Originally published March 9th 2023

Across the Global South, there is a massive untapped opportunity to uplift incomes and livelihoods through frontier models for digital commerce. As an early-stage investor, DFS Lab has supported companies all over Africa in the digital economy space and is actively committed to bringing deep awareness and expertise of global lessons in this area.

South-East Asia and in particular Indonesia, are several years ahead of Africa on the tech adoption curve. There are major lessons to be learned to inform Africa’s approach to generating value for the livelihoods of the population, in a way that can be translated into sustainable commercial success. To this end, the DFS Lab’s research and advisory team is exploring and documenting the current shape of the Indonesian platform economy, with a special focus on livelihoods and financial inclusion.

In Indonesia, as in many other parts of the world, there is a deep sense that the digital economy is changing how many people pursue livelihoods — find work, sell goods and services, and earn a living. As many as 1 in 5 Indonesian workers rely on a digital platform in generating at least some part of their livelihood. While a lot of attention has focused on gig workers in Indonesia (e.g., ride-hailing and delivery platforms such as GoTo and Grab), the number of people trading or selling on e-Commerce (Bukalapak, Shopee) and through social media platforms (Meta platforms) appears to be many more multiples in size. Despite this, the characteristics of platform livelihoods have largely been a blind spot in the way that policy and tech actors understand online working and selling.

In this report, we explore seven interconnected themes about the platform economy and digital inclusion in Indonesia, drawing on 15 interviews with local experts and a review of more than 100 papers. Our specific concern is platform livelihoods — the ways in which an increasing number of Indonesians rely on digital marketplaces and social media platforms to earn a living by working, trading, renting, and creating. As a whole, our research questions assess the state of the evidence and key unknowns about the scale, scope, and quality of these livelihoods, with particular emphasis on rural areas and the prospects for women’s participation in the platform economy as well as the linkage to financial inclusion.

This research is part of a 2-year program of interconnected research activities. Keep a look out for our forthcoming publications, which will dive more deeply into mobility pathways for platform livelihoods, inclusion at the rural periphery, and implications for Africa’s ecosystem.

We are thankful to our research partners RISE Indonesia and Jonathan Donner (Senior Director, Research at Caribou Digital), as well as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation which funds this program.