Empower all to benefit from online work
A study by the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa) on digital and digitally enabled work recorded some very interesting findings. From a sample of 1,500 respondents, it was found that 60 per cent of Kenyans are aware of digital forms of work, with a further 31 per cent preferring these forms as an alternative to scarce or non-existent formal employment.
Another 21 per cent enjoy the flexibility and convenience of online work, while 18 per cent liked the ability to work part-time, which freed them for other commitments.
Government representatives have been on record supporting this emerging form of work, saying that it has created opportunities for vulnerable groups such as women and the youth.
It has also been noted that arms of the government such as the Judiciary have benefited greatly from the input of digital workers, who have helped perform tasks such as data entry, scanning, document transcription and more to digitise records in 61 courts and expand the reach of the courts across the country.
It is important to ensure that new possibilities do not take the form of classed access points that leave some people behind. To ensure equal access, entry-level digital studies must be made a common course in formal education at all levels. People could take a test to determine skill levels, before being enrolled in appropriate classes.
It is also possible to make these classes open to the wider community so as to rope in as many ages and demographics as possible. The classes could extend to weekends and online.
Such an approach can be piloted in rural and peri-urban areas, which have limited access to digital devices, skills and learning.
Stakeholders and interested publics can be incentivised to fund these programmes by making direct tax-deductible donations.
A second intervention would be addressing the challenges that digital workers have pointed out. Out of those sampled in the Kepsa study, 21 per cent faced the challenge of internet access, as they did not have access to wifi or any other form of internet connectivity.
A further 53 per cent noted that internet and related costs were too high. A state and private sector intervention to lower these costs is thus a low-hanging fruit.
Some issues were unique to women, who are primary caregivers for small children, the elderly and those with various vulnerabilities. The issue is that caregiving denies women time to venture into online work.
Women are also at a higher risk of online bullying, especially when they use many of these platforms.
These issues can be solved through conversations on gender attitude change, which could be led by politicians, clergy and spiritual workers, health workers and social influencers.
With appropriate policies, regulations and implementation plans, Kenya can unlock its great potential as a hub for excellent digital work at multiple skill levels.