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Working Without Borders: The Promise and Peril of Online Gig Work


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Job creation is the surest pathway out of poverty. That’s why countries are eager to create more and quality jobs, especially for those most in need. Online gig work is an emerging force in the job market, especially in developing countries.

Join us for the launch of a new World Bank report on "Working Without Borders: The promise and peril of online gig work" to discuss this growing phenomenon. Learn how countries can leverage the promise of online gig platforms to provide income earning opportunities for youth, women and other disadvantaged groups, and how to navigate the challenges around safety and protection of online gig workers.

00:00 Welcome

- Moderator: Shakuntala Santhiran, International broadcast journalist

02:13 Opening remarks

- Mamta Murthi, Vice President, Human Development, World Bank

06:23 Explainer video

11:14 Panel discussion

- Steve Rader, Program Manager, NASA Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation
- Eliana Bracciaforte, Co-founder and COO, Workana
- Huda Wajeh Matrabie, Online Freelancer based in Gaza, Palestine
- Bettina Schaller Bossert President, World Employment Confederation & Head- Group Public Affairs, Adecco
- Mahadhir Aziz Chief Executive Officer, Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC)

55:19 Closing remarks

- Guangzhe Chen, Vice President, Infrastructure, World Bank

[Shakuntala Santhiran]
Hello, everyone. Good morning from New York. Welcome! My name is Shakuntala Santhiran Shaun Lasantha, “Shaks” for short. Over the next hour, we'll delve into the online gig economy. We're hearing more and more about online gig work with temporary and part-time positions being filled by independent contractors and freelancers versus full-time employees. It's a growing part of the global labor force, but its true scale is not clear as it's not easy to measure.

To get a true sense of how this is expanding, a better sense, the World Bank has been studying this and today it releases a new report: “Working Without Borders: The Promise and Peril of Online Gig Work”. It highlights the risks, the challenges, and the enormous potential of this type of work, especially for developing countries and for marginalized groups like women, youth, and people living in rural areas. To help us understand how countries can best leverage these opportunities, we have a terrific panel for you today. We'll get the perspective of a government that's creating online gig work for its citizens. We'll hear from online gig employers and from an experienced online gig worker. We are streaming this event on World Bank Live in English, Spanish, and Arabic. We'd love to hear from you, our viewers, so please do send us your questions and comments via the chat and our experts will do their best to get to them all. If you're watching us on a different platform, then please, do use the hashtag, Working Without Borders, to post your questions. Right, to help us get started now, it is my great pleasure to welcome Mamta Murthi, who is vice president for human development at the World Bank to give us her opening remarks. 

Hello, Mamta! 

[Mamta Murthi]
Hi, Shaks. I apologize, I'm obviously not as good with online things as I should be because it took me a while to unmute, but let's get started. Good morning, good afternoon, good evening to everyone who's joining us online. I'm absolutely delighted to welcome all of you to this discussion, which will launch our new report on Working Without Borders. Now, we all know that jobs are absolutely central to poverty reduction, but very few of us know about how many jobs are created online and are delivered online, and that's what this report that we are launching today is about. Now, for short, it's called gig work. And what do we mean by gig work?

We mean work that is advertised through online platforms and is delivered through online platforms. We've heard about this in developed countries. Very few of us know about how prevalent this is in developing countries. That's what's so unique about this report. It uses new data collection methods to try and estimate how much of this work happens online, and you'll be staggered to know that it's upwards of 10%. Upwards of 10% of jobs in developing countries are delivered through online platforms. Now, what's great about these platforms?

What's great is that they offer incredible flexibility. Flexibility for women who may not be able to work outside the home; flexibility for young people for whom this may be the first step on the job ladder. I was in Pakistan earlier this year, and I met an entrepreneur couple who have created an online platform through which they are delivering health services. This allows women, they're called lady doctors at Pakistan, to work from home, providing a consultation, medical consultation for other women who can only access medical services from home. This is an example of the kind of employment and entrepreneurship that is unlocked through the gig economy. Now, while the potential is great for women, for young people, for people with disabilities, there are also questions that are raised by this kind of employment. Does this kind of employment fall under labor laws, for example? As policymakers, as interested participants, how do we prevent exploitation? How is the data that is used through these online platforms? How can it be protected? How can there be data privacy?

All of these are very important public policy questions, and that is what the report identifies as perils, and then it offers solutions and recommendations to think through. I'm delighted that we have a really distinguished panel of experts who are going to bring their thoughts and their perspectives on the promise of this economy, the perils, and directions in which this can be developed further. With that, let me hand back to Shaks, and I welcome everyone to join the online discussion, to listen to the panelists, and of course to download, read, and think through the recommendations of our report. Back to you, Shaks. 

[Shakuntala Santhiran]
Thank you very much indeed, Mamta, for giving us that context and for setting the tone for us today so succinctly. Let's take a closer look now at the report. Tracking online gig workers is very challenging to get the best estimates possible. As Mamta said, the World Bank team used an innovative multi-pronged methodology with data science and global surveys in 12 languages. A concerted effort was made to track online gig workers on regional and local platforms, including people who don't speak English, which is a group that's often overlooked in studies. We have a short video now with some of the reports, the most interesting findings. Let's have a look. 

[Narrator]
Online gig work is opening a new horizon for jobs in developing countries. It holds significant potential for young people, women, and other vulnerable groups, but also comes with challenges. The World Bank report, “Working Without Borders: The Promise and Peril of Online Gig Work,” provides recommendations for countries to leverage these opportunities and mitigate risks while expanding social protections for all. Over the past decade, technology has fundamentally shifted traditional work patterns. It has brought economic opportunity and jobs to millions of people simply with access to broadband and a digital device. Online gig work is work that is performed and delivered online, independent of location. These jobs now account for as much as 12% of the global labor force, a number higher than earlier estimates.


While developed countries dominate the demand for gig workers, demand from developing countries is rising at a much faster rate. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, job postings on the largest digital platform grew by 130%, while the growth rate in North America was just 14%. A flexible workforce benefits businesses, especially small firms and startups, to remain competitive and agile in a dynamic market. This helps firms grow and create more jobs. Unsurprisingly, three quarters of online platforms are in fact regional or local and not global. The online gig economy can play an important role in countries that are struggling with high levels of youth unemployment or underemployment. Young people are attracted to gig work to earn income, learn new skills, or have the flexibility to combine gig work with school or another job. Because online gig work provides flexibility in time and location, it can support increased participation for women, young people, and others in the labor market. In fact, in most regions, women are participating in the online gig economy to a greater extent than they are participating in the general labor market. Online gig work can also help extend work opportunities in smaller towns and villages beyond large capital cities. In fact, six in 10 online gig workers live in smaller cities, but gig work is not without risks. In low-income countries, most people work outside the purview of labor regulations without access to social insurance and benefits. 

For many gig workers, especially young people, there is often an unclear career pathway. A considerable wage gap also still exists. For example, on a major gig platform in Latin America, a female online gig worker's wage is only 68% that of her male counterparts. Governments and the private sector both have important roles to play in harnessing this potential, while also addressing the risks. Digital platforms can help increase the visibility of informal workers. This can also support government efforts to expand social protection coverage for all. Some private companies are developing solutions to facilitate tax planning, savings, and financial access for gig workers to support equitable, affordable broadband access, especially for disadvantaged groups like youth, women, and people in rural and hard to reach areas. Countries can also prioritize investments to improve access to digital infrastructure, devices, and payment options. Countries can enhance social protection coverage of gig workers, partner with platforms, and experiment with new social insurance models and more modern digitally-enabled forms of collective bargaining. Governments can invest in strengthening their own capacity to collect data and monitor labor market trends in real time. With these and other initiatives, developing countries can leverage this growing part of the labor market to create more opportunities, expand economic inclusivity, and increase prosperity for their people. 

[Shakuntala Santhiran]
As we just saw in the video, and as reflected in the very act title of the report, there is promise and peril with online gig work. To help us explore some of these opportunities and potential risks, we are joined now by our expert panel. Mahadhir Aziz is the Chief Executive Officer of Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation, MDEC. He joins us from Cyberjaya in Malaysia. Steve Rader is the Program Manager of NASA's Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation. His team focuses on curated crowdsourcing communities to deliver innovative solutions for NASA and the US government. Steve joins us from Houston, Texas. Bettina Schaller is President of the World Employment Confederation and Head of Group Public Affairs for the Adecco Group. She joins us from Zürich in Switzerland. Eliana Bracciaforte is the co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Workana, the biggest online gig platform in Latin America. Eliana joins us from Buenos Aires, Argentina. And Huda Wajeh Matrabie is an online freelancer based in Gaza, Palestine. Thank you all very much for taking the time to be here with us today. Huda, if we could start with you, please. You're a young woman living in a conflict zone. You studied English at university and now you're a content marketing specialist working online for about five years, freelancing. Why did you decide to become an online gig worker?

Was it a choice or a necessity for you?

[Huda Wajeh Matrabie]
Okay, good morning, or good evening for everyone. Thank you, Shaks, for your introduction. As a young woman from Gaza, the local job market can be a little bit challenging for us as women after our graduation, so choosing to work as freelancers is the only hope for us. It provides us with the economic environment as well as financial independence. Furthermore, working in a conflict area, the local job market is a little bit challenging, it’s difficult to find the suitable job after our graduation. So, many young women like me go toward freelancing, because there are many advantages or many benefits we can gain from. The first one, it provides us with the flexibility we need, as we can choose our own clients, we can choose our own hours, we can also balance between personal and professional life, really, without any difficulty. 

[Shakuntala Santhiran]
So, Huda, having a good internet connection and electricity is so important for your online work, but in Gaza I believe you only get about seven hours of electricity a day. How do you deal with this?

[Huda Wajeh Matrabie]
Yeah. Right now, there is no electricity, for your information. But as freelancers, we can have alternatives. We have tools to let the internet connections stable like UPS and some batteries. Regarding the electricity, we can go for hubs. Hubs is like a work space for many younger freelancers. We can pay additional fees to rent an office, or rent a whole room if we are a team. We are stronger than all of our circumstances, actually. We deliver value, we deliver quality for our clients. The whole circumstances, we still work as freelancers. 

[Shakuntala Santhiran]
Despite those difficult circumstances. 

[Huda Wajeh Matrabie]
Yeah, despite difficulties, yeah.


[Shakuntala Santhiran]
Thank you, Huda. So, the online gig economy offers you opportunities that aren't available for you, locally. We actually asked our viewers what they think is the greatest motivator for people to engage in the online gig economy. Let's see what they had to say. So, given the choices of flexibility, extra income, being your own boss or learning new skills, the most votes went to flexibility and more income, or better pay, as the greatest motivating factors for online gig work. We heard Huda talking about flexibility as being a definite advantage of online freelancing. The study also found that, for an increasing number of people, extra gig income is acting as a form of unemployment insurance when none exists, helping them manage risk during periods of shock or transition. The online gig economy clearly offers people, workers, opportunities. It's also giving employers access to skilled workers in a way that was once not possible. Steve, most people would not think of NASA when they think of online gig work, but NASA does actually employ some online freelancers. Why is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the United States tapping into the online gig markets? 

[Steve Rader]
Yeah. Well, my office works mainly with open innovation, which is crowdsourcing challenges. We were intersecting about six or seven years ago with companies like freelancer.com and Topcoder, and these were online platforms that had entire communities of workers. We were doing challenges with them, but we noticed they were also doing gig work. And so, we started studying and looking at the reports coming out of Edelman Intelligence and others, and saw this really big shift happening, where people were going into the gig economy at, really, something like three times the rate of normal workers. We realized that, when we took a step back, the world was changing and it was changing rapidly. And if we wanted to be able to access the latest and greatest skills and the latest and greatest experts and engage people around the world with the diversity needed for innovation, that we would need to tap into this. A few years ago, we actually added that to our open contract, our NASA Open Innovation Services contract, and we've been experimenting with how we find different gig workers and engage them around the world, in both open innovation, and open talent mechanisms. 

[Shakuntala Santhiran]
What kind of jobs do online gig workers do for NASA?

[Steve Rader]
We have a whole range. We've done software work, displays, graphics. We use it to find really hard-to-find experts in security, or in wicked problems. We've just been looking at kind of the full range of skills from the very hard to find experts all the way down to where it's more of an engagement, where we can kind of let the public help us with our mission as part of this. We've really explored the gamut and are still looking at that. 

[Shakuntala Santhiran]
This is still in its pilot phase, I believe, so it's still a very small percentage of NASA's workforce, but there's potential for it to grow. 

[Steve Rader]
Yeah. In fact, I am in the middle of trying to get three freelancers onto my team to work just side by side with us, just to see if we can really integrate this concept 

[Shakuntala Santhiran]
Thank you, Steve. So online gig work is transforming the way employers engage with talent, and governments in a growing number of countries are harnessing the online gig economy to help create jobs and source talent. Malaysia is one such country. It started its eRezeki program in 2015 to provide online gig work for disadvantaged people. Mahadhir, why did Malaysia start this program?

Why online gig work?

[Mahadhir Aziz]
Well, good question. I think MDEC, or Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation, started out being the agency of the government to provide transformation towards digital. What would become, I think, apparent in the beginning was to provide access to provide the kind of skillset, and also literacy for the citizens of Malaysia to be able to use digital technologies and using many of the tools that are available online. So, what best way to actually encourage them to go that way than opening up ways for them to actually gain extra income?

The word eRezeki is loosely translated as e-income, if you may, in English. We targeted the low-income group that are looking for new things to do and at the same time trying to upskill and re-skill themselves to be digitally literate in many ways. The kind of work that we started out back in 2015 was very much on data entry, some fact-checking, translation, and these are all being done online and mostly the jobs are coming from within the borders of Malaysia. However, I think based on that same model, we actually expanded to what we call the global online workforce, or GLOW for short, G-L-O-W, where we connect this to the likes of, I think, crowdsourcing platforms like freelancers and things like that, where now the kind of jobs that are available for them is much bigger than what it is, because I can do work... Even listening to Steve, I can do actually work for NASA from right in my bedroom. These are the kinds of things, we haven't reached there yet, but we're heading there. These are the kind of things that we provide to this community. More than 50% of the participants or the gig workers that participate in online gig work... I can happily report that more than 50% are actually women. It creates a new branch of equity and equality in participation in the new digital economy. It creates opportunities for the low-income and we continue to actually expand this even more, looking at other aspects that we'll touch in a bit. But generally, it is, I think, imperative for a developing economy like Malaysia to be able to do this and get the people to be on board and not be left behind by the transition towards digital 

[Shakuntala Santhiran]
Indeed. So, that's what your government is doing. We are seeing also private businesses of all sizes also increasingly employing online gig workers. Bettina, the Adecco Group is one of the world's largest workforce solutions companies. What are you seeing as the top trends in the demand for online gig workers by private companies?

[Bettina Schaller Bossert]
Thank you so much. First of all, let me say how impressed we are with this report. I can tell you, usually the private sector, to be honest, is not waiting for big reports to come out, but this one really is giving a completely new perspective on this topic. I think there's a lot of my colleagues in the private sector who will be very interested just with the new numbers and the data that we have in there. Just quickly, workforce solutions are all the solutions in human resources. We provide anything that is needed from a business side and from a worker side. It is clear that we have a very strong look at what is happening in this gig workspace, which we thought was actually much smaller. Again, I'll pick up something, an outcome of the report which says it's 12% of the global workforce. I'm actually less surprised about that because I used to be surprised at the lower number. Let's see. It has been said already, but the biggest, biggest piece to take into consideration here is flexibility. That is driving the labor market and it is driving not only what workers want and the way that they perceive worker days, but it's also driving companies. To be more specific, what is it that companies are looking for?

Well, still agility within flexibility is a key piece. They want to be sure that they can deal with the uncertainties. With the current geopolitical situation, with the current pressures that we have from an economic perspective, this agility is key and their gig workers are a new talent pool, clearly, that many companies are looking at with great interest. Then, there is a talent scarcity piece that, in the developed world, is the huge thing. We all know that we will not have enough people. Actually, already now, we've got that big mismatch due to the lack of skills. To be able to access a pool out there, which is provided by gig workers, is a game changer. People who can work anywhere from everywhere at any time as well, but mainly people who actually have those capabilities and skills that we are looking for. That's actually interesting, because the title, of course, is “Working Without Borders”. To me, there's a lot about working within borders actually when it comes to the gig economy. 

Let me just say two more things here. One, a big piece we see on the private sector side more and more is they are looking to drive an agenda of diversity and inclusion, but again, they don't have access to the right participants, to the right workers that allow them to live this diversity and inclusion. And that's where the pool of gig workers comes in. Finally, there is an economic piece, and this is where we see mainly small and medium enterprises that just won't be able to afford a new hire many times. Not necessarily only startups, but also SMEs. They rely on gig workers more and more who are bringing in that required skillset, who are producing that required output for a period of time, and that is, per se, more affordable. Very often they're good wages, thank Lord, and we might talk about that piece, but it's not a full-time contract but still the output is there. 

[Shakuntala Santhiran]
Helping to power developments in this fast-growing space, online gig platforms, and not surprisingly, there are a growing number of such platforms. Workana is an example of a regional platform with a significant presence in Latin America and the Caribbean. Eliana, your platform caters to Spanish and Portuguese speakers, I believe, helping to connect workers with online jobs. How easy or difficult is it for non-English speakers to get onto an online gig platform?

Are there fewer opportunities for non-English speakers?

[Eliana Bracciaforte]
Thanks, Shaks, for the question. One of the main drivers when we created Workana was that we noticed that the online global platforms were English only. If you didn't speak English, you couldn't participate. What we saw was an opportunity to have a regional player, like ourselves, in Latin America participating. This is one of the main reasons we created Workana. What happened next was pretty amazing. We never did any kind of marketing spend to attract workers and then it started coming in waves. This year has been a record for us, even after the pandemic, where we saw a huge growth. We are having over 150,000 new signups every month. We are at 6 million registered freelancers, which is pretty amazing. That powers a lot of things, opportunities. 

We believe talent is everywhere, but opportunities are not. Having regional platforms or specific platforms for different languages or cultural access is pretty important. We have over 25,000 new projects every month. Most of those projects are potential jobs for these workers and most of those jobs are posted by smaller, medium-sized companies that need to access digital skills, they're very expensive otherwise. This changes the whole ecosystem and we are very happy to be a part of that change. 

[Shakuntala Santhiran]
Wow. 150,000 new signups every month. This growth, explosive growth, it would seem, in the online gig economy is happening at a time of dizzying technological change as well that's reshaping businesses. Steve, you monitor trends on platforms as part of your work. What role can online gig platforms like Workana play in this world of rapid change?

[Steve Rader]
Yeah, it is crazy, the amount of change that's going on, because this is happening organically. It's not like people are recruiting people in with the demand. They're just showing up. And it happens to be coming at a time where the need for new skill flexibility, the agility that Bettina talked about is absolutely necessary. The technological change, scope, and rate is increasing beyond what the recruit and retain model that every HR system has been using for a hundred years. It is breaking those systems. These new platforms are providing the ability for folks that don't necessarily have the same language skills to be able to communicate with people around the world. They're adapting but they're also starting to provide the upskilling, which is really interesting. The best platforms that we work with provide certification programs. There's one called Paro.io that does accounting, where they use AI to match their workers to jobs, but they don't match the best worker to the job. They actually match the least most qualified so that, as part of the execution, they are upskilling themselves by doing that new task that they just learned. 

That kind of innovation is the kind of innovation we're going to need, because upskilling and lifelong learning is the new norm that we've got to start to understanding, because the skills needed are progressing on and we are getting rid of a lot of jobs in the world, just by automation and by technology. But there's many more being created, and these platforms are going to be key to allowing freelancers and enabling freelancers to actually upskill and meet that need. To me, that's something we are seeing in some platforms and not others. We're really emphasizing it in organizations like Open Assembly, where we're bringing a lot of those platforms together and having these discussions about: how do we make the transformation of an infrastructure that, for over a hundred years, worked one way and now we've got this entire new way of working where companies don't necessarily have to own all of the time of their employees?

In fact, I think that's going to be something we look back on and think, “why did we think companies had to own their employees and all of their time, when you actually see how successful it is to create a network of freelancers that can become part of your team?

You just don't have to own all of their time.”

[Shakuntala Santhiran]
Clearly, many pluses here, but online gig work, like all freelance work, also has risks as we saw in the video: lack of social protection, no health insurance or health benefits, no job or income security, among other things. Eliana has your platform faced criticism about the lack of social protection for gig workers?

[Eliana Bracciaforte]
Yes, we had maybe not as much as other platforms, because when you are talking about knowledge workers, it is not as a necessity like in other platforms, but still, it's not a level playing field for everyone. What we need is to do that, to have this kind of health insurance, financial help for online gig workers be a norm, and not something that happens from time to time when a platform works with a private sector to create a new product that helps freelancers. For instance, access a new software they want to buy, or a new computer so they can work better or a better online connection. I think we should help this with the governments and the private sector to create these products and make them the norm and have everyone participate in their job in a safer way because our own freelancers sometimes decide not to have health insurance because they feel like, "Okay, I'm only 30, nothing's bad is going to happen to me."

And that is not a very healthy decision for them, we believe, so it should be easy for them and cheap to access health insurance, to have access to buy their equipment so they can grow and have a better career. I think that's basic and we are very open to work with everyone to have that happen. 

[Shakuntala Santhiran]
There are governments that are working with digital platforms like Workana to extend social insurance to informal and self-employed workers. Among some of these initiatives, this includes gig workers as informal workers, Brazil, India, Rwanda, and Malaysia are among the governments working to extend social insurance to informal workers. Mahadhir, what is the Malaysian government doing to help gig workers on this front to get some social protection?

[Mahadhir Aziz]
Let's contextualize that question, Shaks. I think the beauty of the experience in Malaysia was that, I think, the industry and the country itself got disrupted quite early by the gig economy. We started out with what used to be called MyTeksi and eventually became Grab today throughout and within the area of e-hailing and mobility and taxi and the likes. Social protection became one of the issues, licensing of the drivers, and also, the support for the actual gig workers. To own the vehicles themselves to be able to perform the gig work became something that is needed almost immediately as we embark towards this. This is beyond all the global online workforce that we mentioned. The government took notice of that very early and we have worked with a lot of platform players. 

We have Grab, obviously, we have foodpanda and the likes to be able to do this. Where MDEC came in, we have today validated more than 120 online platforms to work with the government side by side to look at other issues. Besides the reskilling and upskilling, this is about social protection and also career pathing and growth for the particular gig workers. They might stay within a period of three to four months working as a driver or as a delivery worker. And then, from that point on, they need to be able to educate themselves and move up into possibly formal employment. We provide those kinds of support through the government programs in terms of training, the reskilling, and upskilling programs. On top of all this, I think the private sector and the private platforms are also investing in their own workers themselves to upskill themselves. 

Lastly, from a government's point of view, because we believe that this is a very, very critical part of employment and also the economy, is to recognize within the Ministry of Human Resources the type of work and the type of interventions, further interventions that are needed to help them prosper and grow through this. The establishment of the Sharing Economy Committee was part of the Digital Economy Council was done last year and it reports... I do co-chair the Sharing Economy Committee, and we do report directly to the Prime Minister as chair of the Digital Economy Council that looks at four areas today: the standards, the metrics, the data policy and regulations, the trusted platforms, and also the aspects of education and growth of the gig workers themselves. Again, I think the commitment by the Malaysian government is heavily structured and we are getting all the inputs and also improving ways for us to manage this new and disruptive type of work that is obviously flexible but yet comes with peril, as you mentioned. 

[Shakuntala Santhiran]
As Mahadhir mentioned, the government in Malaysia is encouraging the private sector as well to get involved. As we saw in the video on the report, there are some private companies who are taking the initiative to develop solutions to help gig workers be more financially savvy and adept. For example, there's a firm in Kenya that works with a digital platform to extend financial literacy training to gig workers. They've also developed an application that allows them to contribute to savings. Bettina, you work with the private sector, with private companies. What do you think needs to be considered when talking about access to social protection and good, better working conditions for online gig workers?

How can these workers be protected?

[Bettina Schaller Bossert]
Yeah. I'm so impressed when I hear the examples of Malaysia, for instance, like the one that Mahadhir just shared. Again, you've been mentioning a few countries. You've said it and that's what I see indeed. India, Brazil, Rwanda... I was actually just in India in the context of the G20 presidency of India. I'm involved, on the business side, with the Task Force on Future Work, Skills, and Mobility. We delivered a report which will now be presented to the heads of states. And India… My lord, if I may say. I was going to say, "my God," but there's so many gods in India, so my gods. What an incredible leap India has taken, as well. What's fascinating here is it's the developing world that is actually stepping up and coming up with, to come to your question, what do we want governments to do, and what do we expect as the private sector when it comes to the social protection piece?

Because, of course, there are big employers, and I'm very impressed with the example we've heard as well from our friend from Brazil. There are big platforms, online companies, platforms that are doing that on a voluntary basis. But this cannot be. I mean, in so many conversations I have, I say, “We are in the year 2023. How can we still have those huge gaps?

How can we have people who are not protected?

A huge piece of what we advocate for is that, yes, flexibility, but the other side of the coin needs to be security. There is no way that we will accept flexibility that doesn't bring that security piece, which is social protection and benefits. What we need as private sector is for governments, for the authorities, to build the frameworks that allow for those two elements, that allow for the flexibility, but also the security. For us, this agenda is the diverse forms of work. Today, a labor market should be catering for diverse forms of work. It should be accepting that, yes, there are quite some people that are in an employment relationship. But you know what?

In most countries, people are actually on the black market, in the informal economy. The governments need to provide ways in which those informal workers notably get back or get into the formal work. This is already where we're starting to see... Again, India come up because I've studied this example closely now these past months. India has created a platform which then allows gig workers to surface from the informal into the formal. Another piece that the private sector clearly is asking the government to do, and authorities, is to bring clarity to that worker status. We've been talking about freelancers, but you may know that there are numerous countries where actually courts, judges had to decide on what the work status is of somebody who gets a gig via a platform. Is that now an employee or is it a freelancer?

This we need to have clarity on. Companies need to know, "Okay, who is it I'm working with?"

If it's a freelancer, it's clear, but in some situations it is not. We do have some platforms that unfortunately are taking advantage of that. And then I have to throw it in here: there's also the element of wages. I saw it in the video, as private sector, and we at Adecco Group feel very strongly about that, we feel that the price for platform services should also reflect that cost of social protection. That should be built in. And, of course, platforms these days... Some of them, they’re really scrutinized for squeezing their margin to the max. They need to perform. But what we are saying is that needs to be looked at. This is what governments need to look at. Actually, we also need to think about our role as consumers here, as we consume the services of gig workers, where, I think, we should be open to just paying that dollar more, or maybe more, or that unit more, so that we know that the gig worker that is delivering the service has that social protection, that security element covered as well. 

[Shakuntala Santhiran]
Thank you, Bettina. Now, Huda, I believe you don't have any social protection now with your online gig work. No insurance, no job or income security, I believe. Does that worry you, Huda?

[Huda Wajeh Matrabie]
No, there is no security. There is no health insurance. We just deliver our work and gain feedback from our client. But regarding the insurance, no, there is no insurance for us as freelancers. 

[Shakuntala Santhiran]
Are you concerned?

If you were offered a full-time job, would you take that and leave freelance work?

[Huda Wajeh Matrabie]
Of course not. With working as a freelancer, I'm my own boss. I'm in control of all of my work, so definitely not. I’d still work as freelancer. 

[Shakuntala Santhiran]
Do you have any quick advice for young people who are just starting out as online gig workers?

[Huda Wajeh Matrabie]
Definitely. Anyone who does not start with this world... Just to start, there are many benefits for them: the flexibility they need, the geographical limit. They will overcome many things with working in the freelance world. I encourage many young women in my country to start working like me, as a freelancer, and also, I pass my experience to them whenever they need any help. Definitely, the future is for freelance. 

[Shakuntala Santhiran]
Thank you, Huda. Let's get some questions now from our audience. We have two questions on AI, artificial intelligence. The first is from Ava Kusan. "In developing regions," Ava asks, "We are just emerging into the digital age with the use of internet and digital services, but now we are faced with disruptive technologies like AI and it feels like we are lagging. How can we close the gap on this so we can participate meaningfully and confidently in online gigs worldwide without being overwhelmed?"

Briefly, Mahadhir, what do you think?

[Mahadhir Aziz]
Well, it fits right within the mandate that MDEC does. We look at bringing everyone up to speed with new things. AI and generative AI, actually, is something that we are looking at very seriously, both from demand side, i.e., the application of AI in some of these areas that we can look at. Particularly with Malaysia, there are a couple of, I think, 10 pool projects or reports that have come out. One is the national blockchain and AI committee that has been set up, looking at implementing a roadmap of building a skillset, looking at some of these areas of developing more supplies, and then supplies as in the talents and also the companies, and looking at application and possibly in areas of education and other areas in combination with existing technology like blockchain. However, there's also another report that will be published on Friday next week, very much on the economic impact of generative AI that I'm very much looking forward to it. We'd see how we can actually do that and demystify, if anything, because the fear of AI right now is about it's taking over the jobs of the people that we see today, it is going to change this and that. I believe positively that that will be something... Like digital, it's something that you can translate, demystify, and start getting people on board as soon as they can. 

[Shakuntala Santhiran]
Exactly. As you said, Mahadhir, people are concerned about what AI means for their jobs. We've got another question here on the impact of AI from Joseph Jale. "What risks or rewards does the advent of AI pose to online borderless work opportunities?"

Steve, you talked a little bit about AI. Would you like to take this? 

[Steve Rader]
Sure. Well, first, I think that the freelance economy is ready to surf that wave. They're going to be the first ones that learn how to use generative AI. They won't have the restrictions that a lot of companies are putting on the use of those. They will actually become the most productive they've ever been and there's a real opportunity there. I think they'll lead the workforce in how generative AI and these tools can be used. I think, on the platform side, we're going to see more and more use of AI in matching people to work in more effective ways. I think the next generation of companies is going to use this kind of AI to assemble teams of people that are matched in skills that address the project, that are matched in personality, and create these really high performing teams that start to take the gig economy to a new level because it's assembling the people to go to a task and they do it better than any other team. As you know, teams are actually where the power of organizations lie, and I think that's going to be the threshold that starts to tap into the diversity and expertise that you have available in a global gig economy. Whereas, we're going to look back at this old model where we hired people only that were willing to move to the 20 miles around your company and think, "How did we ever find the skills we actually needed and get the best?"

[Shakuntala Santhiran]
Yes. Another question. We have time for another question. Jane asks: "What are the most effective ways to enhance the skills and capabilities of online gig workers, especially for those who lack digital literacy or access to technology?" 

Bettina, any thoughts on this?

[Bettina Schaller Bossert]
Shaks, that is a tough question because, let's be honest, if you don't have access to technology and if you're not digitally literate, then you actually start literally from scratch. Actually, the access to technologies is the baseline here. Just going back to the question before... Actually, here, I was so pleased also with the report. There's a lot in the report which talks about just building the infrastructure, and then also, obviously, embedding that into the infrastructure agenda of a country. To come back, that is the absolute baseline for... There's not much I can say here, is acquiring those digital skills. And then afterwards, it's really about... Well, the worldwide web is a treasured place, obviously, for English speakers, per se. Again, a key part of this report is that there's a use of AI in many countries and there are platforms in many languages. So why am I alluding to the language is because I'm acutely aware that not everybody speaks English. What I'm getting to is those YouTube videos and whatever further education videos you can use to self-teach yourself to get those skills acquired. The beauty in our days is that an incredible amount of skilling products is for free, so it's actually... Like in so many other things, it's a matter of going out there, having the curiosity, starting to get your own pathway through that maze. I admit to that, it is a maze of what type of skilling and training opportunities are available, and then do that yourself. With time, there's the certification piece. Steve, you alluded to that as well. The beautiful thing is there's more and more. There's a blockchain as well active in that, but to wrap up my answer, there is no silver bullet solution to that. It's about, first, making sure you've got those digital literacy skills, and then going out and training yourself. If you're lucky, I have to say that, you can find an institution that will guide you, and otherwise, I think there's enough out there for you to find your way 

[Shakuntala Santhiran]
Thank you, Bettina. Very quickly, Mahadhir, your thoughts in about a minute or so. The Malaysian government offers training to its citizens, doesn't it?

[Mahadhir Aziz]
Yes, very widely across many disciplines and new technologies as well. I think we have a program that we do among other agencies called Saya Digital, i.e., IM Digital. Those kinds of trainings would provide basic literacy in digital and tools, but at the same time, just to answer about access to technology, our sister agency looks at programs that look at heart infrastructure or communication, whether it's towers, broadband, or even the latest being satellite internet. This would cover areas where they are having problems accessing technology to begin with, and we come in to provide the content, i.e., the training and the upskilling to be able to take them to the next levels. 

[Shakuntala Santhiran]
Thank you very much, Mahadhir. There is no silver bullet, but there are ways forward. There is still so much more to talk about, but we do have to wrap up. Thank you all so very much for sharing your experience, your invaluable insights with us, for giving us so many different perspectives on this increasingly important part of the labor force. As we've heard, there are ways to address the risks and challenges of online gig work, and there's huge potential for countries to create jobs with greater inclusivity and increased prosperity for more people. Again, thank you all so very much to our excellent panel. Now, I am pleased to welcome Guangzhe Chen who is the Vice President for Infrastructure at the World Bank for his closing remarks. Over to you, Guang. 

[Guangzhe Chen]
Thank you. Shaks. You can hear me well?

[Shakuntala Santhiran]
Yes, we can. 

[Guangzhe Chen]
Okay. Thank very much for having me in this very important event. I learned a lot from this discussion, and also for the partnership between our group and Mamta's group, which is the jobs group and the digital infrastructure group for this joint effort. The panel discussion really offered great insight for this new type of work called the online gig work in the digital era, and how digital technology provides the pathway for inclusive productivity and job growth. We also learned from this discussion that this type of work is not only a developed-country phenomena, but it's also, really, welcome and expanding very rapidly in the developing countries as well, and supporting the inclusion by providing opportunity for the youth, for the women, and for low-skilled workers. I think the data analysis also show that... one example is of South Africa, digital job posting on one human resources platform grew by 130% between 2016 to 2020. While the same period in North America, this type of growth is only around 14%, so that just shows the great potential in the developing world. I think the discussion also highlights that particularly women in many regions are also participating in this online gig work. It is really to a great extent than the general labor market. 

Online group work allows young people to learn new skills, earn income, and offer flexibilities to combine gig work with school, so much great potentials for addressing youth unemployment in many countries. We also learned that, from Steve, a large organization like NASA, also along with many other small firms, also values flexibilities in hiring talented people through online platforms and keep them nimble, efficient, and productive. But also, I think we also learned that it is important that we all need to work together, public and private together, to create the enabling environment for this type of work, but also address the risks that comes with these new opportunities. I think we talk a lot about the need to boost access to connectivity and bring more people online. Here, let me just extend a little bit. Nowadays, with all the technologies, I think our estimate is 95% of the world population has internet coverage. However, we still have 2.7 billion people worldwide who are not using internet for a variety of reasons: affordability of accessing, affordability of devices. I think, also the panel discussed the literacy issues, skills, language contents. All of these make it difficult for some of those people to connect, which is why I think we really need to address all these constraints, which we collectively call them digital public infrastructures, along with cybersecurity, data privacy protections. These are the things that we really need to work together through public and public partnerships. 

I think we talked about digital skill trainings and connecting workers with social protection measures. All these are really key for really supporting this kind of a new way of working moving forward, but we also heard many of the good practices. I think, from our colleagues from Malaysia talked about how the government can proactively, systematically, using this new form of work, offer it as an opportunity for more people with a variety of skills to earn incomes. We need new approaches, and more experimentation in social protection models, a new way of measuring and checking what’s going on from one of these phenomena. Here, we exchanged and underscored how digital technologies are constantly evolving. We heard questions about AI's impacts, but how this labor market is also evolving. By focusing on expanding digital connectivity, growing ICT industries, and digital services, building digital skills and including both technical skills such as digital marketing, data analysis, and soft skills such as around communications, supporting broader coverage of social protection mission... It is clear, I think, that we have a really great opportunity to make it possible for more people to thrive in this new kind of work.


With that, I want to thank you again for this opportunity, and wish you great success for the further discussion in this important topic. Thank you. 

[Shakuntala Santhiran]
Thank you very much, Guang, for your reflections. There is lots more to learn about this topic. You can find all the resources you've seen here today, including the report and more at worldbank.org/gig. Do keep watching that space. We'll be adding more information to it about the online gig economy and please do keep sending us your questions. Again, we'd love to hear from you, our viewers. Thank you all for joining us today. We hope this has been informative and helpful from me and the rest of the team. Goodbye now.


 

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