Rachel Micah-Jones: Founder and Executive Director, Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc. and Team Lead for Contratados.org
The #SheInnovates stories team sat down with Rachel Micah-Jones to discuss the role of women in innovation. Get involved at She Innovates Global.
#SheInnovates Stories: Innovation is solving the world's problems. What problem are you solving?
Rachel Micah-Jones: Every year, hundreds of thousands of people from around the globe are recruited as guest workers. They arrive in the U.S. to mow lawns, harvest fruits and vegetables, and process seafood. Guest worker programs are rife with abuse: workers are charged fees for nonexistent jobs; half arrive indebted; many are unpaid; migrant worker women suffer harassment and discrimination. Despite this and other abuses, many of these workers cannot leave their jobs because they cannot identify an employer who can hire them. My organization and migrant workers are leveraging technology to change this. Contratados.org, our Yelp++ for migrant workers, is changing the balance of power for migrants. Contratados pools collective worker knowledge and displays it alongside publicly available data culled from various sources. This transparency gives workers unprecedented power to make informed life-changing decisions. As these guest worker programs rapidly expand in the U.S. and around the globe, we’re taking Contratados to the next level; we’re building a pathway to portability, a job portal that facilitates workers’ labor mobility. So now, when guest workers experience abuse, they will have access to job opportunities, be able to compare offers, and leave abusive workplaces for other jobs.
#SheInnovates: When did you realize your innovation was a breakthrough?
RMJ: From the start of the co-design process with migrant worker leaders from the Migrant Defense Committee, we had a hunch that increased transparency would make a difference for migrant workers, but it wasn't until we launched the site that we realized it was a breakthrough. After launching, we started hearing stories from workers who were able to save their communities thousands of dollars in fraudulent recruitment fees.
#SheInnovates: What were some unexpected obstacles you overcame in the innovation process?
RMJ: We faced many obstacles in the innovation process, but most of those obstacles were expected! One unexpected obstacle, which was also an opportunity for us, was the rapid growth in online access in migrant communities during our co-design process. The changes in access meant that we shifted Contratados to be more web-based and less feature phone focused.
#SheInnovates: What inspires you to love your work?
RMJ: I love having the opportunity to find innovative and unconventional ways to advance justice with migrant workers and to promote gender equity and transparency. I am inspired by the courageous migrant worker women and men with whom we partner. I also love that our organization's makeup and structure reflect our values and commitment to equity and social justice. From the Mixtec-speaking women who lead Know Your Rights workshops in their communities from our office in Oaxaca, to the young migrant women advancing justice for their communities from our Baltimore office, I'm deeply inspired by the amazing, diverse group of powerful women who fuel our advocacy. From the use of technology to the law, I am also energized by the wide range of tools we can use to improve conditions for workers.
#SheInnovates: What do you hope that young women coming behind you take from your work?
RMJ: I want young women to know that they should not be afraid to try new strategies or test new ideas—even if they have never been done before.
#SheInnovates: Why are women in innovation important?
RMJ: When women innovate, we create solutions that address the specific problems we face and we lift up other women in the process.
Interviews have been lightly edited for clarity and length.