The Gig Economy and What it Means for Refugees

By Megan Majd

In the past, a “gig” was a term exclusively used by musicians. Today it encompasses far more. It has come to mean an entire classification of jobs, essentially considered short-term work assignments. People are becoming increasingly creative with how they make a living, and the economy is responding by building marketplaces that support it. We have an entire “gig economy” made up of platforms like Upwork, Airbnb, and Etsy.

Platforms like Airbnb allow people to become “hosts” and marketplaces like Etsy allow people to sell goods they make. While Upwork (formerly oDesk-Elance), an online outsourcing marketplace, provides a place for customers to hire freelancers who compete for work in the digital space. Online outsourcing is currently a $4.8 billion market and it’s projected to grow to $15–25 billion by 2020.

Where might a refugee fit in? There are over 21 million refugees in the world, and over 65 million displaced people, most with little to no access to work. Refugees are from all over the world; they are currently coming in waves from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, and Eritrea. They’ve suffered horrible violence and those lucky enough to escape their home countries are facing urban destitution or years in a refugee camp (the average stay in a refugee camp is 5 years).

 Vasilika Camp in Thessaloniki, Greece By Megan Majd

Vasilika Camp in Thessaloniki, Greece By Megan Majd

Day in and day out, they wait. They wait for asylum, they wait to hear from their family, they wait until to receive food and shelter from the NGOs and governments that support them. When you ask a refugee what they want, they will say they want to go home. But because they cannot, their second ask is to make a living, so they can provide for their families.

Finding work has has proved to be one of the biggest challenge for the refugees in Europe. In Greece alone, the unemployment rate is 23%. Even if a refugee is granted asylum, their odds of finding a job that utilizes their skills and pays a live able wage is slim.

Let’s bring it back.

How might we connect this massive pool of people, willing and able to work, with this online outsourcing marketplace?

A platform like Upwork, requires a set of skills and resources that most refugees don’t have. With little access to computers, it is very difficult to work as a freelancer online.

What many refugees do have, however, are smartphones, motivation, and time.

Microwork is a segment of online outsourcing. Simply put, it is a digital job that has been broken down into small tasks to be done by a human. Tasks include image labeling, data authentication, and sentiment analysis; simple tasks that cannot be done by a machine. Right now, microwork is approximately a $500 million industry and due to the rise in big data, it is predicted to grow to $2 billion by 2020.

Refugees often don’t have the proper paperwork required for full-time employment. By being hired as a “microworker”, a refugee is able to work as a contractor and get paid online.

If companies want to help refugees there are very tangible ways they can do so, today.

We at Harmoni are building a mobile application that will allow a refugee to do microwork on their smartphone. Our platform is built with refugees in mind, and will allow them to work, to have hope for a future. We are currently in an incubator at GSV Labs in Silicon Valley and are launching our pilot program at a camp in Greece in October.

To find out more and to connect with our team, visit

 The Calais Jungle in Northern France By Megan Majd

The Calais Jungle in Northern France By Megan Majd

Megan Majd