It’s been five years this week since the onset of the Financial Crisis and the subsequent unraveling of the U.S. and Armenian economy. Yesterday I read that the employment rate between the highest- and lowest-income families here in the the US is at its widest since officials began tracking data a decade ago, reports the The Associated Press. How can freelance entrepreneurs help Armenian and American workers?
The figures are startling: the unemployment rate for those earning less than $20,000 is now 21 percent, nearly matching the rate for all workers during the 1930s Great Depression. In Armenia, unemployment of the youth and those outside of Yerevan is said to be over 30 percent and as high as 40 percent in some villiages. Amid these sobering headlines, you can’t blame workers for despairing over their professional lives. But for Armenia, the effects are not only high unemployment, but far worse: Emigration. According to both Asbarez.com and lragir.am, the rates of emigration from Armenia is terrifying.
Yet there are glimmers of hope. Slowly but surely, a revolution is taking shape –– an entirely different kind of economy is emerging around the world powered by the internet: Freelancing Entrepreneurs. The labor force of new entrepreneurs, which many call the Gig Economy, is growing rapidly and could soon represent as much as 30 percent of the U.S. workforce. It could also be the force that saves the Armenian worker. But since the local Armenian market is so small, the focus needs to be on servicing larger markets outside Armenia like Russia, Europe, Asia and North America.
This revolution is certainly the result of economic forces over the last decade, particularly in the wake of the Financial Crisis. But there has also been a major shift in attitude. Success was once defined as being able to stay at a company for a long time, moving up to a stable and high paying job. The goal was to prosper, save and retire to a life of ease. Much has changed since then.
In the past, if you said you were a consultant or freelancer, people wondered what was wrong with you. They would likely assume you had problems getting a job or weren’t a stellar employee. Today, consulting or freelancing for five businesses at the same time is a badge of honor. It shows how valuable an individual is. Many companies now look to these “ultimate professionals” to solve problems their full-time teams can’t. Or they save money by hiring “top-tier experts” only for particular projects.
Working at home or in cafes around Yerevan or New York…starting businesses with teams of consultants and freelancers you’ve met only online…or even launching business ventures that eventually may fail, all indicate “initiative,” “creativity,” and “adaptability,” which are very desirable traits in today’s workplace.
Who are these people? They are artists and designers; writers, editors and translators, animators, videographers, and sound professionals. IT skills are strongly in demand - web developers, programmers, DBA’s, and support experts. It’s our friends, and our kids. And in 10 years it is going to be a major portion of the world economy. America and many around the world have started to make the transition using online gig marketplaces such as ODesk.com, Freelancer.com or even Fiverr.com.
What Armenia needs now is it’s own marketplace — a platform specifically designed to connect Armenian freelancers with clients from around the world. This month we feature Digital Pomegranate as a great first step in the process and I think you will find Levon ‘s interview Digital Pomegranate: Armenia’s New Digital Marketplace most interesting and inspiring.
Armenia must embrace Freelance Entrepreneurs their Gig Economy as a primary engine of business activity and growth. In the Word Bank’s Doing Business 2014 Rank Armenia ranked 37th overall, but was the 6th best place to start a business. The World Bank also published Fostering Entrepreneurship in Armenia which is a bit scholarly, but clearly points to the future of the Armenian Economy: Freelance Entrepreneurs.
This post is also available in: Armenian