While you’ve probably heard of Uber and Upwork, not as many people know about platforms that connect employers and workers in developing countries. Examples of these platforms include Workana (in Latin America and the Caribbean), Wowzi (in Africa), Truelancer (in South Asia), and B.O.T. (in the Middle East and North Africa).
In a recent research brief, the World Bank’s Solutions for Youth Employment (S4YE) program found that these platforms play a vital role in regional labor markets. Here are some of the main takeaways from our research.
Local and regional platforms help broaden access to online gig work
Securing a gig job is far from straightforward. Despite major online gig platforms like Fiverr providing opportunities on a global scale, gig workers often encounter obstacles. Common challenges include English proficiency, access to global payment options, and fierce competition. When the World Bank rolled out its global survey, 57 percent of online gig workers replied in a language other than English, indicating that major platforms may not provide adequate opportunities to non-English speakers. In light of these hurdles, one question arises: how can we ensure that more young freelancers have equal access to opportunities?
One example of a company responding to these challenges is Workana, which launched operations in 2012 in Latin America. Founder Eliana Bracciaforte identified a pool of talented workers in the region who had been excluded from global opportunities due to language and contextual barriers. By creating a platform that operated in Spanish and Portuguese and catered to local markets, Workana provided Latin American online gig workers with access to new opportunities that might not have been available through global online platforms.
According to the World Bank report, Working without Borders: The Promise and Peril of Online Gig Work, local online gig work platforms:
1. Provide opportunities for non-English speakers: For example, Workana enables freelancers to thrive without English proficiency by offering services in Spanish and Portuguese. A survey among Workana freelancers confirms that English proficiency was the least relevant skill to succeed in online gig work (48 percent), below skills such as time management (85 percent), communication (83 percent), and Spanish skills (65 percent).
Figure 1. Top skills for succeeding in online gig work, as reported by Workana’s online gig workers
2. Adapt to local constraints, such as online payment regulations. Local platforms use local payment options and align with online payment regulations that sometimes restrict tools like To address this constraint in Nigeria, where PayPal was not available before 2014, Jolancer, a dedicated marketplace for skilled African freelancers, offered bank transfers as a payment option for Nigerian workers. Jolancer also allows clients to make payments using the Nigerian online payment solution Flutterwave.
3. Provide local startups and micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises with access to workers who better understand the local context. Local gig workers offer valuable insights into the local context, reducing learning costs for startups and other small businesses. Tasks such as marketing require knowledge of the local context, and gig workers can be a valuable source of cost-effective talent for resource-constrained small businesses and startups. Wowzi, a Kenya-based influencer marketing platform, demonstrates this potential by offering options for companies of all sizes to create locally relevant social media campaigns.
4. Help governments achieve employment policy objectives. Regional and local platforms can collaborate with governments to achieve broader policy objectives. They can support governments’ efforts to include disadvantaged workers through targeted training programs and enhance coverage of insurance or pension programs for informal workers. For instance, Ureed, a platform active in the Middle East and North Africa region, launched the training program “Mastering the World of Online Freelancing” in cooperation with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) to increase women’s participation in online gig work in Jordan and Lebanon.
What’s next for local and regional gig work platforms?
The World Bank report found that most local platforms struggle to establish viable commercial models.
The smaller size of their user base constrains their ability to tap into network effects, requiring them to pivot their business models—for instance, by serving as staffing agencies. Most owners of regional/local platforms are entrepreneurs with a background in technology but with limited financial or business experience.
Despite the challenges local platforms may face, those that survive can play a unique role in local private sector development and inclusion. research brief.Learn more about local and regional platforms in our
This blog is part of a Short Notes series that explores findings from the World Bank report “Working Without Borders: The Promise and Peril of Online Gig Work.”
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