Entrenching Online Workers’ Communities To Create Sustainability Of Digital Work

The past two years have been a daunting journey for most businesses and people in Africa, with Covid-19 affecting social and economic patterns for Kenya and other countries. The learnings from the past have forced us to adapt to a new norm, innovate more, and present future proof.

As a result, empowering informal and formal online workers across the continent looks promising – especially with regards to Digital transformation to catalyze MSMEs digitization to create digital work opportunities where young people and women can earn a dignified income. Creating digital empowerment programs to tap on opportunities brought about by this digital shift is necessary for governmental and private sector organizations.

Ajira Digital, a program of the Government of Kenya driven by the Ministry of ICT in partnership with Mastercard Foundation, eMobilis, and KEPSA (Kenya Private Sector Alliance), has made dreams of many young people a reality by equipping them with free digital skills and mentorship, job linkages and a platform to offer business solutions. The program aims to empower over 1 million young people with digital work opportunities and make Kenya a global hub for digital solutions.  

 One of the ways to ensure sustainability and encourage bargaining power for online workers is the formation of workers’ communities. These online workers’ communities are spaces where young people with similar interests in digital work can come together to network, share peer-to-peer experiences and explore large-scale business opportunities as they can deliver projects with broader scopes. 

 With the skyrocketing rate of informal unemployment, young people are still wallowing in poverty due to this economic crisis. Even worse, the aftermath of covid-19 has left many jobless, with young people topping the list. In a fast-changing world, the role of young people as business drivers in digital transformation and economic growth is becoming increasingly crucial, more than ever before. 

 Africa’s digital and gig economy has grown steadily over the years, with studies indicating a count of over 250 online platforms in Kenya. These platforms offer various services ranging from ride-hailing, content writing, transcription, data entry – annotation, online delivery services, and more. With the strike of the Covid-19 pandemic that resulted in the loss of jobs and impact on businesses operations in nearly every sector, individuals and businesses have had to implement drastic measures to remain afloat.

 Digital transformation for enterprises and online work ventures by individuals have topped the list of alternative options amid Covid-19 survival. Digital workers have realized that online work is real work transferred online and is as demanding, lucrative, and fulfilling, just like a normal 9:00 am to 5:00 pm office work, thus the ever-growing influx of online workers.

 With the digital and gig economy emerging as powerful tools for empowerment in developing countries, the role of young people as entrepreneurs or online workers has become more significant. The digital economy has provided a new comparative advantage that acts as an economic equalizer across social and demographic dividends. Online workers, especially those engaged in peer communities, can bring additional information resources to open new income channels.  

 Participation of the young people in the digital and gig economy enhances employment opportunities and provides a source of income; it also helps create a digital footprint of their work and financial records in several instances. Ultimately, this enhances their level of financial literacy and promotes fair finance. In turn, this provides necessary data that financial institutions can use to design the right products and services to enhance financial management and risk mitigation for women and young people.

 When these marginalized groups are financially independent, it augments their decision-making power, boosting their economic empowerment. If Africa steps up its efforts to close social-economic gaps in gender and age, it can secure a substantial growth share in the process. According to new research from the McKinsey Global Institute, hastening progress towards equality will enhance African economies by an equivalent of 10 percent of their collective GDP by 2025. As the digital and gig economy grows across Africa, it is time to expose the online workers to become a more significant part of the African workforce.

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