Interview: Rich Pearson, SVP, Elance-oDesk

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Freelancing is set to boom in the region people in the MENA region with many considering freelancing to be a better option than a full time job because it offers better quality of life and pay.

Freelancing, specifically online freelancing, is still a tiny part of the global staffing industry, which is estimated to be $422 billion. Last year the combined online staffing industry was $1.5 billion and this number is expected to grow to $25 billion in the next 5 years.

A survey has indicated that many people in the MENA region consider freelancing to be a better option than a full time job because it offers better quality of life and pay. This is further substantiated by the estimate that freelancers on and are expected to earn $1 billion in 2014.

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“All signals indicate that online hiring in MENA is growing faster than any other region in the world, a combination of both growing client interest and the increasing availability of freelance workers,” says Rich Pearson, Senior Vice President of Categories and Geographies at Elance-oDesk.

To tap the growing market of freelancers, Elance-oDesk is creating a sustainable microcosm of online workplaces. More than 2 million businesses and 8 million freelancers, registered through and, are part of this.

SEE ALSO:  MENA residents see Freelancing as career option

Such companies work with the motto of ‘Sharing Talent Economy’ and are bringing work to the workers / helping businesses tap into talent. With UAE as the market leader in online work adoption, connectivity and technology has been helping people in a big way to reinvent the way they work.

“The UAE is ranked fifth in our country portfolio, with some 25,000 UAE-based jobs on our platform and nearly 60,000 UAE-based freelancers. Elance-oDesk is excited to be a part of the employment evolution in this region, providing an advanced and credible platform for talented freelancers and forward-thinking companies in the country,” says Pearson.

We caught up with Mr. Rich Pearson to get  a deeper insight about the industry and the need to have a vibrant freelance community.

Why should a country promote Freelancing community? What are some of the socio-economic benefits of a vibrant Freelance community?

We have a saying at Elance and oDesk that “Talent is everywhere, but opportunity isn’t.” At Elance and oDesk, anyone can win a job regardless of race or gender. There are significant monetary benefits to be a freelancer, but you are also more in control of your life. Most freelancers feel a great deal of accomplishment when they start winning new jobs.

How do you see the UAE online workplace shaping up?

We’re seeing fantastic growth in the UAE. Businesses are hiring nearly 50% more freelancers than they were a year ago, tapping into talent on demand – we predict that UAE businesses will spend $20 million hiring freelancers on and in 2014.

What would be your suggestions for the businesses to tap the freelance talent within the UAE?

The best advice for clients hiring freelancers is to write a detailed job description and ask for specific answers to questions in the freelancer proposals. This will help you quickly identify those who are serious about your job. The next step is to review their job history and reviews left by previous clients to ensure the freelancer is satisfying their client’s needs.

What would be your advice to freelance job seekers within the UAE?

The best advice for freelancers is to create a compelling profile – on Elance and oDesk, you can create a freelancing resume including your portfolio and links to your work on other platforms like GitHub and Behance.

What are the current problems faced by Freelancers in the region and how can this be resolved?

Few people understand the freedom that freelancing provides, both in terms of applying new skills and earning more monthly. Making sure everyone in the country is aware of the opportunities is the biggest job we have to do right now.

Should freelancers be entitled for social security benefits? Do you agree that freelancers should be treated on par with regular workers and be entitled to benefits like regular employees?

Freelancers are highly skilled people, just like other professionals. Laws and regulations, however, still need to catch up and it is taking our benefit system time to evolve to best support freelancers.

How does the UAE work regulations impact the freelancer community?

Like with so many internet-driven markets, laws and regulations have yet to catch up, so we expect that the laws will evolve and we hope to be part of that discussion. Regulations take a long time to evolve.

Do you think freelancer community can play an active role in the UAE economy? What is their share towards the national economy right now?

Absolutely. UAE freelancers are starting to play an important role in the economy and this role will only evolve.

Online work via Elance.oDesk is expected to reach $930 million in 2014. We have a goal of $10 billion annually in work done by 2020 via Elance-oDesk. Given this ambitious goal, we expect the UAE freelancers to play an important role here.

How do you see the freelancer community in UAE 10 years from now?

We are in the early stages of a global freelancer movement – some countries are ahead of others, but freelancing is only going to get more important in the UAE 10 years from now.

What’s your response to criticism on Freelance websites, being accused of labeling as ‘sweat shops’?

Our industry is all about creating opportunities for everyone, everywhere. It is definitely correct that there are a lot of talented freelancers from developing countries, but you will also find the same in industrialized countries.

For example, we see that the demand for the US- and UK-based freelancers is growing equally strong as freelancers from the developing markets. One of the reasons that you can see many freelancers in, lets say Ukraine and Pakistan as examples, is that the local job market does not have the same demand for their talents as you can see in many Western markets.

Elance-oDesk is taking pride in providing job opportunities to freelancers regardless of whether they live in Romania, Kenya, Germany or USA. Success in online work is not about where you live or who you know, it’s about what you do and how well you do it.

Businesses are no longer looking to hire remote workers only to cut costs; companies are finding everything from legal counsels to programmers and designers online; people they can trust to partner with their full-time staff, closing the talent gap in their organizations. As the movement has grown, we’ve seen average wages going up over time.
Our data shows that when possible, companies prefer to hire a local freelancer and we expect to see this trend rise over time as the movement towards online work grows.

We absolutely believe that online work will have – and already does have – an impact on local job markets. There are nations in the world, such as Bangladesh and Nigeria, where the governments are actively pursuing online work opportunities for their local freelancers, and often they do this in partnership with organizations like World Bank and commercial players like Elance-oDesk.

Rich says the vision for Elance-oDesk is to build an online workplace for the world and the goal is to put “a world of talent in our client’s hands”.
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