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Though nascent in Nepal, online freelancing is growing at a steady pace



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By Shaurya Kshatri
Kathmandu, Nov. 22: Bangalore-based Information Technology Engineer Swagat Gyawali quit a lucrative job at Amazon India to become a freelancer. After over a year of working at one of the coveted FAANG (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google) companies, Gyawali, originally from Butwal, now works independently — choosing projects he fancies and executing them the way he desires.
Gyawali is just one among the growing tribe of professionals who are gradually moving away from mainstream work and opting for short-term online gigs. The prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work, often referred to as the gig economy, has seen a massive surge globally, especially in South Asia and Nepal is not an exception. As per The Online Labour Index (OLI), the first economic indicator for online gig economy statistics, most of Nepal's online projects centre around software development and clerical data entries.
There might be several reasons fueling such gig economies, but to Chiranjibi Adhikari, Immediate Past President at Centre for Cyber Security Research and Innovation, the end of load shedding is an integral one. "With power problems no longer a concern, working online has become far easier," he says.
"Similarly, there has been an increasing number of people relocating online after the COVID-19 lockdown," he adds.
But apart from these, freelance platforms designed to match companies with talents such as Fiverr and Upwork have played a significant role in attracting more workforce towards online freelancing. These marketplaces play host to many Nepali freelancers offering their services from graphic design, web development, and translation jobs to the more outlandish digital rotoscoping and online medical consultations. Upwork's client rating rates Nepali freelancers 4.9 out of 5. Some of Upwork's top freelancers in Nepal earn anywhere between $5 to $60 per hour.
Gyawali himself got his head start as a freelancer from Upwork three years ago. "I first began by translating English texts to Nepali or Nepali texts to English," he explains, sharing his initial experience. "In the beginning, the earnings weren't as much but eventually it started gaining momentum," adds Gyawali, who today earns anywhere between $1,000 to $2,000 per month.
"South Asian freelancers from Nepal and India are preferred globally mostly for cost arbitrage," purports Rajendra Paudel aka RP Srijan, a freelance business consultant and YouTuber. "Until now freelancing was thought of as a refuge for those who weren't able to find full-time jobs. But that doesn't hold true any more."
As per him, most people, especially millennials and Gen-Z employees, aren't any more satisfied with a single job but prefer holding multiple jobs. One reason for this has also been the increase in downsizing and pay cuts since the pandemic. Take the case of photojournalist Nishant Gurung. After working at a reputed mainstream newspaper, Gurung found his salary cut by half following the lockdown, which prompted him to undertake multiple jobs and projects. Now, Gurung is a correspondent for Zenger, a Texas-based digital wire service, and also earns via blogs and stock photos.
While flexibility and cost competitiveness are seen as some of the significant highlights of freelancing, work inconsistency and payment difficulty are major deterrents to freelance outsourcing.
The finances are always in disarray, points out Gyawali. "One month you can earn $900 and the next you might end up without a penny," cautions Paudel. "Also platforms like Upwork charge 20 per cent of your earning, so if you earn $100, you will pay $20 to Upwork and get the remaining $80," he informs.
Talking about finances and payments, Nepal's rules on foreign currency transactions are also quite stringent.
In February, Nepal Rastra Bank issued a notice warning against making
or receiving foreign currency payments through informal channels like hundi, an informal system of remittance. This means that those who earn foreign currency from virtual platforms like YoutTube, Google AdSense, Fiverr, and Upwork will have to do so through formal banking channels.
"Most freelancers in Nepal get payments via direct wire transfer to the bank account. Right now, some are also using Payoneer, a company that facilitates seamless cross-border payments to millions of businesses and professionals from over 200 countries," reveals Anup Kayastha, founder of TufiTech. “Apart from the pay, it is difficult to land jobs as Nepali freelancers will be competing against numerous professionals all across the world. But young Nepalis are keen to survive and succeed, and their laptops should help them do that,” concludes Paudel.  

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