NEW BOOK: Digital Labour Platforms in Kenya

NEW BOOK: Digital Labour Platforms in Kenya

Digital labour platforms in Kenya:

Exploring women’s opportunities and Challenges across various sectors

Over the past decade, Kenya’s economy, the largest in East Africa, has grown at an annual rate of
4.5 per cent. The labour force participation rates in Kenya declined by seven percentage points between
2016 and 2021, and there are huge disparities in employment. Overall unemployment rate doubled during
this period to 5.7 per cent in 2021, and it has almost tripled for women nationally. Youth unemployment
is of a particular concern in Kenya, especially among women. A large proportion of workers, especially
women are engaged in informal employment. The economic landscape of Kenya, once anchored primarily
in agriculture, manufacturing and tourism, has undergone a profound shift with the emergence of digital
technologies and the development of digital infrastructure. At the forefront of this digital transformation
are initiatives such as the mobile money service M-PESA, which have not only revolutionized financial
services but also acted as a catalyst for broader socio-economic empowerment, particularly among
underprivileged communities. It also acted as a channel for women’s financial inclusion who were
previously excluded from formal banking.
One of the key transformations ushered in by the digital economy is the rise of digital labour platforms,
which have penetrated a range of sectors. As these platforms gain prominence in Kenya, they are viewed
as having substantial potential for creating employment opportunities, especially for the youth, and
for improving the participation of women in the labour force and reducing inequalities. This has led to
investments from both the public and private sectors, and from venture capitalists, to spur technological
“leapfrogging” and catch-up in the development process. Yet, questions arise regarding whether this
digital transformation can drive productive structural transformation in Kenya.
This report explores how the expansion of digital technologies such as digital labour platforms is
reshaping Kenya’s economic landscape, and the experiences of workers engaged on these platforms,
especially women. Through survey data from various sectors, the report examines whether working on
these platforms and for business process outsourcing (BPO) companies helps workers transition from
low- to high-productivity sectors, enhances their skills and advances their careers, improves incomes and
overall well-being, and facilitates the creation of formal employment opportunities with associated workrelated and social security benefits. In this context, it assesses whether digital labour platforms, often
perceived as mechanisms to mitigate existing gender inequality in the labour market, are effective in
addressing the disparities related to access to work, pay gaps and empowering women.

Jacqueline Kamau

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