The Future of Work Won't Look Like a Job
The future of work in the African context is going to be a lot of different things. It mimics the nature of work itself for many individuals on the continent. They're taking this portfolio approach to work. Even in more "developed markets" we're seeing work become less formal and more flexible, as work becomes unbundled from employment. And this evolution of work itself provides a whole set of new challenges and opportunities.
So this episode is a retrospective on the entire season, in which we explore more of these questions about the future of work in this context. And joining The Flip's Justin Norman and Kandua's Sayo Folawiyo for this conversation is friend of The Flip, Chris Maclay, the Program Director for the Jobtech Alliance at Mercy Corps.
00:00 - Intro.
04:30 - Portfolio of work, earnings, stability, growth.
08:40 - Who gets to decide if a job is good or bad?
15:48 - Training, enablement, and platforms.
19:48 - The HustleOS and micro-franchising.
24:28 - The Future of Work is a portfolio of work.
29:54- Digital services for export.
32:57- Market sizing platform-enabled digital work.
41:39 - Should there have been an episode called The Future of Work is Universal Basic Income?
Sayo Folawiyo: I was talking to a service provider yesterday. Then I started looking at his profile, giving him advice. I'm like, "Yo, my guy, you're a handyman, a tiler, a pool specialist and a solar specialist."
Justin Norman: That's Sayo Folawiyo, the Co-founder and CEO of the home services platform, Kandua, and The Flip's b-mic.
Sayo Folawiyo: I'm like, this guy is all over the place, but he's just like, well, I can kind of do enough of stuff and I know how to find the right people to be able to do a job. I'm like, "Well, just in terms of this platform, focus on one because that's how you're going to build up your portfolio to be able to win customers on our platform." And he said, "I'm not sure. Maybe I'll come back later, back to this job later." And I said, "So what are you going to do instead?" He said, "I've been doing a property course and I'm now going to be looking at doing real estate." I'm like, "Well, okay, fair enough." And he said, "Yeah, but I'll be back." And that kind of mentality of just getting in where you fit in, finding the flows. Maybe his friend is doing well doing this property thing. Let me follow that for a bit. When pool specialist comes back in summer when people want to get their pools ready and he's seeing an influx, he'll come back to pools. That's the nature of a lot of work in our environment.
Justin Norman: Throughout this season, we've been exploring the future of work and one thing that's become clear is that the future of work in the African context is going to be a lot of different things. It kind of mimics the nature of work itself for many individuals on the continent. They're taking this portfolio approach to work. And even in more "developed markets" we're seeing work become less formal and more flexible, this unbundling of work from employment. And this evolution of work itself provides a whole set of new challenges and opportunities. So this episode is effectively a retrospective on the entire season in which we explore more of these questions about the future of work in this context. And joining Sayo and me for this conversation is friend of The Flip, Chris Maclay, a veteran of the youth employment space on the continent, and a deep subject matter expert who is currently the Program Director for the Jobtech Alliance at Mercy Corps.
Before we start, we'd like to thank MFS Africa for their sponsorship of season four of The Flip. Throughout the season, we've spoken with MFS Africa about their multitude and variety of products and services from agent banking to virtual cards to newfound explorations and to blockchain-based payments. But it's their core platform, the MFS Africa payments hu, servicing enterprise customers and enabling them to make and collect payments across the continent that has always been the company's bread and butter. So for today's episode, I spoke to Cynthia Ponera from MFS Africa's Enterprise Business Solutions team about their enterprise focus.
Cynthia Ponera: What we do at Enterprise Business Solutions is partner with different partners ranging from the likes of fintechs to the likes of agriculture, lending business and so forth. And the idea behind that is for us to be able to facilitate payments. So our definition of payments from our partners' perspective is that us being able to handle their pay-in which is the collections and payouts, which in our world is called disbursements. A perfect example would be a partner who's doing lending. So they will basically disburse the amounts. Where MFS Africa comes in is we connect either through our API or through our portal and enable that disbursement to go out to the respective customer. And the reverse is also true.
So we also see to the back end for a customer who wants to do collections. So again, a partner who's doing lending business, at some point they'll have to collect the recurring fees and we are able to provide the partner with merchant initiated collection where they can actually initiate that collection. So ideally we are giving our partners more control over their business, more control in terms of the different use cases, and more control in terms of the funds which have come in versus the funds which have actually gone out.
Justin Norman: You’re listening to The Flip. The podcast exploring more contextually relevant stories from entrepreneurs around Africa.
Justin Norman: Welcome back to The Flip, I’m your host Justin Norman.
Today’s conversation with Sayo Folawiyo and Chris Maclay starts with the idea that most people on the continent aren’t employed or unemployed, but instead have this mixed livelihood or portfolio of work. Here’s Chris.
Chris Maclay: So I've been in the youth employment space my whole career and when I got into the space, I remember NGOs talking about their impact where they were like, this young person was unemployed, now they have a chicken and they are therefore employed. Now even at the time that wasn't true. The person was neither unemployed beforehand and they were not employed once they got the chicken. For a long time we've had this narrative of trying to present things as binary employed or unemployed, but realistically, everyone in Africa has this mixed livelihood or portfolio of work where they're tying together self-employment, wage employment, agriculture, working for the family. And I think one of the changes has just been a change in narrative that I think we're able to have a more nuanced conversation than we used.
To give you one example, when I used to live in Liberia within a couple of years, the World Bank did an economic study of the country and then the International Labor Organization did one a couple of years later. And the World Bank said there was 85% unemployment in the country. And 2 years later the International Labor Organization said I think there was 7% unemployment in the country. Now obviously one of them isn't drastically wrong, they just have different definitions of employment. And I think we are just moving to a more sophisticated narrative nowadays that understands that people are not binarily employed versus unemployed. They're like piecing together different pieces of income. And the challenge ahead is not about taking people from unemployment to employment, but making that work more higher income, more secure, more meaningful with greater opportunities for growth.
Justin Norman: Sayo, I was just thinking in this context how you say that many of your service providers on Kandua would rather have a wage. So is that really actually just what we're talking about is in the context of better jobs and in the context of employment that really what they just want is stable earnings?
Sayo Folawiyo: Yeah, I don't think that's deep. Don't we all?
Justin Norman: Yes, I do.
Chris Maclay: But I think it's not just about stability. It's about stability and quantity. Because all the studies that people do outside of South Africa with young people say that young people don't want a stable job, they want independence and all of this. But I think it's really just that they see more opportunity to earn higher income in self-employment than employment. I think it's like everyone wants this combination. They want high incomes that is regular and secure and resilient and they want that work to be meaningful.
Sayo Folawiyo: Maybe the word is consistent rather than stable. Or rather the question Justin's asking and the point he's making is kind of the importance of the money being regular. So if you can do that from a self-employed versus salaried perspective, I think you'd probably choose self-employed versus salaried. But what we were seeing on our platform was people who had tried the self-employed thing and realized that it does not bring regular income, but I'm sure they'd prefer it to a salaried kind of situation if it did bring regular income.
Chris Maclay: I also think the concept of growth is just really important. People want regular income, but they also want income that has the potential to grow. And I think this has actually been one of the big challenges around jobtech and a lot of platforms that we look at in the future of work where traditionally jobs had you entering at a junior level and then getting promoted and moving up. And if you get onto an Uber platform, your day one is pretty much the same as your day 1,000. And I think that regularity is good, but I think people do actually strive for growth both economically and as part of their identity and life satisfaction.
Sayo Folawiyo: I have a question for you guys. So I agree totally. I guess to focus our conversation, where do we think the bigger need/when we talk about the future of work and we talk about the opportunity, when we talk about the doomsday millions of youth on the streets rioting, which one of those are we talking about? Are we talking about growth? Where in the stack or in the spectrum do we see, what is this conversation really about in that spectrum? And I know it's everything, but I'm interested in how we think about almost our priorities.
Chris Maclay: Maslow's hierarchy of employment.
Sayo Folawiyo: Exactly, exactly.
Justin Norman: Is the reason why you ask that question because you're like, even if Uber drivers don't have growth, the countries in question would still do well to have everyone be Uber drivers as opposed to no one being Uber drivers?
Sayo Folawiyo: Yeah, that's the question.
Justin Norman: Yeah. I mean we've talked around this idea about the development organizations and the measurement of what is a job and who gets to determine what success looks like. I don't know if Chris wants to say anything about that, but we've talked a little bit Sayo before just about, and in the context of some high-profile criticisms of content moderation that earnings are better than no earnings. But again, it's like who gets to decide that?
Sayo Folawiyo: But what I'm also trying to do in our convo so that we're not too airy fairy is like someone's got to decide. These are decisions, real decisions that someone somewhere and many people maybe have to make at different stages of whether it comes from a policy perspective, whether it's from a funding perspective, whether it's from an operator's perspective, whether it's from an employer at any scales perspective, there has to be some direction. So these decisions aren't just philosophical.
Chris Maclay: So I think in this Maslow's hierarchy of jobs or these kind of different dimensions of what people care about versus size of income, regularity of income, personal fulfillment or meaningfulness, ability to do other things with your time, we're all driven by different things in terms of career. And I think when we try to look at these policies in terms of investment policies or government policies or education policies, we try to assume that there's one right or truth. But if we actually look at ourselves, we're all driven by different elements of that job experience.
And one thing that we are doing right now in the Jobtech Alliance is there's the fair work ratings, which are this really fantastic way of looking at what is fair or not in a platform. And we're doing this little pilot right now with a international labor organization systems change initiative to pilot a quality of work assessment tool that looks at the user level to understand how users perceive dignity, satisfaction. And a thing I'm really interested to find out from that is the diversity that we are likely to see where you can look at 100 people's engagement with the same platform. And some people might be loving the flexibility, some people might be hating the income, but seeing how they derive different levels of satisfaction from the same objective standards.
Justin Norman: Can I ask you a question about that exercise? Because I get the idea of comparing a platform to another platform or a platform to a formal job. But what about comparing a platform to caulking on the street? Because that actually what we're talking about here in the context of who gets to decide. How do you guys think about that?
Sayo Folawiyo: You know me. I'm a bit cold bro, and it's really funny because I was doing a speech this weekend. We have a thing called the Artisan Academy. So we do some training for our artisans on soft skills, budgeting, finance. And the message that I was giving, which is, it can be a bit controversial sometimes, was that I respect you enough to treat you and build for you like an adult. So who knows their choice sets and their option sets and will choose the one that is best for them. And this is the platform that we want to build is a platform for adults. I think sometimes, especially kind of in the development world, it can be very patronizing around what you think somebody wants, what you think somebody needs, et cetera, et cetera.
And I build stuff for adults, I respect the people I build for, I respect that they'll make choices and they'll vote with their feet and their wallets and that's all I'm able to do. I understand. And there must be some, I guess what I would call raising of the safety nets probably. And in a good kind of ecosystem, you have people doing everything, but I wonder sometimes if there's too much safety netting when people don't even have anywhere to go. We're building a safety net when people are actually below the ... What are we catching?
Justin Norman: You're building a safety net above the people.
Sayo Folawiyo: Yeah, what are we catching? And I think that thing is, it's a fear of mine actually when I think about what the future of work needs to be on this continent because let's be real guys, it's not going to be pretty. It can't be pretty, it cannot be pretty. There's no way this thing can be pretty, we have a long way to go.
Justin Norman: Do you actually think that that's just the arc of development is like that Europe went through the industrial revolution and that wasn't pretty, but there was no Twitter at the time?
Sayo Folawiyo: I mean, yeah, I think that's probably some part of it.
Justin Norman: And I don't mean for this to be where we just bash the development community especially.
Sayo Folawiyo: I'm not bashing anybody or Justin, I'm just saying my own personal choices and then I'm asking the question of, I think it's important to us to agree that this can't be pretty.
Chris Maclay: It's the right question to ask because at the moment there is in kind of policy media and how decisions get made, the kind of narrative is comparing to the full-time jobs with benefits that never existed. But if we are able to have a more nuanced narrative that understands that ultimately what we're looking at with a lot of these platforms is comparing to the status quo of informality and people selling tomatoes by the side of the road, we need to understand how to make that job of selling tomatoes by the side of the road better as opposed to comparing someone selling tomatoes through a digital platform against working for Microsoft.
Justin Norman: There's a question that I have and Sayo, we've talked about this in the past in the context of training, this idea about enablement. I think about this question of enablement, like a top-down thing would be creating jobs versus a bottom-up thing of like we are enabling the person who's selling on the side of the road to grow their business. And we've talked about the prescriptive top-down, sort of like, these are the things that you need to learn from an education perspective in order to survive in the 4IR blah blah blah. Versus what if you just give everybody a cell phone and a crypto wallet and a YouTube account and let them go, like that as enablement. But if we agree with the premise as we're talking about today, that the nature of work has already changed and the narrative is changing around it and needs to change, to what extent does that then inform the strategy, and to what extent does it shift it from prescription to enablement? What does enablement even look like then in that context?
Chris Maclay: I mean what's interesting as it kind of mirrors a bit of evolution of our understanding of jobtech where we used to think of a lot of jobtech as like gig matching where you are connecting a service provider to a service buyer and connecting someone to a unit of labor. And what we've seen a lot of jobtech platforms evolve from is from gig matching to becoming something like an e-commerce engine of micro-enterprise or an e-commerce engine of the entrepreneur, and Kandua did this with originally being a gig matching platform and moving into HustleOS as I consistently quote Sayo talking about.
I think the move from thinking about enablement is something that we've seen a lot of happening in practice. I mean I could go a step further of trying to look into the future. I'm interested in how platforms that are providing infrastructure or enablement for entrepreneurs actually start blending the concept of entrepreneurship with the concept of employment again. If we think about a platform like Wasoko or Market Force that is providing infrastructure for retailers to buy and sell goods, we see this as enabling self-employment.
But as we are seeing more and more commoditization of the work that those individuals are doing, it starts looking, if you ask me, a lot more like wage employment. Traditionally in micro-enterprise you had someone who would buy their inputs from a supplier, they would choose their prices and they bore a lot of risk in this. And these platforms reduce risk, reduce barriers to entry, they sometimes enable you to increase your margins or give you additional services. But it means that now everyone is buying at the same price and selling at the same price. It kind of reduces the upside, it reduces the independence. And I think you start seeing a lot of these infrastructure platforms starting to blend the concept of self-employment versus wage labor.
Sayo Folawiyo: And I think the interesting thing from top-down training versus enablement thing is that that blurs, even though I was talking about our training on the weekend, no doubt where leaning it towards shat that we know will be really good for our platform and for them eventually. But there is a top-down element of the enablements is you're enabling people in a very specific direction, which is kind of top-down. It's quite interesting to think about it that way as well.
Justin Norman: Yeah. Chris, you brought up HustleOS before and it created a thought in my head, which is, well there's the stages and we talked about this with the episode on standardization with mPharma before about what the evolution of standardization or formalization looks like when the lines start to get blurred in that way. But at the beginning of that evolution, to what extent do we just need many more vertical-specific HustleOS types of companies? Maybe there's a question there about the depth of a market to absorb a Kandua for every single vertical in every single market, but well, Sayo, do you want to explain what Hustle OS is and then we can talk about should we expect to see one in every single vertical?
Sayo Folawiyo: Yeah, I mean to me there's like an app store is actually the nicest way to put it. Because everyone kind of understands that. But I imagine that I am a photographer, I have started my business today and the app store shows me the things that I'm going to need. I need to register a business, I need to buy my film, I need to rent my stand and I need to find some customers. And then I found a couple of customers and now I've made a little bit of money, I probably need a bank account. Now I've made 10 customers and I probably need an assistant that's going to help me da, da, da, da. So there's a platform for me to be able to find people that are looking for those jobs. So it's this idea of a pathway from starts to maybe established and being fed the right products and services that you need at that stage of your journey that help you and put you in the best position. Again, you're an adult. What you do with that position is important.
And I think that's where this enablement and entrepreneurship employment question comes. It's like the structures can only get you so far. We talk about this concept of guiding you into the pits of success. Employment is like we're trying to guide you to the pits of success and if you're going off guard, we yank you back. I think entrepreneurship is like if you're going off track, you're going off track. And so yeah, Hustle OS and the way I kind of see it is that idea of pathways that serve you the right products and services, obviously tech enabled in your journey to building a business in whatever vertical that you're building it in. And to be honest, this is quite why I like that episode on conversion franchising, where we talk about the spectrum is the franchise business is actually a HustleOS.
It's like here are all the bits and pieces you need to start your Subway or your Nandos and we'll provide you with chicken. You just go out there, pay for the store, pay for your stuff, here's the manual to train your staff. Here's the manual for how you serve your chicken, da, da, da, da, da. So that's guiding you. But again, if you are a shit restaurant owner, you're going to be a shit restaurant owner. But if the chances were that you would be a good one, you are kind of removing all the things as much as possible that would get in your way.
Justin Norman: But Chris, you've talked about in the past about this belief that micro franchising was like a silver bullet but it appeared to not be. And I don't know, maybe the only difference between what we're saying with the Hustle OS and micro franchising is the relationship between the platform and the worker, or the relationship between the franchisor and the franchisee. But is it the same thing? And you had said that it's not actually a silver bullet that people once believed that it was.
Chris Maclay: Well I think one of the problems with the development sector is that things got in and out of vogue pretty quickly. So it didn't fall out of love for necessarily being proven wrong so much as just like something else came up. But it is definitely true that for a while micro franchising was seen as a bit of a silver bullet for reducing barriers to access, reducing failure rates.
One thing that probably happened in this process of micro franchising is exactly what we've described. There's a bit of a blending between self-employment and employment and with this reduced barrier to access, with this reduced investment or setup cost, I think it also reduces the upside. And probably some of that micro franchising stuff ended up leading to not particularly great work because anyone could end up doing it. And that entrepreneurship that Sayo is talking about where if you're a shit entrepreneur you'll fail. The idea is that if you're a great entrepreneur you'll succeed. And there's huge upside. And what a lot of the micro franchising did as well as what potentially a lot of these platforms do is they drastically reduce the risk and downside but they also reduce the upside.
Justin Norman: So we're in agreement though that the future of work is going to be a portfolio of work.
Chris Maclay: There's platforms and platforms of all different sorts. Just think of all of the functions of a labor market and when we think about training, we're not training someone for one job or existence in this portfolio. But they need to learn the transferable skills to use across the existing suite of their portfolio. But critically as that portfolio evolves, as the next type of digital work emerges, people need to be able to evolve from that old school thing of data tagging into this new school thing of whatever comes next.
Sayo Folawiyo: Like sentiment analysis.
Chris Maclay: One thing that's interesting, this is just a way that I've been making sense of this emerging portfolio is, do any of you guys farm or know much about agriculture?
Sayo Folawiyo: Not much, but it will come.
Chris Maclay: So basically in a small holder agriculture, you generally think about intercropping. You have one type of plant and another type of plant which feed each other and they compliment each other in the soil. And we think about portfolios of work a little bit are like that, what in a portfolio is this nice complimentariness where you can have your passive income based on the appreciation of your Bitcoin versus the work that you do that is very lumpy that you might not have any work for two weeks but then get a contract versus the little gigs that kind of keep piecing you together. And yeah, I think it's really interesting to think about what is a resilient portfolio of work and particularly in the context of the platform economy of how can you tie quite different types of work together to offer that resilient livelihood.
Sayo Folawiyo: Yeah, I mean it's so interesting. I was talking to a service provider yesterday. I was just doing some user feedback stuff and I'm like, "Yo, what's happening? You didn't pay for this thing that you said you'd pay for." And he was like, "Bro, no money." I said, "But you were invoicing these big amounts and then you just stopped." He said, "Yeah, nothing, no jobs came in, Kandua is too expensive. I don't know that I'm going to convert them." I started looking at his profile giving him advice. I'm like, "Yo, my guy, you're a handyman, a tiler, a pool specialist and a solar specialist." If I'm seeing your profile, I'm not going to give you my handyman job. I'm like, this guy is all over the place, but he's just like, "Well, I can kind of do enough of stuff and I know how to find the right people to be able to do a job."
I'm like, "Well, just in terms of this platform, focus on one because that's how you're going to build up your portfolio to be able to win customers on our platform." And he said, "I'm not sure. Maybe I'll come back later, back to this job later." And I said, "So what are you going to do instead?" He said, "I've been doing a property course and I'm now going to be looking at doing real estate. I'm going to be a real estate agent. I have my car, I can get around and I'm going to show people houses." I'm like, "Well, okay, fair enough." And he says, "Yeah, well, but I'll be back." And that kind of mentality of just getting in where you fit in, finding the flows, maybe his friend is doing well doing this property thing. He's like, oh well that's a opportunity there. Let me follow that for a bit. Okay, cool. When pool specialist comes back in summer when people want to get their pools ready and he's seeing an influx, he'll come back to pools. That's the nature of a lot of work in our environment.
Justin Norman: That's interesting.
Sayo Folawiyo: So by the way guys, we talked about platform stuff a lot. We forgot a lot of other things. I still want to explore very deeply the export services. I think that's a very interesting one to me. It feels like that's an opportunity for us to be at least taking advantage of. So I like that space a lot.
Justin Norman: When we come back, we'll get into export services, market sizing and even more abstract ideas like universal basic income. But first, here's another word from our sponsor, MFS Africa. A recurring theme we spoke about at The Flip is the challenges of expansion and scale in the context of the continent's market fragmentation. It's a challenge for startups and enterprises alike. And that scale question is something I asked of Cynthia Ponera of MFS Africa's Enterprise Business Solutions team, who we heard from earlier in the show.
Cynthia Ponera: Ultimately we are connected over 34 countries with just 1 API. We basically connect our partner to all these multiple countries. So a fintech in Tanzania may be doing collections for e-commerce, wanting to scale out of Tanzania. So those are the perfect examples that we get because they don't necessarily have to go to Kenya to get a different license. So it's just one API that's scalable and gives them more access to broader markets. I think being in my position exposes me to so many different markets and to so many different customer needs. So one of the things that I have an appreciation of is how different markets operate and it's not one size fits all. So in some cases we are able to also be the go-to where we can actually also advise the partner in terms of how to get it done in such a way that they're able to appreciate the payments engine that we provide. I would say it is more about what is the need for the partner and how can we as MFS Africa help partner to scale up in the multiple countries.
Justin Norman: I think the thesis that we had earlier in the season was that digital services for export were particularly important to focus on because A, they were low-hanging fruit. B, there was seemingly abundant opportunity, it wasn't constrained to the local market. And C, the second-order effects of export in terms of earning dollars and foreign exchange and all of that kind of stuff. So Sayo, is there anything in particular that you wanted to talk about in that digital work context?
Sayo Folawiyo: I think the question is how much of an opportunity it is. I'm always interested in other countries used it as an opportunity and how long that process takes. And the one question we've had is around what is the training and what are the enabling conditions to be able to offer such kind of work to the world and to ourselves? What education needs to be in place? What infrastructure needs to be in place? Is mobile phones enough or is it fucking fiber? I guess that might be the big question. What are the enabling conditions that maybe that already exist and then need to exist for a thriving export digital work sector?
Chris Maclay: I mean I'm naturally particularly interested in the role of platforms and intermediaries, but I think it's really interesting and important in this digital workspace as well because it's possible to look at the digital workspace as kind of one thing, but there's a huge amount of diversity in it. There's the freelancing space where everyone is their own individual and then you have the more traditional BPO or business process outsourcing space where historically in India you might have a call center with 1,000 people. What is interesting when you think about Africa emerging in this space is where it sits maybe best on that spectrum, because when we often think that it does need to be quite a lot of upskilling in this place, it means that maybe the pure freelancing model isn't going to work at scale for the continent.
But the traditional BPO model of big call centers is probably going to be hard to compete against some of those other markets that have way more established BPO infrastructure. And at the Jobtech Alliance we hypothesize that there's going to be quite a lot in Africa in the middle where you have niche managed service platforms that do that full service of screening, training, quality control on a specific niche that could be code testing, or could be customer success, or could be sales, or leads generation. But that we're going to see a lot of smaller BPOs or smaller platforms that will really have to do that full service in order to be able to ensure that quality is delivered at the standards of the service buyer.
Justin Norman: So I have a question for you. In the context of the range of the platform-enabled opportunities that the Jobtech Alliance thinks about, now we're talking about platforms in the context of global consumption and I'm wondering if you guys put an opportunity or a number to this is how many jobs or this is how many earning opportunities exist for this category versus the other and therefore we should focus more energy or resources in this context digital work versus local platforms. Because I think that's also what interests Sayo is the perception that the opportunity is much wider here and therefore we should focus on this opportunity much more than the other stuff.
Chris Maclay: I mean one thing about market sizing though is ultimately when you do market sizing as a whole, you look like the whole of global work that could be done digitally. That is your total addressable market. The question is which of these can be best delivered from this continent? And one of the big issues about that space is which of these could be best delivered from this continent now versus if we're able to build a sector and create a market, how much could that space be? When call centers were first set up in India, I'm not sure if people realized the scale of the opportunity at the time and the addressable market that they were fulfilling at the time was probably relatively small, but as soon as that infrastructure was in place, there was the big opportunity to grow.
Sayo Folawiyo: Do you think?
Chris Maclay: I think so. Did they realize the scale of the opportunity when they first set up?
Sayo Folawiyo:I think you have to have a point of view, and when I say it as well, I don't think that you have to be right, but there was surely some sort of, especially because it was such a top-down effort as well. Surely there was some point of view that hey, this is going to be a big space. There had to be some sense of that demand.
Justin Norman: But don't you think that the question today is actually a little bit different because I don't think anyone is questioning the size and the scale of global business services today. And also growing in the context of micro work let's say is 10 or 15 years old or whatever, and there's going to continue to be new types of managed service and digital work that's coming. I think everyone believes that to be true. The question is only how much of the opportunity can African markets capture and what does that ROI look like in terms of investing in the development of these sectors?
Sayo Folawiyo: But that's two things. One of that is how much. One of it is what is the size of the pie? And then the second is what are we uniquely or better placed to take of that pie? That's what answers that question. So let me also put it this way. There's a difference between let's say data science, being able to clean up data. It's not necessarily extremely hard, but there's a real super basic level of skill that you need to be able to do to look at the data set and be able to clean it. But that's very different from being able to tag pictures.
The thing I'm trying to understand or talk about is the data tagging thing the thing, or is the thing ... We talk about this in our own in vocational kind of sector a lot as well, which is like, yeah, it's going to take me five years to become a proper plumber, but can I do an installation of a geyser? Probably. And the size of the market for geysers is huge, so why waste time building all these master plumbers when you could have people fixing and installing geezers tomorrow? That's the kind of thing I'm trying to get into if you know what I mean.
Chris Maclay: One of the kind of critical issues about this whole space is when you say is data tagging the thing, those within the data tagging would say that data tagging isn't a thing. There are a million things within that thing. And critically those things have evolved hugely over the course of the last 5 to 10 years. 5 to 10 years ago, people were still being paid to say which of these things was a zebra crossing or a fire hydrant. And nowadays people being paid to do data tagging are answering questions about how the person was feeling when they were tweeting. These are quite different kind of skills that are needed and I think there's pretty significant implications of this. We know that digital work as a space and a sector is going to be big. To market size what there is in the future based on what there is now is pretty hard. When the data tagging sector emerged, for example, they certainly had no idea how big the sector was going to come.
Sayo Folawiyo: Well, and why did they do it? My point is just like there's a need for a point of view. That's the thing that we're all guys who have started and run businesses. We can be wrong, but we have a point of view on where we think things are going. And it's actually quite specific. The thing that I've been begging Justin, but I just feel like we have not nailed in this season is more points of view and it's like it's very, and I don't know if I'd say it's the problem, but certainly as a audience, a listener that's engaged, I'm like yearning for points of view that are quite specific because I think then we can have a lot more rich conversations. I feel like we haven't got to the hard questions part of it, the trade-offs part of it, which is my favorite part.
Chris Maclay: If we think about the ultimate issue of where we are at, this is the whole season around the future of work and the way the future of work is defined by the season is by seven different episodes of completely different things. And I think that is a pretty good demonstration of the fact that the future of work isn't something that we totally know about. If we look at across this season, what are the themes that bear out, the themes that bear out largely suggest that the future of work is going to be based on portfolios of work or mixed livelihoods.
The themes probably build on the fact that platforms continue to grow in significance for people working in wage labor as well as self-employment. And the themes that likely continue are that there are going to continue being emerging ways that people earn money that are very different from the ways that people have earned money in the last 5 to 10 years. Those are some themes that you can say are opinions or potential truths of the future of work, but the significant bit is that future of work is diverse and this seven different episodes of seven different types of work.
Sayo Folawiyo: For sure. I get that and I think I'm just being difficult, but yeah, I do think it's the vibe, I suppose for us as ecosystem, people, I think we must be kind of difficult with each other. I think one other theme that came up a lot was this idea of coordination. It is this idea of that there's so many actors, there's so many directions and that makes coordination really difficult and I think the way that you solve a lot of coordination problems is by being really difficult.
People are not going to be happy. No one's point of view is going to be the right one. There's a lot of compromise. It's a lot of saying, okay, cool, maybe a job is not a job Mr. Development Person, and we're going to stand fast on the fact that a job that you've defined is not a job for people that are on ground. And how do you make that kind of stand when no one will agree on any ... Do you know what I mean? There's hard questions to answer that require really strong points of view that I feel like we shy away from as an ecosystem a little bit.
Justin Norman: Yeah, I think the coordination problem thing is a question of, well how do you solve these problems? And even Chris, back to what you were saying about the definition of unemployment in Liberia, people can't even agree upon the rules and the definitions before we even talk about addressing the problems. Are people starting to at least agree on that or is that going to always be sort of a barrier to actually solving these problems at scale?
Chris Maclay: I think there's an inevitability in where things are going, but can I ask you guys a question? Should there have been an episode called The Future of Work is Universal Basic Income?
Sayo Folawiyo: Oh, that would've been such a good one. Yeah, that would've been a good one.
Chris Maclay: If we're saying that there's fundamentally not going to be enough jobs and with the emergence of ChatGPT, the few that there were seem to be ever-increasing and as the population is projected to grow so much, do we need to start talking about alternative income models when we are supposed to be talking about jobs? I think there's been a historic split of there's social protection over there and jobs over here, but do we need to start thinking about these two as blending into one?
Sayo Folawiyo: Yeah, man, that one is above my pay grade, bro. Like us two.
Justin Norman: What do you think?
Sayo Folawiyo: I don't know, man. It's just like, honestly, that's why my brain is short-circuiting. Universal basic income as a concept, my brain hasn't reached there yet. I'm too on road, you know what I mean? It feels like sci-fi.
Justin Norman: It's such an interesting question to me, the degree to which the responsible thing to do might actually be to acknowledge that not enough jobs are ever going to be created or not enough income-generating opportunities are ever going to be created. Not that anyone would ever admit that.
Chris Maclay: Is whether we admit it to ourselves, whether we just need to be having the conversation.
Justin Norman: I think you need to be having the conversation.
Sayo Folawiyo: But those are the kind of things that I like by the way, even though my brain short circuits, I do like it when we get to that kind of point where it's like, ah, maybe our lives don't mean anything, our lives work. This is just a waste of time. No, I feel like those are important questions. That's how you get to the juice.
Justin Norman: That's it for this episode and indeed this season of The Flip. If you enjoyed this episode and the season, we would appreciate if you shared with a friend or a colleague who you think may enjoy it as well. And for more from The Flip, please be sure to follow us on social media at @theflipafrica for more short-form content and insights from our contributors. Until then, thanks as always for listening and we'll see you soon.