Bottom of the pyramid labour (BoP) in Sub-Saharan Africa

The second stage of the project will focus on ‘bottom of the pyramid’ labour (BoP) in Sub Saharan Africa. The term ‘BoP’ is increasingly used to describe ways of productively enrolling the world’s poorest into production networks and commodity chains. ICT-mediated microwork and micro-tasks (sometimes referred to as ‘paid crowdsourcing’) are an example of this kind of labour. The ‘harvesting’ of digital resources for games (mostly played by people in wealthy countries), for instance, provides a primary source of income to 100,000 Chinese and Vietnamese workers and produced $3 billion of revenue in 2009. The social and economic implications of enrolling a global labour-force into digital value chains are enormous. Sub Saharan Africa has a rapidly growing number of call and contact centres, and an increasing amount of microwork that is now available. Some types of micro-work have been more explicitly targeted at some of SSA’s poorest citizens.

1. This stage of the project will begin by looking at the goals of organisations (The World Bank, DFID, the Government of Finland, Oxfam, and others) that have been promoting and funding BoP micro-work. The aim will be to understand the breadth of actors involved with micro work, and their various understandings and expectations about its effects on SSA.

2. Secondly, we will focus on formal micro-work centres and projects, as well as on call- and contact-centres and projects, interviewing and surveying workers and managers about their experiences of micro work, asking questions about how they use ICTs, labour costs, gender issues, what changes they have seen in the reliability and speed of communications and how that has affected costs, etc.

3. From these surveys and interviews we will select forty micro-work centres/projects and forty call/contact centres for additional inquiry in four different countries, including Ghana, Kenya, and South Africa. Here we will study the effects of changing connectivities on the flows of knowledge, services and capital through value chains.

We will then build on the above research by focusing on workers and the ways these new labour practices impact on their lives by conducting short surveys and interviews with them. This will help us to better understand whether new BoP practices taking root in Sub-Saharan Africa offer a significant departure from previous opportunities that have been available to people, what kinds of workers find employment in these sorts of jobs; do gender, religion, tribe, and other social factors and characteristics still matter to how BoP knowledge workers find employment and progress through organisations; and whether they benefit either educationally or financially from their labour or are we simply seeing new forms of exploitation now made possible by efficient communication technologies?

About Mark Graham

Mark Graham is the Professor of Internet Geography at the OII, a Faculty Fellow at the Alan Turing Institute, a Research Fellow at Green Templeton College, and an Associate in the University of Oxford’s School of Geography and the Environment. He leads a range of research projects spanning topics between digital labour, the gig economy, internet geographies, and ICTs and development.