Caribou Digital Launches New Book, The Platform Livelihoods Project: Research Exploring the Workplaces of the Digital Age in Africa & Indonesia

The Platform Livelihoods Project Coverpage

Research reveals an urgent need for digital “accidental marketplaces” to evolve into safer and more inclusive environments.

London, UK – 15 April 2024. Leading research and advisory firm, Caribou Digital, proudly announces the release of its latest publication, The Platform Livelihoods Project, a pioneering collection of studies on pervasive digital marketplaces, some conducted in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation and others with the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The study examines the sprawling digital economy and highlights the urgent need for a safer, more inclusive environment. It advocates for policymakers, companies, and other players in the ecosystem to leverage the study to drive investment into the future of the digital workplace, essential for the millions dependent on it for their livelihoods.

The groundbreaking and conceptual research explores the experiences of over 700 people across Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, and Indonesia and the multifaceted nature of how they earn a living online as workers and sellers on platforms.

The “platform livelihoods lens,” is a novel perspective built upon decades of developmental research insights on digital inclusion, gender inclusion, work, and livelihoods. This innovative framework emphasises the scale of people depending on platforms for income and therefore explores beyond “gig work”. “Platform livelihoods” are defined by ways in which people earn a living by working, trading, renting or creating in digital marketplaces – a sector projected to reach $72 billion in Africa by 2026.

Jonathan Donner, Senior Director for Research at Caribou Digital said “This book stands as a testament to the collaborative efforts of an incredible array of contributors. Taking place over four years – hundreds of participants, dozens of researchers, organisations, and foundation partners united for an astounding research project, offering insights into the experiences of millions across Africa and Indonesia earning a living on digital platforms. Studies on platformisation frequently fail to address the impact on the day-to-day experiences and livelihoods of Africans who rely on these digital ecosystems, across formal and informal sectors alike. The research shows there is huge potential for sustainable livelihoods with collective efforts to create inclusive, safe, and dignified digital environments. Our hope is for this book to help catalyse that change.”

The findings reveal the personal accounts of marginalised groups such as women and people with disabilities, who navigate significant barriers in leveraging digital platforms for livelihood opportunities. In the interviews conducted, women from Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria shared the obstacles they encountered, which included harassment, pay disparities, and access to essential resources like devices and bank accounts. Young men and women with disabilities discussed challenges with the user experience such as a lack of screen-reading technology for the visually impaired, inhibiting full participation.

One study in the volume highlights the emergence of social agriculture, a term which describes how farmers use social media as a source of revenue by selling information and produce on various platforms. It estimates that in Kenya, more people utilise Meta (Facebook) for agriculture than all dedicated agricultural platforms in the region. These social platforms host marketing, information exchange, and social support. In a small survey, 52% of participants surveyed indicated buying information and 27% reported selling produce, advice and/or services on social media. The top three social media platforms used for agriculture in Kenya according to the findings are Facebook (62%), YouTube (16.15%), and WhatsApp (13.35%). Only ~3% preferred the dedicated agriculture platform WeFarm.

Tade Aina, Chief Impact and Research Officer at the Mastercard Foundation said, “This publication opens a window into the lived digital experiences of young people, enabling us to leverage these insights to co-create programs that align with their aspirations. It also calls on stakeholders to partner in strengthening the digital economy ecosystem to foster safe, reliable and inclusive economic growth. These efforts inform our Young Africa Works strategy, which seeks to enable 30 million young people to access dignified and fulfilling work by 2030, with a particular focus on young women, persons with disabilities, refugees and the forcibly displaced.’’

The Platform Livelihoods Project stands as the foremost exploration of how Africans and Indonesians are shaping regional labour markets through digital platforms. One study in the volume estimates that 1 in 5 people of working age in Indonesia relies on a platform for at least part of their livelihood.

The research draws upon the collaborative efforts of a network comprising 40 researchers and practitioners from esteemed institutions worldwide, including inABLE, Qhala, the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Lagos Business School, the University of Ghana, Kilimo Source, and Habitus Insight. Through this vast network of insights, the project aims to shape the discourse on digital transformation in Africa and across the globe, spotlighting the collective action required to foster more inclusive, dignified, and empowering platform livelihoods.


Notes to Editors

The project stands as a testament to rigorous research methodologies, with Caribou Digital incorporating over 700 qualitative interviews, 140 survey responses, 70 expert consultations, 16 in-depth platform case studies, and 70 compelling video profiles conducted between 2018 and 2023 into the research.

The book’s findings culminate in pivotal recommendations and insights aimed at policymakers, international organisations, market researchers, and analysts navigating the complex digital landscape. These recommendations encompass:

  • Strengthening the digital ecosystem: The project underscores the necessity of investing in payments infrastructure and robust digital identification systems to fortify the digital landscape and foster inclusive economic growth.
  • Fusion: The studies emphasise the interconnected nature of e-commerce and social commerce with transport, logistics, and payment systems, advocating for holistic approaches to digital market development.
  • Training: Beyond digital literacy, The project advocates for expanding training programs to encompass essential financial, business, and marketing skills, equipping individuals with the tools necessary for success in the digital economy.
  • Regulatory frameworks: The evolving nature of digital labour necessitates regulatory and investment strategies that extend beyond traditional gig work to accommodate fractional sales, asset sharing, and informal commerce facilitated through social media and messaging
  • Safety & inclusivity: Platforms serve as the backbone of digital marketplaces, playing a pivotal role in creating safe, reliable, and inclusive environments conducive to the success of workers and sellers alike.

For additional information on Caribou Digital or interview requests, please contact Wimbart at CaribouDigital@wimbart.com

About Caribou Digital

Caribou Digital provides fund management, accelerated learning, strategic advisory, research, and impact measurement services. Trusted by leading foundations, commercial partners, and agencies for our deep subject matter expertise in digital transformation and digital development, we support client investments and programs to create more inclusive and environmentally sustainable economies and societies.

About the Mastercard Foundation

The Mastercard Foundation is a registered Canadian charity and one of the largest foundations in the world. It works with visionary organizations to advance education and financial inclusion to enable young people in Africa and Indigenous youth in Canada to access dignified and fulfilling work. Established in 2006 through the generosity of Mastercard when it became a public company, the Foundation is an independent organization separate from the company, with offices in Toronto, Kigali, Accra, Nairobi, Kampala, Lagos, Dakar, and Addis Ababa. Its policies, operations, and program decisions are determined by the Foundation’s Board of Directors and leadership.


Read more of Caribou Digital’s  work with the Mastercard Foundation

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