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Nearly a decade after its emergence in Ethiopia, the gig economy has become a momentous force. The work model offers individuals the opportunity to work independently, set their own schedules, and earn a flexible income. Gig workers in Ethiopia include diverse roles like ride-hailing drivers, delivery personnel, contractors, tutors, housemaids, and freelancers.

While reliable data on the total number of gig workers in Ethiopia remains unavailable, the presence of several gig platforms in Ethiopia indicates a substantial workforce. For example, GoodayOn, a prominent platform, has around 40,000 registered workers.

Selamawit Shiferaw, 38, exemplifies this trend. After a decade of running a fast-food business, she faced an illness that forced her to close it down. However, joining GoodayOn in 2022 revitalized her working life.

“I hadn’t worked for eight years until I joined GoodayOn two years ago,” Selamawit shared with Shega.

Selamawit, who had taken cooking training at Escafare, saw GoodayOn as a perfect opportunity. Since then, she has worked for different households and made a living out of it. Currently, she is working for two households and earns 9,000 birr per month, but she still accommodates additional gigs. She works for six hours a day and acknowledges how it’s easier for people to trust her.

In Ethiopia, the pioneering sector to introduce gig work is ride-hailing. Over 10 ride-hailing platforms, including Ride, Feres, Zayride, Little, and Yango, currently operate in the country and contribute to the growth of gig work. Around 80,000 ride-sharing drivers in the capital depend on these platforms to earn a living.

Besufikad Arega, 29, is one of those 80,000 drivers. Driving for a living wasn’t new for Besufikad. “I was making a living by driving people with my old Lada taxi even before I joined,” he told Shega.

But two years ago, he opted for ride-hailing platforms, which, according to him, tripled his income and brought a sense of predictability to his life. “Before this, I only made a couple of thousands, so income-wise, it’s much better and difficult to make a comparison,” Besufikad explains. He now makes a net income of 45,000 birr. According to him, with hard work and discipline, people can make a decent living out of it.

On the other hand, Matiwos Dammel, a contractor, works with Beten, a new entrant to the gig economy, and makes an average of 20,000 birr every month. Matiwos, a graduate of mechanical engineering, started to take part in finishing projects after he took a finishing course. Initially, securing clients was difficult and unpredictable, but when Fitsum (the founder of Beten) approached him, he registered immediately, and the business is relatively better now. For Matiwos, the perk of working with Beten is timely payment and a diverse range of clients.

However, the landscape for gig work in Ethiopia does not end with local platforms. Many Ethiopian professionals, like Bisrat Yisaflgn, are finding work on global gig platforms like Upwork.

The 31-year-old graduate of Mekelle University studied architecture. By the time he graduated in 2017, he already had some experience. “I actually started working while I was a 4th-year student and had done some interior designing projects.” After graduation, Bisrat worked in communication agencies until he co-founded Luminous in 2020, a full-fledged communication and marketing agency. At Luminous, Bisrat worked as a creative director, focusing on motion graphics, until he opted for Upwork a year and a half ago.

Despite the success of Luminous, Bisrat discontinued his engagement because he discovered Upwork and found it more profitable. “Plus, in Ethiopia, especially when you work in a marketing and communication agency, there is a lot of back and forth between clients, and for creative people like me, it’s exhausting.” Since his first project, which paid him $50, Bisrat has made over a million birr only from Upwork. On average, he makes $1000 in one month. “The highest I made in one go was $1800.” That’s his net earnings, but he also outsources other talents when he works on big projects.

Bisrat emphasizes the importance of being vocal about progress while working with global clients and developing emerging skill sets. “If a person has the skill and knows how to communicate and deliver quality work, it would be easier to navigate through global platforms and global competition.”

Gig platforms and gig workers in Ethiopia are also receiving a significant boost through a new project titled “Mesirat Entrepreneurship Program”.

The Mastercard Foundation partnered with Gebeya Inc. and its consortium partners to organize and transform the gig economy and enable 1 million young people to secure dignified and fulfilling work.

Mesirat is a multi-phase, five-year program to create, support, and nurture 100 multi-sided gig and professional marketplaces in Ethiopia. Mesirat aspires to transform and expand these existing emerging digital platforms into full-fledged and successful platforms, transforming traditional gig engagement into digitally supported matching platforms and enabling the creation of decent and fulfilling work.

To this effect, the program has designed a comprehensive support program across various business functions such as technology, marketing, partner networks, and finance to help drive the gig economy in Ethiopia.

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