Entrepreneur

[Opinion] MOM Gets Slammed For Pro Bono App Request - But Here's Why It Actually Makes Sense

We’ve all seen it before.

Requests for coders or developers to create something from scratch, only to find out they’d have to work for free.

Now, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) seems to have done the exact same thing.

What they want is an app for foreign workers (FW) – a platform that would educate them on “employment rights and responsibilities, along with social norms in Singapore”.

Resources, including worker information and publicity platforms on which to market the app, would be provided by MOM.

In return, app developers (partners) would be required to work pro bono.

Their responsibilities include “operating, maintaining and marketing the app, updating content, and forwarding all employment-related feedback to MOM and providing English translations when necessary.”

In addition, the app would have read in English, Bengali, Mandarin, Tamil and Thai.

Since their call in January, they have signed on 2 partners – Aptiv8 Pte Ltd and GenyTek Pte Ltd.

An Inane Request?

ThunderQuote approximates costs for information apps at $10,000 to $28,000. Maintaining databases would require another $14,000 to $41,000.

Factor in manpower and time, and the numbers would surge.

On this topic, e27 discussed the unfairness of pro bono work, despite the government coffers.

“This is the government, who must be held to a higher standard,” the author had written. “If you want something done […] have the decency to compensate the provider with a fee”.

But How Unfair Is It Actually?

According to a MOM Facebook update, their proposal provides a “win-win outcome”. MOM gets the app they need, and their partner would receive “insights from studies [and] support to market the app to FWs”.

Partners would also have “full flexibility” to provide other services – advertorials that could be monetised.

I reached out to Hang Zhi Cheng, co-founder of HouseTrac (app helping FWs find accommodation) as well as CEO of app partner, GenyTek Pte Ltd.

This is what he had to say.

Working with MOM would indeed give them a boost, he began. The team would receive information directly from MOM, as well as advice on content accuracy.

“Our current applications for FWs complement the requirements of the call for a partner [and] coincidentally, new features that we’ve established also resonate with what MOM wants .”

“Moreover, they are also giving us support in app marketing – something we did not expect from them. And as the IP fully belongs to us, I honestly don’t see the issue.”

“It only seems natural for us to take up the opportunity.”

The HouseTrac – GenyTek Team / Image Credit: Hang Zhi Cheng

Finally, Zhi Cheng dispels the idea that it’s a request for pro bono work.

Instead, he views it more as a “strategic alignment and win-win for both parties”.

Potential Future Benefits For The App Partner

Working together with the MOM could be construed as less for ‘exposure’, but more as a means to become ‘official’.

There are plenty of app developers, but how many can actually claim the government’s backing? This endorsement could potentially spell larger opportunities for the team involved.

Another perk would be monetary, only not from the MOM.

The partner is allowed to work with advertisers, both MOM and non-MOM related. Much like how AdSense works, when done right, this can generate channels for monetisation.

Government portals and websites are essentially a one-stop site for every citizen in the country, and outside of it.

I.e. it would generate massive amounts of traffic and daily users as compared to agency or individual-run sites.

Which brings me to my next point.

According to MOM, there are approximately 787,000 foreign workers in Singapore (as of Dec 2016).

This means the target audience for this app would be 787,000 – a number that has undoubtedly grown since, and will continue to grow.

Image Credit: Live mint

According to the site, the app can also “incorporate other MOM apps, website links and non-MOM modules or services”.

This presents a plethora of opportunities for the app partner to explore, not limited to

  1. partnering with banks to set up telegraphic money transfers back home
  2. creating an aggregated news platform in the FWs’ mother tongues
  3. setting up e-commerce platforms to provide necessities for FWs

With all these platforms being optimised for mobile, all anyone needs would be a smartphone and WiFi.

According to a MOM survey, 770,000 FWs in Singapore already use mobiles and dormitories come with Internet access.

App developers fight to grow their user database while having to compete with others offering similar services. If they produce a strong and viable platform, MOM’s app partner would essentially be handed hundreds of thousands users on a silver platter.

Not So Pro Bono After All?

To make an overarching claim that this request is ‘unfair’ would be, I think, unfair in itself.

The government is inherently a much more influential endorsement than most, and the app partner’s audience is a demographic that is still set to grow.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but if the partner already has a vested interest in FWs – say with HouseTrac – this partnership will actually earn them so much more than if they had just been paid a ‘one-time fee’.

The opinions in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of MOM or the app partners.

Featured Image Credit: The Online Citizen