The challenge with new approaches to development is that there’s usually little in terms of real life examples to either guide or tap into. Unlike established approaches, there is usually limited data, evidence, international experiences or best practices to learn from and use. This is the difficulty we now face as we explore the feasibility of microwork in the Palestinian Territories.
Microwork presents a unique opportunity for jobs and income for sections of Palestinian society that face high levels of unemployment, such as youth and women. It is a new phenomenon in the digital economy: anyone anywhere can work through an online platform equipped with just a computer and internet access. These platforms break down large and complex business processes into smaller and discrete tasks that can be completed in seconds or hours, with compensation paid per task ranging from a few US cents or dollars. Typical tasks include market research, media tagging, information gathering, data input, data verification, proof-reading, translation, copyediting, etc.
A World Bank supported microwork feasibility study has found that there is a potential for leveraging microwork for job and income creation in the Palestinian Territories. With a good talent base, quality skills, and sufficient Internet and computer access, microwork could provide a unique opportunity for Palestinians to work around movement and access restrictions. However, the study finds that Palestinian youth usually expect to earn US$3 or more per hour, which would limit them to performing the higher paying microtasks such as Arabic translation or copyediting that are not as readily available.
But what about the more common and readily available microtasks such as data entry or basic market research? They typically pay only about US$1-2 an hour, but they could translate into jobs and income for a large number of Palestinian youth and women. As they require only basic computer knowledge and skills, microwork also presents an opportunity for bringing low skilled and poor workers into the labor market.
Will microwork’s “anytime, anywhere” flexibility be sufficient to attract masses of Palestinian microworkers? For example, unemployed youth and students can work anytime from cybercafés, campuses, or from home to earn some discretionary income. Similarly, young Palestinian housewives may also want to work from home to earn some extra money to help support their family.
It makes sense from an analytical and conceptual perspective that Palestinian youth and women will be interested in microwork. However, the lack of real-life cases and examples limit our understanding of its potential success. The answer is important as these lower level tasks could have a significant development impact, and will have wider implications for other developing countries with similar wage structures.
Right now, the World Bank is in the next phase of designing microwork pilots for the Palestinian Territories, and facilitating the set up of local microwork intermediaries. We hope to find support from other development partners, so that we can move beyond theory into practice and gain some solid evidence on the potential benefits of microwork.