Beyond creating connections to establishing impact networks of shared interests
Figuring out how to use the ever-changing digital tools and gathering resources needed to participate are among the top priorities platform workers think of when working, trading, renting, and creating online. These are key to adapting, surviving, and thriving in the nascent digital economy which has its share of opportunities and challenges. While platform work is redefining the future of work, there exists reduced organized belonging compared to traditional jobs where the employer gathers employees and provides perks and benefits, assets of work, upskilling resources, and team-building initiatives.
Many platform workers are independent workers working gig to gig and project to project. Speaking to platform workers in Kenya, we noticed a growing use of communities, for belonging, as a way to share tips and resources, for ease in navigating the system, and as a channel to coordinate collectively for system change or member support. WhatsApp and Facebook groups are among the top community networks utilized by those working online. Outside the major cities (Nairobi), communities and especially on WhatsApp groups are equally stronger if not better in peri-urban areas of Nakuru and Kitale when it comes to sharing job opportunities and work tips.
This membership-based organization is not a new phenomenon, Africa is highly communal. There are however limited assessments on the impact of communities and how these communities can be improved to be more impactful and action-oriented beyond connection and belonging in the digital economy.
These communities go beyond convening the people to;
- Acting as learning networks, where tips and useful sector-relevant knowledge are shared openly.
- Creating channels to cultivate trust, where for instance, members share information to spotlight a problematic client.
- Enabling collective action by coordinating for systems change (albeit slow at the moment) including having timely discussions on what is working or not and contributing internally to support members.
From our research on what perks and benefits for independent workers look like, it was clear that most need collective action initiatives that work. Lack of bargaining power, possible worker exploitation through intermediaries, or contracts that lack transparency was among the top need to unionize. Beginners mentioned benefitting hugely from communities. If utilized well, collective efforts would enable them to access services at discounted prices and establish more defined relationships with service providers like insurance, and financial institutions as well as set clear terms of engagement. Many independent workers are having to figure out ways to unionize as there are no trade unions set up for this. We believe there exists untapped potential among most of these communities that should be employed to advance the digital economy as a whole. These communities and social networks can be utilized as channels to thrive in a complex environment. This can be done through short time pilot studies to learn what works and what doesn’t.
What communities lack and need moving forward;
- Advancing shared interests — There is a need to move beyond self-interests among members to shared interests. Those we spoke to felt that the communities they belong to would be more effective if there were more strategic shared interests.
- Active contribution by all — For maximum outcome, continuously advance the space for shared benefits and have members define what they will offer to the community and what they expect from the community.
- Increase collaborative engagement with stakeholders to effect change through co-creation. Move beyond internal discussions to advocating for policy changes.
In an evolving economy, platform work will be among the top jobs of the future. We can’t plan how this all works out in advance but we can assemble different actors across the system to make sense of the different opportunities and challenges that this work presents. Through that, we will collaborate to create a network of impact that can be tapped into, and learn what works and what doesn’t. We propose tapping into communities and social networks to advance collective action in the digital economy. Applying ILO’s decent work agenda for sustainable development and as guided by the four pillars of promoting jobs and enterprise, guaranteeing rights at work, extending social protection, and promoting social dialogue, at Qhala, we will continue to focus on research and development projects tailored to advancing economic participation for the youth in both urban and rural areas in Kenya.
This was originally posted on medium.