According to a new report by the Economist, “The global clout of the Middle East is growing.” The Wall Street Journal strongly agrees. Recent economic stats put the GDP of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) at around 5 trillion dollars (US) and currently growing at a rate of 3.2% (after growing 5.8% in 2022).
This is, by any measure, a significant achievement. Behind the region’s growth and increasing importance are several factors: increased demand for energy resources, growing foreign and domestic investment, a strong directive to diversify beyond oil and gas revenues, and significant investment in education and the workforce.
Demographic trends are a major driver, particularly in larger economies like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt. Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 , in particular, is a jaw-dropping multi-trillion dollar investment “… in the development of new economic sectors and a transition to a digital, knowledge-based economy” that will “diversify the Saudi economy away from oil and create more private sector jobs for a young and growing population.” Millenial and GenZs are driving greater innovation and entrepreneurship, and more young people are showing interest in part- or full-time careers as independent professionals or “freelancers”.
With this in mind, an update on the strength and velocity of the freelancing revolution seemed timely. Founders Abeer Qumsieh and Caroline Ayoub, the leaders of Khibraty, a highly respected regional talent marketplace, were invaluable in sharing their relationships and making introductions to key government leaders, executives, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders.
“How do you see the future of freelancing in the Middle East? Do you see it growing and, if so, in what professional areas? What’s driving growth? Do you think it will be an increasingly important part of the Middle East professional workforce?”
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Bandar Al Mohammadi, CEO Future Work. “The freelance industry has witnessed a surge in the Middle East region and will grow in the foreseeable future. Registered freelancers in Saudi Arabia have increased at an exponential rate of 157% from 2020 till August 2023.Beyond Saudi Arabia, freelancing is expected to thrive in UAE, Qatar, and Jordan. Besides offline professions, there are abundant opportunities across fields like digital, marketing, design, e-commerce, and consulting. The key factors driving freelance growth: ongoing digital transformation, entrepreneurial culture, economic diversification, and acceptance of remote work. The factors restricting growth are cultural, regulatory, and access to opportunity. Freelancing will play a vital role in the Middle East as the approximate number of freelancers in Saudi Arabia alone approaches 19% of the Saudi labor force.”
Ahmad Hanandeh, Minister Ministry of Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship Government of Jordan.“As Minister of Digital Economy & Entrepreneurship, I am excited by the tremendous potential and growth of freelance talent in the Middle East. The freelance industry across the Middle East is rapidly expanding, driven by technology, changing work dynamics, an entrepreneurial culture, youth and women participation, and a pool of highly skilled professionals in the region. The region is experiencing a tangible embrace of digital transformation across several sectors, and freelancing has emerged as a powerful catalyst for economic empowerment and job creation.”
Ismail Daham Alani, Head of Government & Public Sector, KPMG Saudi Arabia. “Saudi Arabia enjoys a very young population. With GenZ dominating the talent supply and embracing a preference for work/life balance, mobility and flexibility, more professionals are considering a freelance arrangement. Technology wires it all and the pandemic shows proof of concept that it works. On the demand side, Vision 2030 drives greater demand for top talent and, as the Government becomes a massive talent employer, it creates a talent supply/demand imbalance. One outcome is that employers across sectors are tapping into the freelance economy as an alternative to fulltime professionals. Last, the Government is focused on job creation and facilitating freelancing by rapidly crafting regulations and policies that add more fluidity to talent.”
Loay Malahmeh, CEO Numa. “The $4 billion market for digital freelancing in the Middle East speaks volumes about untapped potential. With more MENA professionals planning to freelance, the urgency to address issues like restricted international earnings access, high international transaction fees, low credit limits and limited access to growth finance is evident. Once we tackle these challenges, we could witness exponential growth in the freelance economy. One promising avenue: standardization in regional regulations to ease cross-border freelancing. More regional uniformity could be key to waking up this sleeping giant, leading to a boost in the region’s economy.”
Mo Isap, CEO IN4 Group.”Saudi Arabia is among the fastest-growing start-up ecosystems in the world. The pandemic catalyzed opportunity for entrepreneurs and freelancers, as has Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 which outlines the country’s ambitions for economic growth as it uses its investment power to create a more diverse and sustainable economy. we’ve have been working in partnership with Ithra for almost two years to deliver their ‘Creative Solutions’ programme. The programme is designed to empower freelancers and entrepreneurs, particularly women, with skills in digital content creation, and promises to enrich, educate, and inspire these individuals. We’re committed to a long-term future in Saudi Arabia, and planning to expand our operations and recruit local talent which further strengthens international relations between our two nations.”
Albatoul Alhodaibi, CEO GGC and President of Consulting Firms Committee in the Riyadh Chamber. “The future of freelancing in consulting in Saudi Arabia has immense growth potential. There is a rising demand for expert advice and strategic insights. This creates opportunities for freelancers specializing in management consulting. Several factors drive the growth of freelancing in consulting in Saudi Arabia. Economic reforms including Vision 2030 promote entrepreneurship, attract foreign investment, and create a supportive environment for freelancers. Local and international companies seek flexible and specialized consulting services, which freelancers provide. The entrepreneurial mindset and increasing number of startups contributes to the demand for consulting. Moreover, as Saudi Arabia embraces digital transformation, there is a growing need for consultants skilled in technological advancement, data analysis, and AI. Overall, freelancing in consulting will become an integral part of the professional workforce in Saudi Arabia.”
Luma Fawaz, CEO Oasis 500.“Freelancing is integral to the evolving Middle East professional landscape, reflecting changing preferences and aspirations. I’m optimistic about innovative tools shaping the future of work. Our Investments in Khibraty and Numa reflect our recognition in freelancing’s role in the future of work. These tools empower individuals, tapping into transformation potential while aligning with workforce aspirations. The Middle East’s youthful, tech-savvy population gravitates toward flexible work arrangements. With a strong inclination towards independent work, professionals are leveraging their skills in fields like AI, IT, cybersecurity, and marketing services. As this trend continues, platforms offering efficient matchmaking between freelancers and projects will play a pivotal role.”
Hesham Rowaihy, Co-Founder and Managing Partner Pure Consulting “At Pure Consulting, we are firm believers in the potential of the freelance economy, which is undeniably on the rise in the Middle East. While growing, it is not without its challenges. Addressing these challenges is vital to ensure the continued success and flourishing of freelancing in the region and beyond. Consistency in delivering high-quality work is of utmost importance for freelancers, as is demonstrating a strong sense of ownership for meeting deadlines and remaining within cost parameters. As a community of independent professionals, demonstrating a high standard of professionalism is crucial: adhering to business ethical standards and a rigorous code of conduct, avoiding conflicts of interest, and maintaining open and transparent communication, are all essential competencies.
Eng Sultan Alhamaidi, Chief Business Officer Social Development Bank .“The horizon of freelancing in MENA unveils a landscape brimming with promise. We see growth across diverse sectors—AI, IT, management consulting, cybersecurity, and marketing. This ascent is propelled by nations like Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Egypt each fortified by thriving economies and tech-driven fervor. In Saudi Arabia, the issuance of 2.4 million freelance certificates across diverse domains testifies to a growing freelance ecosystem. The Social Development Bank, a government institution fostering entrepreneurship, has extended financial support to over 200,000 beneficiaries, amounting to 14 billion SR (3.7 billion USD). While challenges in regulatory frameworks may arise, the burgeoning gig economy is poised to amplify freelancing within MENA’s professional landscape, cultivating innovation and adaptability.”
A 2022 survey led by Middle East recruiter Bayt, reported by Arab News, noted that 70% of MENA employers planned to hire freelancers and about 78% of workers intended to more actively freelance on a part-time basis. A more recent survey found a similarly high proportion of professionals open to part- or fulltime freelancing as employers seek cost-effective ways to deliver projects within tight deadlines and limited talent.
Finally, a recent quote from Gulf News: “The traditional expectations of MENA workplaces have transformed and many professionals are opting for change. MENA professionals are increasingly building flexible careers on their own terms, based on their passions, desired lifestyles, and access to a much broader pool of opportunities than ever before.”
Viva la revolution!