Friday, March 31, 2023

Direct Selling, fostering prosperity in Africa’s Emerging Gig Economy 

We often hear that ride-hailing apps like Uber, Bolt, Yango, have revolutionalised the transport industry by being disruptive. It has sent other industries scrambling, got regulatory bodies scratching their heads, and—perhaps most importantly—has demonstrated that nine-to-five jobs aren’t the only way for individuals to earn an income. 

Direct selling companies have quietly been doing that for years, only without all of the mainstream discussions and media coverage that pervades conversations about Uber and other ride-hailing apps.  

As flexible earning becomes increasingly commonplace and the world continues to shift away from traditional work arrangements, direct selling will achieve a level of public recognition that it has never experienced—not just as an avenue for flexible earning, but as a leader in the space of independent work and the gig economy.  

Consider what’s happening in the world around us. Right now, we’re experiencing a revolution in the world of work—a shift towards what has been called the gig economy.  A gig economy is a free-market system that allows people to work independently for short or long-term commitments. The key features of a gig economy are flexibility and independence. More and more, people are either jettisoning their eight-five jobs or combining it with other ventures such as direct selling. Companies are also stream-lining positions in their offices and adapting to their staff working remotely. 

The idea of people transacting with people is far from revolutionary. For nearly a century, the direct selling industry has demonstrated that its one-to-one business model works, laying the groundwork for what we’re now calling the new economy. Many of the lessons that on-demand companies are just now learning—the regulatory complications of an independent workforce, the value of trust and reputation, and so on—have been understood by direct selling companies for a long time. Yet, for a combination of reasons, on-demand companies are largely viewed as pioneers in the space of flexible work, while direct selling companies are still perceived with some level of scepticism. 

This new economy has thrown independent work into the spotlight in a way that it has never been before—and that’s a good thing for the direct selling industry, especially in an emerging market like Africa. 

The emergence of on-demand businesses presents a tremendous opportunity for direct selling organisations. The broader discussion around companies in the gig industry has contributed to the growing public awareness of—and appreciation for—the benefits of independent work. Direct selling couldn’t be more relevant than it is right now! 

Things have been changing in direct selling for a long time. The industry has worked diligently to update its business model, adopting new technologies to streamline operations and maximize the success of their distributors. 

Year after year, QNET and other companies have taken a more proactive approach towards regulation, working alongside policymakers to introduce stronger consumer protection laws and guidelines. For example, the World Federation of Direct Selling Associations (WFDSA) regularly updates its Code of Ethics and consumer protection guidelines to ensure direct selling companies and distributors run their business the right way. The direct selling industry we know today is a thoroughly modern business model. 

If we understand the new economy as the subversion of traditional models of earning and transacting, direct selling is most certainly a part of it —and, with roughly 100 million distributors globally, this industry fields the largest independent workforce in the world. In Africa alone, approximately 6.3 million people are involved in direct selling, and direct sales has grown by 3.5% in 2020.  

This business dwarfs all other new economy industries both in size and revenue, and the margin isn’t small. It is clear that direct selling is quickly becoming dominant in the gig economy space, whether others have recognised it or not. And there is no better time to get involved and active in this industry than now. 

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