Freelancers form a dominant part of the workforce in today’s professional market because it offers independence and professionalism beyond the traditional 9 to 5 working model.
Companies like Elance,  which offers a platform for online workers and businesses seeking online professionals, says that 84% of their clients admit that online freelancers are vital part of their business to stay ahead of the game. “84% of businesses said that hiring online gives them an advantage over competitors,” according to Elance website, adding that the advantages include ‘cost-savings, faster time-to-hire, and access to talent not otherwise available.’
Many businesses go for independent professionals because it provides them with a fast way to hire; manage and pay talent on a project basis; and giving them the flexibility to hire who they need when they need them while saving money, according to the latest press release from Nabbesh,  the Middle East and North Africa’s (MENA) first regional online marketplace.
A survey conducted by Bayt.com, a leading jobs website in the Middle East, revealed that an overwhelming majority (75.2%) considers freelancing a good option in the MENA region with better pay and quality of life than a full time job. 
The survey covered several countries in the MENA region including, the UAE, KSA, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia. Main observations of the survey were: 69% were in favour of considering freelancing on a full-time basis; 44% were connected five or more freelance professionals; 53% agreed that their company outsource work to freelancers; and 30.4% considered hiring freelancers a cheaper alternative than recruiting full-time professional.
“There is clearly a strong interest in freelancing in the region, however, the majority of people do not know where to begin. This suggests that more needs to be done to educate professionals in the Middle East on their options. After all, promoting entrepreneurship in this form is essential to addressing youth unemployment and boosting the MENA countries’ GDPs, ” said Suhail Masri, VP Sales, Bayt.com.
The survey also concluded that professionals are often confused about starting a freelance career because they don’t know where to start (31.1%). Besides, visa issues are a concern for 15.6% of the sample, while 14.6% fear lack of opportunities.
The MENA region has the highest youth unemployment rate in the entire world, according to the World Bank. The International Labour Organization puts MENA youth unemployment rates as high as nearly 30% . The World Bank attributes the growing number of unemployed graduates are either due to the irrelevance of the skills they acquire, the cronyism that still dominates the region’s economies, or the lack of sufficient capacity to absorb the increasingly educated and skilled labor force.
However, youth in MENA is optimistic about having a professional life through internet-based work. Youth, who grew up online, account for one third of the population of nearly 340 million in the MENA region. 
“75% of Nabbesh’s users are under the age of 35, and this demographic is looking online for work opportunities,” said Loulou Khazen Baz, CEO of Nabbesh.
The World Bank report also notes that although independent work is a new concept for the modern Middle East, its ‘peer to peer economy is old as the Silk road: Merchants directly exchanging goods and services.’ The report draws an analogy between the Silk route and the virtual road.
Companies such as Nabbesh, Laimoon, GradBerry and TasmeemME are competing to tap into the MENA freelance job market, and continuously revamping their marketing strategies.
Nabbesh, for example, has recently redesigned their website and have introduced new features with the aim to empower the potential 340 million people market towards Work 3.0, which include easy search and matching, profile anonymity, talent management solutions, complete payment solution powered by online payment gateway PayFort , and a rating system that allows both employers and freelancers to rate the quality of work and project experiences.
“This is just the beginning for Nabbesh as we shape the future of work –Work 3.0– in the Middle East & North Africa. Our platform is simple, user friendly, social, and most importantly a safe place for cross-border freelance transactions,” says the CEO. Self-employment is outperforming the traditional way of working both in terms of finances and quality of life.
A UK based survey indicates that freelancer community is only going to grow stronger in the coming years. “Our research shows that 90% of freelancers are happy with their choice to go it alone while 80% are happy with the control they have over their working life and the amount of hours they work,” says Chris Bryce, CEO of PCG, an independent working professionals’ organization in the UK recently.
And that could not be far from true for the MENA region freelance professionals as well.
By Pushpa Mishra