oDesk to help Bangladesh freelancers

The Daily Star May 27, 2012

Senior official of the US-based company speaks on online payment system

Matt Cooper
Mamun Abdullah

Bangladeshi freelancers will be able to receive payments in their local accounts from their US clients directly through the accounts of oDesk, a global marketplace that helps businesses hire, manage and pay remote freelancers or teams.

oDesk is now working to develop a money transfer system for its Bangladeshi freelancers, said a top official of the company.

As the Bangladeshi freelancers are facing problems in getting payments from their clients in the US, oDesk is introducing the system, said Matt Cooper, vice president of marketplace operation division of the company, in an interview with The Daily Star.

He said, “An efficient payment system is the key to doing online work successfully.”

Cooper came to Dhaka last week to participate in an “appreciation day” for the freelancers of the company in Bangladesh.

oDesk is working on how easily the payment could be reached to the Bangladeshi contractors from their US client institutions, he said.

“No inter-media would be required and the fees are attractive for transferring the payments,” Cooper said, adding that the service will be available soon in Bangladesh.

Cooper earlier came to Dhaka at the end of last year to attend a “digital fair” — e-Asia — and came to know about the payment-related problems of the Bangladeshi freelancers, he said.

Bangladeshi freelancers have already urged the government to take initiative to open Paypal’s operations in the country. Paypal is a global online payment organisation based in the US.

After his first visit to Bangladesh, Cooper also met the chief executive officer of Paypal and requested them to start their operations in Bangladesh.

A group of officials of Paypal would come to Dhaka within this year to look for scope to work here, Cooper said. But before that, oDesk will work to facilitate money transfer from its own bank account, he said

In March, a member of Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS) went to California, the headquarters of Paypal, to request them to start their operations in Bangladesh.

oDesk offers employment opportunities globally and independent freelancer contractors can work with their clients through oDesk all over the world, said Cooper.

Maximum works are technical. About the works he said, 60 percent revenues of oDesk come from software development, while the rest are from search engine optimisation, data entry, market research and translations with a wide range of non-technical jobs.

Cooper said 30 percent of Bangladeshi contractors work for search engine optimisation, while 12 percent for data entry, 8 percent for software development and 6 percent for web research. Beyond that, a large segment of works is non-technical, he said.

“Growth of Bangladesh as a back-office is excellent,” Cooper said.

In 2009, Bangladeshis freelancers did 2 percent of the total work of oDesk, which now rose to 12 percent, said Cooper.

“It’s tremendous growth. Every year the growth rate almost doubled.”

A lot of young and highly educated Bangladeshi freelancers are working for oDesk.

Describing the success story of a Bangladeshi freelancer, Cooper said an employee of a private company in Bangladesh had been facing hardship in bearing her family expenses. Then she contacted oDesk and is now earning five times higher than she earns from the current job.

There are hundreds of such stories, he said, adding that some of the freelancers in Bangladesh even earn $100 per hour.

“You can earn $10, $15 or $20 an hour through online jobs.”

There are about 50,000 regular freelancers with oDesk, while the number of its registered freelancers is about 1.9 million globally, he said.

There are 150,000 registered contractors from Bangladesh. Among them 8,000 are working actively.

Bangladeshi freelancers earn $15 to $20 per hour on an average for technical works, while $5 to $10 for administrative or non-technical works.

But some of the top freelancers in the US earn even $150 per hour, said Cooper.

Most of the Bangladeshi freelancers’ average age is between 25 and 35 years with university education, and most of them do the work of data entry, while the rest do the technical jobs.

oDesk wants to see more Bangladeshi freelancers in technical works such as software development.

Bangladesh is competing with India, Pakistan and some eastern European countries. “It definitely indicates the higher quality of the Bangladeshi freelancers,” he said.

There are two types of freelancers with oDesk: individuals and small groups. But most of the freelancers working with oDesk are individuals, Cooper said.

According to the website of oDesk, more than 250,000 businesses use oDesk including Wikipedia, Hewlett-Packard, NBC, Travelocity and Aol. It also works with some of the fortune 500 companies.

Low-cost and high-speed internet should be made available across the country to help more people enter online jobs, Cooper said.

He also stressed the need for a friendly regulatory environment for easy transfer of money and low-cost computers so more people are involved in this type of work.