Researching Gender and Platform Livelihoods in Ghana
By: Akosua K. Darkwah & Nana Akua Anyidoho, University of Ghana
Over the course of 2021, the University of Ghana and Caribou Digital, with the support of the Mastercard Foundation, will undertake a study to understand the impact of COVID-19 on young women’s experiences working and selling through online platforms in Ghana.
Women in Ghana have a long history of participation in the economy as workers and owners of enterprises. Therefore, the nature of Ghanaian women’s work, including the extent to which it is empowering, has long been of interest to researchers. With the increasing digitization of work, more so in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, questions about the content and impact of women’s work have gained more urgency. This background informs our study of women’s platform livelihoods in Ghana, using a female empowerment approach. The study also builds on previous work on platform livelihoods by both Caribou Digital and researchers at the University of Ghana.
An Overview of Ghana’s Digital Economy
Ghana’s mobile phone and internet penetration rates are 140% and 66.8% respectively, and its social media rate is 23%. On the African continent, Ghana ranks third in private sector digital platforms after Nigeria and South Africa; it has a total of 72 platforms, 42% of which are local in origin. Ghana’s ranking on the UN’s E-Government Index (EGDI) score is also impressive. The EGDI is a weighted average of normalized scores of three dimensions of e-government, specifically the scope and quality of online services, the extent of development of telecommunication infrastructure and the inherent human capital. In a 2018 survey, Ghana was the only African country to transition from a middle-level to a high-level EGDI.
Ghana’s achievement on these indices can be partly attributed to a range of government policies aimed at improving the e-print of the country over the last decade and a half. Among these policy initiatives is the National ICT for Accelerated Development Policy designed to promote the participation of young people in Ghana in the global digital economy. The government has also rolled out training programs to provide young people with skills to participate in the gig economy. One such initiative, the Digital Marketing and Entrepreneurship Program, offered a three-month training course for 3000 young people who were then to be absorbed by Ecobank, a Pan-African financial company. In the digital transformation of public services, such as in the renewal of national health insurance, the government itself offers a source of employment for young people with digital skills.
There are also non-state actors that support young people interested in digital technology. A pioneer in this respect is Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST), which was set up in 2008 to provide training, mentoring and financial support to potential tech entrepreneurs. More recent examples include iSpace Ghana which received an award from Google in recognition of its diversity and inclusion programming. Many of these training organizations are, however, located in Accra, limiting opportunities for individuals living outside the capital. The city is also the site of the Accra Digital Centre, a technology park, and Google’s first AI centre on the continent.
While a 2019 World Bank Group report describes Ghana as an average performer in terms of global entrepreneurship and innovation, some of its digital companies have gained global recognition, including mPedigree, mPharma, Logicel, Rancard Solutions and SoftTribe, the last of which is owned by Herman Chinery-Hesse, a man who has been called Africa’s Bill Gates. Currently, there are 96 active digital commerce platforms in Ghana, about half (53) of which are of African origin. The most common of these are freelancing platforms and rental platforms such as Airbnb. Indigenous platforms that have made an imprint on the landscape include Esoko which started as a service to provide content support to farmers. There are also a range of E-commerce shops, some of which are businesses designed entirely with digital platforms in mind, such as Wear Ghana, and others as additions to traditional stores. Since the pandemic, some businesses are organizing webinars that allow them to operate in a safe manner andalso harness skills and knowledge worldwide. An example is the virtual trade fair,organized for the fruits and vegetable industry.
The country has a fairly robust electronic payment infrastructure to support online commerce. By 2017 estimates, mobile money transactions are used primarily for remittances (43%), payment of utility bills (8%) and wages (7%). Nonetheless, close to 99% of transactions still involve cash, although the pandemic led to an increase in cashless financial transactions, with a 50% growth in the amount of money sitting on mobile accounts between June 2019 and June 2020. The availability of mobile money transactions has encouraged the development of other services such as micro-insurance for low-income earners in the informal economy.
Who is engaged in platform livelihoods in Ghana?
Platform livelihoods are “active human efforts, sometimes combined with tools or assets, deployed to create value outside of the constructs of a stable employer-employee relationship, mediated by the infrastructure and accompanying logic of digital platforms”. Platform livelihoods are made up of platform work (e.g. Glovo food delivery or working on Upwork.com) and platform sales.
A study by Research ICT Africa in Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, Mozambique, Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa suggests that, in general, people with university education are not attracted to platform livelihoods because of lower earnings relative to other work opportunities available to them. However, this depends on labour market conditions in individual countries. Even in Ghana where platforms are dominated by workers and sellers with secondary education, it may be seen as a viable livelihood opportunity even by university graduates. One study describes a young Ghanaian graduate who quit his job to work fulltime for Upwork.com, a freelancing platform. While he earned a higher income than he might have in non-platform employment, he reported working 48 hours without sleep to complete a task on time, mindful that client endorsements could greatly undermine his future work options.
Although the number of individuals involved in platform work in Ghana is fairly low, women are well-represented in this form of employment. We do not have sex-segregated data across the different forms of platform livelihoods in Ghana, but there are some statistics that give us some indication from studies of specific forms of platform livelihoods. The survey by Research ICT Africa in seven countries in Africa estimates that 2% of Ghana’s population is involved in platform work and, further, that slightly more women (2.1%) are involved than men (1.9%). However, men and women tend to be engaged in different forms of platform livelihoods. Uber is a good example of this phenomenon. The company set up shop in Accra in June 2016 and extended its operation in 2017 to Kumasi, the second largest city. By 2018, it had registered over 3,000 driver partners on its platform. Although the company publicly declared its commitment to recruiting female driver partners, its driver partners remain almost exclusively male.
The few existing research on platform livelihoods in Africa indicate it is a sector dominated by young people. We do not have the statistics to confirm this for Ghana, young people are often the target of various initiatives by the state, business owners and development partners to improve young people’s access to platform work. With funding from the Mastercard Foundation and Solidaridad, the Springboard Road Show Foundation is running a Coronavirus Recovery and Resilience Program (CoRE). This program offers young people a guide to sustainable livelihoods in a post-pandemic world. Others have gone a step further to support women to set up online businesses. For instance, The Mastercard Foundation, through its Young Africa Works program, has partnered with the Ghana Enterprise Agency and Lokko House to set up an online retail shop that will enable women-owned and -led enterprises to promote their products and connect with customers internationally.
Researching Gender and/in Platform Livelihoods
Despite their participation in the sector, Ghanaian young women’s experiences of platform livelihoods and its implications for their lives is an underexplored subject. Our study will examine the extent to which participation in platform livelihoods empower Ghanaian women. It will also explore the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women’s participation in platform work and sales. The focus will be on young women aged between 18 and 35 years living in urban communities where the digital infrastructure is fairly well developed. What are women’s experiences of working on platforms? How has this changed in the wake of the global pandemic? Above all, what are the enabling and constraining factors for meaningful and dignified work for female platform workers and sellers in Ghana? Specifically, how successful are policy and programmatic initiatives in boosting young women’s participation in this sector and also ensuring that their experiences are empowering.
In order to ask these questions, we will use a mixed methods approach. In addition to content analysis of online newspapers, we will employ a range of qualitative methods including expert interviews, in depth interviews, and focus group discussions with young female platform workers and sellers. We will also survey young women performing platform work across different segments.
We will adopt participatory video storytelling as part of the research methods, to allow us to dig deeper into the lived experiences of select female workers. We will provide them with the tools (a phone, video training and mentoring) to tell their story in their own words. See our previous participatory video storytelling work here.
We are looking forward to this research and would welcome any feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. You can also follow us on Twitter on @cariboudigital and @NAnyidoho.