My Thoughts On The Ajira Digital Project And Creating Awareness On Online Jobs

Last updated on July 11, 2020

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Loyalty to the Nation all the time. Loyalty to the government, when it deserves it – Mark Twain.

Introduction

It was around 9 am, November 24th, when I remembered this quote.  On that day, the Ajira Digital initiative was launched.

The objectives are listed on the website, but I will present them here nonetheless:

  • Objective 1 is to raise the profile of online work in Kenya.
  • Objective 2 is to promote a mentorship and collaborative learning approach to finding online work.
  • Objective 3 is to provide Kenyans with access to online work.
  • Objective 4 is to promote Kenya as a destination for online work.

When online freelancers learned about this initiative, fear and trepidation followed.  I was quite taken aback by that. The fact that the government had known about online work and actually joined in promoting it had been received with uncertainty and widespread fear by existing online workers. On my part, I was shocked by this reaction. Personally, I think it’s a plus that our brothers and sisters who are in still in the dark about online work will finally get to know it.

I also observed that the outcry was caused by TWO major myths that many online workers have held for ages.

Myth 1: The government has only recently learned that Kenyans are working online.

In the absence of information, we jump to the worst of conclusion, said Myra Kassim.

Many online workers have held to the notion that online freelancing is a secret, that is for a select few and that the government does not know that it exists.  That is a terribly wrong assumption. The government knows literally everything we do online since the Internet went live in Africa and Kenya! Take a look at this link for instance, from 2014.

Ask any IT expert and they will tell you that the government mans the web and is aware of a lot of things.

Here is another point:  Whenever money is sent from abroad into Kenya, the CBK knows about it, and has to track its source. Therefore, any money that comes in via PayPal, Skrill, Neteller, VISA, MasterCard and all other channels is tracked and recorded by the CBK. As such, if the CBK, which is part of the government, knows about your transactions, how would the government not know about online work?

Myth 2: Let’s keep online work a secret. The more people know about it, the fewer jobs we will have!

Quite a number of Kenyan freelancers fear that if more people know about online jobs, competition will increase, leading to fewer opportunities. I saw the same reaction when Odesk merged with Elance.  There was widespread fear and confusion at that time. I was still working online when it happened, and I am still working on the site. I get new clients all the time despite Upwork being populated by over 10 million freelancers. I have been training transcribers, and just last year, two of my students made it to the Top Rated freelancer program on Upwork. To say the least, they have more than enough work at any given time.

It is also important to remember and consider that the world is going digital, and so are businesses. Concisely, more and more online entities requiring freelancers are being born every day. I remember a while ago, the biggest sites for freelance work were Freelancer and Guru. Today, we have many more online entities. Just the other day, we had , Toptal, Golance and Hubstaff Talent join the online job sites fraternity. In short, the market is constantly expanding, and so are the opportunities!

Thirdly, and very important, not everyone that enrolls for  Gotranscript, iWriter or Upwork stays the long haul. Sad as this fact is, it remains the truth. In fact, some people enroll for e-courses but hardly make it to the end. The same happens in that some of them quit during registration while others quit when attempting their very first tasks! Just like every career, online freelancing is like a calling where some succeed and others fail. It is never an easy road especially when starting out. We have freelancers who give up if their work is rejected or when struck by negative feedback. The truth is, freelancing is demanding, and not everyone is willing to put in the work. What I am trying to say is let everyone try their hand at online work. The qualified will stay and the underperformers will be sieved out.  No freelancer should be rattled by the entrance of more players into the pitch. After all, you have the experience!

 

If it was easy, everybody would do it –Anonymous.

 

My thoughts on AjiraDigital

The Ajira Digital initiative has a long way to go in attaining its objectives.  The site still needs improvement if it’s to help people who are interested in online jobs.  It would be awesome if the site had a blog, with, for example, reviews on the different sites that have been listed, as well as ‘how to videos’ pertaining to online work and much more.  There also needs to be clarity on the part about youths earning Kes 2,200 for every job they do because all jobs are not cut from the same cloth. Are they writing, data entry or design jobs?

I had the pleasure of attending the press conference where the initiative was launched. The CS revealed that his ministry would be reaching out to the private sector to outsource some of the backlog to online workers. He also said that the government will subsidize the costs of acquiring laptops and also lower the price of Internet connectivity, even as they work on providing free WiFi in every constituency.  Oh, and there was also the part where he said that the judiciary would need transcribers to transcribe court proceedings. That means that freelance transcribers in Kenya will be the first to benefit.

Will all this come to pass? My prayer is that it does for all online workers sakes.

Out of my reflection though, I realized that creating one million jobs as has been stated by the Ajira site, is quite a stretch.  The thing with online work is that it is very intrinsic.  Providing laptops and internet connectivity doesn’t magically result in jobs. I believe that this is where SMART goals come into play, and one million online workers within a year, is not realistic in my opinion. Ambitious, yes. Realistic no.

For the newbies who will discover online work via the Ajira site, please note that you will need to find your niche and pump yourself up with lots of motivation. Also, remember not to hop into just any job that you come across online; decide what will work best for you then go for it!

For the existing freelancers, if you are familiar with the Pareto Principle, you will understand what I was saying about online jobs being very selective. You do not have to worry about the masses knowing and joining the online job market. If this initiative attracts thousands, just relax and give them time. Only a small percentage will take any action. Out of this percentage, some will not persist long enough to reap the results. However, for the few who will beat all the odds and take fruitful actions, they will become just like us: their livelihoods will improve and they will impact society positively. In the long run, the awareness created by Ajira will be worth it.

What about the taxation issue?  If the government has all along known about online work, wouldn’t the process of taxing us have begun long ago?   On another note, remember that each freelancer is paid via different channels including Paypal, wire transfers, Bitcoin, etcetera,.  Taxing online workers will therefore not be as easy as pie.  Let’s focus our energy on creating several income streams online rather than on the tax man.

My thoughts on Online Work Awareness

Kenyans are very educated and possess a great work ethic. I see a time when investors will target this country in terms of launching freelance organizations. This has already happened in the Philippines where Chris Ducker, the founder of Virtual Staff Finder, set up base there. We have a few local ones already such as Kaboonta and Kuhustle. I foresee a bright future for freelancers in this great country. However, take note that we can only be recognized if a good number of us make a presence online. The current 40,000 online workers is too little a number to activate the investor attraction effect. We need to be recognized if good things are to come our way.

Let’s take a moment and ask ourselves,  why are world renowned personalities developing an interest in Kenya? We had Obama visiting. Akon was here with the President. Mark Zuckerberg was eating Tilapia in Nairobi just the other day.   Israel’s prime also visited. The World Bank is already connecting millions of Kenyans to electricity, freely. Who knows who else will visit? From my understanding, these people are seeing great potential in this country of ours. My urge, therefore, is that we show them all the positive work that we can do if given the chance. Let us make them come, invest and stay!

Second, let us continue creating awareness about online work so that the private sector can believe in the power of this new frontier. There are startups already in Kenya, coming up slowly. They need to cut costs so as to grow faster. We can chip in and benefit by making them know that there are many competent online workers locally. How will they know that we exist if they never hear from or about us? Let us make our presence symbolic by writing newspaper articles, setting up more blogs, and yes, even the ultimate sin of appearing on TV!

If you look at the pros of creating awareness on online work, maybe you can realize that it can turn into an opportunity for experienced freelancers. As more newbies will require training, we can take this as an opportunity to spread the skills while making more cents on the side. Create training material, set up blogs that with resourceful tips and tricks about freelancing and also organize seminars where you can share with fellow as well as new freelancers.

My final thoughts

This is a topic too juicy, but I have to wind up.

To the doubtful, fearful freelancers: There is sustained demand for reasonably priced labor from overseas markets which is constantly fuelling this industry. Numerous start-ups are coming up all over the world.  Fear not, because more work is being generated even as our number grows.

To the government: This is a very promising industry that is still learning to walk. Many online workers are in fear, mostly due to taxation issues.   The government should  consider exempting us  from tax so that we can grow the industry further. The number is still too small.

The government should also encourage more starts up to come up, especially those who are keen on launching freelancing sites. This will go a long way in helping these companies pick up flawlessly and increase more online job opportunities for Kenyan freelancers.

 

Henry Ford tells us,

If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself –

 

About the author

Virginia Nakitari is a work from home mom passionate about making money online. She's here to show you legitimate companies offering full-time, part-time and remote jobs from home! Stay tuned!

  • Exactly what I was thinking.

    Moreover, when new guys come in, they bring in new ideas that can revolutionize online work. The professionals among them will also create even more work opportunities, as they deliver quality work that makes their clients richer.

    • I am seeing a bright future for this country in terms of online work. Call me overly optimistic! The online work revolution is just beginning to gain ground, and we are positioning ourselves at the right time. Great things are in store.

  • Well-written and informative.

    The government has always known about Kenyan freelancers and with its’ development of a freelance resource portal, the future looks bright for existing and upcoming freelancers. As you have rightly said, we need to train and empower more freelancers in our country so as to attract global investors to set-up shop which will translate to thousands of jobs for our growing population.

    The future is bright, indeed.

    • Very true. The Ajira site needs a couple of changes and tweaks. But even as that is being done, the fact that it’s spreading awareness is a great thing.

  • I totally agree that Ajira will need a few changes. I scanned that articles and sent it to my subscribers so they can know there is more to come. Kenya has been behind in creating jobs for the youth and the entire populace. In Western countries students as young as 12 years start working by distributing newspapers every Saturday and Sunday to earn a few $ and euro per week whereas in Kenya that is a permanent job for someone.
    This Thursday I will speak to High school leavers in a certain school about online jobs, rather than be idle while they wait for their results. They are excited.
    Online jobs coming to Kenya is almost equal to the era of electronics companies in US, taking their jobs to China, S.Korea, Malysia, Taiwan etc. Now look at those countries how they have developed and people are prosperous.

    • Those are great thoughts Jane. The world is changing and thanks to the online work revolution, more people can start working online. All the best in your endeavors as you preach this good news.

  • There is always room for change and progress.
    “Two heads are better than one”, this is a chance for Kenyan’s to grow together and create jobs for the jobless youths out there. We can only grow as a nation and not individually. As long as the government haven’t done anything to ruin the playfield, I don’t see why we should jump to conclusions and assume. To make money, one has to spend money. So if you earn online, tax is just a tiny hurdle in the way, and if it cuts costs for bundles, etc why not?
    My two cents…….

    • Those are great two cents Tatiana. Government involvement doesn’t always translate to negative results. If by government involvement we get electricity, internet connection, cheaper laptops etcetera, then that kind of involvement is welcome.

  • I always say ‘Progress over Perfection’.
    The government has began doing something to create additional employment, in the few weeks this has been a topic of discussion several people have began (working towards) earning a living via online work. To those people, the government has delivered a means, one that did not exist to them before Ajira Digital launched.
    As all good things, this will take time. With each passing day, we know the government is doing something to address a major problem curbing the nation. That to me is progress.

    • That is one of my favorite quotes actually. Maybe a couple of things could have been done better before the launch but here we are and Agira Digital is live. Let us now focus on how this can impact people positively. Great comment Mary!

  • Hi Sherooh. This is a very informative article which will benefit many Kenyans who are aspiring to do online work. Here in our country, as you said the Government should exempt freelance writers from tax, which I totally agree with you, so that they grow in their work and be self-reliant in which ever area of online work they choose to do.

  • This is great. I like how you’ve pinpointed various areas where the government need to improve on and the benefits all this knowledge on Ajira will bring to Kenya freelancers and newbies embarking on this journey.
    I believe many years from now we’ll have a different Kenya in terms of many freelancers having discovered online work and maintaining good work ethic.

    • I absolutely love the last point – maintaining good work ethic. That’s the only way to survive with the fierce competition that exists among freelancers. Let’s take pride in our work.

  • Change is as good as rest. I was bought into the idea long ago. The benefits of this project outway the fears that most of us had, in the losses we thought this would bring to the online freelancing fraternity.

    I say again, this was and us a good move.

    • Thank you for your thoughts Nathaniel. It seems to be a case of False Evidence Appearing Real to some online workers. 🙁

  • This is a great idea and anyone against it should think twice in as much as everyone is entitled to their opinions.This is a good move by the government to expose her citizens to opportunities and in a way tackle unemployment.Kudos.

    • There were all sorts of reasons, some were based on misinformation, many were based on fear 🙁 a few made sense. All in all, let’s hope for the best.

  • I support this initiative. We should always strive to help others grow. Helping others grow is a sign of great leadership.

    “The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men the conviction and the will to carry on.” —Walter Lippman

    It would be sad if we went to our graves having not shared the wealth of knowledge that God has Blessed us with.

  • Having the online jobs would really help good number of youth around.Those in the university should be tapped and shown how to work online so that they can at least have something to do during their free time.online surveys also do.

  • Personally I think it’s great initiative that the government has undertaken. I for one desire to establish myself in online work. Change is inevitable in life. Let’s not be selfish but help each other out.

  • Yes! You put your thoughts well together.

    My little research reveals that most of those who believe government intervention is ‘evil’ are those in academic writing.

    My advice to them is to transition to writing content for business use. Brands are desperate for good writers to help them engage their customers online.

    And there isn’t a reason why we should shy away from publicity. The government knows about online work.

    We can only benefit by coming out and demanding the government provides us with better infrastructure before thinking about asking us to pay tax.

    Thanks Sheero for putting this down. In fact, you should submit the article to one of the dailies.

    • Submit it to the dailies? That’s an interesting thought Daniel! But great thoughts right there. Online writing does not comprise of academic writing only. There is so much more writing out there. Like writing for brands, as you stated. Ebooks are all the rage and now, more than ever before, eBook publishers are looking for ebook writers/ghost writers who can dazzle their readers. Academic writers ought to think along those lines. Thanks for your comment Daniel.

  • Hey Sheeroh, I have read and am still following up on this Ajira thing that has brought so much controversy especially among freelancers and transcribers and allow me as well to say that I think its a good idea you thought of the young mum at home who you were once like and is unemployed but has the skills you were talking about. It’s a really thoughtful deed on your part and as mahtma Gandhi said to live and think of others over yourself that’s the greatest joy of all time. Personally I find no fault in your deeds nor think that you ought to have consulted anyone before you go live on air but what I fear is that the government may play politics with online entrepreneurship and it may end up being a quail business. My thoughts come due to the fact that Kenya is in its bud stage especially when it comes to online work and there are no laws in place to protect us or to prevent miscellaneous activities, therefore to a certain point I understood what the people were complaining about but I never supported the attacks on an individual’s thoughts because you have the God given and constitutional right of free speech as long as it is not insulting. Secondly I think our PS is misleading a lot of youth and preaching a lot of verbal diarhhoea in media houses and probably to people he comes across but this is a discussion for another day and I have legit reasons for saying so. I have a lot on my mind to say right now but I will not type all of it down, what I will do however is take advantage of the opportunity because not only is it the smart thing to do but it’s also an opportunity to learn more about this platform. With that said Sheeroh I leave you with the words of a very inspirational man in my life Dr Martin Luther King Jr who said that our sole purpose in this life is to help others, but if you cannot help them, least don’t hurt them. Cheers and a lovely evening to you and your family.

    • We’ll just have to wait and see Kingmax. I know that there are very many businessmen and women who are doing great in their businesses, whether it’s agribusiness, beauty business, bloggers etc. Maybe we need to remind ourselves that if they have prospered, we will too. Government involvement doesn’t always translate to closure of business 🙂 Call me the eternal optimist.

  • Hello Sheero,

    This is without doubt the most comprehensive piece you’ve done, I think. It’s so bull’s eye. Candid. Straightforward. And definitely emotive, in a good way.

    I think the most polarizing aspect of the whole publicity is fear of loss. Existing freelancers feel threatened. And it’s totally understandable. At the heart of things we all look out for ourselves. Humans are cool like that.

    I think the whole controversy comes from the fact that regardless of change being inevitable, it’s still the most feared aspect of life.

    The first thought and post I penned when the controversy was blooming was that we online freelancers should expect either accelerated greatness (growth), status quo, or a swift mess up. I’m still not sure which one is taking the early lead.

    My two (well, maybe four) cents…

    But I think the most polarizing aspect of the whole publicity is fear of loss, the freakish aspect of change.

    Existing freelancers feel threatened. In fact, though, it’s awesome–it’s what the industry needs once in a while: a good dose of disruption.

    On the other hand, it’s disturbing to think the kind of mayhem that we’ve seen brimstone down on the Kenyan online freelancers’ space, in the form of bans and exemptions and potential isolation, from the likes of PayPal, iWriter, Crowdsource, EW, 4Writers, and now even Skrill, is all as a result of a clique of Kenyan online freelancers (I repeat: our very own) who may never have heard of “Work Ethics” or who simply don’t give a flying care for it. There is a significant spoiled bunch among the approximately 40,000 of us. The fear then maybe what will come with a whooping 1 mill of newbies.

    Spoilers (intentional and unintentional) are among us, and the incoming newbies might even have more of those (especially with the Ajira site impacting a tad too much expectation without actually explaining or training on the HOW part). I’m not sure making Kes 2,200 daily or working Kes 10,000 daily projects is the average Kenyan freelancer’s story. The heck it ain’t.

    This scenario is seen by any keen freelancer observing the extreme awareness of online jobs in India–who I won’t shy from saying have made Freelancer.com the bag of poo it is right now. For the best of what a united, ethical and professional online entrepreneural workforce can be, the Philippines is way to go. The US being primarily the good, no-nonsense providers/clients.

    Also, yes. Guys are also afraid of the larger supply of probably well skilled and persistent entrepreneurs the publicity will bring to the fold.

    But the newbie willing to jump in untrained, over-ambitious and unwilling to atleast learn first (even if it’s from Uncle Google for everyone’s sake) may be the bigger risk. The quail trend is a perfect case study here.

    Also, existing freelancers fear government involvement will lead to drafting of limiting policies that won’t necessarily be what the industry needs (mostly because most guys in the govt don’t genuinely understand internet jobs). I think taxation is not the issue, really–technically, we are not eligible because we are independent contractors not registered small businesses. And even if we were, I opine that we should take care of our civic duty. But as things stand, the government is not best known for being a touch of gold, not here, and not with the ongoing mismanagement issues.

    Again, Sheero you truly put most of the community’s thoughts in writing. Thanks for that. I don’t think you really deserved the backlash this past week.

    Kind regards,

    Dennis here.

    • We will just have to wait and see Dennis. Me thinks that the government will put it’s best foot forward, be in it’s best behavior because they want to show that they have done something for the youth of this country. Don’t be surprised if some great things happen to freelancers. If we had Equity partner with Paypal, without (I’m assuming) government involvement, what other great things can happen? The government would like to thump it’s chest too! I have a good feeling that for now, they want to sow good seed…

  • We have nothing to fear from the government, especially a government as incompetent as ours. Taxation will not ruin freelancers. The entry of new freelancers will not make our labor cheaper. If you offer premium top-rated services you will get paid your full worth. In fact, the entry of new workers will only serve to increase opportunities in Kenya. And for those who feel their place is in the unethical side of online work, just take some time and look around. There are better paying, more respectable sources of income online. Do not be afraid of change. Do not be afraid of government involvement. There is so much room for growth and enough money to make the most diligent prosper. Thanks Sheeroh for sharing this. We need more sensitization on online work, so every Kenyan with an idea can know there are well-paying options out there without relying on traditional employment setups.

    • Thanks for that insightful comment Abur. And I especially like those two keywords’ most diligent’ Online work is work, it’s a viable career and you’ve got to be committed and dedicated and you WILL prosper, with or without competition.

  • Hi Sheeroh,

    I have read your very informative article, and support the government creating awareness of online work. As a newbie just going through training, am grateful to those who told me about it. I understand the fear of shrinking jobs by some, but it is difficult to stop an idea whose time has come. If it helps improve the lives of more young people, am all for it.

    • And it is an idea who’s time has come. Not just for Kenya but it’s slowly but surely happening throughout the world. Thanks Emmy.

  • This is so amazing. I know it will not close a door for us but it will also open many doors for us freelancers. Sheeroh thanks for the awareness again.

  • Quite informative. The fear was real, coupled with abit of selfishness on the side of freelancers. What we need to know is that the pie will be divided and everybody will get a piece. We need to uphold hard work and consistency in all we do. #onlineworkiswork. God bless freelancers, God bless Kenya.

    • We don’t have to settle for crumbs. That’s the fear. We need to believe in ourselves and diversify. This is such a huge pie. If only we can see the big picture.

  • Thank you Sheeroh.

    I am for the Ajira Initiative because ‘the more the merrier’!

    I see it as a platform to create awareness and an enabling environment to undertake online work. The rest of the effort will be from the individuals. As you say, online work is not for the fainthearted and hence those cut out for it will take off and others fall by the wayside. It is also a platform where one will be rewarded for work and quality, communication skills, and work ethics. Others will realise they need to up their skills in, for example, language and writing, something that is lacking in our youth because they do no do useful things like read good literature. There will no shortcuts. I would support any day any initiative that creates employment, just as you are doing by training others and creating awareness.

    Thanks,
    Lucy M

    • Great comment Lucy. If one does not take pride in their work, they will fall by the wayside. We are worried about the competition that Kenyans will bring and yet this is a worldwide phenomenon – the online work revolution. Many more countries are yet to come on board as aggressively as India, Philippines, US, and Kenya. What will we say when that happens, I wonder?

  • Dennis, very true. Thanks Sheeroh for the info and the Ajira website need some work – yaani imejaa links mob….You and your colleague Walter(Freelancing) are blessed to be featured on the Ajira website. Congratulations.

    Kakamega!

  • Thanks Sheeroh for the insight.Very real and encouraging.The world is a ghetto,oops! a village now,and we are billions in number in that village.Only the smartest,fittest and the most resilient will survive this impending scenario.So all us onliners let’s keep at it,there’s nothing to fret about.There’s no shame in looking out for you and yours,we just need to be prepared. Are we prepared? That’s a question we need to answer ourselves!

  • Well written article, and i agree with you totally. The website needs a lot of work not just tweeking and of course some more information on how best to get these online work.

    The government has shown some good will towards the online workers and it is my hope that they will extend the good will to the tax rates – the numbers of online writers/workers in Kenya is too dismal to even start taxing them – but am sure they are looking into it

    Sheeroh – yet again – great insightful and balanced article. Always a pleasure

  • I really believe that online work is work.I learned about it when Ajira digital was launched but having not done it previously am somehow experiencing challenges and I need someone to assist me please.Therefore if you can please call me on +254 718 042 376

  • Really informative post.
    i hope this ajira program works out and not be another white elephant project 3yrs down the lane.
    And hope the government involves freelancers who’ve been in the industry in such projects

  • first i would say this piece is very informative. personally am finding my way on this online would as a way of seeking more cash and experience

    secondly i was in torch with ajira via phone and heard that the people who were in charge of the project are no longer in office then suddenly the few courses that i had began just disappeared , is the future gone?

    lastly i would love if you had a look at my blog bentechnews.blogspot.co.ke and have your thoughts on it

    • I’m not sure about the info you got there. As far as I know, Ajira is still very much around and just last week, they were advertising positions for online trainers.

  • Though not sure, online freelance workers are considered as INDEPENDENT CONTRACTORS and therefore are exempted from taxation. We are like ‘micro enterprises’ which the government needs to create jobs. At least we create jobs for ourselves.

    On investors, we already have two american online talent crowdsourcing companies setting base here in Kenya. Andela and CloudFactory. Other local ones will soon spring up in the near future.

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