Future of Work — LIRNEasia


Technology is revolutionizing the nature of the firm and the nature of work. In particular, the online space has opened up new opportunities for work, as it provides a new arena for buyers and sellers of goods and services to meet, even those who are far apart geographically. As more people get connected to the Internet, the online workplace is likely to grow even more. The aim of this body of work is to understand how this change is happening with a focus on how it affects people in the Global South. We focus in particular on understanding how marginalized groups (e.g. women, underemployed youth, etc.) are impacted, and designing policy solutions that are inclusive. More recently, we’ve been asking if and how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the world of work. Our work currently focuses on the following areas:

  1. Online Freelancing in the Emerging Asia Pacific. We conducted qualitative interviews with over 400 respondents in Sri Lanka, India, and Myanmar in 2016-17 to understand the experiences of those doing digitally mediated work, with a primary focus on cloud work. Many respondents reported the advantages of this work, including flexible work time and place, the ability to supplement existing income, and sometimes the ability to out-earn their counterparts in formal / traditional markets. However, barriers still remain, such as the ability to access payments from abroad (e.g. PayPal is unavailable in Sri Lanka), and difficulties getting bank loans since cloud workers do not have salary slips. We also conducted a quantitative nationally representative survey in Sri Lanka in 2016 with over 5500 respondents to assess awareness of online freelancing and the willingness to do such work.
  2. Women and work in the platform economy. We know from our previous qualitative work that women see online work and the flexibility it entails as a way to earn their own income while balancing childcare and other domestic responsibilities. However, many barriers remain to women’s participation in the online workplace, including gender gaps in internet connectivity, digital skills and social norms. To better understand women’s engagement with the ecosystem of digitally enabled work, between 2020 and 2023 we conducted further qualitative research in  collaboration with the Center for Policy Research, India,  the Indian Institute for Human Settlements and World Resources Institute, India, and. The research aimed to assess the ecosystem within which women are engaging with digital work in India and Sri Lanka and the kind of impact that online platforms can create for women’s economic empowerment in order to inform updated labour market regulation and business practices. The final project report can be found here.
  3. Matching Skills and Jobs. LIRNEasia began work on developing a scalable computational mechanism to scan online Sri Lankan job boards in 2019. This work uses natural language processing (NLP) techniques to extract skill sets from job descriptions and relay findings in explainable human-readable formats. This preliminary work has led to a larger scoping study and case study, funded by the Asian Development Bank. Through this project, we will be exploring and demonstrating how online job portals can provide timely insights into labour markets. The aim is to identify shifts and trends in labour demand and skills demand, and potentially answer many other key policy questions.
  4. The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the World of Work. The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting measures such as lockdowns and social distancing have compelled many firms and workers to explore other ways of working, including taking work processes online. Some kinds of work are more conducive to adapting to the constraints imposed by COVID-19 than others. We are planning qualitative and quantitative research in Sri Lanka to understand how the pandemic has reshaped the ways in which people work, especially for those at the bottom of the pyramid and other marginalized groups.
  5. The AfterAccess Surveys and the Future of Work. We’ve used our nationally representative AfterAccess surveys to investigate the gig economy in the Global South, including looking for ways to quantify the gig economy.
  6. Impact of Automation on the Workforce in Indian Economy (2019). Much of the fears around the automation of jobs are based on data about jobs and workers in the US and Europe. Hardly any of the predictive models have been attempted with data from Asia. Therefore LIRNEasia explored the possibility of replicating the Frey and Osborn type analysis in an Asian market, namely India. The deep dive into Indian labor data showed that while some level of analysis is possible, data from our region – even a country like India – is not detailed enough to do the kind of modelling that others have done. What this points to, is the need for better data, which governments must collect and make public.


Documents

  • Gender gaps in internet access and digital skills in India and Sri Lanka (draft report)

    This working paper explores the effect of gender on the likelihood of internet access and the likelihood of possessing digital skills capabilities among Indians and Sri Lankans, based on nationally representative survey data from 2021.

  • Digitally-enabled work opportunities and women’s empowerment – Draft 1

    The technological advancements of the recent decades, including the expansion of the gig economy have given rise to increasing numbers of opportunities for flexible work for both men and women across the globe. Opportunities range from ridesharing to online freelancing to running home-based businesses with the help of social media and logistics platforms.   The growth in opportunities for digital work have expanded considerably after the advent of the Covid-19 Pandemic. Flexible work arrangements – such as those offered by the gig economy—have long been argued as an enabler of women’s increased and sustained participation in the labour market. This is particularly pertinent for countries like Sri Lanka, which have tussled with low female labour force participation (LFP) rates over the years. Many have argued that these opportunities are especially advantageous for women, enabling flexibility in terms of time, location, and the conditions of work, allowing for greater LFP and wide opportunities for socio-economic empowerment. This paper seeks to explore the impact that such opportunities are having on women’s empowerment in Sri Lanka.

  • Research report: Digital platforms and women’s work in Sri Lanka and India

    We know from our previous qualitative work that women see online work and the flexibility it entails as a way to earn their own income while balancing childcare and other domestic responsibilities. However, many barriers and challenges remain to women’s participation in the online workplace, including gender gaps in internet connectivity and digital skills, as well as constraining social norms. To better understand women’s engagement with the ecosystem of digitally enabled work, between 2020 and 2023 we conducted further qualitative research in  collaboration with the Centre for Policy Research, India,  the Indian Institute for Human Settlements and World Resources Institute, India, and. The research aimed to assess the ecosystem within which women are engaging with digital work in India and Sri Lanka and the kind of impact that online platforms can create for women’s economic empowerment in order to inform updated labour market regulation and business practices. The final project report can be found below. Suggested citation: Centre for Policy Research, LIRNEasia & Indian Institute for Human Settlements. (2022). Ecosystems of Engagement: Digital Platforms and Women’s Work in Sri Lanka and India. https://lirneasia.net/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/Ecosystems-of-engagement-Digital-platforms-and-womens-work-in-Sri-Lanka-and-India.pdf   

  • Future of work in the Global South (Policy Brief)
  • Future of Work in the Global South: Digital Labor, New Opportunities and Challenges (Working Paper)
  • Future of Work in India: Estimation of Automation Potential of Occupations & its Consequences (Report)

    Report by Vignesh Ilavarasan on the estimation of the potential for automation in the Indian economy, December 2019.

  • “Now we are Independent”: Female Online Freelancers in India and Sri Lanka (Conference Paper)

    Ramathi Bandaranayake presented the following paper at the 3rd International Conference on Gender Research, held July 16 – 17 2020. The conference took place virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The paper discusses the findings of our qualitative research related to female online freelancers in India and Sri Lanka.   Bandaranayake, R., Iqbal, T., Galpaya, H., Senanayake, L., & Perampalam, S. (2020). ‘Now we are Independent’: Female Online Freelancers in India and Sri Lanka. In K. Jones, C. Collins, M. Davies, M. Della Giust, & G. James. Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference on Gender Research (pp. 40-47). Reading, UK: University of Reading. DOI: 10.34190/IGR.20.121    

  • Platform-mediated work: precarious employment or a solution to un/underemployment? (Presentation)

    Helani Galpaya 24 Sep 2019 | CEPA Open Forum | Colombo, Sri Lanka

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