Global army of online freelancers remakes outsourcing industry

Wed Oct 10, 2012 5:39pm EDT
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By Jeremy Wagstaff

LIPA CITY, Philippines (Reuters) - Not far from the world of regimented cubicles and headset-toting call center operators, a quiet revolution is stirring in its slippers.

University librarian Sheila Ortencio, for example, was so poorly paid that half her salary went for childcare, and her meals amounted to dried fish and one fried egg per day. Four years on, she juggles two daughters, a husband and two Pomeranians as she catalogues ebooks online from her parents' couch.

In her freelancing job, she's earned enough money to buy land for a house nearby and make down payments on a condo in the capital.

"I have double the work but, it doesn't bother me because it doesn't feel like work," she says.

Ortencio is one of more than half a million Filipinos registered on freelance website - more than are currently employed by the country's growing business process outsourcing (BPO) industry.

While it's early days, proponents of so-called commercial crowdsourcing contend that a swelling army of global freelancers is already disrupting traditional outsourcing - from preparing tax statements to conducting research on pediatricians.

"This is all about cost arbitration across borders," says Siou Chew Kuek, a Singaporean researcher who works with the World Bank. "Now you can farm out your work to anyone in the world."

LOW-HANGING FRUIT   Continued...

An employee works on his computer at the office of CloudFactory, a Canadian startup that based itself in Kathmandu, where it hires teams of Nepalese October 5, 2012. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar