|Haiti, India, Kenya, and Uganda|
|Mission||To build a groundbreaking social business that dramatically reduces poverty through digital work for a significant number of people.|
Samasource is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to alleviate worldwide poverty by connecting unemployed women and youth in impoverished countries to digital work. One of the first organizations to engage in impact sourcing, Samasource uses a proprietary internet-based model called “microwork” to break down large-scale digital projects from clients into smaller tasks for workers to complete. These workers are trained in basic computer skills and paid a fair wage (as determined by the Fair Wage Guide) for their labor.
Samasource is headquartered in San Francisco, California and maintains a field office in Nairobi, Kenya. The organization currently partners with 10 delivery centers across Haiti, India, Kenya, and Uganda, and has previously paid workers in Pakistan, Ghana, and South Africa. As of April, 2013, the organization had impacted 14,100 workers and their dependents in these countries by paying them over $3 million in wages.
The prefix “Sama” in the title of the organization and that of its proprietary products, services, and programs is a Sanskrit word, meaning “equal”. Janah has stated that her organization’s name “refers to leveling the playing field.”
Samasource’s proprietary technology platform, the SamaHub, breaks down complex data projects from large companies into small tasks that can be completed by women and youth in developing countries with basic English skills after a few weeks of training at delivery centers with which Samasource partners. These delivery centers are required to follow Samasource’s social impact guidelines, which include reinvesting at least 40% of revenue in training, salaries, and community programs, and hiring workers who were previously earning less than the local poverty line. Samasource and in-country partners collaborate on the recruiting process, which targets women and youth without formal work experience who are earning below a local living wage.
The Samahub technology features a five-step quality assurance mechanism that continually gauges the success of each individual worker. Workers are not, however, in direct competition with one another as they are in crowdsourcing models. Samasource’s staff also makes a point of understanding the skills native to each region so that it can channel projects to centers best equipped to handle them.
Samasource currently offers five categories of digital services to its customers, including content moderation, digital transcription, and machine learning. Its clients have included Google, Ebay, Intuit, LinkedIn, and Microsoft.
There is some controversy surrounding Samasource's business model: it is designed for users who have access to a computer, internet, and basic computer training. That by definition takes out the poor, especially women and youth, in Africa out of the question. Work is already available to them through online work marketplaces such as Odesk, as well as free further training through online classes or programming lessons. What these youth and women need is access to the internet, affordable laptops, micro-loans to purchase a laptop, structured training. This will cost little or nothing. While Samasource has been effective at raising funds and retaining a high profile leadership, as well as work that has served as PR from clients, its efficiency or effectiveness in meeting its mission is questionable.
Samasource measures its impact by capturing longitudinal data on each of its workers, as well by conducting household surveys, wage audits, and interviews with workers after they complete Samasource employment.
The Samasource website identifies two key metrics:
1. Total workers paid and trained
2. The change in income per worker
As of April 2013, the organization had connected over 3,400 women and youth supporting an average of over three dependents each to paid employment, thereby directly impacting 14,100 people. Samasource workers had collectively experienced an income increase of 114%, and 75% of them had “graduated” from Samsource into “formal employment opportunities”.
Samasource’s data further suggests that the benefits of a living wage reach far beyond financial implications. An impact report published by the organization in 2013 claims that 76% of their workers reported improvement in overall physical health, and several others were more willing to “engage with their communities…this effect is even more pronounced for women.”
Third-party studies that have been conducted on Samasource’s model have reached similar conclusions. A student from the London School of Economics and Political Science found that workers training on the Samahub in rural India improved their problem-solving abilities, their social intelligence, their confidence, and their political perspective. When several workers staged a protest against what they felt were unfair managerial practices at their delivery center, they cited the empowering nature of their new jobs as an inspiration.
In 2013 Samasource launched a pilot program in northern California called SamaUSA, designed to give low-income community college students digital skills with which they can earn a living. The model focuses on training students to perform digital work competitively, to prepare them for success on online work sites like oDesk and Elance. Leila Janah first introduced SamaUSA in a 2011 TechCrunch article which attracted controversy for its assertion that Americans could compete with African and Asian workers who can afford to take assignments that pay lower fees.
Samahope  is a crowdfunding platform that directly funds heroic doctors who provide life-changing medical treatments for women and children in poor communities. Samahope lets donors fund doctors around the globe so they can treat more patients suffering from treatable medical conditions like birth injuries, birth defects, burns, blindness, and trauma-based injuries. Leila Janah introduced Samahope in 2013 and it gained widespread recognition for the Honor Your Mom campaign. Samahope enables a new community of donors and change makers to come together to fund these life-saving treatments for a few dollars at a time.
Entrepreneur Leila Janah founded Samasource in 2008. Janah’s father sensitized her to the issue of poverty from an early age, and she became interested in global development while teaching English and creative writing in rural Ghana through a high school scholarship. Seeing her students’ ambition combined with the rise in global literacy and access to technology during that time provided the initial inspiration for Samasource.
After completing a degree in African Development Studies from Harvard University, Janah worked as a consultant at Katzenbach Partners (now Booz & Company) and at the World Bank. She quickly became disillusioned, however, by the lack of insight she perceived from World Bank officials into the needs of those the organization was attempting to move out of poverty. While working with multiple clients in the outsourcing sector and nonprofit world, Janah developed the business plan for Samasource.
The organization received its initial funding from the International Business in Development Challenge and the Stanford Social Enterprise Challenge in 2008, and has received additional funding from grantors including The MasterCard Foundation, the Mulago Foundation, the Peery Foundation and Google.org. The organization has since grown into a team and board with backgrounds in distributed work, economic development, and outsourcing.
External Reviews and Accolades
Samasource has received numerous awards and grants, including the 2012 Secretary’s Innovation Award for the Empowerment of Women and Girls and the 2012 TechFellows Award for Disruptive Innovation. The organization was also part of POPTech’s 2010 Class of Social Innovation Fellows.
Leila Janah, founder and CEO of Samasource, was named one of the 50 people who will change the world by WIRED, and one of the 100 most creative people in business by Fast Company. Janah is a frequent speaker and writer on social entrepreneurship, outsourcing, crowdsourcing, and digital work. She is the recipient of a 2011 World Technology Award, a Social Enterprise Alliance Award, and a Club de Madrid award.
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