The freelance economy is one of the most powerful, unsung forces that’s changing society in this decade. By providing a new route to employment for many people who either can’t get a foothold in the traditional employment market–or would prefer to work in a different way–it’s giving them more freedom and control over their destiny. That’s why I found the story of a new freelance hub, Nabbesh, so intriguing.
Nabbesh means “search” in Arabic. The Dubai-based hub, founded as a sort of online classified, lets employers find local talent in areas such as photography, web development and tutoring. Co-founders Loulou Khazen Baz and Rima Al Sheikh launched it in July 2012 to combat high unemployment in the Middle East. Joblessness in the region is now 11.5%, according to the International Labour Organization and hit 28.3% for young people in 2012.
Women are one group that may particularly benefit from the work opportunities it offers, says the founders. Women in the Middle East are now more likely than men to earn a university degree, but only 26% of those in the Middle East and North Africa region participate in the work force, according to the World Bank. Their employment rate is significantly below the average rate of 39% in low- and middle-income countries.
“Increasingly, women are becoming more educated, yet they have cultural barriers to being able to leave the home and get a full time job,” Baz, who grew up in Lebanon, told me on a recent call from Dubai. “We believe providing women with virtual and remote work options would be a game changer in this Nabbesh got a boost when Baz won a TV competition in the UAE on a show, similar to Shark Tank, called The Entrepreneur, last November. Membership in the community was only a couple of thousand people. Now Nabbesh has 15,000 members, she says. ”We think there’s a massive opportunity in this part of the world for such types of jobs,” Baz said.
With more freelancers signing up, the founders are now fine-tuning their business model. Recently, the site has been transitioning to charging a commission when someone is hired through the site, so they can earn money from it.
One challenge, Baz explained, is a lack of familiarity with freelancing as a career option. As in the U.S., students from the Middle East who get a college degree will typically apply for full-time jobs, and don’t often realize that freelancing can be a viable alternative, she says.
Companies also need to get used to the idea of hiring freelancers.