Turning freelancing into next big forex earner  

Friday, 22 April 2022

Freelancing in the Information and Technology (IT) sector, though a highly promising area of growth, is yet to realise its full potential in Bangladesh. The constraints it faces include, for example, cumbersome procedures in obtaining government-provided facilities, low internet speed, high broadband price, a lack of gateway to transact in foreign currencies and so on. Despite such difficulties, it is indeed amazing that over 60,000 freelancers, mostly individual operators, have been engaged in this sector earning, as reported, to the tune of US$500 million annually.

Seeing that the country is teeming with an employable youth workforce numbering about 4.4 million, it is only a matter of appropriate policy to turn them into a sure driver of digital growth. Obviously, freelancing can be a major actor of this prospective growth engine. Thankfully, the government, of late, has taken some steps to exploit youg talents in this field. To this end, it plans to set up, what it terms, IT-incubation centres in 64 districts. Also, it intends, as the state minister for ICT told this paper recently, to build training centres in all the upazilas of the country to develop the youths' freelancing skills. Further, to enhance women's participation in this scheme, the prime minister is learnt to have given her nod to a project meant for training 10,000 potential women freelancers. It is all part of the government's ambitious plan for increasing the earning from freelancing to US$5.0 billion by the next four years, the minister added.

No doubt, all this sounds very reassuring for the would-be freelancers in the IT sector. But, at the same time, it is also important that side by side with these programmes, the government made a serious move to remove the existing barriers to this emerging IT-enabled freelancing industry. First and foremost, the cost of doing business in freelancing has to be brought down remarkably. The present charge for internet data, for example, needs downward revision. Also, to help entrepreneurs, whether individuals or companies, avail themselves of government-provided cash benefits or bank loan facility, streamlining the official procedures, especially, reducing the number of steps as well as the amount of paperwork involved, is a must. The amount of fee to obtain the ID cards required for getting government-provided facilities, which, according to many freelancers, is rather high, needs also to be reduced. Then, the absence of a payment gateway to repatriate the dollars earned from foreign clients is learnt to have been costing the local freelancers dearly. The reason is that the overseas companies on whom they have to depend to get work contracts take away a large portion of their earnings (as much as 20 per cent) as commission.

To get around this bottleneck, the government needs to create a database on the actual number of freelancers engaged in the sector and the volume of transactions they carry out annually. That would provide the willing global online money transfer companies with a clear picture of the size of freelancing market here. The information is expected to encourage reputed payment gateways like PayPal to start operation in Bangladesh. Needless to say, such steps would greatly boost the activities of the local freelancing sector. The government would do well to take urgent measures for facilitating the freelancing business that holds the promise of becoming the next big foreign currency--earning sector.