While the Covid-19 outbreak has brought about disruption on several fronts, it can also be a catalyst for rapid digital transformation in various industries. This requires actively challenging the norm and forging a new way forward, and quite quickly at that. The gig economy is built around this exact principle, namely, viability in adaptability. It is the future of work that cannot be avoided and Kenya proves pivotal in understanding the importance of adopting a culture that promotes earnings without conventional employment.
According to Mercy Corps’ report: ‘‘Towards a Digital Workforce (2019)’’, the overall unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 26.4 percent. The gig economy provides a unique opportunity for this group to actively earn with currently owned, inexpensive assets.
With just a vehicle, one can become a driver, while with a skateboard or roller skates, one can deliver orders via the Uber Eats app. With over 800,000 Kenyans entering the job market each year, traditional employment has curved and the demand can not contain the supply anymore, resulting in more ably-adapted workers, going days, weeks and some instances months without any prospect of earnings.
The gig economy is more than just flexible work, it's an opportunity for a large catchment of Kenya’s population to build a brand which grows further than just driving or renting, but by using the capital earned to invest in their long-held ambitions.
With minimal entry barriers, the popularity of the gig economy has over the years grown significantly. While many will join in as either a primary source of income or to subsidise a salary, the capital built allows for an investment in something greater.
Many who started as drivers on the Uber app, are now fleet-partners, owning multiple vehicles that can be paired with a potential driver without access to a car. The gig economy can grow as much as one is willing to use it to grow. Before the outbreak in Kenya, the gig economy was predicted to grow by 33 percent in the next three years to become an over Sh36 billion industry with just under 100, 000 frequent gig economy workers.
Online marketplaces have the potential to boost economies, especially in Africa, by improving market efficiency and increasing supply and demand.
According to a report by Uber and the Boston Consulting Group (How Online Marketplaces can Power Employment in Africa), online platforms can improve market efficiency as they supplement conventional retail channels by reducing barriers between merchants and consumers.
There are currently many issues that face the independent worker, including limited work opportunities due to regulations and lockdowns, reducing their potential earnings.
Giggers are not necessarily an employee of the app and/ or brand and thus not eligible for certain benefits. The key differentiator is flexibility. Giggers are not required to work an 8 -5 job to get a fixed salary at the end of each month. They chose when, where, and how often they are willing to work, thus controlling their own income and work-life balance.
The gig economy is not an added benefit, but a contributing factor of overall economic growth in Kenya.
The writer is Senior Manager, Public Policy East Africa at Uber.