Financing Virtual Migration: Incubation and Income Sharing in North Bangladesh

Most developing countries face significant demographic pressures, with millions of youth entering the job market annually. Spatial disparity in opportunities can exacerbate this, particularly in regions that are not well connected to large urban markets and previous research has indicated that financial incentives for seasonal migration to urban centres have little effect on migration, household consumption and income on a large scale. With the growing availability of technology, online freelancing platforms have provided opportunities for freelancers from lower-income countries to earn internationally competitive wages and gain valuable work experience. Building on the results from a pilot project that found evidence for the benefits of this opportunity, this project will investigate the potential for financing 'virtual migration' by training rural youth to become online freelancers to see whether this can enable them to export their labour to a global marketplace.

The project will employ an RCT to test this hypothesis. While the control group will only receive detailed information on online freelancing, the treatment group will undergo an intensive training programme. This will be followed by an extended internship which will help them develop the ‘on the job’ skills necessary to become successful online workers and provide them with a support system of peers and mentors. The up-front fee of the training programme will initially be financed for the participants with repayment made via an income-sharing contract during the internship phase with payments tied to participants' (fixed wage) earnings from their work. To avoid setting up an expensive 'freelancing incubator' from scratch, the researchers will leverage the infrastructure of an existing successful company which will offer internships to the programme trainees.

There is substantial policy interest in online freelancing from the Bangladeshi government. Under the Digital Bangladesh platform, the government plans to train 13,000 unemployed people to become freelancers in three key ICT areas: graphic design, web design/development and digital marketing. The Bangladesh government plans to create a skilled workforce through ICT training in several proposed ‘hi-tech’ parks, which will be specialised economic zones, and at mobile training labs. This project will help provide evidence on the impact of and identify best practices for a similar programme. Further, there is a need to encourage greater female labour force participation in Bangladesh and this project will give special emphasis to female candidates, who have few job opportunities, particularly in rural areas, given patriarchal social norms, purdhah restrictions and family obligations.


Mehrab Bakhtiar

International Food Policy Research Institute

Muhammad Meki

University of Oxford

Simon Quinn

University of Oxford

Abu Shonchoy

Florida International University