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Unleashing the potential of rural entrepreneurs

Date: 18 April, 2023

Writer : Rumana Sharmin & Md Ruhul Amin
Source : Dhaka Tribune

Reading Time: 6 Minutes

18 April, 2023
Writer : Rumana Sharmin & Md Ruhul Amin
Source : Dhaka Tribune
· Reading Time: 6 Minutes

Unleashing the potential of rural entrepreneurs

Unleashing the potential of rural entrepreneurs

In recent years, the traditional workplace has undergone a great many changes. While it has been decades since the internet first began digitizing many of our assets and work processes, fast forward to today, and we see how those early decisions and innovations have completely revolutionized how we work.

Automation has been around for years, and has led to communications occurring effortlessly across the globe, with more and more businesses being transacted online.

Employees are increasingly contributing to projects remotely instead of operating in offices, and employers have access to global talent — now more than ever before.

This phenomenon is relatively young, market-intensive, growing, and booming. This sector has particularly exploded rapidly at the time of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Theoretically, this platform economy is a potential area for decent work and employment. This falls into two broad categories: The first category is geographically-tethered platform work, or “gigwork,” which requires to be performed in person, thus requiring physical proximity between the “worker” and customer.

This can also be categorized as “on-demand work” such as personal transport services offered by Uber and Pathao, and delivery services provided by foodpanda and Daraz.

The second category is what can be categorized as “cloud work,” which can be performed online from anywhere in the world. It implies a labour market that is characterized by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs.

More specifically, the platform economy is the new normal and reality for newer advancements in information and communication technology and it has seen greater momentum since the pandemic. There are currently 2,500 startups in the country that have created about 15 lakh employment opportunities.

Accepting the reality, the government’s aim is to add five thousand more startups in the IT sector of the country by 2025, which would potentially create 3 million further employment opportunities. Indications and evidence are strong that the Fourth Industrial Revolution has already begun to take place and opened the door to a wider range of employment.

Rural digitization

According to the household census report 2022 (BBS, 2022), among the rural population, 3.1% have computer access, 29.7% have an internet connection, and 46.2% use smartphones. Of course,a large number of people who are digitally marginalized are located in rural areas.

Since the advent of ICT is inevitable and that, globally and nationally, every person including the physically impaired must get digital service eventually, Digital Centres, as formulated by a2i, emerged as connecting points between digital services and “analog” citizens — particularly at the rural level.

Digital Centres have been crucial to ensuring the allocated services to the citizens — thus creating a level playing field. The success behind the phenomenon reflects a strong partnership and collaborative approach among elected local government representatives, local entrepreneurs, and community people.

Most importantly, this trust-worthy relationship has created an eco-system among many actors to exercise their rights as a citizen of Bangladesh.

Several studies have explored that the satisfaction of citizens is increasing gradually with receiving public services. For instance, regarding satisfaction, the rate was 50% in 2018 and it increased by 76.6% in 2022.

We see a significantly increased income after joining as an entrepreneur at the Digital Centre as well; the average income was around Tk 7,000 before which increased to Tk 31,000. On average, an entrepreneur at the Digital Centre earns between Tk20,000 and 30,000 a month. So, the Digital Centre has been responsible for entrepreneurial approaches translating to transform ideas into action.

Having said that, this economy is yet not in a position of stability for the workers due to numerous issues such as labour exploitation, lack of job security, the monopoly power of the by-gain company, lack of regulation, lack of collective bargaining power, and lack of control over work conditions, among others.

Nevertheless, this platform as well as components of the gig economy can be sustainable, more secure, protective, and decent for entrepreneurs by formalizing the sectors based on the five principles of Fairwork:

1. Fair pay is necessary to ensure decent and standard living wages on time;

2. Fair conditions can play an important role in promoting legitimate and formal work arrangements in the platform economy by ensuring policies and actions necessary to protect earners;

3. Fair contracts eliminate exploitation when the existing terms and conditions would be clear;

4. Fair management would provide due process and equality for the decision-making and management process to promote fairness, equity, and transparency;

5. Fair representation would be ensured by assuring the freedom of association and the expression of actors’ voices

Digital Centres can help Bangladesh as an integral component of jump-starting the gig economy and can be a massive boon for potential entrepreneurs.

It is an innovative and knowledge-based initiative for structuring the unstructured sectors of the gig economy — ushering an entrepreneurial approach from the urban to the rural economy.

The entrepreneurial approach of Digital Centres of the a2i program has undoubtedly played a significant role in accelerating the inclusion of marginalized populations in the rural areas, remaining on course to leave no one behind.

Rumana Sharmin is Research Analyst, Aspire to Innovate (a2i) Program. Md Ruhul Amin is a Young Professional, a2i program.

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