Jenna Raby: Founder of LaborFair.com connects workers, women

Jenna Raby had bought an Ikea table, but found herself unable to put it together. She wanted to find someone to help her, but was afraid to use Craigslist.org, the internet marketplace for swapping goods and services.

She has used Craigslist for other things, such as making purchases, but for household help she wanted to be able to examine a laborer’s background and check prices. Enter LaborFair.com, the company Raby and two friends founded in 2005.

“The concept behind the business is connecting women in need of a worry-free labor force for their house,” Raby said. The site is not female-only, but, Raby said, “As a woman, I can come in and search for a child care provider or a house cleaner or a gardener.”

The site works like a staffing agency, but connects people human-to-human, without the middleman. It allows users to rate providers, like on eBay, and access is free to consumers.

“Craigslist is direct, people to people, but it doesn’t include reputation,” Raby said. “The profile [component] allows you to really build that yourself.”

To date LaborFair serves communities in Los Angeles, Sacramento and the Stockton-Modesto area in addition to the Bay Area, and the company plans to expand to New York City in April — bringing the experiment full-circle for Raby.

Raby had been living in New York when she got the idea, but said she was then finished with that city. She had been there nine years — her first day of graduate school at Columbia University was Sept. 11, 2001 — and she wanted a better quality of life.

The Bay Area beckoned.

Raby said the name LaborFair expresses not just the function as a kind of daily job fair, but emphasizes the importance of equitable income for day laborers.

Raby had been a human rights activist with a business background. She said she was committed to the concept of building a mission-driven company that could create social change.

She had studied economic and political development for third-world nations, and traveled widely in West Africa, exploring how poor countries with lots of natural-resource commodities like oil and gas could benefit from the extraction of those materials.

In all, Raby’s travels have taken her to more than 65 countries, she said. Raby said that despite her strong connections to Africa, her favorite destination is Argentina, where she said an undervalued economy makes for a lot of great tourism at inexpensive prices.

“I love learning about culture and humanity,” Raby said. “If I’m not working I’m traveling or I’m doing yoga. … It creates incredible serenity and I keep that in mind as I work on the business.”

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