How freelancing is reshaping post-pandemic Middle East’s world of work

Special How freelancing is reshaping post-pandemic Middle East’s world of work
Remote work has democratized access to high-paid opportunities around the world, analysts say, with industry estimates suggesting there could be up to 1.5 billion freelancers worldwide. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 08 December 2022

How freelancing is reshaping post-pandemic Middle East’s world of work

How freelancing is reshaping post-pandemic Middle East’s world of work
  • A survey found that 78 percent of workers in MENA region intended to do more freelancing in 2022
  • The survey also revealed that digital marketing and IT are the fastest-growing industries for freelancers

DUBAI: Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic transformed the norms of working life almost overnight, the trend toward flexible contracts, self-employment and telecommuting has been gathering pace across a host of different sectors.

Many attribute this shift away from the traditional 9 to 5 model and the abrupt decline in workplace attendance to a widespread desire for greater autonomy, geographical mobility, and — above all — a better work-life balance.

In fact, two years of social distancing has left employees reluctant to return to the old ways of working, forcing employers to consider new, fully remote or hybrid models, requiring staff to attend in person for only part of the week.

At the same time, the pandemic has stimulated a growth in cross-border hiring, giving recruiters access to a far larger pool of high-quality talent while also creating a ready supply of freelancers and a segment of the workforce often referred to as digital nomads.

This transition was facilitated through the widespread adoption of online video communication platforms, which allowed face-to-face meetings to continue during lockdowns and travel bans, and which have remained popular ever since.




2.2 million Saudi men and women are now working in the private sector, marking a new record in the Kingdom’s history. (Shutterstock)

“The internet is enabling the creation of labor markets where geography doesn’t matter anymore,” Tarek Salam, head of Middle East and North Africa expansion at Deel, a payroll and compliance provider, told Arab News.

Indeed, flexibility and digitalization of work has created new opportunities for companies anywhere in the world to tap global talent. “Remote work has created a new wave of globalization,” said Salam.

“It’s democratizing access to high-paid opportunities across the globe, meaning that the modern professional can work from anywhere and still have access to a high-paying job in an intellectually stimulating work environment.”

While it is hard to accurately measure the size of this new workforce, industry studies suggest there could be as many as 1.56 billion freelancers worldwide, making up a global market worth $1.5 trillion with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15 percent.

In the Middle East, the trend is on a similar upward trend, with international firms tapping skilled workers based in the region and Middle Eastern companies likewise hiring remote staff overseas.




Najlaa Yousef Safdar, digital development manager at Nafisa Shams, a department under the philanthropic organization Community Jameel Saudi. (Supplied)

“Middle East-based talent has been in high demand from companies based in the US, the UK and Canada, with remote hires at least doubling compared to the same period last year,” said Salam.

A 2022 study by the recruitment website Bayt surveyed 1,764 people in more than 20 countries across the Middle East and North Africa about freelancing trends. It found that 70 percent of MENA employers planned to hire freelancers and about 78 percent of workers intended to do more freelancing in 2022.

The study also showed the fastest-growing industries for freelancers are digital marketing (37 percent) and information technology (20 percent).

To help risk-taking entrants succeed, regional governments and private firms have taken steps to make freelancing both a sustainable career for professionals and an attractive resource for employers.

Najlaa Yousef Safdar, digital development manager at Nafisa Shams, a department under the philanthropic organization Community Jameel Saudi, believes freelancing is a financially viable option for those who want to explore other professional goals.




Industry studies suggest there could be as many as 1.56 billion freelancers worldwide. (Shutterstock)

“This means they can explore a new career, without compromising financial stability,” she told Arab News. “It also means that earning additional income from a hobby or interest becomes a viable option.”

The Saudi government has launched a self-employment program to help workers and budding entrepreneurs realize their ambitions. “To date, the numbers are indicative of great success,” said Safdar.

In a recent statement, Ahmed Al-Rajhi, the Saudi minister of human resources and social development, said a total of 1.85 million freelance work documents have been issued covering 225 professions, distributed over 13 categories and 120 sub-activities.

FASTFACTS

• 70% MENA region employers who had planned to hire freelancers this year.

• 78 MENA workers who had intended to do more freelancing this year.

• 1.56bn  Estimated population of freelancers worldwide.

•  $1.5tn Estimated value of global market for freelancers.

Source: Survey by Bayt in 2022

He added that 2.2 million Saudi men and women are now working in the private sector, marking a new record in the Kingdom’s history.

As of November, the rate of women’s economic participation in the Kingdom also reached a new milestone at 35.6 percent compared to the rate of 17.7 percent prior to the 2016 launch of Vision 2030 — Saudi Arabia’s social reforms and economic diversification agenda.

Some employers are concerned about how flexible, outsourced labor might impact the quality of their work. Safdar says new ways of working will not compromise standards and delivery if they are implemented properly.

“Implementing a framework that encompasses transparent and fair feedback, performance rating, and service delivery quality control will be crucial in the success of the freelancing model,” she said.

Moreover, a survey carried out earlier this year by Deel, in partnership with Momentive, which explored the global impact of remote work across 86 countries, found there were many financial benefits associated with freelancing.

Respondents said that they had made more money in the form of salary raises (59 percent) and increased savings (64 percent) by reducing travel and housing costs.




Flexibility and digitalization of work has created new opportunities for companies anywhere in the world to tap global talent. (Shutterstock)

In addition to this, respondents said remote work had helped them to overcome professional barriers by securing promotions, being more productive, and enjoying a better work-life balance.

“The biggest impact was recorded by parents with children under the age of five (92 percent), and more than one in three respondents expressed that the ability to work anywhere has landed them their dream job,” said Salam.

Azeem Zainulbhai, co-founder and chief product officer at Outsized, a consultancy for flexible talent and financial services, believes long-established career myths are being shattered, as skilled professionals realize permanent employment no longer comes with the level of security it once did.

In fact, Zainulbhai says being independent often provides greater certainty in “future-proofing your career.”

“Being an independent consultant means you quickly assemble a lot of experience and develop your skills more rapidly than permanent employees do, therefore increasing your attractiveness to employers,” he said.

According to Zainulbhai, many professionals no longer attach their worth and identity to a designation or organization, but instead their skillset, knowledge and expertise. This has reduced the attractiveness of permanent employment and the lifetime loyalty often given by employees among older generations.




Azeem Zainulbhai, co-founder and chief product officer at Outsized, a consultancy for flexible talent and financial services. (Supplied)

However, maintaining a consistent flow of freelance work to make a sustainable income can be extremely challenging and at times demoralizing.

“The gap between clients and freelancers can most easily be bridged by aggregating supply and demand, and then matching it,” said Zainulbhai.

Independent talent can adopt a combination of strategies to find new projects through platforms and marketplaces, referrals from previous employers, colleagues, and other freelancers, and more daringly though cold outreaches on LinkedIn or by email.

These strategies may prove useful since one of the most common challenges facing independent talent is the difficulty finding time for business development and networking. As a result, some fail to secure their next project, creating gaps in work consistency and cash flow.

According to Zainulbhai, networking should be a common practice for freelancers, considering the lack of support networks available to flexible talent compared with the perks enjoyed by permanent employees.




Tarek Salam, head of Middle East and North Africa (MENA) expansion at Deel, a payroll and compliance provider. (Supplied)

“Keeping your skills up to date in today’s fast-moving world is crucial in order to remain marketable and relevant,” he said.

Despite these challenges, studies show the trend toward freelancing is set to grow.
“Over the next five years, we anticipate that the type of industries looking for remote talent will diversify, particularly as more businesses embrace the trend and become more well-equipped to hire and onboard global talent,” said Salam.

In his view, if the move toward flexible working is managed well by employers and freelancers, “it’s a win-win situation.”


Turkiye’s President Erdogan says Western missions will ‘pay’ for closures

A view of the German consulate in Istanbul, on June 2, 2016. (AP)
A view of the German consulate in Istanbul, on June 2, 2016. (AP)
Updated 06 February 2023

Turkiye’s President Erdogan says Western missions will ‘pay’ for closures

A view of the German consulate in Istanbul, on June 2, 2016. (AP)
  • Turkiye suspended negotiations for Sweden and Finland’s NATO accession last month following a protest in Stockholm during which a copy of the Qur'an was burned

ISTANBUL: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said Western missions would “pay” for issuing security warnings and temporarily closing consulates in Turkiye last week, while police said there was no serious threat to foreigners after detaining 15 Daesh suspects on Sunday.
Ankara summoned the ambassadors of nine countries on Thursday to criticize their decisions to temporarily shut diplomatic missions and issue security alerts. Turkish officials said the following day that Western nations, including the United States and Germany, had not shared information to back up their claims of a security threat.
“The other day our foreign ministry summoned all of them and gave the necessary ultimatum, told them ‘You will pay for this heavily if you keep this up,’” Erdogan said during a meeting with youth that was pre-recorded and broadcast on Sunday.
Alongside the closures, several Western states warned citizens of a heightened risk of attacks to diplomatic missions and non-Muslim places of worship in Turkiye, following a series of far-right protests in Europe in recent weeks that included several incidents of burning copies of the Muslim holy book, the Qur'an.
Turkiye suspended negotiations for Sweden and Finland’s NATO accession last month following a protest in Stockholm during which a copy of the Qur'an was burned.
Erdogan said that the Western states were “playing for (more) time” and that the “necessary decisions” would be taken during Monday’s cabinet meeting, without elaborating.
’NO CONCRETE THREATS’
Earlier on Sunday, police said they had not found evidence of any concrete threat to foreigners in the detentions of 15 Daesh suspects accused of targeting consulates and non-Muslim houses of worship, state media reported.
Anadolu Agency cited an Istanbul police statement saying the suspects had “received instructions for acts targeting consulates of Sweden and the Netherlands, as well as Christian and Jewish places of worship.”
While the suspects’ ties to the jihadist group were confirmed, no concrete threats toward foreigners were found, the statement said.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu repeated on Saturday Turkiye’s frustration with what it says is Sweden’s inaction toward entities that Ankara accuses of terrorist activity. All 30 NATO members must ratify newcomers.
Turkiye, Sweden and Finland signed an agreement in June aimed at overcoming Ankara’s objections to their NATO bids, with the Nordic states pledging to take a harder line primarily against local members of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984.
 

 


Yemen’s Taiz mourns 2 children who committed suicide

Yemen’s Taiz mourns 2 children who committed suicide
Updated 05 February 2023

Yemen’s Taiz mourns 2 children who committed suicide

Yemen’s Taiz mourns 2 children who committed suicide
  • Calls grow for deeper investigation into motivations and protection of youngsters amid shock and despair

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: Security services of the southern Yemeni city of Taiz said that two children committed suicide in two separate events on Saturday, leaving the beleaguered population in shock and despair.

Police in Taiz said in a statement that they were notified of two suicide victims in the city on Saturday evening, citing the deaths as “dangerous precedents.”

Police named the first child as 12-year-old Kareem Abdul Kareem from the Al-Jamhuria neighborhood, who hanged himself inside his room on Saturday afternoon by tying a scarf around his neck.

Ammar Khaled, a 16-year-old who committed suicide on Saturday evening by wrapping a rope around his neck and tying it to a door outside his family’s home, is the second victim. 

After forensic investigators gathered photographs and evidence, his family requested his burial on the same day. 

Police in Taiz pledged to investigate the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the victims and have asked the community and professionals for assistance in determining the reasons behind the suicides.

In a statement, police urged both authorities and members of the public “to collaborate…in order to provide the appropriate answers.”

Mohammed Alawi, an investigator with police in Taiz, told Arab News that a team, including social and psychiatric professionals, was looking into the cases and would release their findings this week.

Initially, Alawi ruled out the possibility of cyberbullying or even sexual harassment and attributed the deaths of the two children to the mobile game PUBG. 

“These are risky games, and we advise parents to monitor their children’s mobile devices to see what they are seeing or playing,” Alawi said.

He also touched on other instances of suicide, which he blamed on psychological suffering caused by the war.

“Women and children in Yemen, particularly in besieged Taiz, have suffered emotionally because of the war. We had never seen such crimes before the war,” he said.  

On social media, the police statement and photographs of the two deceased children have elicited condolences for the families and calls for an investigation into the motivations behind the suicides and for the protection of children.

“You should investigate with the family about the electronic games they played, such as PUBG, and whether they have Facebook or WhatsApp accounts,” said Adnan Taha on Facebook.

“All communications should be reviewed, since (the children) may be vulnerable to harassment and extortion,” Taha said.

Another social media user, Muneir Al-Qaisi, urged local security agencies not to bury the victims before autopsies are conducted to determine whether they consumed anything poisonous.

“We hope you will not hurry to bury them and (will) examine their bodies,” Al-Qaisi said. 

“It is conceivable that the parents are unaware of beverages or meals being shared among the children,” said Al-Qaisi.

Investigator Alawi responded to accusations of a hasty burial by stating that one of the boys was buried at the request of his family and only after investigators examined both the corpse and the scene.

“He was buried after forensic teams examined the scene, photographed it, and performed investigations. Additionally, his relatives requested burial from the prosecution,” Alawi said.


Lebanon hopes UNESCO danger listing could save crumbling modernist fairground

Lebanon hopes UNESCO danger listing could save crumbling modernist fairground
Updated 05 February 2023

Lebanon hopes UNESCO danger listing could save crumbling modernist fairground

Lebanon hopes UNESCO danger listing could save crumbling modernist fairground
  • Rachid Karami International Fair has decayed due to conflict, poor maintenance and country’s financial crisis

TRIPOLI: Its arch is cracking and its vast pavilions lie empty, but the crumbling Rachid Karami International Fair in Lebanon’s port city Tripoli now has hope of revival, having been added to the United Nations’ list of world heritage sites in danger.
Designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer in 1962, the collection of structures on the 70-hectare plot is considered one of the key works of 20th century modernism in the Middle East.
But the fair park has slowly decayed due to repeated rounds of fighting over the last 60 years, poor maintenance and most recently Lebanon’s crippling, three-year-old financial crisis.
“It was placed on the World Heritage List exceptionally, quickly and urgently – and on the list of heritage in danger because it’s in a critical situation,” said Joseph Kreidi, UNESCO’s national program officer for culture in Beirut.
Its elegant arch is missing concrete in some parts, exposing the rebar underneath. Rainwater has pooled at the locked entrances. One section is sealed off by a sign that reads, “Unsafe building entry.”
“Placing it on the World Heritage Danger List is an appeal to all countries of the world, as if to say: this site needs some care,” said Kreidi.
He said it was up to the Lebanese authorities to draw together a plan for the site’s protection and rehabilitation but that UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency, could help search for funding and provide technical expertise.
Lebanon has five other sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage list, most of them citadels and ancient temples.
Niemeyer is recognized as one of the fathers of modern architecture and the site in Tripoli was an early foray into the Middle East.
Construction of the fairground began in the 1960s but was delayed when civil war erupted in Lebanon in 1975. Fighters used the site to stage operations and stored weapons underneath its concrete dome.
Mira Minkara, a freelance tour guide from Tripoli and a member of the Oscar Niemeyer Foundation’s Tripoli chapter, has fond – but rare – memories of the fairground as a child.
For the most part, it was off-limits to Tripoli’s residents given safety concerns. But Minkara remembered her first visit during a festival of pan-African culture and crafts.
She hopes that UNESCO’s recognition could bring new festivals, exhibitions and economic benefits to Tripoli – already one of the poorest cities on the Mediterranean before Lebanon’s financial meltdown began.
Lebanon’s cultural heritage has been hit hard in recent years. The 2020 Beirut port blast tore through 19th-century homes in historic neighborhoods and power outages caused by the financial crisis have cut supplies to the national museum.
“We hope things change a little,” Minkara said. “It’s high time for this fairground to emerge from this long sleep, this almost-death.”


Egypt cancels World Youth Forum in light of global challenges

Egypt cancels World Youth Forum in light of global challenges
Updated 05 February 2023

Egypt cancels World Youth Forum in light of global challenges

Egypt cancels World Youth Forum in light of global challenges
  • Budget for event will instead be used to fund development initiatives
  • Event was set to start later this month

CAIRO: In response to a host of global economic challenges, this year’s World Youth Forum, which was set to start later this month, has been canceled, its organizers said on Saturday.

Instead, the budget for the event, which was to be held in the Egyptian town of Sharm El-Sheikh, will be used to fund the implementation of five development initiatives aimed at young people in Egypt and beyond.

This year would have marked the fifth edition of the forum, with the fourth being held in January last year. The event is organized by the Presidential Program for Qualifying Youth for Leadership.

It said the decision to cancel this year's conference was an acknowledgment of the multiple crises facing the world that have put huge humanitarian and economic pressures on nations and governments.

Among the beneficiaries of the redirected funding is a series of international exchange programs for young people. These will be arranged in cooperation with the Decent Life Foundation, National Alliance for Civil Development Action, Arab Union for Volunteering and UN Volunteers Program.

Parliamentary Counselor Issam Hilal Afifi told Arab News that the proceeds from the sponsorship rights to this year’s forum would be redirected toward a large package of initiatives.

Dr. Muhammad Mahmoud Mahran, secretary-general of the International Committee for the Defense of Water Resources, said the move would also enable recommendations made at the previous forum to be implemented.

The planned initiatives would have a positive impact at the local, African and global level, he said.


Teachers, lawyers protest against Palestinian Authority 

Teachers, lawyers protest against Palestinian Authority 
Updated 05 February 2023

Teachers, lawyers protest against Palestinian Authority 

Teachers, lawyers protest against Palestinian Authority 
  • Palestinian sources told Arab News that a strike by doctors might follow, which will destabilize the status of the PA

RAMALLAH: The Palestinian Authority is facing protests from school teachers and lawyers over a number of grievances.

Palestinian sources told Arab News that a strike by doctors might follow, which will destabilize the status of the PA.

The teachers’ movement called on parents not to send their children to schools, and on students to only attend when their demands were met.

On Sunday morning, thousands of students returned to their homes because of the strike.

Omar Muheisen, a science teacher from Al-Shafei School in Hebron, told Arab News that the rate of commitment to the strike on Sunday in the city had reached 90 percent.

“We, as teachers, are living in a difficult predicament,” he told Arab News.

“It is not our problem if the prime minister, over the course of a whole year, did not succeed in solving the problem of teachers’ salaries,” he added.

Muheisen said the salary was not enough even to meet expenses until the middle of the month with outrageous rises in prices.

He said that the strike came after authorities failed to implement any previously agreed terms, including a 15 percent bonus starting from the first month of this year, and that the strike would continue until all their demands were met.

Teacher Jamal Al-Qaddoumi said that the agreement that was reached stipulated that the salary be regularized and a teachers’ union should be set up, but neither happened.

Al-Qaddoumi added the current salary was not sufficient to meet the needs of teachers, and it was not reasonable for teachers to work throughout the month on 85 percent of their salary. Half of Al-Qaddoumi’s income goes on bank loans, and the other half on bills and obligations, he said.

The Palestinian National Initiative Movement, headed by politician Mustafa Barghouthi, demanded fairness for teachers in a statement on Sunday, calling for their demands to be met and the education system to be saved in the interests of students.

It pointed out that the education and health sectors are among the most vital sectors, adding that male and female teachers had always performed their national and professional duties, and that their role was vital for building future Palestinian generations.

It stressed the importance of reviewing the public budget and allocating larger budgets for the education, health, and social welfare sectors, as they serve the broadest groups suffering most from poverty and marginalization.

Shaker Khalil, advisor to the prime minister on economic affairs, told Arab News that the financial crisis engulfing the PA is complex, due to the decline in external support and the high percentage of Israeli occupation deductions from Palestinian funds.

Khalil indicated that foreign aid for the past year was less than $200 million, and the total deductions of the Israeli occupation from the allocations of martyrs and prisoners amounted to $584 million since 2019.

This exacerbates the government’s financial crisis and is reflected in the general budget, he added.

In a parallel development, the Palestinian Bar Association suspended work on Sunday for four days, affecting all branches of the judiciary, in opposition to the amendment of the regular courts’ fees schedule.

Lawyer Alaa Khaseeb from Ramallah told Arab News that the PA’s doubling of court fees five times will make it difficult for citizens, considering the financial crisis they are living through, to go to court to sue, instead preferring to pursue matters themselves, which will negatively affect the work of lawyers, of whom there are nearly 12,000 in the West Bank.

Khaseeb indicated that the standard case fee, which was $700, is to become $3,500, making it impossible for many citizens to pay.

Lawyer and human rights activist Amer Hamdan from Nablus told Arab News that the basis of the PA’s problem with teachers and lawyers is poor political decision making.

He alleged that the PA had raised court fees to obtain money from citizens directly, a step that will force people to tribal courts or to seek fulfilment of their rights by force.

“The PA decided to go into the pockets of citizens to solve its financial problem,” Hamdan told Arab News.

The Bar Council also pointed out that the judiciary was in crisis as a result of the policies of the executive authority and its disavowal of the requirements for judicial reforms.