Kosovo's Women Go WOW: Online and Working!

September 19, 2016

World Bank

  • A new program in Kosovo encourages women to pursue online employment by providing them with online work employability training.
  • The program, known as Women in Online Work (WoW), is giving participants a chance to compete in the global market for jobs in IT and their primary specialities.
  • Some WoW graduates are already making higher than the country’s average salary, while enjoying flexible and fewer work hours.

Erlisa Zherka is a 22-year-old finance math student from Kosovo. She recently landed a full-time online contract with a US-based car brokerage startup through the Women in Online Work (WoW) program, a pilot that aims at rapidly training up to 100 beneficiaries on technical (IT) and soft skills, which are in demand by the ever-growing online freelancing market.

The pilot graduate, Erlisa, who received her online work training in the municipality of Lipjan, is already making more than country’s wage average (€300-400, per Kosovo 2015 Labor Market Survey). Her duties include testing proprietary software and customer relations. She works in tandem with another online freelancer – a young male from Serbia. If asked before her enrolment in the pilot, Erlisa would not have believed this type of opportunity would be possible. “Everyone was surprised to learn this exists”, she explained when describing the reaction of her family and friends.

Erlisa’s peer Dafina Kajtazi is similarly benefitting from online freelancing in Gjakova, the other Kosovo municipality where the WoW pilot took place. Since July, Dafina, a psychology program graduate, has been working part-time as Virtual assistant for a Dutch firm, while supplementing this hourly income with writing and research fixed-type online contracts for firms and individuals based in Greece, India, Malta, and the USA.

Like Erlisa, Dafina pushed herself to bid for jobs within the first month of her training. The efforts paid off quickly: “I’ve learned from every contract I gained, from every client, even from those when I haven’t got a job. I learned many things because I researched the job, applied and had an interview. I have also learned the basics of coding and about soft skills.”

New job opportunities, higher earnings

Erlisa and Dafina are members of the graduating cohort of the first phase of the World Bank’s WoW pilot, funded by the Korea Green Growth Trust Fund and implemented by Danish firm CodersTrust. The success of this employability- and skills-enhancing training program was to be measured against an ambitious target of at least 66 pilot graduates earning at least one hundred Euro through online work, gained competitively, in the three-month period following the completion of training. Now, it can be said with certainty that this target is within reach.

The first phase, lasting 6 months, recently drew to a close, with some noteworthy results. Having received a tailored training and targeted on-the-job guidance, 56 women have obtained at least one online work contract, collectively landing almost 180 fixed and hourly jobs. Although the pilot was intended to focus primarily on training, and successful job bidding was not expected to happen until the final days of the program, the first contract was actually signed only three weeks after WoW started – a nice and welcome surprise for all stakeholders involved in the project.  

The amount of collective earnings on these contracts has totaled approximately US$13,000. With their average wage of over US$5 per hour, WoW online workers are already making twice as much per hour than the average person in Kosovo (based on the 35 hour work week and the average monthly salary of EUR400, or around US$450, as reported in the Kosovo 2015 Labor Market Survey). They compete globally for jobs in data entry, web development, research and writing, and translation.


Taking online work to the next level

This promising start has prompted the Ministry of Economic Development of Kosovo to request the rollout of phase II of the pilot, with a view to testing out the suitability of online work for more urban segments of the population. This new phase has kicked off in the Prishtina Metropolitan area, (including the municipalities of Obiliq and Fushë Kosovë), in September and will last until January 2017.

At the same time, the Government of Kosovo began planning for the pilot expansion across all of the country, under the Kosovo Digital Economy (KODE) initiative. Aside from the skills component, KODE intends to expand the broadband Internet connectivity across Kosovo, especially in rural and remote areas, thus ensuring that everyone interested in digital opportunities such as online work can leverage it to the fullest.

Recently, this broadband component of KODE was named one of the priority infrastructure projects by the National Investment Council of Kosovo and could potentially receive donor support under the Western Balkans Investment Framework, to which the World Bank is one of the parties.

A program to build skills and confidence

“Don’t give up, don’t be afraid to try new things or what’s going to happen, and be flexible!” said Erlisa Zherka, who had to overcome so many fears and insecurities about her own ability to perform online work. Going beyond mere provision of training, a key objective of WoW was actually to build participants’ confidence in their online employability.

Potentially, online work training programs could show a way to connect to more, higher-paying, and inclusive jobs for women and other vulnerable groups - young unemployed men, people with disabilities, and minorities. This is in line with the findings of the World Development Report 2016 on Digital Dividends, which regards skills development as the most crucial element for developing a productive and competitive workforce for the digital economy.

Both Erlisa and Dafina believe that their training was key to their successful freelancing careers, and also gave them tools to coach those who turn to them for help, eager to try out online work too: each woman has mentored over five people so far, showing how programs such as WoW can create a multiplier effect and encourage other young professionals to leverage the benefits of online work.