Entering the global gig economy from Dadaab refugee camp
In the Ifo refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya, online freelancer Abubakar Aden Hassan has earned $1,000 from 14 jobs since 2019, thanks to an ITC initiative.
The Refugee Employment and Skills Initiative (RESI) equipped Abubakar with training and market access support to start his digital services career. He is convinced that online freelancing is a way of overcoming the mobility limitations of living in a camp like Ifo.
'The world has its own dynamic situations that are difficult to human life,' Abubakar says. 'For example, people are currently worried about COVID-19, and this has changed daily activities. In such scenarios, it is freelancing that works best. Online freelancing can solve the challenge of unemployment in the camp or the entire world because everyone can access online jobs.'
Dadaab is one of the world's oldest refugee camps, founded in 1991 to respond to the refugees fleeing the conflict in Somalia. The longstanding crisis and threats of closing the camp have made it challenging for residents to gain clarity about their future, which shapes their need for skills that allow them to work from anywhere.
RESI, which is implemented in partnership with the Norwegian Refugee Council, aims to build self-reliance and foster economic resilience for refugees and members of the host community by creating jobs and generating income.
With online freelancing, people from the Dadaab refugee complex and the surrounding area can sell their services to the rest of the world.
As such, helping young people from fragile settings transition into becoming online freelancers has been a focus area of ITC's work addressing forced displacement. The model is proving to be successful during times of uncertainty, not only at the local level but also amid a global crisis.
In Dadaab, RESI trains young people in digital skills and entrepreneurship while connecting them to clients and providing support to build their careers as online freelancers.
To equip participants with technical skills, RESI partners with Celestine Ukpere Consulting, which delivers digital skills training.
The RESI training programme includes life skills training, as well as a course in digital entrepreneurship and business development, to prepare participants for self-employment.
Following the training, newly graduated freelancers are connected to jobs via the RESI mentorship programme. The programme offers several ways to access markets.
The technical component of the mentorship programme helps freelancers access the online work platform Upwork with sessions that include activities such as profile reviews and coaching on the process of applying for jobs.
To help participants entering the international job market, RESI offers a life skills mentorship programme to enhance their personal and professional development, using an agile approach to provide support where needs arise.
For example, the programme's online career talks with external guests enable freelancers to learn about soft skills and network with international players.
Other tracks involve a helpline for urgent questions, individual coaching sessions, a monthly newsletter, and webinars. Currently, the programme is piloting an Online Freelancing Bootcamp, where experienced freelancers help participants apply for and deliver jobs on Upwork.
The mentorship and market access component is a crucial part of the RESI programme since professional development is vital for freelancers to succeed. Abdullahi Hassan Mohamed, a RESI graduate, explains how RESI is continuously supporting him on his career journey.
'RESI supported me through the online journey by equipping me with knowledge and tips to become a successful freelancer,' Abdullahi says.
'RESI also helped me navigate the difficulties of the online freelancing world, from doing job interviews to avoiding scammers,' he adds. 'Furthermore, RESI provided me with mentorship and coaching skills that daily updates my freelancing skills.'
With this support package, RESI is dedicated to supporting participants throughout their career journeys until they have gained enough experience to work independently.
Connecting to clients as a collective
To build a sustainable and long-term support structure beyond the project, the first phase of the RESI project cultivated the establishment of a freelancing agency that united motivated graduates from the training into a small business collective.
Founded in December 2018, the Dadaab Collective Online Freelancing Agency organized freelancers under one business collective so they can motivate and support each other, offer different expertise, and take on larger projects and clients.
The agency receives support from the RESI team, with the objective of running independently by freelancers in Dadaab before the end of the project.
An agency support officer from the Norwegian Refugee Council and a business mentor from ITC oversee the daily operations. In collaboration with the agency executive board, ITC is currently implementing a market access strategy to enhance market linkages of the agency so it can achieve a substantial client base before becoming fully independent.
To equip collective members with the capacity to run the agency in the future, the project has delivered training in entrepreneurship while providing an entrepreneurship e-course and business counselling.
With these activities, the collective freelancers have learned to understand the business environment and gained familiarity with business models, financial management, as well as marketing and customer relations.
Recently, the collective elected a new executive board among all the members, who will be taking over the management of the agency after the ongoing strengthening and transition towards independence.
In connection to this, RESI has provided management training to the future executive members, as well as legal support for the collective to operate as a business.
As new cohorts are trained in Dadaab, the collective is expected to take new freelancers under its wing so that they can gain meaningful work, despite the immense challenges they face.
The Collective is a key component in supporting refugees in Dadaab to become self-reliant through job linkages throughout RESI and beyond.
The support offered by ITC and the Norwegian Refugee Council is making a real difference. Already disadvantaged by circumstances − and now facing the uncertainty of a world rocked by the pandemic − RESI is giving Abubakar and people like him a chance to succeed against all odds.