I received a cold call from a member of the public today. He began by explaining how he found my mobile number. COVID-19 had got him thinking and he wanted my advice about career progression. Somewhat befuddled, I asked why me? He said that he recalled seeing me on TV talking about new work opportunities. I said that would have been about online freelancing and quite some time back. Yes, he said, but my mind went to what you said back then.
In February 2017, I had given an interview to Derana Biz 24×7 on online freelancing, based on the research conducted by LIRNEasia. I was told by the host that it had generated quite a few calls and that they had arranged follow up programs with people who did online freelancing for a living. I was happy we had communicated our research and that it had catalyzed some activity. We at LIRNEasia rarely have research that engages the man or woman on the street, so I was happy that when we did it seemed to have done some good.
But three and half years later? I barely remembered the findings. Plus what he wanted was advice about advancing his life chances, not policy advice on removing barriers to this economic activity that had emerged unbeknownst to the government and which was ticking along.
Then I remembered Kanishka Weeramunde and the startupsl.lk website that he and colleagues had created last year to create a focal point for those who were in the startup business, including online freelancers. I recalled that at one of the related events, the young man who had done the follow up program on Derana Biz 24×7 had introduced himself to me, thanking me for getting the subject into the public eye. I promised to find the link and send it to my cold caller. That would be more practical I thought, than pointing him to a conference paper on female online freelancers in India and Sri Lanka.
I have no idea where all this will end. I wish this young man the very best as he seeks to gain a little bit more traction on improving his life chances and, as he said, in the times of pandemics, getting ready for any shocks. It was lucky for me that Sri Lanka’s startup community had done something to help newcomers. That is not something we at LIRNEasia are set up to do.