The opportunities and challenges of getting freelancers online.
Log into Upwork and search for a graphic designer in Yemen. Even though Yemen has many designers and artists, you will come up nearly empty.
Despite the war and other obstacles, budding artists have taken to photography, graphic design, and other art forms. The art scene has been described by The Middle East Eye as being “invisible but alive.” If you look for it, you will find that art still thrives in Yemen. In 2021, there was an art exhibition in Aden to showcase local talent. There are also several organizations for the arts like the Romooz Foundation and Basement Cultural Foundation, with no shortage of participants.
Getting Yemeni designers on Upwork seems like the perfect untapped opportunity for microbusinesses, right? Just export Yemen’s artistic talent via the web; countries worldwide do the same. Why not Yemen?
In a word, payment.
Outside of Western Union, transferring money into Yemen is very difficult. PayPal, like most payment options, does not operate in Yemen and is the primary payment method used by platforms like Upwork.
Undeterred by the challenges of payment, Rise for Yemen decided to explore. So, we partnered with our trusty freelance graphic designer in Yemen, Manal Nasher. We helped build her profile on Upwork and LinkedIn and discussed customer service, pricing, and more. Then, we created a small project on Upwork and hired her. All went well until it was time to pay. There were no options for her to receive payment in Yemen via the app (Western Union was not an option).
There was one promising workaround she tried. There is an unofficial PayPal office in Sana’a. It is “unofficial” because PayPal does not operate in Yemen. We guess someone with a PayPal account outside of Yemen accepts payments and sends the money to the office in Sana’a. And fees are tacked on every time that money moves. Upwork gets a percentage, the PayPal contact gets a percentage, and the office in Sana’a gets a percentage.
Our designer would get $20 from the original $50 job when all is said and done. What’s worse? She got nothing. When she attempted to use the PayPal contact information in Upwork, Upwork would not allow it because the PayPal account information did not match hers.
“Yemeni artists are not fairly appreciated in Yemen, especially during the war. When we try the international marketplace, we are met with even more barriers to earning money. - Manal Nasher”
We had a few leads for transferring money into Yemen, but they all ended similarly. The inability to accept payment transfers like PayPal and other digital options in Yemen is yet another barrier for the people of Yemen to earn a living.
How can you help?
Again, this is too great of an opportunity to ignore. It is bad enough that Yemenis cannot leave Yemen to work; they should at least be able to participate in the global economy.
We have a workaround, but it’s more of a band-aid solution than a country-wide solution. Other than Western Union and MoneyGram, what other ways can Yemenis accept digital payments? We would love to hear from you if you’ve found a solution.