Freelance dev work gathers steam via Web in Africa

An increasing number of Africans are turning to the Internet to find freelance work. At the same time, local websites are popping up to give talented Africans a chance to make a living handling outsourced jobs.

Ambrose Kimaiyo, a software engineer by training, has been freelancing for four years on Elance, a global platform where companies or individuals look for freelancers for various projects. He is one of the thousands of Kenyan freelancers who have been landing jobs on the Internet.

Kimaiyo specializes in IT projects such as website builds and app development.

Kimaiyo says that demand for freelancers is growing. "An organization may need some work to be done without the need of having a full-time role and hence the need for freelancers," Kimaiyo said. He says that he has been able to live on freelance work he has gotten.

Recently, several African sites focusing on delivering jobs to freelancers online have launched.

Last year, Rockefeller International, in conjunction with a local urban radio station, Homeboyz, launched, "Niko Job" (meaning, "I am at work") to offer opportunities for Kenyans to get work including Web design and audio transcription as well as writing and editing jobs. It is said to have registered 40,000 Kenyans so far.

The initiative is part of the Rockefeller Foundation's Digital Jobs Africa, into which it pumped US$100 million in early 2013. Through this initiative, the foundation aims to reach out to one million people in six African countries including: South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, Morocco and Egypt.

Other sites that have launched recently include CrowdsourceAfrica.com and Kuhustle.com, both in Kenya.

Ajumah.com, a Ghana based business, is one of the latest entries in the market aiming to get African freelancers jobs. The company recently received funding of US$40,000. It will also receive help from Startup Chile, an accelerator program run by the Chilean government.

"We realized the [global] online freelancing industry does not meet the needs of the African market," Ajumah.com founder Richard Brandt said. The other co-founders of the platform are Daniel Abakah and John-Paul Tademe.

After its launch six months ago, Ajumah quickly faced challenges.

"The main challenge is that clients find it hard to hire freelancers when they have limited information, and so we encourage our freelancers to complete their profile, add all relevant skills and expertise, and to upload their portfolio with all their past work," Brandt said.

It is also evident that most freelance jobs come from mostly the U.S. Not many African companies have warmed up to the idea of getting freelancers off the net.

Working for foreign companies poses challenges to freelancers, Kimaiyo says. Some companies prefer to hire local freelancers, and there are time-zone challenges that come with working for clients in the U.S. or Canada, Kimaiyo commented.

Africans also face a challenge from Indian freelancers, who can underbid most African freelancers, Kimaiyo noted.

However, price is not an issue for freelances who deliver quality and timely work and have established a client base, he said.

Ajumah's Brandt said he seen a rise in demand for African freelancers due to what he calls high quality work.

"Most of the jobs posted on our site are companies from the US and they are highly excited about the quality of work that African freelancers deliver. We are highly confident Africa is going to be the new 'India' in outsourcing, and that in the near future the world will see Africa as the place to hire highly skilled and quality talent," Brandt said.

Brandt attributed the growth of online work in Africa to increasing Internet penetration and better connectivity speeds.

Meanwhile, with skills learned as a freelancer, Kimaiyo has launched his own business, Masterclass Solutions, to offer IT services to individuals and companies.

The growing opportunities for online work can be a great outlet to employ millions of Africans who have appropriate skills but lack job opportunities.

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