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How Many Platform Workers Are There in the Global South?

29 January 2019 Leave a comment

In developing countries, there has been a rapid increase in the gig economy and in the presence of digital labour platforms: defined as “a set of digital resources – including services and content – that enable value-creating interactions between consumers and individual service-providing workers”[1].

But how many workers actually work for such platforms?

I am not going to provide a reliable answer to that question but I will give some kind of ballpark figure.

We start by dividing out two types of platform work: digital gig work that involves digitisable tasks like data entry, writing copy, web design, accounting, etc; and physical gig work that involves a physical task like taxi driving, food delivery, domestic work, etc.  A previous estimate[2], updated to account for growth, would be that there were something like 10 million active digital gig workers in the global South at the start of 2019 (and around ten times that number registered on digital labour platforms but with 90% of them inactive).

So how many physical gig workers are there?  I’m going to break this down by continent since the extent of physical gig work seems to vary significantly between the three main continents of the global South.

Africa

Calculations here are based on extrapolations from just two economies, and seek to take account of wealth and population[3].  Current research for the Fairwork project estimates around 30,000 physical gig workers in South Africa; about half in taxi-driving and the rest mainly in delivery and domestic work.  Estimates for Nigeria[4] plus re-use of some of the same ratios found in South Africa, suggest 20,000 such workers.  Accounting for GDP per capita and population suggests around 60 workers per US$1,000 GDP/capita and per 1 million population; i.e. per US$1bn GDP.  Multiplying up to the overall GDP of Africa produces an estimate of c.130,000 physical gig workers in Africa.  However, given there are at least 100,000 in Egypt alone, we can at least double that to 250,000.

Asia

Similar calculations can be undertaken in Asia, based on numbers associated with platforms in India and Indonesia.  Extrapolating from estimates for taxi-driving and food delivery platforms in India[5], I estimate around 2 million physical gig workers in India.  For Indonesia[6], the figure is closer to 1 million.  Accounting for GDP suggests around 800 workers per US$1bn of GDP.  Multiplying up to the overall GDP of Asia (excluding Japan) produces an estimate of roughly 18 million physical gig workers in developing Asia.

However, there is an alternative approach, which is to exclude China in this calculation, which produces a figure of 9 million, and then take at face value claims that Didi Chuxing employs 21 million physical gig workers in China[7].  This would lead to an estimate of 30 million physical gig workers in developing Asia.

Latin America

Here, I’ve taken a simpler approach based on some national and continent-wide estimates of taxi driving[8] and then re-using ratios from the South Africa work.  This produces an estimate of something like 2 million physical gig workers in Latin America.

Summary

The basis for these estimates is flimsy, and the extrapolations are worse, so please attach a strong health warning to this material.  Better still, come up with some improved statistics.  But my ballpark figure is that there are at least 30 million platform-based gig workers in the global South; 10 million digital and just over 20 million physical.  And that the figure could be more than 40 million, which would be around 1.5% of the global South workforce.

A proportion of these workers are not relying on this as their primary source of income.  For digital gig workers, this number is anything from two-thirds to a half[9].  It may be somewhat less for the physical gig economy, so another ballpark would be that around 15-20 million workers in developing countries are relying on digital platforms for their primary source of income.

(Annual turnover is an issue for another day but, globally and summing figures for the digital gig economy[10] and main physical gig platforms Uber[11] and Didi Chuxing[12], it must be at least US$50bn.)

 

[1] Adapted from Constantinides, P., Henfridsson, O., & Parker, G. G. (2018). Introduction—Platforms and Infrastructures in the Digital Age, Information Systems Research, 29(2), 381-400

[2] Heeks, R. (2017) Decent Work and the Digital Gig Economy, GDI Development Informatics Working Paper no.71, University of Manchester, UK

[3] An alternative approach would seek to extrapolate in terms of numbers of Internet users but that is correlated with GDP, and the figures still point to a strong under-representation of Africa in platform labour and strong over-representation of China.  Put another way, factors other than wealth and Internet access are needed to explain national differences in the proportions working in the platform economy.

[4] E.g. https://www.vanguardngr.com/2018/08/uber-monthly-passenger-base-in-nigeria-hits-267000/ and https://technext.ng/2018/08/17/max-ng-3-5-things-should-know-about-ride-hailing-platform/

[5] E.g. https://qz.com/india/1385653/uber-ola-drivers-pay-the-price-for-indias-fuel-price-rise/ and https://www.livemint.com/Companies/cYbdfsYk93HFhMuC0XgaNN/Swiggy-Zomato-hike-delivery-boy-salaries-as-competition-gro.html and https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/small-biz/startups/newsbuzz/zomato-swiggy-and-ubereats-paying-higher-cash-on-delivery/articleshow/65142563.cms

[6] e.g. http://buscompress.com/uploads/3/4/9/8/34980536/riber_7-s1_sp_h17-051_59-67.pdf and https://www.thejakartapost.com/academia/2018/11/21/the-gig-economy-and-skills-traps-in-indonesia.html

[7] E.g. https://technode.com/2018/03/19/didi-1-5-billion-abs/ and https://www.sustainabletransport.org/archives/6317

[8] E.g. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-uber-brazil/uber-rival-apps-join-forces-in-brazil-to-stem-tide-of-regulation-idUSKBN1D71KE and https://www.ft.com/content/7bf04e08-1d63-11e8-aaca-4574d7dabfb6 and https://www.globalfleet.com/en/smart-mobility/latin-america/news/chile-imposes-regulations-ride-hailing-companies and https://www.forbes.com/sites/jonathanmoed/2018/12/20/is-uber-operating-illegally-in-its-fastest-growing-region/#74c69e161925

[9] Heeks, R. (2017) Decent Work and the Digital Gig Economy, GDI Development Informatics Working Paper no.71, University of Manchester, UK

[10] Heeks, R. (2017) Decent Work and the Digital Gig Economy, GDI Development Informatics Working Paper no.71, University of Manchester, UK

[11] E.g. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/08/15/uber-q2-2018-revenue-bookings-slow-slightly.html

[12] E.g. https://kr-asia.com/losing-300m-in-2017-didi-chuxing-wants-to-turn-a-profit-in-2018-amid-fierce-competition

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How Technology and Creativity is being used for Developing Ecotourism: Peace and Unity as a Shared Value to Overcome Environmental Problems in the West Senegal Islands of Niomoume.

On the 28th-30th December 2018 the first edition of the Festival of the Islands of Casamance successfully took place on the Niomoume Islands of the Casamance region in Senegal (Ceesay, 2019) (Figure 1). The Festival was a three-day event bring together the arts, the Islands traditions, a conference and an Island tour all in the name of ‘peace and unity’. The event was attended over the three days by more than 1000 Island inhabitants, guests and visitors. The Festival was the first ever artistic and cultural gathering for the Niomoume Island and its people. The Festival is an innovative event combining the creative industries, ecotourism under the umbrella of ‘peace and unity’ to come together to solve the Islands’ social, environmental and economic problems. Mr Sens Sagna a well-known and highly-regarded Senegalese artist who is based in the UK was the cultural ambassador of the first edition festival (Figure 2). Mr Sagna through his pride in his West African heritage and his vast artistic experience and skills wished to develop collaborations between the Creative Industries sector (an industry worth £133.3bn and accounting for 8.2 per cent of the UK economy), the University of Manchester to potentially support and advise with the Festival and the problems being faced by The Niomoume Islands and the West Senegal region. Mr Sagna, Ambassador of the Festival explained that, “when the initial idea of the Festival was sent to me, I was immediately interested in getting involved and supporting a positive initiative and further understandings how of the creative arts and his skills and experiences could be drawn into the project” (Ceesay, 2019). He explained that this is the positive direction he would like to see the creative industries take in the future. He emphasised the importance that the festival has for bringing people together, to make the community well-known and for the opportunities it can create. He urged “all to embrace and support the future of the festival”.

(Figure 1- Ceremonial dance by Niomoume Islanders at the Festival)

Mr Sagna is collaborating with Dr Anita Greenhill in looking at the potential of skills development and knowledge enhancement on digital content-building in the creative industries, with a particular emphasis on the positive impact creativity can provide in the development of ecotourism (Oluwatobi Emmanuel Olaniyi, et al 2018, 593). West African cultural skills and knowledge, particularly those associated with their artistic traditions are considered the most developed in the world (Faola & Kalu, 2018). Therefore the unifying values that creativity produces as opposed to a predominantly economic focus in much development theory can be reconsidered. The potential value of the creative economy is increasing exponentially but the industry is still not fully understood and in many instances undervalued. Earlier feasibility studies (Greenhill, 2019) have demonstrated the impact the creative industries can have on social unity and the integration of marginalised groups. Attending the festival has helped to build links and opened up potential routes for international collaboration and research within West Africa.

(Figure 2. Attendees including Mr Sagna, Dr Anita Greenhill, Mr Ousmane Samoure at the First edition of the Festival of the Islands of Casamance 2018)

The initial findings from the research showed that, whilst creativity has the potential to improve the situation of marginalised groups, the artistic community is often caught between traditional knowledge and skills acquisition, and contemporary culture and economic reality (Greenhill, forthcoming). This is a situation that is mirrored in Senegal, where cultural initiatives are being developed which both promote the themes of peace and unity and look to encourage and support economic development. However, a lack of basic infrastructure (especially digital infrastructure) across the country creates a series of challenges (Figure 4). Indeed, Senegal is the perfect place for the arts and healing to come together due to the fact that the country continues to be the location for Africa’s longest ongoing conflict (the Casamance Conflict). Alongside this, the Senegalese state has reaffirmed its desire to put culture at the heart of the issues of national economic and social development. This link is something that is helped by the fact that many West African performers often hail from conflict zones and so represent some of the most marginalised people in the world.

(Figure 3. Festival of the Islands of Casamance wrestling performance 2018)

The growing use of culture, and in particular music, as part of wider efforts to address issues of peace and unity within Senegal is reflected in the Festival activities. The overall aim of the festival is to give all those who participate a platform where they can develop their skills, cultural experiences and creativity. This festival is organised by Ousmane Samoure, one of the project’s community partners, and looks to create a lasting legacy, which aids the development of the region (where there is a lack of basic supplies of clean drinking water, medical provisions, electricity and internet provision, etc.). Crucially, these festivals operate in areas that are socially isolated and, in the case of the Festival of the Islands of Casamance, have never had a cultural festival before (Figure 3).

(Figure 4. Wells are dug in the rice fields for fresh water supply)

The project looks to learn from these Senegalese initiatives and the stakeholders involved, in order to develop and join together similar work being carried out in South Manchester. This will be achieved by looking to establish a prototype for a structured process to creative production that generates social, cultural and economic value by focussing on community-driven innovation (with an initial emphasis on the creative industries and technology).

References, useful links

Ceesay, B (2019), Festival of the Islands of Casamance was a huge success, BlockTV Gambia

Faola, T Kalu, K (eds) (2018), Africa and Globalization: challenges of governance and creativity, Palgrave Mcmillan: Grewerbestrasse, Switzerland

Greenhill, A (2019) Festival of the Islands of Casamance, http://www.facebook.com-The-Festival-of-the-Islands-of-Cassamnce

Oluwatobi Emmanuel Olaniyi, Shadrach Olufemi Akindele & Babafemi George Ogunjemite (2018) Ecotourism suitability of Okomu and Pendjari National Parks, Anatolia, 29:4, 593-604, DOI: 10.1080/13032917.2018.1486329

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