He’s 23 or 24 at the most . He looks good in branded shirt, jeans and sneakers. With his feet covered in Cades of a famed brand he carries a MacBook laptop in his backpack. And he bought all of these with his own earnings.
At an age when he’s supposed to be ending his studies or be looking for a job, how’s he leading such an independent life? The youth is a freelancer. Now many youth like him are earning in dollars from within the country. Many have a monthly income of a thousand dollars or more.
A freelancer is someone who’s a free agent. They are not restricted by the 9-5 job trap. They can work from anyplace whether it's their home or anywhere else. It just requires some skills of your own, power supply and high-speed internet connection.
It costs more for companies in different countries around the world including the US, UK and Europe if the hire locally. Sometimes so many workers cannot be found on demand either.
They then outsource. Just as this saves that company or individual money, it creates an opportunity for someone to make some money completing that task from anywhere. Most of the work is found on certain websites.
This is the ‘Online Marketplace’ in IT jargon. Youth in the country have a growing interest in freelancing, with the expansion of information technology and different government and non-government initiatives.
Shah Imraul Kaeesh, managing director of software company Technobd, was a successful freelancer . He said that basically freelancing work started coming to the country from 2005-06. Youths are the pioneers in this job. ‘BASIS outsourcing Award’ of Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services, has contributed towards popularising freelancing in the country.
State minister for information and communication technology (ICT) Zunaid Ahmed said there are 650,000 freelancers in the country at present.
Their total annual income is about USD 1 billion or Tk 106 billion (at the rate of Tk 106 against a dollar). So far 53,000 youth have been given different IT-related trainings through the ‘Learning and Earning’ project since 2014, he added.
However, chairman of Bangladesh Freelancer Development Society, Tanjiba Rahman said that the account of 600,000 to 650,000 freelancers includes records of the Upwork Marketplace only. Bangladeshis work in 153 marketplaces in total.
If those are included, that number will be a billion. Around 55 per cent of them are aged between 20 and 35 years. However, participation of women in freelancing is still quite low, she added.
Tanjiba Rahman says, India tops the list when it comes to the number of freelancers. Bangladesh comes next in line. However, Bangladesh ranks seventh in terms of earning while USA tops the list.
She added that 30,000 freelancers have been given smart cards till now starting from 2020. These cardholders will receive bank loan facilities. Even 4 per cent incentive is given if brought earned income from abroad through banks.
How to learn
Successful and experienced freelancer of Dhaka Touhidur Rahman told Prothom Alo, first of all one has to understand the concept of freelancing. Then they have to be IT skilled.
It’s better to do a job somewhere or work closely with a freelancer first. With mention to these experiences, they have to find work making a decent portfolio in the marketplace. And, they have to do the job on time.
While the job market has shrunk due to corona outbreak, the sphere of freelancing job has expanded, said Tanjiba Rahman. Currently, digital marketing, SEO (search engine optimisation), graphic design and logo creation, web development etc. jobs are more in demand.
There is also demand for content writing (basically description or promotion writing on products or services), advanced photography, human resource management and bookkeeping as well.
There are two different ways of earning in freelancing. One is active earning which refer to earning directly by working with the client. The other is passive earning, which is earning by working from different marketplace.
As per Bangladesh Freelancer Development Society’s data, Upwork, Freelancer.com, 5R, Guru.com, Toptal, PeoplePerHour etc. are popular marketplaces in Bangladesh.
To get work in the marketplace, one has to mention their charge and time (bidding). Employers give work to skilled people after scanning their fee and portfolio.
Although, the situation has improved now, people in the country didn’t have that much idea about freelancing even two to three years ago.
Many freelancers had to face taunts like, -- "doesn’t sleep at night," "spends whole day on computers," "who knows what he does," "this isn’t a job or anything permanent," "no girl will marry him." etc. Although freelancers get more social recognition now, there's a long way ahead.
BASIS president Russell T Ahmed believes, “There has to be a change in freelancing. The number of freelancers out there is a lot, but only 10 per cent of them make a decent earning."
"Actually skills have to be acquired in specific sectors of information technology. To be a freelancer, alongside acquiring skills on certain aspects, one has to be skilled in communication as well."
Freelancer Touhidur believes, despite there being an increase in initiatives and individual income, there’s no facility of better quality training, he added
Director of Chattogram’s outsourcing company ‘Exponent’ Abul Kashem, said, “We should’ve advanced even further. Freelancers don’t get any guidelines from country’s ICT industry sector. We don’t get any guidelines on which sectors will have an increased demand in future or to be skilled in what.
Abul Kashem said, “There’s a huge market in India. Even in Pakistan, a freelancer can make up to USD 100,000 a year. Meanwhile, we are happy with an annual income of just USD 10,000. Freelancers require expert input and guidance from the ICT sector."
There’s one thing to be noticed in the work of freelancers. When someone gets success after starting it alone, they involve other youth from their neighborhood and create a scope for them to make an earning.
Subir Nakrek, a Garo youth from Madhupur upazila of Tangail, became successful doing freelancing right from that remote forest. He then established an IT institute and trained other Garo youth of the area. He introduced about 50,000 youth from all ethnic minority community to freelancing.
Sherpur’s Minhaj with a degree from Qawmi Madrasa taught freelancing to 700 students of the madrasa after becoming successful himself.
Dhaka’s Shubho Sarker had started freelancing after learning three-dimensional graphics and animation only to save his cancer patient father. Now his father has recovered while he has become a successful freelancer.
* This report appeared in the print and online versions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Nourin Ahmed Monisha.