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A gig worker in India puts a cap on a product in a factory setting

The Coming of Age of the Gig Economy in India

Samar Bajaj and Guest Author: Rahil Rangwala

Sangeeta is a trained beautician who does house calls for her clients. She works five to six hours a day through the Urban Company platform. Living in Mumbai with her husband, two children, and in-laws, she supplements her husband’s income (he works as a factory supervisor). The money helps them pay for better education for their kids and finance a car loan. Her job gives her a sense of pride and financial independence, and the limited hours mean she can spend time at home.

Amar is a mini-truck driver who lives in Faridabad. He works for a small transporter who owns multiple vehicles. His day starts with milk deliveries in the morning, after which he picks up daily work at the “chowk” — the place where delivery vehicles congregate. He hopes to own his own truck one day. He lacks a formal employment contract and wishes his employer would provide him with health insurance and scholarship support for his children’s education.

Sangeeta and Amar are just two of the more than three million people who make up India’s large, informal, and thriving gig economy. Over the last few years, it has received a boost from rising smartphone and internet penetration, and the growth of platforms for delivering services. The Indian urban consumer can now order a meal, schedule a ride to work, or hire a professional cleaner in just a few clicks. This growth has led to new types of demand and consumption of micro services.

Since 2014, our team at the Dell Foundation has partnered with several technology start-ups that focus on gig work as part of our mission to connect people from low-income communities to economic opportunity. Our partners are spread across sectors and job types and reach more than 25,000 people generating $50 million in income each year. Last year, we commissioned an in-depth study with the Boston Consulting Group on the potential for gig work in India. Here are three things we learned from our extensive interactions with gig workers, employers, and policymakers.

There is no one-size-fits-all for gig workers who have distinct needs and aspirations

The gig worker stereotype is a young male in urban India, often delivering food or packages on his motorbike. Through extensive consumer research conducted over many months, we identified eight unique segments of gig workers. In addition to students and recent graduates, the gig economy also creates opportunities for women and older adults. For women, gig work can provide flexible hours and the ability to work remotely and close to home. For older adults, sectors like logistics and construction provide opportunities for self-employment and entrepreneurship.

The gig economy has the potential to account for 90 million jobs in India

Today, there are an estimated three million gig workers in India registered across various gig platforms. This is less than 1% of the workforce employed in the non-farm sector (manufacturing and services). Our analysis suggests that we are just scratching the surface, and up to 90 million jobs (a third of non-farm employment) can shift to gig platforms. This will be driven by:

  • Skilled and semi-skilled jobs (around 35 million) in manufacturing, retail, and logistics
  • Shared services roles (around 5 million) like facility management, transportation, and accounting
  • Household demand for service jobs (around 12 million) in cleaning, cooking, and care work
  • Unskilled jobs (around 37 million) largely in the construction sector

The growth of gig platforms will lead to better market transparency (the ability to match demand-supply), greater efficiencies in delivery (lower cost), and growing demand from the availability of smaller increments in consumption or “sachetization”.

Gig workers need a social safety net

The pandemic highlighted the vulnerabilities of India’s informal workers, as millions faced a sudden loss of wages and inadequate social protection to tide them over. Technology can play an important role in formalizing work in India – with more than 85% still part of the informal sector. Gig platforms are already providing digital identity verification, electronic payments, and access to micro credit for their workers. These are important steps on the journey to formalization. Concerted action at the policy level — like the new Social Security Act — will further boost formalization.

Access the report

We commissioned this study to understand the potential of the gig economy for low-income communities in India. Gig platforms will make jobs more accessible and inclusive, allowing more people to find employment that is consistent and meaningful for their families. No doubt gig workers will change the way we perceive employment in India, and we are excited to be a part of that change.

Report: Unlocking the Potential of India's Gig Economy

Read our report created with the Boston Consulting Group to learn more about how the gig economy is poised to create millions of jobs and meet demand for crucial services in India.

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