Understanding the Development Implications of Online Outsourcing: A Study of Digital Labour Platforms in Pakistan

Research output: Working paper


Online outsourcing involves outsourcing of tasks from clients to workers all over the world via digital platforms like Upwork, Freelancer and Fiverr. Millions of workers in developing countries are already involved, and governments and donor agencies are starting online outsourcing initiatives that try to offer access to these digital livelihoods to marginalised groups such as unemployed youth and women. However, little is yet known about these initiatives and, to address that gap, the research reported here undertook case study analysis of online outsourcing projects in Pakistan.

Supported by the sustainable livelihoods framework, the analysis showed a context of politico-economic vulnerability to push unemployed individuals into this field. Those involved then divided into four groups: sinkers, strugglers, survivors and swimmers. Many do not succeed but some – more entrepreneurial individuals pulled by the motivation of earnings potential – do, and are able to generate reasonable earnings; for example, enough to fund educational studies. Contrary to an image of de-institutionalised work, this form of digital labour involves a substantial institutional ecosystem. This means not just the online platforms but formal interventions from NGOs and other development agencies, and the creation of less formal social relations of support. These are needed in order to overcome barriers including technical infrastructure, knowledge and skills, and financial systems.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationManchester
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Publication series

NameGDI Development Informatics Working Papers
PublisherCentre for Development Informatics

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Global Development Institute


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