With automation and digitization taking over key sectors of the economy, there is increasing precarity and insecurity in many sectors, particularly those that employ informal labour. With over 80 percent of India’s informal workforce being female, there has been growing concern about the future of work for this vulnerable group. FemLab.Co, an International Development Research Centre, IDRC seed-funded initiative on the future of work in the Global South hosted a 4-day online symposium from April 19-22, 2022 titled “Inclusive work in the platform economy”. The online discussion series brought together varied speakers from around the globe constituting civil society actors, designers, scholars, and business folk. FemLab is headed by research collaborators Prof Usha Raman, Department of Communication, University of Hyderabad, and Prof  Payal Arora, Erasmus University, The Netherlands.

The symposium opened on April 19 with brief opening remarks by Prof Usha Raman, and Gillian Dowie, Senior Program Officer at the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), and a keynote by Sharmi Surianarain, Chief Impact Officer, of the Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator in South Africa, who emphasized that we needed to look at carework as an potential growth opportunity that could resist automation.

Discussions over the four days focused on four themes in the context of platform work and women’s informal labour: design, networks, governance, and vision. The Design panel, moderated by FemLab researcher Pallavi Bansal, focused on design interventions in the ride-hailing sector and the challenges women cab drivers and entrepreneurs have to face in their everyday lives, addressing issues encountered with access, outreach, infrastructure, safety, management, and the probable ways to counter these issues.

The second day of the symposium, on the theme of Networks, was moderated by Dr. Sai Amulya Komarraju, UoH alumna and now Assistant professor at IIM Ahmedabad, who talked about the growing changes and implications of the platformised work for women. Participants on the panel included Himani Gupta, founder of Kriti Social Initiatives, Bhavya Sharma, Associate Director, PR at the Urban Company and Dr. Gayatri Nair, Assistant Professor at Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology, Delhi. They addressed the impact of platformization on urban informal labor and livelihood patterns, drawing attention to the dynamics of caste, gender and cultures of modernity.

The third day of the symposium centered around the key role of digital media in enhancing communication and ensuring growth between people and technologies. The panel included Radhika Radhakrishnan, Ph.D. student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ana Maria Roriguez Pulgarin, Research analyst at A4AI- Web foundation, Harsh Nisar, Lead Data Scientist at Ministry of Rural Development – India, Sunitha Don Bosco, Assistant Professor at Anna University and Maartje van Eerd, Assistant professor at Institute for housing and urban development studies, Erasmus University, and Mahendra Chandrasekhar, CEO of Tunnel Tech, a construction company. The session was moderated by Chinar Mehta, Ph.D. Scholar from the Department of Communication, University of Hyderabad. The panel featured a lively debate around the relative merits of centralized and decentralized models of technology planning and implantation, and the possible impacts on the governance of work of different kinds.

The fourth day of the symposium took on the theme of ‘Vision’, with interventions from Ramona Liberoff, Senior Advisor at Antler, Courtney Savie Lawrence, co-founder of Circular Design Lab, Soumitra Basu, founder and CEO of Zyenika Inclusive Fashion, Aditi Surie, Sociologist and researcher at the Indian Institute of Human Settlements, and Lauren Parater, Innovation Officer & Strategic Communications and Storytelling Lead at UNHCR. Moderated by Rene Konig, Lecturer at Erasmus University, the panel reconsidered the value of buzzwords such as inclusion, sustainability, and innovation, exhorting us to re-think these terms through the lenses of gender, disability and other identity markers.

The symposium concluded with a conversation between Laura Herman, User Experience Research Lead at Creative Cloud and Emerging products, and Shrinath V, founder of The Better Product around the possibilities of inclusion by design and in practice.  Dr. Payal Arora, co-founder of FemLab.co & Professor and chair, Technology, Values at Erasmus University, delivered the closing remarks.

Overall, the symposium took on some of the key challenges of creating a fair and equitable future for all workers, but particularly women, and those at the bottom of the value chain.


Contributed by Sumedha Subhadarshini, Department of Communication, UoH