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10 Lessons Learned on Jobtech in Africa from 2 years Working on Jobtech in Africa

Oct 26, 2023 | Jobtech Alliance Memo

Author: Crowdsourced from the Jobtech Alliance Team

The Jobtech Alliance turned two years old on 26 October 2023. What started as an informal Zoom call with 41 people on 26 October 2021 became a community of 350 a year later, when we launched our new website and started inviting startups to join our acceleration work. Now a further year later, that 350 has turned into over 1,000 community members, we have a subcommunity of almost 100 jobtech platforms, and the first 13 startups in our venture support program.

This community is pretty engaged too: over 60% of those 1,000 read the last newsletter, and over a thousand people participated in our events and learning products last year. 

So, what have we learned about the sector in the last two years? 10 things. Of course. That’s convenient. Let’s dive in.

What it is

1. Jobtech is a thing. And it’s really broad. While a lot of attention related to ‘digitally-enabled livelihoods’ has historically gone on ride hailing and coding jobs, the space is actually really broad. We’re continuously having to update our taxonomy of the jobtech sector in Africa as we come across new ways that young people are earning money online. ‘Jobtech’ as a word and sector is increasingly being recognised, and it becomes a cross-cutting theme around everything to do with the future of work and how people find work. Microenterprise? Platforms make it possible. Digital jobs? Can’t be connected without platforms. Green jobs? You need platforms to match them.

2. …and most people have a very weak understanding of the sector. Ok we knew this before we started the Jobtech Alliance. Things have started improving. There’s also a base of knowledge of the sector that didn’t exist two years ago. Check out the Jobtech Alliance’s Landscape Scans which detail common business models and business and impact opportunities, as well as VC4A/The Flip’s e-learning course on the topic.

Who uses it

3. Everyone is using it, but no-one really knows ‘what a job is’ in the jobtech space. While many funders are excited about jobtech because of the scale of user numbers, most actually have a pretty weak understanding of the scale of ‘real jobs’. That’s because it can be really hard to decide ‘what counts’ for largely part-time gigs. We’ve written about our approach here. One thing we have learned, and this is so easy to overlook, is that most jobtech jobs are part-time gigs. We (largely) can’t compare jobtech work to full time work. We need to consider how they fit into individuals’ portfolios of work. You can listen to a podcast about some of these themes here.

4. Young women can be disproportionate beneficiaries of jobtech (overcoming social barriers, accessing suitable work). But, if we don’t build product, marketing, and businesses that adequately consider the experiences of female users, as our upcoming Gender & Jobtech Landscape scan explains, “the future of work will look a lot like the gendered past of work across the continent.” The report is available here.

5. Refugees have also proven to be disproportionate users of jobtech. With often questionable local right to work, digital work for international clients is a huge opportunity. Moreover, work as an Uber rider (for example) is more helpful when you’re new in a place and don’t know customers, pricing, or locations. We’re working with platforms in Uganda to further increase participation of refugees on their platforms.

What are the viable business solutions?

6. Social commerce and agent models are likely to continue growing. As traditional e-commerce stutters on the continent, last mile sales are likely to continue being delivered by trusted people. ‘“Let small businesses do the selling,” as this article perfectly summarizes. This creates potential for platforms like Tendo designed entirely for enabling social commerce, as well as big platforms like Jumia complementing their centralised e-commerce model with a social commerce play. Agent models and social commerce offer large scale employment opportunities for last mile sellers.

7. Vertically integrated platforms are potentially the future of the African microenterprise. With difficult macro conditions, and a history of informality, most employment in Africa is going to continue to be self-employment, and this provides an opportunity for jobtech platforms. Leading off the success of players like Wasoko and TradeDepot in the retail sector, we’re seeing platforms build the digital and offline infrastructure for microentrepreneurs in a range of verticals, from tailoring to restaurant management to tutoring classes.

Source: DFS Lab

8. Digital work continues to be a major growth area, but the tsunami of digitally-enabled service jobs hasn’t yet (and might not) come to Africa. We continue to be bullish about the opportunity of platforms that provide business services for international clients, particularly in niche platforms like Tana. Ongoing demographic shifts mean that this flow of work will only increase over the decade. However, while we were hoping for a tsunami of this work in the post-COVID world and labour shortages in North America and Europe, we’ve had a small stream. Likely, this is due to many companies in those markets now optimising for AI rather than optimising for outsourced labour. On a positive note, AI is being used by many jobtech platforms to help screen candidates, catch cheating, and enable scale, but this has proven to have its own challenges.

What enables jobtech?

9. It’s all about demand. Jobtech is fundamentally about connecting demand for labour (and products and services) to supply. Africa has a huge employment shortfall, caused by a lack of demand for labour on the continent. Adding a tech platform to connect supply to demand doesn’t fundamentally shift that. This means that jobtech platforms in Africa have a major role in finding demand, or by shifting non-consumption into consumption through upskilling, attractive productization, novel pricing or more. It also means that jobtech is heavily influenced by macro conditions. Maybe every business is. But macro conditions from the purchasing power of individuals, to policies around vocational training have huge impact on what makes this sector viable.

10. Funding for the sector is hurting. According to data from Briter Intelligence, $625m was invested in jobtech across Africa in 2021 (in 143 deals), which shrunk to $127m (in 31 deals) in 2023 so far. While startup funding shrinking over the last 12 months has occurred across the continent globe, because of the macro conditions outlined above, investors are particularly shy of investing in the jobtech space right now. We’ve set up the Jobtech Investment Network to better help investors find deals, understand what good looks like (from both a business and impact perspective), and to bring philanthropic funding in too. Please contact us at [email protected] if you’d like to join!


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