Report shows young people earning livelihoods working in digital platforms

By Dr. Ehud Gachugu 

The digital economy is expanding largely in Kenya. Covid-19 has accelerated the growth since Kenyans, especially youth, have now recognized the potential to earn a living in digital platforms. The pandemic led not only to a health crisis but also an economic crisis. The measures imposed by the Ministry of health, such as physical distancing and cessation of movements, contributed to the increasing role of platform livelihoods. Those in logistics were considered as essential delivery agents and service providers. The small and medium enterprises switched to online shopping. Farming was also not left out as when complying with the set measures, a social and online farmer emerged. The offline gigs for musicians and creatives declined hence they focused on their digital platforms. These instances show the influence Covid-19 has had on the shift to platform livelihoods. Platform livelihoods are the ways in which people work in the digital marketplace. They include e-commerce, gig economy, content creation, and sharing economy.

Role of platform livelihoods 

Technology has led to the digitization of several sectors; hence, it’s the driver of platform livelihoods. Consequently, several jobs that were not there 15 years ago have emerged. They include social media managers, virtual assistants, SEO analysts, telemedicine physicians, content marketers, and automated driving jobs. Research by Qhala and Caribou Digital in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation (2021) has clearly shown the role of platform livelihoods in the logistics, E-commerce, farming, and creative industries. In the logistics industry for instance, the motorbike transport commonly referred to as ‘boda boda,’ has become more dignified due to its digitization. The increasing rate of internet usage has inspired logistics companies to invest in the app-based delivery system. Accordingly, the platforms facilitate supply and demand by ensuring that drivers are available and are attractive to clients. Some of the platforms in Kenya include Bolt, Busy Boda, Glovo, Jumia, Pick-Up Mtaani, Sendy, and UberEats. The demand for these services has increased steadily and has become a key employment opportunity for the youth. Considering the growth in the sector, other players such as the boda investment scheme have emerged to enable drivers to save for the future.

In the past, most MSMEs operated physically, and their advertisement was mainly through print, radio, television, and select trade functions. The emergence of E-commerce and social commerce has allowed businesses to scale faster, have a wider reach, coordinate order fulfillment quickly, and efficiently manage customer relations. The participating businesses in the Platforms Livelihood report are from different sectors such as electronics and merchandise, fashion and beauty, home and kitchen products. The formal and social media platforms have diversified how businesses advertise through SEO, paid ads, collaborating with social media influencers, and online referrals. With the high unemployment rates, the youth can explore social commerce and formal e-commerce platforms and expand their businesses.

The farming sector has continuously been conducted physically at the local markets, often, through middlemen. However, with digitization in place, some farmers have turned to digital marketplaces and others on ‘social agriculture’ where they use social media to sell their produce. Utilizing the online platforms has allowed the farmers to eliminate brokers and cartels; thus, they access their customers directly and sell their agricultural products at competitive prices. In Kenya, the agricultural sector contributes about 34.1% of the country’s GDP. Consequently, it’s a considerable area that the youth can explore. Utilizing social and formal online platforms will give them access to direct clients and make more sales.

The creative sector is mainly composed of the youth. Initially, musicians made their living through offline means such as merchandising, live performances, royalties from the broadcast media and selling physical copies of their music. In contrast, visual art depended on exhibitions, art museums, and galleries. These offline means still exist; however, the online platforms have created new ways of distributing content to new audiences and multiple regions. Consequently, the creatives have two forms of distribution types in the online platforms. One of them is the formal distribution platforms that have defined monetization streams and the social media channels to increase awareness and have a wider audience. Notably, the social media platforms also allow the creatives to influence art appreciation; hence buyers are willing to pay a higher price. Consequently, young people in the creative industry can utilize these platforms and make a decent living.

When all is said and done

The future of work is in platform livelihoods. The four sectors highlighted above have revealed how digitization has impacted people’s livelihoods through online platforms. Nonetheless, the workers and sellers utilizing these platforms need new skills, digital sensibilities, and new competencies for survival in these platforms. Qhala and Caribou’s research (2021), dubbed “Platform Livelihoods: The quality of Kenyan youth’s digital experiences in logistics, e-commerce, farming, and the creative sectors”, established that the youth are the highest population of those engaging in platform livelihoods. Therefore, due to the minimal barriers of using these platforms, many youths have chosen them to solve the high unemployment rate. Nonetheless, most of them lack financial resources to grow and upskill their businesses.  Consequently, they need support from private entities and the government, for instance, through grants and tax incentives. Additionally, they should be exposed to mentors to enhance their creativity, innovativeness and reach their full potential through online platforms.

Dr. Ehud is the Project Director, Ajira Digital and Employment Program under the Kenya Private Sector Alliance.