The New “Gig Economy”: Home-based Work Opportunities for Refugees?

homeClose your eyes and picture this:  Stay-at-home mothers contribute to family income.  Older refugees find meaningful work that doesn’t require physical strength or English language skills.  You offer part time, flexible second job options for clients who want to earn extra money.

A beautiful day dream?  Well, yes, but Higher has researched some new resources and ideas worth considering!

Licensure to provide home-based child-care, driving for Uber and social enterprises (like Worn for Peace) prove to be great options that are familiar in our network, but they don’t work everywhere. Each State has different licensure requirements for home-based child care. Uber isn’t offered everywhere and requires a car, drivers license and English, among other barriers. Social enterprises, like any other small business, require strong skills and a significant investment.

The gig economy and peer to peer commerce refer to business models (like Uber), often interet-based, that match people with an asset or skill to offer with potential buyers.  Wer’e not the only ones considering how these concepts can be appled to the populations we support.  While a recent article in emphasizes the potential benefits this recent phenomenon offers for women, you can easily substitute refugees and it still makes sense. gigecon

Many of the new ideas and options we found involve call-centers, technical writing or other very specific skill sets most of our clients don’t yet have in their initial resettlement period. None of them offer convincing claims of full-time income.

Products and Models to Explore

Here are some home-based job opportunities and web-based concepts to explore that seem more promising as additional income-generating and part time employment options:

Crafts to Cash.  After an easy registration process, Crafts to Cash will send you supplies to make one sample of several products. You pay for the initial sample kit.  If you return a finished product that meets their standard, there are different fee structures and ways to get additional supplies and earn money by the piece for production.

Example:  Several years ago as a Refugee Employment Specialist, I tried a similar idea to produce fishing lures by the piece.  We thought it would be great for Burmese stay-at-home moms to help with family income.  Long story short, we invested $60 in an initial test kit and worked with a volunteer interpreter to help two Burmese women (and me) learn how to make our first test product. Even with an instructional video, none of us could produce more than a complete mess.  We gave up, but the idea could work well with a simpler product and the help of an intern or volunteer with more time (and manual dexterity) to dedicate to getting the idea off the ground.

Task Rabbit.  This web-based service connects clients and services in a model similar to Uber or AirBNB.  People with skills and interest in task-based work are matched with those with tasks to outsource.  (Think errands, light household chores, handyman work, assembling Ikea furniture or packing to move).  The service screens all participants and coordinates fees and payment transfers.  It’s currently operational in 18 cities, including many where refugees are resettled (e.g.  Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Houston and Los Angeles).  Hello Alfred is a different service offering similar types of services.

Tutoring could be a solid option for clients with the appropriate skill-sets and English language skills.  A quick google search will give you local options or on-line brokering services like that match skilled tutors to clients.  Skills could include math or other academic subjects, playing musical instruments, speaking a second language, knitting or sewing.

For lower-skilled clients, auto-detailing, cake baking, babysitting or pet care might be good options. Some clients may be able to offer those services independently.  Most would probably be more successful with marketing and organizational assistance from a volunteer or community partner.

Are you also thinking about how to help refugees capitalize on this trend?  Have ideas or experience to share?  Get in touch at

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  1. Barb Galli says:

    Wow, I hate to be Debbie Downer, but I think it’s a mistake to recommend “craft at home for money” companies. If you do a search about scams you will find that almost without exception, those that require you to buy a kit, make a craft, return it for inspection, and then get paid are money-makers— for the business that is selling the kits. A couple of suggestions made on-line for ideas that are likely to be more productive: either make your own crafts and sell them on Etsy, or find a local crafter who is producing something and will contract crafters to produce for them. The idea of having to pay for a kit upfront is a huge red flag. Here’s something from the FTC that talks about craft and other scams:

    • Lorel Donaghey says:

      You’re not a Debbie Downer, Barb. Thanks so much for weighing in. Perhaps this explains why we couldn’t figure out how to make those silly fishing lures? I hope others weigh in, too. Does WR have any experience with Etsy or local crafters to share? I refuse to let this idea go. I know it can work somehow, even if I couldn’t make it happen myself. I’ll give it a couple of days and, then, unless you aren’t comforable, I’ll add your comment directly into the post so more people can see it.

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