With Uganda embracing digital transformation of jobs, stakeholders gather to discuss opportunities and challenges

The ILO brought together government, private sector actors and social partners to discuss findings of its exploratory assessment of the microwork and gig economy in Uganda and gathered recommendations on how to improve digital skills training and devise pathways into digitally enabled jobs for young people.

News | 01 June 2023
Kampala UGANDA (ILO News) - The International Labour Organization (ILO), through the Partnership for improving prospects for forcibly displaced persons and host communities (PROSPECTS) programme, organized a validation workshop and social dialogue panel discussion on microwork and the gig economy in Uganda, on 23 May 2023.

Stephen Opio, ILO Chief Technical Adviser, Uganda, in his welcoming remarks stressed the importance of bringing together government actors, trade union representatives, employers’ organizations, non-governmental organizations, development partners, and representatives of refugee communities in the country to understand the transformations that the labour market in Uganda is experiencing. He pointed at the need to balance digital innovation and decent work opportunities for youth. Although the number of digitally enabled jobs in Uganda is still relatively low, they are expected to grow exponentially in the near future, Opio explained.

Opio also touched on emerging trends that point to reductions in full-time employment and on the other hand rising needs in income-generating opportunities. Opio said, “This points to an increased need to explore and invest in web-based and digital labour platform work. Doing so sheds light on the increasing relevance of tripartite partnerships between government, private sector actors and social partners to expand access to decent work in online job for Uganda’s youth. Inclusive policies promoting and governing decent work in digital labour platforms is a priority for the ILO, remaining mindful, however, that the dynamic future of microwork could call for new policy regulatory requirements.”

Stephen Opio, Chief Technical Adviser, ILO Kampala

Leveraging decent employment prospects, together with social partners

The wide range of stakeholders, voices and visions allowed for a crosscutting exchange around the opportunities, challenges and policy trade-offs that can come from an expansion of online jobs and livelihood opportunities for young people in Uganda, including for refugees and their hosting communities.

Speaking on the importance of advocacy for, observance of, and oversight over rights at work in the digital economy, Bigirwa , Secretary-General of the National Organization of Trade Unions in Uganda, stressed the importance of ensuring that an expanding spectrum of digitally enabled jobs ultimately leads to decent work for all. To this end, he added, there is a need to address existing income disparities and promote an equitable distribution of capital and opportunities among all. Building on Uganda’s efforts in hosting refugees from many neighbouring countries and beyond, Bigirwa also touched on the importance of working to extend social protection to web-based and digital platform workers, including refugees.

Douglas Opio, Executive Director of the Federation of Uganda Employers, from the Federation of Uganda Employers pointed to the rising trend of digital microwork and the gig economy at large, as a response to the changing nature of work and currently limited employment opportunities in the traditional labour market, he echoed Birirwa’s call for expanded social protection coverage for digital workers, including those who are self-employed. “While there is clear tangible potential for the creation of new job opportunities against the rise of the digital economy, there is a need to develop soft skills to succeed in a highly dynamic digital economy, in addition to adapting to work arrangements that may call for working independently or with collaborators across different languages, locations and work cultures,” he concluded.

Identifying pathways for digitally enabled jobs for young people in Uganda

With Uganda’s digital transformation gathering momentum, the gig economy and prevalence of microwork is also expanding, and the generation of evidence to inform discussions and decision-making has become of central importance. The objective of this workshop was to present the findings from the exploratory assessment analysis of the microwork and gig economy, commissioned by the ILO to Ipsos Uganda, a research agency, to share recommendations on how to improve digital skills training and devise pathways into digitally enabled jobs for young people.

Margaret Kemigisa, Service Line Lead at Ipsos, presented the preliminary findings, which include a widespread use of smartphones among Uganda’s youth, with 89 per cent of those surveyed reporting using one. The report also reveals that only 23 per cent of the youth population is employed, while a staggering 67 per cent is out of school. With the report covering various forms of online work, including microwork, she explained, the need for capacity-building initiatives and early education on digital skills is timely, especially as Uganda works to ensure that its workforce is ready to enter an increasingly competitive Internet economy.

“Preliminary findings from interviews conducted with the local employers also revealed the importance of considering other categories of online work for refugee and host community youth, alongside microwork such freelancing in digital marketing, graphics design and video production,” Kemigisa said.

Margaret Kemigisa, Service Line Lead at Ipsos
Participants provided feedback and raised follow-up questions after the presentation of these preliminary assessments. These touched on the importance of aligning the skills of the Ugandan labour force with the demand for requited skills for web-based and digital labour platform jobs, and on the available technological equipment and tools at the disposal of Uganda’s youth that can help them bridge the skills gap in the Internet economy.

Others raised the importance of understanding the difference between global and local digital labour platform actors, and whether local platforms offered advantages in digitally enabled work over the global platforms. Remuneration and mobile money solutions were also on the minds of participants, especially as it relates to lack of trust in these still-emerging technologies among users.

This exploratory study was validated by the stakeholders and ILO constituents. It was recognized that the study directly contributes to broadening reflections on how to give visibility to online jobs and micro-work in the context of Uganda.

Fostering and investing in demand-driven pathways for the inclusive and sustainable expansion of the Internet economy

The plenary discussion segment of the workshop and social dialogue explored pathways to capitalize on the potential of a growing Internet economy to foster inclusive growth.

Zulum Avila, ILO Specialist on Employment Strategies in the Digital Economy underlined the perspective of empowering young people with the skills that digital labour markets are demanding. She said, “Developing soft skills and organizing online jobs in platforms in a way that is productive and aligned to decent work is important.”

Avila also spoke on the rise of artificial intelligence, painting an opportunity to equip the new generation with these skills, including refugees, to avoid accentuating a digital divide in terms of specialized skills.

Touching on efforts to provide technological infrastructure and support for government programs was Collin Babirukamu, Director of E-government Services at the National Information Technology Authority (NITA-U). He highlighted the government's commitment to expanding Internet connectivity across the country, including in targeted underserved areas, in addition to ongoing efforts to develop the business process outsourcing sector with Internet and affordable devices and infrastructure services.

Babirukamu also emphasized the importance of data protection laws and the government's efforts to provide affordable devices and Internet access, to ensure young people’s participation in the digital economy and government accountability in their response to preparing the Ugandan work force for the changing world of work ahead.

Panel discussion on micro-work opportunities in Uganda
From his end, Nicholas Opolot, Innovation Focal Point from the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS), stressed the importance of embracing opportunities presented by digital technologies. He highlighted that “Accessing digital tools and acquiring digital skills that respond to digital labour market demands is critical for a meaningful, and inclusive future of digitally enabled work”.

Khushbakht Hojiev, Chief a.i. Basic Education and Adolescent Development Programme & Adolescent Programme Manager at UNICEF Uganda, added on the importance of skills development and learning opportunities. Hojiev added that unless basic digital literacy and upskilling starts now, the next generation may not be well prepared to secure jobs, whether in the traditional or digital labour market. Doing so, however, calls for an ecosystem-wide approach where line ministries, private sector enterprises and social partners work in unison,” he concluded.

Speaking specifically on supporting refugees was Anny Sybille Izere, Team Lead at Her Dreams Count, who shared insights on supporting refugees and ensuring their inclusion through various activities, such as amplifying their voices, fostering integration with local communities, and providing support through social infrastructure tools. “This is especially important as the refugee population is non-homogeneous, bringing with them different backgrounds, skills, capacities and preferences”, she stressed.

Uganda’s internet economy: towards enhanced digital literacy, upskilling, cyber safety and inclusive growth

Summarizing key takeaways from the day’s discussions was Stephen Opio, ILO Chief Technical Adviser, who shed light on important steps ahead, such as working to expand connectivity and working to ensure a truly inclusive growth of the Internet economy, of which the Gig Economy and microwork are part. Opio stressed the importance of partnerships and alignment of efforts as Uganda’s digital transformation picks up speed and the urgency of building digital literacy and skills for the digital economy, as well as the need for social protection and advocacy.

Offering closing remarks were Valeria Cerza, UNHCR Project Coordination Officer in Uganda, and Helen Acibo, Senior Settlement Officer from the Office of the Prime Minister.

Cerza emphasized that a growing Internet economy indeed brings both opportunities and challenges, and therefore represents a policy space of trade-offs that must be analysed carefully. She underscored digital inclusion as a priority, as well as the importance to address digital risks.

As for the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), Senior Settlement Officer Helen Acibo thanked the ILO and the Government of the Netherlands for facilitating this exchange, noting that this is the first effort made in the country to bring all stakeholders together to the same discussion table.

Acibo spoke of the day’s discussions as especially timely and responsive to important trends in a context of forced displacement, with continued efforts needed ahead as the Ugandan Government keeps working to facilitate the self-reliance of its population, including refugees.

With Uganda’s rural and agriculture-based economy seeing limited land availability and low soil productivity, the OPM welcomed the exploration of employment and livelihood prospects in part driven by a growing digital economy and, as such, supports more multi-stakeholder exchanges as this one. “The OPM further pledged its support for continued collaboration with the ILO and social partners and stands ready to work with all partners in this process moving forward,” he added.

Participants of the Validations Workshop and Social Dialogue Panel, ILO Kampala.