Ever wondered what links Airbnb hosts, personal tutors, and dog walkers? They are all part of the so-called “gig economy.” If you’ve ever taken an Uber ride or bought something from Etsy, you’ve also participated in this economy. Read on to learn how such trends are changing the way people work and live.

According to the USA’s Internal Revenue Service, the gig economy is one in which a workforce of people earn income by providing services or goods on a freelance basis, rather than through full-time jobs. 

This type of economy is not new; some people have engaged in freelance work and “side-hustles” for long periods by pursuing self-employment. But the practice is rapidly gaining popularity, due to advances in technology and the rise of ride-hailing apps like Uber, food delivery apps like DoorDash, and property hosting platforms like Airbnb.

There are more than 150 million people active in the gig economy in North America and Western Europe, as per the Harvard Business Review, and this number is expected to grow in the years to come. 

Members of the Jamat have been involved for many years in providing—and using—services like henna application, childcare, meal delivery, tutoring, yoga classes, room rentals, data analysis, software development, and transportation, among others.

The Aga Khan Economic Planning Board (AKEPB) for the USA has established platforms such as FinOnline, which enables business owners to offer their services and promote their products to those searching for something specific. AKEPB recognizes that the economy is an essential work category for many Jamat members.  As such, it runs programs that help Jamati members understand and avail themselves of opportunities in the gig economy.  This includes seminars on how to be successful at gig work and how to secure the financing needed for cars and other tools required to perform such work.  

"Many Jamati members require flexible work that allows for them to take care of family care obligations,” says Mohsin Sohani, Chairman of AKEPB for the Northeast USA. “For these Jamati members, platforms such as DoorDash and Uber are very helpful in their overall plan to generate livelihoods.”

Among their many success stories is Davlatmir Dvlatmirov, who immigrated to the US in 2023 and found it challenging to cover his expenses while providing for his family. After exploring various delivery platforms, he resolved to turn his situation around. He states, "

“DoorDash has become my main source of income,” he said. “Although my earnings fluctuate daily, I can consistently provide for my family each week, granting me the flexibility to accommodate my children's after-school schedules.”

“Being a recent immigrant,” Davlatmir added, “it can be difficult to get a car loan in the US. I am grateful to AKEPB for helping me do so, which enables me to work using my own car instead of having to rent one.”

Side gigs can be pathways into full time careers or entrepreneurial journeys. According to economic forecasts, the global gig-worker economy is expected to reach a total volume of US $455.2b by the end of 2023. Opportunities for main or supplemental income are plentiful for those ready to seize it.

So, should you join the gig economy or start a side hustle? The thought of being your own boss, setting your own working hours, and even working from the beachside might sound appealing to some. 

“We are in an era where we can take control of our lives and our livelihoods,” said Zamiha Desai, Founder of RecommendAsian, a platform for small businesses and freelancers in the UK. “With demand via technology rising, and confidence in purchasing increasing, opportunities for income are plentiful for those ready to seize it.” 

But along with the benefits, there are risks to consider. Gig workers often lack common employee benefits like health insurance, retirement plans, and job security. And in today’s economy, they need to be patient and resilient.

“Before embarking on your freelance or entrepreneurial journey, I would make sure you have at least six months worth of emergency funds set aside to cover rent and utilities as work can be unpredictable,” advises Zamiha.

I am drawn into a reflection on my past as a freelance journalist—a time marked by my relentless contribution of news articles to newspapers and websites. The true challenge resided in pitching stories to numerous outlets, all while hoping for just one positive response.

“Have a plan and figure out how much you can sell your services or products for, and the volume you will need to attain your income goals,” said Zamiha. “Take into account the sunk costs, like packaging, outsourcing, marketing and so on. A solid plan is necessary for success.”