Empowering Venezuelan workers: a review of iWorker’s impact-oriented model

The Venezuelan refugee crisis is considered one of the worst in modern history. At the core of this crisis is a seemingly intractable problem: the lack of well-paid work for Venezuelans, both in their own country and in the many other countries in which they now also reside. In Venezuela, nearly 90% of the population lives in poverty and faces regular shortages of food and medicine. Well paying jobs have become scarce and hyperinflation hovers around 1,000,000% per year. As a result, nearly 5 million Venezuelans have fled the country.

As a Venezuelan myself, I’ve lived this crisis.

In 2018, I left Venezuela with my pregnant wife to move to Argentina. With a daughter on the way, we knew we just couldn’t raise her back home. Inflation had made our local salaries nearly worthless and crime was endemic, with homicide rates in Venezuela near the highest in the world. Job opportunities were non-existent and the prospects for our daughter seemed grim.

Argentina provided relief for my wife and I but I worried about friends and family members back home. So, shortly after arriving, I joined forces with two North Americans, both living in Buenos Aires at the time, to create iWorker. Our goal was to provide online work opportunities for Venezuelans so that they could earn in USD and better support themselves and their families.

The concept was simple enough: to link up talented English-speaking Venezuelans with companies in the US and Europe to work online as “virtual assistants” or “remote workers,” carrying out tasks for these companies in customer service, graphic design, data entry, and social media. While we initially considered founding iWorker as a non-profit, we ultimately decided against it; a careful review of that model suggested to us that relying on grant money seemed a precarious path. So we built iWorker as a social enterprise, finding inspiration in a growing movement of impact-driven companies like Samasource who use employment-creation to generate social impact in countries in crisis.

iWorker recruits Venezuelan professionals, then trains and guides them in how to succeed in working online; in turn, iWorker looks for small businesses in the US, Europe, and Canada who are looking to expand their team but who would otherwise have been unable to afford hiring someone locally. The rates charged to these clients (between $5-$12/hour) are low enough to be competitive with other outsourcing companies but high enough that workers earn a strong living wage in their local economies (of at least $650/month, with higher skilled workers able to earn several times this amount).

To date, iWorker has provided work for over 300 Venezuelans, nearly 60% of which have been women, and helped its workers to generate over $800,000 in income. 83% of iWorker’s Venezuelan team is based in Venezuela itself, with another 17% living in neighboring countries.

A RESPONSE TO THE ECONOMIC CRISIS

The solution provided by iWorker is innovative in a variety of ways. First, providing well-paid work online — at between $4 USD-$10 USD per hour — gives Venezuelans the power to tap into the global economy and earn and save in USD, a currency that isn’t subject to hyperinflation. Second, it provides them with greater physical security. Enabling Venezuelans to work from home diminishes dramatically the dangers of robbery or assault that they face when commuting on public transportation to an in-person job.

Third, by providing a living wage working online, iWorker’s Venezuela team is not forced to flee Venezuela looking for work, giving them the power to decide if they want to leave the country or stay. This keeps families together and helps reduce the strain on neighbouring countries. If a worker does decide to leave, having an online job helps them to secure the savings and the job security to arrive in their new home and afford decent housing and medical care.

iWorker provides value in other ways as well. One of the key differences between iWorker and other online work opportunities is stability. Most freelancing alternatives like Upwork are “gig-based” and short-term. In contrast, iWorker seeks out clients looking for long-term engagements. As such, some workers have been with their iWorker clients for over two years and counting. In addition, when a worker loses a client or wants to work additional hours, iWorker can typically place them with a new client within a matter of days.

Hiring from Venezuela is not without its challenges, however, and the risk of letting down clients because of unstable access to power is the main one. iWorker addresses this with clients and workers upfront, establishing expectations with clients and building procedures for workers to follow. As a result, clients are generally understanding; even with several nationwide power outages in Venezuela in recent years, only a handful of workers from the iWorker team lost clients.

AN IMPACT-ORIENTED MODEL

iWorker has impacted the lives of over 1,500 Venezuelans to date. Since 2018, iWorker has hired around 300 Venezuelans from within Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, and other Latin American countries, who on average support 4 other family members with the income they receive. Many of these workers have been able to start families, save enough to move to a neighboring country, pay their university fees, gain critical digital skills, and significantly increase their buying power.

In total, iWorker has helped generate over $800,000 in income for Venezuelan workers and their families. 96.2% of the workers that iWorker has hired past its trial period have stayed for the long term, an indication of the high perceived value of this job in comparison to other employment opportunities available.

At the heart of iWorker’s efforts has been a focus on empowering women. In the 2020 Gender Gap Index report, Venezuela scored only a .71, suggesting that women in the country are almost 30% more likely than men to face barriers to attainment in the workplace, politics, and education. Employing women has long been a priority of iWorker’s as a way of targeting these inequities, and iWorker aggressively seeks out talented, English-speaking Venezuelan women in its recruitment search. As a result, 59% of iWorker’s Venezuelan workforce are women.

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Recently, iWorker has begun hiring workers for more specialized roles from other countries as well. But our focus remains on empowering Venezuela’s large and talented pool of professionals to find work online. If you’re interested in connecting with a Venezuelan worker yourself, I encourage you to visit our website and reach out to me through there.

I’ll be happy to line up an interview for you so you can connect with someone on our team.

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iWorker, Co-Founder. Creative problem solver. Passionate about generating social impact.

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Enrique Yervez

Enrique Yervez

iWorker, Co-Founder. Creative problem solver. Passionate about generating social impact.

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