Online outsourcing and implications for marginalised groups in developing countries

A comparative perspective

Samuel Mbah, University of Lagos


This paper adopts a qualitative approach to investigate effects of online outsourcing on marginalised groups in developing countries. The study utilised secondary data because of the novelty of online outsourcing. The purpose is to compare different models of online outsourcing initiatives with a focus on Nigeria, Malaysia, and Philippines. Online outsourcing is a “digital labour” in a “gig economy” which involves exchange of goods and services from clients to workers for money via digital platforms such as Freelancer, Upwork, Fiverr, etc (Wood et al., 2016). These platforms represent digital labour markets where outsourcing of tasks takes place under competitive and flexible arrangements (Beerepoot & Lambregts, 2015). The online outsourcing provides employment opportunities for vulnerable groups like the unemployed men and women to gain permanent employment or low income earners to earn extra money. In contrast, this digital process is fraught with social policy challenges and challenges arising from the need for partnership among social actors such as the employers, government, World Bank and NGOs. Apparently, little is yet known about online outsourcing and very little evidence of comparative studies exist in developing countries. It is the need to fill this knowledge gap and add to literature that prompted this research.

The aim of this paper therefore, is to undertake a critical comparative analysis of “Models of Online Outsourcing Initiatives (MOOI)”and relative implications for marginalised groups in Nigeria, Malaysia and Philippines. This aim raises some basic research questions on:

RQ1: Why the comparison i.e., reasons for comparison?
RQ2: What are bases of comparison i.e., variables or indexes for comparison?
RQ3: How is the comparison undertaken i.e., approaches or methods of comparison?
RQ4: To what extent does social actors’ contributions impact vulnerable groups and maintain stable employment relationship?
RQ5: What are possible implications for theory and practice?

In order to gain as much insight as possible, we generate more specific objectives of the study to:

a. Find out if there are significant differences and similarities among the different Models of Online Outsourcing Initiatives namely “NaijaCloud”, “eREZEKI” and Infographic “Digtal Market” respectively;
b. evaluate content and structure of models in comparative perspective;
c. examine different forms of work processes and practices relating to each Model and compare their impacts;
d. compare level of speed/widespread of initiatives or density of vulnerable groups affected by using descriptive statistics i.e., Tables;
e. assess impacts of contributions made by social actors and development agencies on vulnerable groups and labour relations and
f. explain implications for theory and practice in comparative research.

Theoretical framework and concepts

The theoretical framework of this research is predicated on the strategy of “Constant Comparative Method” of analysis drawn from the “Grounded Theory Method,” originated by Glaser and Strauss (1967). The choice of this theory is premised on Morse’s (2009) view that grounded theory is not something that is ‘performed’ in exactly the same way, every researcher factors the approach or generates their own version of the theory to suit particular research purpose. It is based on this inductive reasoning that the choice of “Constant Comparative Method” is made to analyse and compare concepts and incidences of online outsourcing initiatives embedded in the three different models and apply inductive method to provide answers to the research questions.

Conceptual framework

Duncombe (2006) came up with earliest livelihoods framework of analysis that focuses on Information Centered Technology (ICT) and its application to poverty reduction in Botswana. Malik, Nicholson and Heeks’ (2018) livelihoods conceptual framework in online outsourcing via digital labour platforms in Pakistan was a modification or adaptation of Duncombe’s (2006) livelihoods Approach,

In the same way, we adapt Heeks et al.’s (2018) conceptual approach in the context and come up with a modified version that we refer to as a “welfare Framework”, derived via qualitative inductive approach (Morse, 2009).


The study is qualitative research that utilised secondary sources of data. The secondary sources of data utilised in this study include Journal articles, textbooks, records and reports of the World Bank, excerpts from Government reports, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Bulletins, empirical studies, dissertations and internet source. The adopted methods of data analyses include descriptive, narrative, comparative and inductive methods of analyses.

Key findings / Research in progress

  • The study found that each of the country has a unique label that reflects unique aim and objectives of online outsourcing initiatives such as “NaijaCloud” in Nigeria, “eREZEKI” in Malaysia and “Infographic Ditital Market” in Philippines and so forth.

Implications for theory and practice / research in progress

  • The new form of “Constant Comparative Method” perspective of the grounded theory derived via qualitative and inductive approach as well as the adapted model can be of immense benefits to researchers in comparative studies.
  • In practice, is relevant to policy making, digital labour relations and socio-economic development and so forth.

Contributions to knowledge

  • The study established new perspective of “Constant comparative Method” derived from “Grounded theory” as organisational lens devise useful in online comparative research. Thus, fills the knowledge gap and adds to literature.


  • Beerepoot, N., & Lambregts, B. (2015}. Competition in online job marketplaces: Towards a global labour market for outsourcing services. Global Network, 15(2), 236-255.
  • Duncombe, R. (2006). Using the livelihoods framework to analyse ICT applications for poverty reduction through microenterprise. Information Technologies and International Development, 3(3), 81-100.
  • Glaser, B. &. Strauss, A. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory strategies for qualitative research. Chicago: Aldine Publishing Company.
  • Heeks, R., Malik, F, & Nicholson, B. (2018). Understanding the development implications of online outsourcing: A study of digital labour platforms in Pakistan. UK: Centre for Development Informatics Global Development Institute, SEED.
  • Lacity, M.C., Yan, A., Solomon, S., & Willcocks, L. (2011). Business process outsourcing studies: A critical review and research directions. Journal of Information Technology 26(4), 221-258.
  • Morse, J.M., & Niehaus, L. (2009). Mixed method design principles and procedures. Venut Creek: C A Lest Coast Press.