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Unpacking gig opportunities for unemployed Kenyan youth

Kenya is experiencing a “youth bulge” with approximately 20% of its population between the ages of 15 and 24 — above the world's average of 15.8% and Africa's average of 19.2%. Furthermore, 15-34-year-olds account for 84% of those unemployed in Kenya.

Over the last decade, the online gig economy has grown in Kenya, transforming how Kenyans access work and is gradually transitioning young Kenyans towards more accessible, competitive and consistent job opportunities. With the overall unemployment rates standing at 26.4%, and the Kenyan economy’s inability to provide formal employment opportunities, the gig economy is increasingly gaining importance.

Given this backdrop, Genesis partnered with Mercy Corps Youth Impact Labs (YIL) Kenya to undertake a study that unpacks the potential that the gig economy has in solving Kenya’s unemployment challenge. The study, Towards a digital workforce: Understanding the building blocks of Kenya's gig economy, provides an estimate of the total size of the online Kenyan economy and its future prospects. Our report estimates that the online gig economy is estimated to be worth about $109 million, employing 36,573 gig workers. Based on current investment levels, it is expected to grow by about 32% over the next five years to $345 million, employing 93,875 online gig workers.

Our analysis showed that with growing internet and smartphone penetration, together with the proliferation of mobile money, gig work is revolutionising the Kenyan economy and changing the Kenyan workforce. Online platforms are a new source of income for talented, innovative young people who otherwise would be left on the sidelines.

Despite the gig economy anticipating significant growth there is still a need for improved regulation on social protection, equal employment opportunities, and labour standards. Current laws and regulations in Kenya are geared towards formal employment. The report further establishes opportunities for catalysing the growth of the sector, identifying opportunities for both donors, tech innovators, investors and corporate employers.

Overall it was found that the gig economy holds considerable promise to formalise Kenya's large informal workforce. Collaboration between industry players, however, will be critical to generate demand for gig work. Investors, tech innovators, training institutions, development agencies and policymakers will be needed to build skills such as communication, pricing and marketing that are critical for the gig economy to thrive and unlock barriers.

This report comes at an important time for Kenya because there exists limited research to date on the size of Kenya’s gig economy and its impact on the country. This lack of knowledge limits the investment in the development and growth of the gig economy, and the ability of policymakers to understand the experiences of workers and employers, a challenge for the development of evidence-based policy responses.

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