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The gig economy: what is it, why is it in the headlines and what does the future hold?

Emma Charlton, Senior Writer, Formative Content

global debate is raging about independent workers or the so-called gig economy. But what is it? And how important is what’s happening?

For millions of people, working nine-to-five for a single employer or being on the payroll is no longer a reality. Instead, they balance various income streams and work independently, job-by-job.

If you’ve ever used an app to call a freelance taxi driver, book a holiday rental, order food or buy a homemade craft then you’ve probably participated in this segment of the economy.

The “gig economy involves the exchange of labour for money between individuals or companies via digital platforms that actively facilitate matching between providers and customers, on a short-term and payment-by-task basis,” according to the UK government.

a chart showing the four segments that independent workers generally fit into
Choice or necessity?   Image: The McKinsey Global Institute

 

It’s in focus not just because it’s growing, bringing economic benefits in terms of productivity and employment, but also because it raises questions about levels of consumer and worker protection and labour-market policies.

While gig-economy workers often eschew the rights offered to employees on the payroll, in February in the UK a court found that drivers for a car ride-hailing app are entitled to benefits including paid holidays, a minimum wage and a pension.

a chart explaining different gig economy sectors
Different gigs.
Image: Mastercard Gig Economy IndustryOutlook and Needs Assessment

Similar themes are found in other countries, with Spain set to approve a new law that categorizes gig-economy riders as wage labourers. In the US, a comment from the labour secretary suggesting that some workers should be classified as employees wiped billions of dollars off the value of some of America’s largest gig-economy companies, according to a report in the Financial Times.

The future of work beyond the COVID-19 pandemic will be the focus of the World Economic Forum’s Jobs Reset Summit on 1-2 June 2021, which will look at mobilizing a jobs recovery plan.

So far, gig-economy platforms’ share of total employment is modest – ranging between 1% and 3% of total employment, according to the OECD, which also says the share is growing fast.

Global gig-economy transactions are forecast to grow by 17% a year to around $455 billion by 2023, according to a report from Mastercard.

a chart showing the projected gross volume of the gig economy, which is projected to grow to $455 billion by the end of the year 2023 in Gross Volume transactions
A growing gig. Image: Mastercard Gig Economy Industry Outlook and Needs Assessment

 

And as the market grows, and the companies at the top of the chain get larger, the challenge for policy-makers and officials is to balance the innovation that creates jobs against the need to ensure the companies are offering workers a fair deal. Gig-economy companies present complications for product-market regulation, competition policy, tax and labour-market policies.

Independence and flexibility were cited as the main aspect that people working in the gig economy were often satisfied with, according to a UK government survey. Respondents were less satisfied with work-related benefits and the level of income, with one in four saying they were very or fairly dissatisfied with those aspects of their work.

For students who want to earn an income while studying, or primary carers who want to fit work around school or daycare hours, these companies can offer flexible working patterns.

Flexible working

Generating additional income and having work flexibility are the most common motives to work for gig economy platforms, according to the OECD paper.

“Overall, most gig workers are satisfied with their job and working for gig economy platforms appears to reflect mainly voluntary choices rather than the lack of other options,” that paper says. “However, a significant minority of platform workers – around 20% – uses platforms because they are not able to find work as dependent employees.”

A McKinsey study categorized independent workers into four segments.

  1. Free agents, who choose independent work and derive their primary income from it.
  2. Casual earners, who use independent work by choice for supplemental income.
  3. Reluctants, who make their primary living from independent work but would prefer traditional jobs.
  4. Financially strapped, who do supplemental independent work out of necessity.

Public policy-makers face the task of keeping all four of these groups happy, which may require adapting policy settings so that they are ready for the digital age. Challenges exist but are not insurmountable, the McKinsey Global Institute report said.

“Issues such as benefits, income-security measures, and training and credentials offer room for policy-makers, as well as innovators and new intermediaries, to provide solutions”, the authors wrote. “Independent workers and traditional jobholders alike will have to become more proactive about managing their careers as digital technologies continue to reshape the world of work.”

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IFC | WBG

To increase financial inclusion and support the digital transformation of financial institutions across Africa and the Middle East, IFC launched its DigiLab Finance training and support program with the aim of improving services for consumers of financial services.

DigiLab Finance is a capacity building program that equips selected financial institutions – including banks, microfinance institutions and digital financial services providers – with practical knowledge and tools to help them develop digital strategies, helping them adapt and adopt to technological trends accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and better serve their clients.

The first cohort of four financial institutions from Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, and Zambia began the six-week online DigiLab program on June 1. The program is being delivered in both English and French.

“Coronavirus has changed the way we live and work and has made digital transformation for financial institutions more important than ever,” said Riadh Naouar, IFC Financial Institutions Group Manager for Africa and the Middle East. “Banks across the region have already made good progress adapting new technologies, although implementation of full digital transformation remains a challenge. The DigiLab program will help improve on this aspect of implementation and is part of IFC’s broader strategy to support a stronger, more sustainable financial sector.”

At the end of the six-week training program, participating financial institutions present their strategies and roadmaps for implementing a digital strategy to a panel of experts that provides feedback to help them incorporate improvements to their digital finance operations.

IFC introduced DigiLab Finance in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2018 and then in Europe and Central Asia in 2020.

Since its launch, DigiLab has supported 23 financial institutions to implement new business structures, launch digital products that better serve customer needs, and explore partnerships with fintechs or other tech providers.

About IFC

IFC—a member of the World Bank Group—is the largest global development institution focused on the private sector in emerging markets. We work in more than 100 countries, using our capital, expertise, and influence to create markets and opportunities in developing countries. In fiscal year 2020, we invested $22 billion in private companies and financial institutions in developing countries, leveraging the power of the private sector to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity. For more information, visit www.ifc.org.

To increase financial inclusion and support the digital transformation of financial institutions across Africa and the Middle East, IFC launched its DigiLab Finance training and support program with the aim of improving services for consumers...

ITC

Establishing the right mindset is the key to digital transformation

“The most important e-commerce challenge that women entrepreneurs are facing in Tunisia is finding the right mindset for digital transformation,” says Samia Ben Abdallah, an e-commerce advisor in Tunisia.

“The International Trade Centre’s (ITC) ecomConnect programme is raising awareness among women about the importance of going digital and planning strategically, which is key to earning stable incomes. The project is very timely”.

Samia, who is also the founder of AwA – a Tunisian company that produces beautiful handmade jewelry, is one of the consultants who has been trained by ITC’s ecomConnect team to help women-led businesses in Tunisia sell online. This project is funded by the World Bank and provided by the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) E-commerce for Women Entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa regions (MENA) initiative.

Having the right mindset is essential, despite the obstacles

The project aims to use e-commerce as a way to alleviate some of the constraints faced by women entrepreneurs in the MENA region. Indeed, more than 100 SMEs are receiving in-depth training in selecting and listing in the online marketplace. Although e-commerce has already shown its potential for small businesses, it comes with its own challenges, such as: the level of shipping costs, the availability and cost of international payment solutions, the lack of streamlined customs duties and clearance procedures for low-value items, and also the lack of information and capacity regarding available platforms. In MENA, women have even more limited access to technology than in other regions, which makes e-commerce challenging.

From Samia’s experience with the programme’s beneficiaries, she highlights the additional challenge of the lack of planning and strategic vision: “most Tunisian women do not dare to take the risks that would allow them to progress well. The main issue here is not knowing the real challenges of e-commerce. For example, the women entrepreneurs I work with tend to underestimate the efforts to be made in digital marketing, therefore, they do not know how to create quality digital content.

Tackling the lack of knowledge

Hajer Aissi, a beneficiary of the programme and founder of Art Artisanat in Tunisia, sees the project as an opportunity to increase the visibility of her business and access to international markets. “The training is helping me to know the different platforms better and to understand people’s preferences and how to reach them. I am also learning how to create beautiful photos for my products and write complete and impactful descriptions in order to attract new customers.”

The project addresses this knowledge gap by building capacity and providing online tools. ITC trains advisors who, in turn, train women-owned businesses through group trainings and advise them individually through one-on-one coaching sessions.

After reviewing their market research and e-business strategy, the beneficiaries were able to apply their research findings to create content tailored to the selected target markets and sales channels. Now that the content is ready, the consultants help the companies select the most appropriate market for each of them.

Establishing the right mindset is the key to digital transformation

“The most important e-commerce challenge that women entrepreneurs are facing in Tunisia is finding the right mindset for digital transformation,” says Samia Ben Abdallah, an e-commerce...

UNCDF

Startup Uganda Challenge 2020 winners receive financial and in-kind support to scale up their solutions designed for underserved communities in Uganda.

In August 2020, at the height of the pandemic, UNCDF and Startup Uganda launched an Innovation Challenge to solve very specific problems close to the hearts of partners of this 2020 edition. Beyond financial support, the innovation challenge aimed to provide technical support for the startups, work closely with them to refine their solutions, unlock access to additional funding and make their solutions profitable.

In this blog we present the winners of the 2020 edition of the challenge organized with Startup Uganda. For a presentation of the partners of this edition of the challenge you can read the other blog here.

The winners and their projects


Pata Sente – Financial Health for MSME track winner

Conceived at a dairy farm in Mbarara district in 2015, Pata Sente offers a factoring platform for small businesses to buy or sell goods on favorable terms. Like Masha Dairy Cooperative, a farmers group that was the first user of this platform, small businesses often fail to meet the payment terms of their suppliers, workers and customers. They are also unable to get credit from banks because they are considered high risk, uncreditworthy and lack collateral.

Through this platform, small businesses starting with those in the dairy chain will be able to contract Patasente to deliver to them goods and services from their preferred suppliers which they can pay for later. Through engagement with the supplier, Pata Sente commits to pay on behalf of the small businesss –in part advance or fully on delivery. Through this solution, Pata Sente is enabling micro and small suppliers like farmers to sustainably earn an income from their output sales to buyers.

When asked what is next for Pata Sente, founder George Bakka says, “We are currently in an early growth stage. We are onboarding more buyers and principals (workers) on our platform as early scale to our solution.”

Famunera – Leveraging Last-mile Distribution Networks track winner

After three years of extensive research and development, Famunera launched in 2016 to serve millions of underserved smallholder farmers and become the ultimate destination for sourcing genuine, quality and affordable farm inputs and produce across Africa.

Famunera is working to address the challenge of poor quality farm inputs sourcing, delayed last-mile delivery, limited remote farming advisory support and lack of farm inputs traceability throughout production (from planting to harvest) for smallholder farmers. Famunera provides a user-friendly digital agro inputs marketplace powered by a USSD Code, Web App, Call Center and Express Last-mile Delivery System through which the underserved farmers can easily order farm inputs, access free expert farming advisory support, generate traceability reports throughout their production and get convenient last-mile delivery within 24 hours across Uganda.

On what’s next for Famunera, CEO Julius Enock Naika commented, “Famunera is working to raise a total investment of US$1.2 million in order to reach and serve over 1.5 million smallholder farmers across Uganda by 2023.”

Backspace Ivy – Digital Literacy track winner

Backspace Ivy is a female run IT consulting enabler and social innovation enterprise specialising in online digital training for underrepresented groups such as girls in STEM, youth, orphans, refugees, people with disabilities, women and young people. The company has developed a wifi-free pocket size smart learning kernel called smart booklet that allows people in rural communities to access video trainings to improve their digital and financial literacy.

Designed with the needs of the users in mind, the users do not need internet to access information and the device is solar rechargeable. Digital content preferably in audio visual form is uploaded on the device that can be shared within different households. The device can be used to deliver information, education and communication messages in a more adaptable, transformative, interactive and multilingual way.

On what’s next for Backspace Ivy, Carolyn Akello, the company’s Innovation and Digital Specialist says, “We are refining our business model further so that we can sustain our vision to digitally include underserved communities.”

 

The winning innovations won a cash prize of up US$20,000 each and technical support to take their solutions to the market and address the challenges identified by the anchor partners, which will in turn lead to sustainable inclusive development.


“UNCDF supports innovators that take into account the needs and circumstances of underserved communities. As the world is looking to digital solutions to improve their well-being, many people are in danger of being left behind. We are working towards an inclusive digital economy, where people who may not have the latest devices, fastest internet connectivity or the required digital skills can also be active participants in the digital economy,” said Chris Lukolyo, Digital Country Lead, UNCDF.

“We received so many inspiring and innovative solutions, and through this journey, we have had different members of Startup Uganda guide the innovators and help then to shape their ideas,” Jean Kukunda Vice Chairperson, Startup Uganda.

While there was only one winner for each track, partners have pledged to continue to give technical assistance to all the participants to be able to refine their ideas and business models to make them profitable.

Startup Uganda Challenge 2020 winners receive financial and in-kind support to scale up their solutions designed for underserved communities in Uganda.

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ITU

Financial technology, or fintech, has brought financial security within reach for previously underserved people and communities, especially in developing countries.

But the benefits brought by companies providing software, services, and products for digital financial services are accompanied by new, often unfamiliar risks.

While many fintech firms have experienced rapid growth during the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers and regulators alike need to know both the upsides and the downsides of new business models emerging in digital finance.

Mobile-friendly information

Among these fast-growing new digital financial services, digital microcredits enable quick approval and access for small, short-term loans via mobile phone.

However, their pricing can appear vague, while the mobile format can impede readability for microcredit users.

“When you translate summarized disclosure statements and key facts to a small screen, it becomes even harder to ensure that the consumer is receiving the information they need to understand risks and choose an appropriate product,” observed Jennifer Chien, Senior Financial Sector Specialist at the World Bank Group, during a recent session of the Financial Inclusion Global Initiative (FIGI) Symposium.

Another challenge relates to timing, she explained.

“You may receive information about the pricing for a credit product only after you have finalized a transaction, which makes it too late to use that information effectively.”

Making algorithms accountable

Fintech products are sometimes marketed unscrupulously, such as with certain practices emerging in unsolicited offers of microcredit sent to consumers’ phones. In unbanked markets, such practices can result in unnecessary loans and subsequent repayment struggles.

“Some are marketed in a way that encourages the consumer to take out the maximum loan possible,” said Chien. “The remote nature of the digital channel and rapid transaction speeds increase consumer vulnerability to aggressive marketing practices.”

At every level, fintech’s benefits and drawbacks seem mixed. For example, while automated credit scoring can expand access to financial services, poor algorithm design and non-representative data can produce biased results that are ” systematically worse for certain groups and perpetuate social inequalities,” warned Chien.

Creating algorithmic accountability through regulatory and technical safeguards and controls is a work in progress for many countries and researchers.

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority, for instance, has told digital microcredit providers to ensure that existing rules on fair treatment and anti-discrimination apply to the use of algorithms.

Protection from lending risks

Risks of unfair lending with high annualized rates also persist in digital microcredit products. Loans are sometimes marketed aggressively without assessing the consumer’s need or ability to repay. So-called “lend to learn” models extend access to finance for consumers without a formal credit history to learn their creditworthiness. But risk-blind models can result in loans being taken out by consumers who can’t afford them.

Consumer warning labels, or equivalent notifications, may have to be attached to certain fintech products and services, Chien said.

Testing in Kenya, for example, indicated improved consumer comprehension after brief summaries of terms and conditions were shown on mobile phones earlier in the transaction process. In Paraguay, consumers are offered a final option to accept or reject terms before concluding a digital transaction contract. In such cases, the dynamic interactive nature of mobile channels aids the consumer.

Evolving risks, evolving regulation

Fintech also enables access to credit via peer-to-peer lending platforms. But most such operators remain unregulated, depriving consumers of protection, said Gian Boeddu, another Senior Financial Sector Specialist at the World Bank Group. The UK and Mexico have tried to address this by developing new definitions of activities subject to financial regulation.

In the digital context, low barriers to entry for accessing credit and reliance on technology expose consumers to risks. As a safeguard, policies that apply to traditional financial service providers are now being extended to providers of new digital financial services and related third parties with additional requirements for digital literacy and consumer competence.

Investment-based crowdfunding, which allows small companies to issue debt or equity securities to the public, shows how fintech innovation can prompt regulators to rethink certain rules.

This form of crowdfunding cannot develop within regulatory frameworks for capital markets, opined Ivor Istuk, Senior Financial Sector Specialist at the World Bank Group. “Established rules for offering securities and providing investment intermediary services tend to be too costly for small businesses and start-ups. Companies that would find this market lucrative would also need to register themselves, increasing operational costs.”

Concerns around fraud and platform failure also apply to investment-based crowdfunding. Risks are exacerbated by inexperienced investors, risky issuers, opaque information, and illiquid and complex securities, explained Istuk.

To address gaps in Fintech regulation, experts highlight the value of a step-by-step approach based on the development of an in-depth understanding of the fast-evolving fintech market and experiences of consumers and industry players.

FIGI is an open framework for collaboration led by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the World Bank Group, and the Committee on Payments and Market Infrastructures (CPMI), with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Check out the 2021 symposium’s video playlist. 

Financial technology, or fintech, has brought financial security within reach for previously underserved people and communities, especially in developing countries.

But the benefits brought by companies providing software, services, and products for digital financial services are...

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