SURREY, United Kingdom — The Borgen Project spoke to Enrique Yervez, co-founder of the Venezuela-focused social enterprise, iWorker, to understand more about poverty in Venezuela, his work and how it can help reduce poverty in Venezuela.
Venezuela has been facing a debilitating political and economic crisis since 2016 when its government declared a state of emergency. Between 2015 and 2022, more than 7 million Venezuelans left the country, in “the largest human displacement in Latin American history.”
What is Happening in Venezuela?
The value of the Venezuelan bolívar and the Venezuelan economy has historically relied on oil exports, with over 90% of the country’s export revenue coming from oil, according to The Conversation. But when the global price of oil fell in 2014, the Venezuelan economy began to crash and the value of the bolívar fell.
To counter this, the Venezuelan government decided to print more money, which can help in short-term situations but only lowered the bolívar’s value even further, leading to hyperinflation. Many Venezuelans converted their money to the more stable U.S. dollar to prevent personal financial losses. Some sold subsidized Venezuelan goods at the borders in exchange for U.S. dollars. This led to shortages of goods like food, causing prices to increase within Venezuela, The Conversation reports.
Anti-government protests faced state repression, leading millions of Venezuelans to flee the country for both political and economic reasons.
“In Venezuela right now, a loaf of bread is like $1 or $2, but the minimum wage is around $5 per month,” Enrique explains. “There are people who earn a little bit more and people who earn a little bit less. There are companies that pay a bit more, like supermarkets or private companies, they pay $50 or $100 per month, but in most cases, a well-paid job in Venezuela will pay you around $100 per month maximum.”
How Can Remote Work Help?
Remote work could help reduce poverty in Venezuela. According to Enrique, “Remote work is a very important tool for refugees and immigrants because it’s very hard for people to find a job when they are in a country that is not their homeland. They need to get set up with all the legal things, like residency and they need to regularize their tax situation. Remote work pretty much bypasses that and you can work from wherever you want. It allows you to have a good level of income, especially in the countries that we recruit from, where what we pay workers duplicates several times what they would earn in a local job.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the idea of remote work as a viable way for refugees to earn money gained traction. The UNHCR currently endorses several programs which focus on ‘”remote learning for remote earning.” These programs provide displaced people with the technical skills needed to work remotely.
What is iWorker?
Regarding the origins of the social enterprise, Enrique states, “iWorker came in late 2017, but we started working to make it grow at the beginning of 2018. We created iWorker as a social enterprise, as a way of doing something about the crisis in Venezuela. I was born and raised in Venezuela and working remotely actually saved my life.” Enrique further how difficult the situation was for everybody in Venezuela with “seven figures of inflation per month”
“I was working really long hours, managing one of the biggest hotels on Margarita Island, and I said to myself, I cannot keep doing this and then I started looking for remote gigs for myself,” he explained.
Following this, Enrique began working remotely, leading him to meet his co-founder Jeb Koogler, who had many American contacts willing to hire Venezuelan remote workers. “In the beginning, I was recruiting a lot of people from the college that I went to. Then, it was only me putting papers on all the walls and now we have a network of 700 people or more.”
By paying the workers in U.S. dollars, the company can avoid the issue of inflation and have a higher quality of life. iWorker is also very passionate about empowering women, with nearly 60% of its workforce being female. There are 83% of iWorker’s professionals in Venezuela and 17% live in other Latin American countries.
How Does iWorker Operate?
“We have recruitment teams in each of the countries that we recruit from,” Enrique further explains. “We have a recruitment team in Venezuela, we use popular job boards in each of the countries that we recruit from, we now recruit from around seven different countries, although our focus is still in Venezuela, Nicaragua and now in Argentina. There is a pre-vetting process in place, by which we test people’s skills, particularly their level of English, as all of our clients are English-speaking only. A small number of Venezuelans speak English, to be completely honest, that’s the hardest part – a lot of workers don’t make it into the next stages of the application process. We have admins, graphic designers, project managers, video editors, telemarketers and a few developers as well.”
Regarding the success rate, Enrique says “Word of mouth has been a massive source of clients for us. The success rate after somebody interviews a worker is very high because we try to make sure that we only present potential clients with workers that we think will be the best fit for them.”
A Brighter Future
“I’m most proud of the way that we have been able to improve people’s lives,” Enrique shares. “It’s not all about the money, it’s about how our workers have been able to help themselves, their families, people they love and how some of our workers have also been able to save up money in order to migrate to other countries in Latin America, and they’re still working with us, after three or four years. Last year, I met with iWorkers in Venezuela from three different cities. They were super happy that they found us, and actually, we’re the lucky ones. Right now, we have hundreds of workers, but in 10 years, we expect to have thousands, tens of thousands, of workers and be the reference of remote work among immigrants and refugees and remote work in general.”
Thanks to the tireless work of organizations like iWorker and the constant advances in modern technology, it may be possible to reduce poverty in Venezuela. Initiatives like these are likely to grow in popularity and could one day be used on a broader scale to help refugees worldwide.
– Tasha B. Johnson