The gig economy in Jordan has the potential to create new opportunities that could help Syrian refugee women earn a better income, finds a new study by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) for the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

Based on interviews with dozens of Syrian refugee women in Jordan, as well as with industry experts, the report finds that the gig economy, also known as “crowdwork” or “on-demand work,” could be a way for vulnerable workers to find clients to purchase their services. However – as with Uber-style work elsewhere in the world – improvements are needed to make gig work fully beneficial to workers, including promoting digital access, providing skills training and ensuring worker protections, and their safety.

“After more than six years of conflict, short-term humanitarian assistance is no longer enough to support Syrian refugees struggling in Jordan to pay for rent and other basics”, said Barri Shorey, senior technical advisor for enterprise development at the IRC.  “They need to secure a livelihood to support themselves and their families as well as contribute to their host country’s economy.”

“This study shows us that although the gig economy is new in Jordan, it could provide economic opportunities for Syrian refugee women who are among the most marginalized in society. But it is critical to make sure that protection and security are built into this sector as it grows in Jordan, to make sure workers get a fair deal”, said Abigail Hunt, research fellow at ODI.

With 86 per cent of Syrian refugees in Jordan living below the poverty line, the gig economy could provide a much-needed financial boost. Many Syrian women refugees want to work but face a range of constraints, including limited networks to find opportunities, restrictions on travelling alone, and a heavy unpaid care load.

The report found that the gig economy could help overcome some of these barriers, and that the most accessible on-demand opportunities for Syrian women are in areas where they are already skilled, including home catering, beauty services, and to a lesser extent, domestic work.  The gig economy jobs are identified via companies running mobile platforms that allow the public to order tasks from an available refugee worker. These companies will in return take a fee or commission when the service is paid for or completed.

There are still come challenges to overcome, though. Only 5% of Jordanian work permits issued to Syrians since 2016 have gone to women. However refugees’ legal right to gig employment remains unclear, and the report calls for clarification over applicable regulations through a social dialogue with workers, associations, platform companies and the government, among others.

In Jordan, the gig economy is still in its infancy. While this newly emerging form of work may offer the potential to help vulnerable communities, the report also encourages more skills training and greater worker protection to increase the likelihood of female refugees both to access the jobs market and find work, and to ensure that gig work is safe and provides a secure income.

The IRC will use this research to continue to explore new tech based models of employment in addition to gig work, such as business process outsourcing. In collaboration with Western Union, the IRC in Jordan piloted a project to outsource business tasks (including data entry and verification) to semi-skilled jobseekers able to volunteer in return for a stipend. Based on positive findings from this initial pilot, the IRC is seeking to expand the program alongside international and local partners.

In 2016, the IRC helped nearly 6,000 people in Jordan through cash transfers as well as employment and self-employment support to develop sustainable livelihoods for refugees, as well as benefiting host communities struggling with unemployment.

Full report available here