Sultana Parvin is a mother of two living in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital. She is petite, soft-spoken and wears a colorful headscarf. She is also a star information technology (IT) freelancer in Bangladesh.
In 2014, Parvin was named Bangladesh’s top female freelancer in Bangladesh by BASIS, the country’s IT industry association. She has done more than 100 freelance IT jobs for clients around the world who hired her through websites such as ODesk and Fiverr.
It’s been a quick rise for someone who didn’t know much about computers until 2012. Parvin, 42, was a self-described housewife of 20 years who wanted to make extra money for her children’s education, but couldn’t work since her family moved frequently due to her husband’s military job, Voice of America reports.
She read about freelance IT jobs in newspapers and then enrolled in short IT courses in Chittagong. Twelve days after creating her profile on ODesk, she got her first job; it paid $5. A year later, Parvin earned $6,000; not a small sum in a country whose GDP per capita is about $1,000.
Parvin is just one of thousands of IT freelancers in Bangladesh who are thriving on work from clients in the U.S., Europe and other parts of the world.
Bangladesh is known for its garment industry, which employs millions. But it was the third-largest source country for freelancers for the California-based website Upwork (previously known as Elance-ODesk when two companies merged), according to a 2014 A.T. Kearney report.
There were more than 650,000 freelancers in Bangladesh registered on Upwork alone, though their skills and track records vary. In 2013, Bangladeshi freelancers on Upwork earned $21 million. That figure has only grown since then.
Freelancing is an important source of income for Bangladesh’s large population of people under 25 who make up half of the country’s population of 160 million. Freelancers can work from anywhere with a reliable Internet, so the work is attractive to people in smaller cities and towns.
In Dhaka, the crowded capital, freelancers can avoid commuting for hours in notorious traffic jams. And mothers such as Parvin can work from home with flexible hours. Some enterprising freelancers have also opened businesses and hired other contractors.