Starved for work, Gazans turn to the gig economy

TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY MAI YAGHI A Plaestinian youth checks his laptop while watching a World Cup 2010 match on a big screen at an outdoors cafe in Gaza City on June 20, 2010, as football fans escape the Gaza Strip's dreary confinement to follow the WC2010 matches which are often interrupted by power cuts. AFP PHOTO/MOHAMMED ABED / AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABED

As the Israeli blockade on Gaza continues, the local business community has confronted a rare conundrum: how to harness an unusually well-educated labour force in an economy that is almost entirely shut off from the outside world. Many are increasingly turning to online freelancing, a sector where brains are more valuable than the material supplies Gazans can barely access, and employers rarely care who does their jobs.

A woman works on a laptop in the Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip (AFP)

Such sporadic and tech-enabled work – also known as the “gig economy” – is often an option for Gaza’s young and educated, whose skills range from programming and graphic design to translation, and can be of similar quality to their competition abroad.

Since 2015, Mercy Corps has run a freelancer training programme out of its local startup accelerator, the Gaza Sky Geeks, which mentors and invests in local entrepreneurs. The three-month programme, in which Mercy Corps employees and volunteers teach skills such as pricing, outsourcing, and finding clients online, has since served hundreds both online and at their Gaza City headquarters.

Most freelancers find work using online platforms which match workers with clients for a fee. This can give freelancers a substantial leg-up in Gaza, where 63 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day. Nasser described even $1,000 a month as “every young person’s dream”.
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