How Online Work is Changing Labor Force Participation and Fostering Urban Youth Inclusion in Pakistan

The World Bank

Originally posted by the World Bank on April 15, 2015. 

The vibrant city of Peshawar is getting ready to host the 2nd Digital Youth Summit (May 7-9, 2015, Shiraz Arena). Co-organized by the KP IT BoardPeshawar 2.0 and the World Bank, the Digital Youth Summit is a tech conference and startup expo gathering participants from Pakistan and all over the world passionate about tech entrepreneurship. While there is a lot of excitement about how technology fuels entrepreneurship, there has also been a quiet and steady rise of the ‘e-lancer’

What is e-lancing? Exactly what you think it is. E-lancing is free-lancing for the digital age. Powered by  ICT tools and the internet, e-lancing allows independent tech savvy workers connected to the internet access to the global labor market. Over the past years, even ‘physical’ workspaces have started to get virtual through tele-conferencing, video meetings etc. Many are very convinced by the benefits of ICT-enabled remote work and the flexibility that comes with it while otherscaution that it may not be the holy grail people tout it to be. However everyone is in agreement about one thing: ICT reduces barriers and distances making the global market more accessible than ever.

All you need is a computer and an internet connection. Thanks to ICTs, e-lancing is booming and there are multiple platforms where employers and e-lancers can “meet” and do business. These virtual marketplaces functions like a Craigslist for skilled tasks: employers post tasks and e-lancers respond to posted tasks and submit offers. Once selected, the e-lancer starts working remotely for his/her client. In most cases, the e-lancing platforms remain the center for all main interactions (payments, reviews, messaging, etc.) between the employer and the on-line worker so to ensure transparency and avoid frauds.

But how big is this market? Quite sizeable, actually-and growing On Elance.com - one of the leading platforms– the total number of jobs posted almost reached 5 million in August 2014, for a total value of US$ 5 billion, in the same period. Furthermore, a dynamic bar on the same trends page indicates that 15 jobs are awarded every second in the world. These figures do not take into account the transactions taking place on Odesk.comFiverr.com or other sites. 

So what does a typically successful e-lancer look like? One of the advantages of e-lancing is that there are almost no limits to the types of services that on-line workers can provide. E-lancing platforms offer jobs in many areas of expertise ranging from website development, to coding, to remote assistant services, to content writing, graphic design, data management and much more; whether you are a very advanced coder or you have just begun learning the magic tricks of search engines, there is a client who requires yours skills (interesting reading: Hacking Elance: How to make money freelancing – source Entrepreneur.com, April 6, 2015).

Pakistani e-lancers are well aware of this opportunity: Pakistan currently ranks #4 on Elance.com at global level, with more than 170,000 register e-lancers. This has changed the game in terms of how we create sustainable and creative opportunities for youth in Pakistan. The World Bank has partnered with Women’s Digital LeagueEmpower Pakistan and KADO – Karakoram Area Development Organization, to explore if e-lancing can be a viable income-generating opportunity for the youth of the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).

Women’s Digital League has been implementing a pilot training for 30 women in Peshawar with the goal of showing that  women from different backgrounds can acquire skills to work on line, make money and work on a flexible schedule (Visit their Facebook page for more details about their progress). In a country with low rates of female labor force participation and restrictions on how women access the public space, this goal is especially meaningful. 

At the same time, Empower Pakistan, a youth-led organization has been training university graduates. “We haven’t even completed the training sessions and our participants are already making money; some of the trainees have secured so many tasks that they have to hire more youngsters: it is impressive”, expressed Sajid Shah, CEO of Empower Pakistan, after receiving a note from trainees describing their learning experience.

Last but not the least, KADO has been conducting training sessions in the mountainous area of Chitral, capital of the Chitral District of the KP province. Using satellite connection, KADO has provided internet access to a group of students from the district who are learning the basics of e-lancing for the first time. “We have been training 30 participants who are very keen to learn and now fully understand the potential of on-line work. Three of them have already gained approximately US$ 50 each and this is an incredible achievement for the context where we are”, explained Mubeen, CEO of KADO.

These training programs are part of a series of initiatives of the World Bank and the KP IT Board to leverage technology for income-generation and youth inclusion. So if the IT free-lancing wave is already happening, how can we use platforms such as the Digital Youth Summit to make it a tool to empower young people in Pakistan and across the world?  Watch this space for more!

The Digital Youth Summit 2015 (May 7-9, 2015, Peshawar) will explore the potential of e-lancing.