Loyalty to the Nation all the time. Loyalty to the government, when it deserves it – Mark Twain.
It was around 9 am, November 24th, when I remembered this quote. On that day, the Ajira Digital initiative was launched.
The objectives are listed on the website, but I will present them here nonetheless:
- Objective 1 is to raise the profile of online work in Kenya.
- Objective 2 is to promote a mentorship and collaborative learning approach to finding online work.
- Objective 3 is to provide Kenyans with access to online work.
- Objective 4 is to promote Kenya as a destination for online work.
When online freelancers learned about this initiative, fear and trepidation followed. I was quite taken aback by that. The fact that the government had known about online work and actually joined in promoting it had been received with uncertainty and widespread fear by existing online workers. On my part, I was shocked by this reaction. Personally, I think it’s a plus that our brothers and sisters who are in still in the dark about online work will finally get to know it.
I also observed that the outcry was caused by TWO major myths that many online workers have held for ages.
Myth 1: The government has only recently learned that Kenyans are working online.
In the absence of information, we jump to the worst of conclusion, said Myra Kassim.
Many online workers have held to the notion that online freelancing is a secret, that is for a select few and that the government does not know that it exists. That is a terribly wrong assumption. The government knows literally everything we do online since the Internet went live in Africa and Kenya! Take a look at this link for instance, from 2014.
Ask any IT expert and they will tell you that the government mans the web and is aware of a lot of things.
Here is another point: Whenever money is sent from abroad into Kenya, the CBK knows about it, and has to track its source. Therefore, any money that comes in via PayPal, Skrill, Neteller, VISA, MasterCard and all other channels is tracked and recorded by the CBK. As such, if the CBK, which is part of the government, knows about your transactions, how would the government not know about online work?
Myth 2: Let’s keep online work a secret. The more people know about it, the fewer jobs we will have!
Quite a number of Kenyan freelancers fear that if more people know about online jobs, competition will increase, leading to fewer opportunities. I saw the same reaction when Odesk merged with Elance. There was widespread fear and confusion at that time. I was still working online when it happened, and I am still working on the site. I get new clients all the time despite Upwork being populated by over 10 million freelancers. I have been training transcribers, and just last year, two of my students made it to the Top Rated freelancer program on Upwork. To say the least, they have more than enough work at any given time.
It is also important to remember and consider that the world is going digital, and so are businesses. Concisely, more and more online entities requiring freelancers are being born every day. I remember a while ago, the biggest sites for freelance work were Freelancer and Guru. Today, we have many more online entities. Just the other day, we had , Toptal, Golance and Hubstaff Talent join the online job sites fraternity. In short, the market is constantly expanding, and so are the opportunities!
Thirdly, and very important, not everyone that enrolls for Gotranscript, iWriter or Upwork stays the long haul. Sad as this fact is, it remains the truth. In fact, some people enroll for e-courses but hardly make it to the end. The same happens in that some of them quit during registration while others quit when attempting their very first tasks! Just like every career, online freelancing is like a calling where some succeed and others fail. It is never an easy road especially when starting out. We have freelancers who give up if their work is rejected or when struck by negative feedback. The truth is, freelancing is demanding, and not everyone is willing to put in the work. What I am trying to say is let everyone try their hand at online work. The qualified will stay and the underperformers will be sieved out. No freelancer should be rattled by the entrance of more players into the pitch. After all, you have the experience!
If it was easy, everybody would do it –Anonymous.
My thoughts on AjiraDigital
The Ajira Digital initiative has a long way to go in attaining its objectives. The site still needs improvement if it’s to help people who are interested in online jobs. It would be awesome if the site had a blog, with, for example, reviews on the different sites that have been listed, as well as ‘how to videos’ pertaining to online work and much more. There also needs to be clarity on the part about youths earning Kes 2,200 for every job they do because all jobs are not cut from the same cloth. Are they writing, data entry or design jobs?
I had the pleasure of attending the press conference where the initiative was launched. The CS revealed that his ministry would be reaching out to the private sector to outsource some of the backlog to online workers. He also said that the government will subsidize the costs of acquiring laptops and also lower the price of Internet connectivity, even as they work on providing free WiFi in every constituency. Oh, and there was also the part where he said that the judiciary would need transcribers to transcribe court proceedings. That means that freelance transcribers in Kenya will be the first to benefit.
Will all this come to pass? My prayer is that it does for all online workers sakes.
Out of my reflection though, I realized that creating one million jobs as has been stated by the Ajira site, is quite a stretch. The thing with online work is that it is very intrinsic. Providing laptops and internet connectivity doesn’t magically result in jobs. I believe that this is where SMART goals come into play, and one million online workers within a year, is not realistic in my opinion. Ambitious, yes. Realistic no.
For the newbies who will discover online work via the Ajira site, please note that you will need to find your niche and pump yourself up with lots of motivation. Also, remember not to hop into just any job that you come across online; decide what will work best for you then go for it!
For the existing freelancers, if you are familiar with the Pareto Principle, you will understand what I was saying about online jobs being very selective. You do not have to worry about the masses knowing and joining the online job market. If this initiative attracts thousands, just relax and give them time. Only a small percentage will take any action. Out of this percentage, some will not persist long enough to reap the results. However, for the few who will beat all the odds and take fruitful actions, they will become just like us: their livelihoods will improve and they will impact society positively. In the long run, the awareness created by Ajira will be worth it.
What about the taxation issue? If the government has all along known about online work, wouldn’t the process of taxing us have begun long ago? On another note, remember that each freelancer is paid via different channels including Paypal, wire transfers, Bitcoin, etcetera,. Taxing online workers will therefore not be as easy as pie. Let’s focus our energy on creating several income streams online rather than on the tax man.
My thoughts on Online Work Awareness
Kenyans are very educated and possess a great work ethic. I see a time when investors will target this country in terms of launching freelance organizations. This has already happened in the Philippines where Chris Ducker, the founder of Virtual Staff Finder, set up base there. We have a few local ones already such as Kaboonta and Kuhustle. I foresee a bright future for freelancers in this great country. However, take note that we can only be recognized if a good number of us make a presence online. The current 40,000 online workers is too little a number to activate the investor attraction effect. We need to be recognized if good things are to come our way.
Let’s take a moment and ask ourselves, why are world renowned personalities developing an interest in Kenya? We had Obama visiting. Akon was here with the President. Mark Zuckerberg was eating Tilapia in Nairobi just the other day. Israel’s prime also visited. The World Bank is already connecting millions of Kenyans to electricity, freely. Who knows who else will visit? From my understanding, these people are seeing great potential in this country of ours. My urge, therefore, is that we show them all the positive work that we can do if given the chance. Let us make them come, invest and stay!
Second, let us continue creating awareness about online work so that the private sector can believe in the power of this new frontier. There are startups already in Kenya, coming up slowly. They need to cut costs so as to grow faster. We can chip in and benefit by making them know that there are many competent online workers locally. How will they know that we exist if they never hear from or about us? Let us make our presence symbolic by writing newspaper articles, setting up more blogs, and yes, even the ultimate sin of appearing on TV!
If you look at the pros of creating awareness on online work, maybe you can realize that it can turn into an opportunity for experienced freelancers. As more newbies will require training, we can take this as an opportunity to spread the skills while making more cents on the side. Create training material, set up blogs that with resourceful tips and tricks about freelancing and also organize seminars where you can share with fellow as well as new freelancers.
My final thoughts
This is a topic too juicy, but I have to wind up.
To the doubtful, fearful freelancers: There is sustained demand for reasonably priced labor from overseas markets which is constantly fuelling this industry. Numerous start-ups are coming up all over the world. Fear not, because more work is being generated even as our number grows.
To the government: This is a very promising industry that is still learning to walk. Many online workers are in fear, mostly due to taxation issues. The government should consider exempting us from tax so that we can grow the industry further. The number is still too small.
The government should also encourage more starts up to come up, especially those who are keen on launching freelancing sites. This will go a long way in helping these companies pick up flawlessly and increase more online job opportunities for Kenyan freelancers.
Henry Ford tells us,
If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself –