How people live, work and spend their money has changed dramatically over the past decade, especially with the advent of smartphone technology. The technological era has caused a major shift in all aspects of life, including the way we work. As such, online consumer-driven services, free communication channels and globalised networks have created a much bigger space than ever before for outsourcing, contracting, temping and freelancing. The impact of COVID 19, which has seen many organisations adopt home working and turn to virtual communication and conferencing in huge numbers, is unlikely to be completely reversed when vaccination programmes and other measures help to conquer the pandemic.
Humanitarian relief and development is not immune to these developments. A research report by Bioforce (December 2020) entitled ‘The State of Humanitarian Professions’ found that ‘changes in socio-economic patterns, politics, and power dynamics are affecting the rules and regulations governing humanitarian operating environments. Security challenges and changing meteorological conditions affect both the needs of affected communities and humanitarian access to them.’ The Bioforce report concluded that humanitarian organisations are responding to these changes in four broad ways:
‘Adaptation – organisations need to react faster, be more agile in project implementation, work across sectors and traditional operational boundaries, deliver in protracted complex situations with reduced access and politicisation of aid. Humanitarian staff need to be multi-skilled, creative, problem-solvers.
Localisation – despite global agreement, localisation is slower than desired. International organisations are expected to accelerate this. They will continue to shift from implementation to advice and capacity building, refocus activities and funding, and engage local staff who will lead the change.
Technology – digital technology is changing the nature of humanitarian assistance and allowing for greater scrutiny of every aspect of aid programming. Cash programming is influencing all aspects of humanitarian work and digital competency is a baseline requirement for staff.
Coordination and Collaboration – organisations need to decide whether to collaborate or consolidate; and adjust their workforce and geographical presence accordingly. As needs grow faster than funding, and more non-traditional actors become involved in humanitarian work, competition for funds will increase.’
The increasing use of contractors and freelancers is but one aspect of the industry's response to this squeeze on income. Those interviewed for the Bioforce study (2020) estimated that nearly 60% of all employment contracts for humanitarian work were short-term (for less than 6 months) or consultant contracts.
Impactpool Labs’ data shows that between 15% to 21% of all vacancies advertised through their online database for consultants, freelancers and/or contractors.
All the indicators suggest that the self-employed sector of this international market will continue to grow. For employers, of course, replacing an employed role with a freelancer or self-employed contractor shifts some of the obligations and risks to the supplier. Managing these risks is increasingly vital in the depressed employment market that is a feature of the INGO sector today.
Although the terms ‘employee’ and ‘contractor’, ‘consultant’ and ‘freelance’ are used inconsistently, a consequence of the ongoing market changes is that individuals are increasingly likely to find that, rather than being asked to complete a traditional application for employment, they will be required to complete a business/service (or a contractors) proposal.