© Helvetas

How can Freelancing Drive Inclusive Economic Development?

FROM: Filip Dzhambazoski, Lea Shllaku, Emilija Jovanova Stoilkova, Sabin Selimi – 22. October 2021
© Helvetas

The digitalization of many professions around the world has contributed to creating a new, competitive and innovative labor market. Self-employed people who mostly work remotely have been sharply rising in numbers in the past two years than in the past twenty years. These people are called freelancers.

It took a pandemic to make some people realize that you don’t need to travel for work to sit in front of a computer connected to the internet. People have realized that the idea of a “safe and secure” job is just a dream that can collapse at any time. There’s no need any more to work at a specific location in a specific city or town; we all live in the internet’s global village.

Wherever they are based, freelancers are increasingly using digital innovation to work on their own terms, with the flexibility that their lives demand. That’s not just good for them, it’s good for businesses, too. It makes it possible for businesses to tap into workers with very specialized skills when they need them. It also allows those freelancers to control the parameters of how they work.

Freelancing offers work opportunities that anyone with an internet connection can do, with the option of choosing from a variety of job descriptions on many given platforms. The popularity of freelancing is attributed to many factors, including flexibility, competitive pricing, and the plethora of opportunities available. This growing field of work, combined with economic underdevelopment compared to more developed economies, has contributed to the formation of large freelance communities in the Western Balkans.

North Macedonia has not been excluded from the freelancing surge. With an unemployment rate of more than 18 percent, many people have turned to alternative revenue sources. North Macedonia has 3.41 registered freelancers per 1000 inhabitants, ranking the country in first place globally in 2018 for the percentage of freelancers as a proportion of its inhabitants.

Giving a competitive advantage to disadvantaged and future freelancers in North Macedonia

As one of the interventions of RECONOMY, a regional inclusive and green economic development program of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), Helvetas has partnered with the Impact Foundation to create a sustainable model of education for future generations of freelancers in North Macedonia.

The initiative focuses on finding a gap through which market actors can capitalize on and connect youth, women, and other vulnerable and disadvantaged groups to better economic opportunities.

One of the main goals of the intervention is work alongside top training providers in North Macedonia to create training modules that are specifically focused on freelancing and its platforms. Most participants have not accessed previous formal training, and this will serve future generations of freelancers to upscale their knowledge in this sector to attain the most popular freelance jobs.

Vulnerable groups are especially important to ensure the intervention benefits everyone, even those without a computer. People who live in rural areas, women and other marginalized communities generally lack opportunities for revenue generation in comparison to other citizens of the country.

Training providers can use their significant network of professionals to train these groups in key aspects of freelancing. This includes implementation of technical skills as well as a variety of soft skills. These training modules will serve the groups by helping them understand how freelancing platforms work and how they can utilize their new knowledge to secure their first clients. In turn, future freelancers will be trained in specific technical skills but also on know-how in negotiation, sales techniques, developing rapport with clients, and building a portfolio in order to compete with other freelancers.

Starting a freelancing career is not easy, but the training support will ensure rural communities, women and youth that are lacking finances have opportunities to earn more income from their homes. Furthermore, these groups will help strengthen local economies, since factors such as long commutes to work or low demand for staff in their respective regions will not deter them from earning income and accessing a larger market.

Encouraging and building interest among these groups to take advantage of freelancing is crucial to securing this goal.

Mentoring is also a key element for a successful freelancing career. Theoretical learning alone will not deliver the necessary impact without the complement of hands-on training support. Without the market actors providing this segment through guidance, measuring of results and continuous support, it’s likely that Macedonian freelancers will still face difficulties in selling their services.

The second project activity for creating a stronger freelance ecosystem is establishing a mentors’ hub where experienced professionals in their respective fields assist and guide freelancers in operating on platforms, portfolio creation and customer service. These professionals can also implore individuals to take up freelancing by sharing their success stories and other best practices.

This part of the intervention will also create a physical networking space for freelancers. The largely decentralized atmosphere and working alongside other individuals will contribute to the education of freelancers in the country and serve as an information hub in the future for any interested freelancers.

Fostering a stronger freelance environment

Enhancing access to information about self-employment through training will increase interest in freelancing among disadvantaged groups. Implementing a nationwide outreach campaign will offer target groups from all corners of North Macedonia an opportunity to improve their economic situation. The campaign will utilize simple messages to help target groups to discover the benefits of freelancing. Understanding that the latter can be useful to either acquire additional income or financially sustain an individual will encourage more people to take up this kind of work.

Additionally, after the implementation of the intervention, training providers can continue to sell their knowledge and training to future freelancers. Since there are a variety of freelancing professions, other training centers may develop new modules and adapt their trainings towards target groups. This will foster stronger competitive challenges for this segment of the private sector.

All in all, the target groups, such as women, youth, and other vulnerable communities in North Macedonia, will earn more income from their new freelancing arrangements and keep up to date with novelties in freelancing through the usage of the mentors’ hub, maintaining their competency on the market.

Filip Dzhambazoski is part of Impact Foundation, where he works as a marketing and communications assistant. He obtained his Bachelor’s Degree in Law Studies at the University "Iustinianus Primus" in Skopje, North Macedonia, in 2021. He has experience in Project Management and Sales from his involvement in different non-governmental organizations before becoming part of Impact Foundation in 2020.
Lea Shllaku is the Regional Manager for the Western Balkans in the Sida Regional Programme of Helvetas, covering six countries – Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, N. Macedonia and Serbia. She has also been working as Senior Intervention Manager of the Enhancing Youth Employment (EYE) project in Kosovo. Her previous experience includes work for the Government and private sector. Lea holds a master’s degree on Institutions, Development & Globalisation at the University College London. Her areas of expertise are in designing and managing interventions on skills development and private sector growth.
Knowledge Management and Learning Manager of the RECONOMY Program
Communication Manager of the RECONOMY Program