Though it is common knowledge that businesses, both in the global and domestic spheres, have been severely affected by the pandemic-induced shutdowns, the picture of the damage so done to each sector individually is yet to emerge. The online-based freelancing sector of Bangladesh with some 500, 000 active operators, out of 650,000 registered ones in total, for example, had witnessed a robust growth by generating around US$100 million annually over the past few years. But since the pandemic struck, it has lost most of its overseas clients, the main source of its business, for obvious reasons. No wonder that in the pre-pandemic times the freelancing sector had been growing fast, thanks to the government's various initiatives to support digitisation of the economy along with widening of internet connectivity across the nation.
But despite the huge potential of the freelancing business including other IT-based concerns engaged as local partners with their overseas outsourcing principals as well as various e-businesses, both in terms of their annual turnovers and their capacity for providing job opportunities to thousands of educated youths, they seem to have largely remained unsung heroes. That is, when it comes to getting fiscal support so they might tide over the ongoing crisis. But the government can easily bring this sector under the umbrella of its already announced business stimulus package. In that case, this sector should be allowed to share the allocation meant for SMEs. The case for the freelancing as well as other digital business platforms should not be limited to just getting a slice of the stimulus pie. In fact, it deserves full attention of the government as an emerging business sector with tremendous prospects. Just before the covid-19's onslaught on the economy, retail e-commerce had been growing by 72 per cent per month, where more than 25,000 SMEs were actually e-businesses.
Interestingly, it is the pandemic that has compelled the people to follow IT-dictated lifestyle and work culture more than ever before, a fact amply demonstrated by our increasing dependence on virtual meetings, conferences, transactions of financial, business, social or of other kinds to avoid physical contacts. This alone points clearly to the shape of things to come in every aspect of our life in the days ahead. It goes without saying that in the coming days many traditional modes of business we have got so used to will be gradually phased out and replaced by their digital alternatives.
When talking about the prospects of online freelancing or outsourcing operations, it should not be looked upon as something existing merely in the arena of possibilities in the future. In fact, an international online-based study shows that Bangladesh already provides 16 per cent of the online service in the areas of marketing and sales worldwide placing it in the second position globally after India. The latter occupies the first place with 24 per cent share by providing mainly software and technological service.
So, to be at pace with the rest of the world, the policymakers in the government should be ready to embrace this emerging reality and ensure that such realization is reflected in the preparation of the national budgets in the future. Hopefully, the government will be able to demonstrate its willingness to consider this sector of business with the importance it deserves through allocating sufficient fund as early as possible --preferably in the next budget.