CNN discovers how technology is changing the informal sector in Kenya

On this week’s episode of Marketplace Africa, CNN International travels to Kenya to learn more about how technology has the potential to revolutionise the informal sector. Known for its low-paid, irregular work without employment contracts, government regulations or worker protections, this sector employs 12 million people in Kenya.

Jacob Omolo, Senior Lecturer at Kenyatta University explains to the programme how the informal sector continues to grow in Kenya: “The contribution of the informal sector to Kenya’s GDP increased from 18.9 per cent in 1999 to 23.5 per cent in 2016. That means that it accounts for about one quarter of the country’s GDP… If you look at the employment trends in Kenya, you will find that it takes graduates between five and ten years to get a job… Where the opportunities are, is within the informal sector.”

As the population of Kenya continues to grow, formal, salaried positions are becoming sparse and even higher education offers few guarantees of formal work. Marketplace Africa explores how Lynk is using technology to help informal workers connect with a network of professionals to improve their job prospects.

Chris Maclay, Head of growth at Lynk, explains explains how the company works to enhance opportunity through infrestructyre and technology: “In the US and in Europe, the “gig economy” is seen as quite a scary thing and it’s seen as taking formal sector jobs which have regular pay… What Lynk does is aimed to formalize these gigs, to formalise the informal sector, providing regular income and the ability to tie together these separate gigs into a cohesive career and provide the entrepreneurship infrastructure that helps informal workers to thrive on a digital platform.”

A personalised website helps Lynk users market their services to professionals. Maclay explains: “These people might lack access to the people that could give them bigger jobs. Lynk seeks to break that down and provide much wider marketing outside of their normal geographies and outside of their normal social network.”

Mem Maina, Head of Project Management at Lynk, also explains how the company hopes to broaden the geographical reach for workers: “Usually you’re limited by your geography of where you are because you don’t have a means of transport to just go and look for work all over. And so you’re only getting job[s] across a very narrow geographical area.”

As the informal industry is expected to outpace the formal sector, one user of Lynk, Stephen Mushanhe sees opportunities ahead. He tells CNN: “You know if you do something with a passion, something that you love, you’ll always produce results. And where there are results, of course the rewards are good.”