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Social Justice Technology

Over the last few days, I was introduced to a very clever idea that serves clear social justice goals. It’s worth noting.

As we all know, there are large numbers of workers who clean houses and apartments, provide home care for children, provide services to elderly residents, deliver repeated lawn and garden services to homeowners. These workers share the attribute that they have many different clients or employers. They work for one client perhaps only a few hours every two or three weeks. Their clients change over time.

The demographics of the labor market that provides these services is disproportionately female. They are people of color in higher proportions than is true in the total population. Their education levels are lower than average. They tend to work without contracts with their clients. They are vulnerable to nonpayment for services and other abuses, as payment is often dependent on direct request from the worker.

There are between 2 and 3 million such workers at any given point. The vast majority have no provision for paid days off. When their family needs their time for care, they lose all income for their days away. Most have no insurance coverage.

So, the NDWA labs, partnering with, built out Alia (, a portable benefits platform for domestic workers. NDWA is the National Domestic Workers Alliance, an organization that seeks to support domestic workers and improve their conditions.

If you are a client of a domestic worker, you create an account on Alia, providing the mobile phone number of the worker, and enter an amount of benefits that you wish to provide to the worker. The benefit total is charged against the client’s credit card automatically at the amount and timing specified by the client. (Alia suggests $5 per cleaning event, for example.) Since most domestic workers have 5-10 clients, Alia estimates an average accumulation of $75 per month. This amounts to perhaps as many as 7 paid days off per year. In addition, Alia membership provides a $5,000 life insurance benefits to the worker.

In short, the platform is the accumulator of relatively small contributions from each client. When a client is dropped, they cease their Alia payments; when a new client is obtained, they are added as contributors to the worker’s account. Alia benefits are attached to the worker, not the job.

When the worker needs to draw on their Alia account, for example, for a sick day or for care for their own child, s/he requests a VISA gift card, which s/he can use to purchase anything needed from that day’s earnings.

The current outreach of the platform is to the clients of the domestic worker. It portrays the contribution as an expression of appreciation and care for the well-being of the worker by the client. It urges a set of clients of one domestic worker to offer these benefits jointly, by contacting one another and sharing the cost of the benefit accumulation. Rather that each client adding a small amount of money to each cash payment to the worker, Alia keeps track of the benefits for the worker and the client. The cumulated benefits stay with the worker until they are used.

The platform can obviously grow in many different directions – offering retirement benefit support, assisting clients in calibrating their contributions, etc.

I found it an interesting example of how technology can provide real benefits to an underserved set of workers. I wish Alia great good fortune.

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