We've talked quite a bit about the utility of mobile phones as a tool for global development. Programs like Grameen Phone make possible communication, information, and even employment in some of the most destitute parts of the world. Although similar programs might prove useful as assistance for the very poor in the industrialized world, the existing communication network makes possible a simpler alternative: free voice mail.
Community Voice Mail is a non-profit providing voice mail services for poor and homeless individuals needing work and housing in 37 cities across the United States. One of the thorniest problems with being extremely poor is that the mechanisms for pulling oneself out of poverty often assume access to seemingly commonplace items: clean clothing, a mailing address, and (often most importantly) a phone number. Without a number at which to leave a message, there's no way for a potential employer to get in touch. But for the homeless, or people who are forced by financial conditions to change places of residence frequently and unexpectedly, this seemingly simple requirement is often beyond reach. Community Voice Mail breaks that cycle:
The Big Idea
Give unemployed and homeless people a telephone number that stays constant even if they cant. The theory: theyll find work much faster.
The Test: Our workers brought this idea to a Seattle-based voicemail company called Active Voice in 1992. The company thought their idea had merit, and donated a voicemail system. The workers distributed voicemail numbers to 145 people over 6 months, and a whopping 70% found jobs within 2 months!
In 2004, in a particularly weak national economy, CVM served over 44,000 poor and homeless people in the US. Of those, 55% of CVM users found jobs, and 65% of homeless CVM users found housing. 24,000 people found jobs that they otherwise couldn't have simply by having voice mail. It's a stark reminder of just how important these simple communication tools are to our community and economy.
CVM is looking to expand the service to 65 locations by 2008, with a projected use by over 65,000 people.