Have a Gig Economy Workstream? Hiring Refugees Can Bolster Your Workforce

Have a Gig Economy Workstream? Hiring Refugees Can Bolster Your Workforce

The gig economy can provide alternative methods of hiring refugees.

Written in partnership with Benjamin Nolan (Director HR & Training) and Qiu Quan Kua (Consultant) of the Geneva Consulting Network at IHEID.

In this mini-series, we look at how corporate social responsibility can be good for business and good for the world. Previously, we noted that you may already be hiring refugees to serve as freelancers in your business service supply chain — creating a situation that we term "inadvertent CSR."

In this article, we look more closely at some surprising benefits that the gig economy may offer to the disrupted lives of refugees. You may develop CSR in gig economy workstreams that you require for regular business.

"Refugees" are not a class of workers. They have little in common with each other except that they have been forced to flee their homes and face unique employment challenges due to living conditions and status. Each individual brings to the table their own expertise, skill set, strengths and employment history. Each is an eligible employee, ready and eager to participate in the workforce.

The gig economy provides opportunities that match their unique situations. "Refugee livelihoods" is a concept worth noting in the language of international aid organizations. An innovative concept that moves from simple donation-based aid, refugee livelihoods looks to support and enable individuals to engage in meaningful employment to gain the dignity of self-sufficiency. Underlying this concept is the well-supported premise that people prefer to engage in work to support themselves and their families, versus being dependent on donations.

Here are three ways this economy can work in the favor of refugee livelihoods.

1. Uncertainty

For refugees, uncertainty is a fact of life. Their residence is dependent on the situation in their country of origin and is at the whim of international governments. They might stay in a host country for decades, they might be resettled repeatedly or they might move back (or be moved back) to their home country. Employers, of course, tend to consider uncertainty a negative in their workforce.

In the gig economy, where a piece of work has a certain concrete duration and scope, this uncertainty is less of an issue. With shorter assignments, the longevity of a refugee's place of living becomes less important. They can choose the duration of the work based on what they know about their own uncertainty at that moment. Part-time availability becomes less of a hurdle to finding work. Moreover, gig economy work usually disregards the importance of their location.

And there's a business match: jobs that provide the flexibility of the gig economy are a potential fit with the uncertainty of a refugee's life, and may help to overcome barriers toward the goal of the economic independence of meaningful work.

2. Language Mismatch

When fleeing to a host country, a refugee likely faces a mismatch in language skills. This factor can be particularly difficult when finding employment since most jobs require people to speak the local language. While a medical doctor from Syria who speaks English and Arabic might be an otherwise perfectly qualified candidate for a hospital in Greece, the lacking language skills are a significant barrier to such an employment opportunity.

In today's gig economy, this barrier may be overcome by hiring refugees for online work in their known languages. The language skills might be relevant in telemedicine or for online opportunities in medical translation. The gig economy provides flexibility to seek employment beyond one's domestic borders, where the refugee's language skills are no longer an obstacle and might even be an asset.

This mismatch of language skills creates a business match. The local economy benefits from a new cash flow and from reduced competition for scarce jobs. The local workers wouldn't have been able to do this work since they have mismatched language skills.

3. Disruption

Refugees are often forced to abruptly leave their country of origin, usually carrying only their most essential belongings. Many left their diplomas, certifications, contact information for references and other valuable demonstrations of their employment history. Also, degrees may not be recognized internationally or might be mistrusted by employers.

The gig economy offers the potential for refugees to build portfolios of online work and ratings that allow professionals to prove their abilities. They may have the opportunity to certify themselves through jobs that provide training and certifications, adding further credibility to their employment history. The usual structure of recommendations and ranking within a gig economy platform allows individuals to rapidly reconstruct a professional network through network exposure. This makes it easier for refugees to find their feet in a new economy, proving their potential for longer engagements in the future.

There's a CSR match: This re-certification is considered a key benefit by experts. Simply by employing refugees in the gig economy and tracking their work product like any other freelancer, you're bolstering refugee livelihoods.

Significant and important articles have been written on the downsides of the gig economy, and we do not address these issues here. There is a healthy and important conversation about the future of work and the rapidly approaching gig economy due to the abundance of short-term contracts and freelance jobs. For refugees, the issues inherent in the gig economy might also be the answer to common hurdles. The gig economy might provide refugees with the flexibility they need to have meaningful employment that isn't hindered by potential barriers (e.g. in language) and matches their often unique skills and expertise.

More from this series:

Surprise! You Might Already Be Helping Refugees with "Inadvertent CSR"

The Gig Economy and Refugee Livelihoods