In the dynamic landscape of the global gig economy, Bangladesh has emerged as a key player, contributing significantly to the world of freelancing. The World Trade Organization’s (WTO) ‘World Trade Report 2023‘ sheds light on this silent revolution, revealing that 14 percent of the world’s freelancers are now based in Bangladesh. With 157 million freelancers worldwide, 70 percent being 35 or younger, the growth of freelancing in Bangladesh reflects the evolution of its IT sector and the proactive engagement of its youth.
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The Freelancing Phenomenon
Freelancing, derived from the term ‘free professional,’ offers a departure from the traditional nine-to-five job structure. Individuals can harness their skills from various locations, requiring only a reliable internet connection. Global organizations increasingly outsource IT-dependent work to cut costs and overcome skill shortages. This has led to a surge in demand for freelancers, offering a unique opportunity for individuals to earn income remotely.
Progress in Freelancing
The WTO report highlights the absence of precise data on the number of freelancers in Bangladesh. However, Tanjiba Rahman, Chairman of Bangladesh Freelancer Development Society, estimates approximately one million freelancers operating across 153 marketplaces. While web design dominates the freelancing market, earning an average of $28 per hour according to Payona’s Freelance Income Survey Report 2023, there is untapped potential in a myriad of fields.
Challenges and Opportunities
Rahman emphasizes the need for freelancers to transition to higher-paying jobs. Learning and specializing in specific subjects can open avenues for better-earning opportunities. Although Bangladesh currently engages in freelancing across only 11 topics, there is scope for expansion into 1,023 subjects. The key lies in continuous learning, with Rahman suggesting that dedicating half an hour each day to online technology courses can significantly enhance one’s freelancing qualifications.
Bangladesh’s Freelance Wage Challenge
Despite the burgeoning freelancing landscape in Bangladesh, the nation lags behind in the hourly wage department compared to global counterparts. The 2019 Global Gig-Economy Index placed Bangladesh eighth in the world’s fastest-growing freelance markets, trailing behind the Philippines, India, and Pakistan. According to sources at the University of Oxford, freelancers from developing economies, including Bangladesh, work at significantly lower rates than their counterparts in developed nations, with hourly wages hovering below $10.
Navigating the Skill Dilemma
The earning potential of freelancers in Bangladesh is intricately linked to their skill set, accentuating the challenges they face. Shahriar Ibn Azam notes that Bangladeshi freelancers grapple with competition from India and Pakistan, often leading them to adopt lower rates to stay competitive. However, the freelance landscape demands more than just survival. Afzalur Rahman emphasizes the importance of starting freelancing with adequate skills, highlighting the increased opportunities and heightened competition. Freelancers must not enter the field without the requisite skills, especially as the industry evolves.
Freelancer’s Skill Journey in Bangladesh
Beginning freelancing in Bangladesh often means stepping into the arena before fully honing one’s skills, posing a significant challenge. Afzalur Rahman stresses that freelancers must possess ample skills to thrive. While some may engage in data entry initially, sustained success demands a broader skill set. Tanjiba Rahman of BFDS underscores the prevalent trend of people entering freelancing with minimal skills. However, she emphasizes that comprehensive skills in work execution, communication, and business dealings are non-negotiable for sustainable success in the dynamic freelancing domain.
The potential for growth in Bangladesh’s digital services sector remains significant. The expansion of other trade-related services, coupled with the surge in exports during the COVID-19 pandemic, demonstrates the resilience and adaptability of Bangladesh’s digital economy. As the nation continues to harness the power of digitalization, it stands poised for a future where innovation, connectivity, and economic growth go hand in hand.
Export of Digital Services
Bangladesh is making significant strides in the digital services sector, demonstrating commendable growth. The export of digital services has witnessed a consistent 15 percent annual growth, outpacing the average growth in merchandise exports. The Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS) in Bangladesh reports that 400 IT companies exported digital services worth $1.3 billion in the fiscal year 2020-21. This figure increased to $1.4 billion in the subsequent fiscal year, reflecting the expanding influence of Bangladesh in the global digital services arena.
ICT Sector Contribution
The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector is making substantial contributions to Bangladesh’s economy, constituting 1.28 percent of the GDP. Direct employment in this sector is expected to rise from 3 lakh to 5 lakh by 2025. Notably, the export of computer-related services, including consultancy services, non-customized computer software, and data processing, has witnessed exponential growth. In four years, these exports have surged from $18.2 million to $550 million, showcasing the increasing global demand for Bangladesh’s digital expertise.
Dominance in Online Freelancing
Bangladesh claims its prominence in the online freelance workforce, hosting 14 percent of the global freelancers engaged in creative and multimedia services. With a vibrant online workforce, Bangladesh has become a key supplier, showcasing its prowess in digital services on a global scale.
class=”wp-block-heading”>Soaring E-commerce and Connectivity
Business-to-customer e-commerce in Bangladesh is poised for an 18 percent annual growth, indicating a thriving digital marketplace. The year 2021 saw 11 million users enjoying high-speed internet access, facilitated by 8,280 digital centers strategically placed to reach even the most remote and vulnerable sections of the economy.
Exponential Growth in Digital Exports
In the fiscal year 2020-21, Bangladesh demonstrated its digital prowess by exporting services worth US$1.3 billion to 80 economies. This figure soared to US$1.4 billion in the fiscal year 2021-22, serving 137 destinations. Notably, domestic companies contributed significantly, with the information and communications technology (ICT) sector now constituting 1.28 percent of Bangladesh’s GDP.
Bangladesh’s ascent in the freelancing and digital services realms is a testament to its commitment to technological advancement and economic diversification. The nation’s youth, equipped with digital skills, are playing a pivotal role in shaping the future of work globally. As Bangladesh continues to harness its potential in the digital landscape, the prospect of further economic growth through freelancing and digital exports appears promising, offering a blueprint for other developing economies to follow suit.