighborhood such as the political affiliation, educations scores, the average price per square meter, demographics, in addition to gathering almost all real estate ads. In transportation, Coovia in Toulouse and Sharette in Paris had the great idea to combine public transport with ridesharing: they calculate the shortest and easiest itinerary based on available ridesharing nearby, public transport information and traffic on the road. Considering that releasing data is just the first part of Open Data, Dataveyes and 10h11 are two startups that offer solutions to highlight all kinds of data with data visualization techniques.

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Besides, the sharing economy illustrates well how technology can connect citizens with economic opportunities. When I rent my car or borrow a hammer to a “neighbor” thanks to a website, I actually take advantage of this new form of economy which allows me to pay less and earn money more easily. France has a few success stories in this sector. Blablacar has become the European leader in ridesharing. The website for classified ads, Le bon Coin, is the second most read website after Facebook in France.  On the Kickstarter model, Kisskissbankbank is a crowdfunding platform dedicated to innovative projects, but mostly in media and arts. Between 2010 and 2014, more than 6,000 projects have been displayed on the website. Bureaux A Partager (BAP) is a platform that connects people looking for workspace to share. Created in 2007, they are now in the US and in Spain, and have reached 10,000 users in 2013.

However, technology is not the only way to connect citizens with economic opportunities. I think fieldwork, including the work done by the non-profit network, is the most effective one, especially when connecting marginalized populations with job or business opportunities. In this domain, France has some initiatives in this area that are worth promoting.

The Association for the Right to Economic Initiative (ADIE) is the leading French microcredit institution. Based on the Grameen Bank model in Bangladesh, they lend small amounts of money (less than 10,000 euros) to would-be entrepreneurs that have no access to the traditional banking system (unemployed and minimum social benefit recipients) and accompany them during the creation and the development of their business. Some barriers are sometimes easy to eradicate to reconnect people with employment: these micro-entrepreneurs simply need money to start a hairdresser or to sell fabrics on local markets. Since its creation in 1989, 993,967 businesses have been created, which amounts to an insertion rate of 84%.

ADIE has also developed a free 2 to 4 month training program called “CreaJeunes” focused on helping young people from 18 to 32 years old to improve their business projects and provide a concrete knowledge of the enterprise world. It is primarily intended for people from deprived urban areas, who suffer from stigmatization when looking for a job.

Mobility is also a big issue in connecting citizens with economic opportunities. Without even speaking of the price of a car, getting a driving license in France costs on average 1,400 euros. Unable to afford it, lots of people are cut off from potential jobs. To overcome this issue, some “social driving schools” – non-profits with public funding – offer training to unemployed people for 400 euros on average.

If technology and especially the Internet opens up new ways of providing economic opportunities to citizens by creating numerous connections between people, it won’t be enough to replace all the non-profit initiatives aiming at the reinsertion of marginalized people in the labor market. It can only be a useful tool to leverage on the ground action.

 

 

 

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