A recent publication at the IFIP 9.4 conference in Indonesia “Understanding the Development Implications of Online Outsourcing” focused on analysing interviews with Upwork freelancers in the Pakistan Himalayas. The framework we used was based on the DFID livelihoods and this was useful in making sense of the extent to which the Upwork platform was contributing to development. The Youth Employment Programme (http://www.youthemp.com) of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) provincial government which aims to train 40,000 young people to use Upwork and similar platforms. This is an integral part of Pakistan government policy in the region to bring marginalised people into gainful employment. The results of our study were mixed, some of the freelancers were unable to engage at all even though they had been trained. The frictionless marketplace was too intense and demanding for many of them. Others were seen to engage in a very limited way but a few were able to make a living and there was evidence of collectives developing into small businesses. The success of the winners is encouraging but a lot are falling by the wayside. There are many policy initiatives:
- The NaijaCloud initiative in Nigeria, sponsored by the World Bank and supported by the national government, which provides awareness workshops on online outsourcing.
- Malaysia’s eRezeki initiative (https://erezeki.my/en/home) which has trained hundreds of freelancers and now uses a “walled garden” approach with US crowdsourcing platform Massolutions: a managed portal for OO work such that the work process is controlled by government.
Protecting the individual worker from the intensity of competition inherent in multinational freelancing platforms is a facet of ERezeki . The workers never actually engage with the platform, instead a government controlled portal mediates the work and protects the worker from bidding and managing clients. This is not the only mechanism for reintermediating controls over the frictionless work platform marketplace. A good example is cooperative platforms where the workers also manage the platform thus offering a more equitable relationship for the workers. Clearly there is more work to be done on how best to mediate plaform based “gig economy” for development exploring the limits and downsides of Upwork and other purely commercial logic driven platforms; in country alternatives such as Iran’s Ponisha to PPP arrangements and other business models including cooperatives.