Sama (company)

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Samasource Impact Sourcing, Inc.
Founded2008; 16 years ago (2008)
FounderLeila Janah
Key people
Wendy Gonzalez (CEO)[1]
Formerly called
Sama, Samasource (2008–2021)

Samasource Impact Sourcing, Inc., formerly known as Samasource and Sama, is a training-data company, focusing on annotating data for artificial intelligence algorithms.[2][3][4] The company offers image, video, and sensor data annotation and validation for machine learning algorithms in industries including automotive, navigation, augmented reality, virtual reality, biotechnology, agriculture, manufacturing, and e-commerce.[1][5] Sama's mission is to expand opportunity for low-income individuals through the digital economy. One of the first organizations to engage in impact sourcing,[6] Sama trains workers in basic computer skills and pays a local living wage for their labor.[7][contradictory]

Sama is headquartered in San Francisco, California, with an additional office in New York City. The organization owns and operates delivery centers in Nairobi, Kenya, Kampala, Uganda and Gulu, Uganda, and partners with additional delivery centers in India. Sama previously employed workers in Haiti, Pakistan, Ghana, and South Africa.[8]

Business model[edit]

Sama uses a secured cloud annotation platform to manage the annotation lifecycle. This includes image upload, annotation, data sampling and QA, data delivery, and overall collaboration.[9]

Sama's platform 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.[10] Sama delivery centers follow Sama's social impact guidelines, which includes hiring workers who were previously earning less than the local poverty line, paying a living wage and providing access to benefits.[6] Sama invests in training, salaries, and benefits for their agents.

Sama's technology features a five-step quality assurance mechanism that gauges the success of each individual worker. Workers are not, however, in direct competition with one another as they are in crowdsourcing models.[11] Sama'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.[7]

First founded as a non-profit in 2008, Sama adopted a hybrid business model in 2019, becoming a for-profit business with the previous non-profit organization becoming a shareholder.[12]


Entrepreneur Leila Janah founded Samasource (now Sama Group) in 2008. While working as an English teacher she was seeing her students' ambition combined with the rise in global literacy and access to technology during that time provided the initial inspiration for Samasource.[13]

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.[14] 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.[15] While working with multiple clients in the outsourcing sector and nonprofit world, Janah developed the business plan for Sama.[16]


Sama has received numerous awards and grants, including the 2012 Secretary's Innovation Award for the Empowerment of Women and Girls[17] and the 2012 TechFellows Award for Disruptive Innovation.[18] The organization was also part of POPTech's 2010 Class of Social Innovation Fellows.[19] Fast Company named Sama as "One of the Most Innovative Companies of 2015", saying that Sama is "defining what it means to be a not-for-profit business".[20] Sama has also been profiled in TechCrunch,[21] Wired,[22] and Business Insider[23] among other publications.

Janah, was included in Conde Nast's Daring 25 list in 2016[24] and as one of "Five Visionary Tech Entrepreneurs Who Are Changing the World" by The New York Times Style Magazine in 2015.[25] She was also named a "Rising Star" on Forbes' 30 Under 30 list in 2011,[26] one of the 50 people who will change the world by Wired,[27] and one of the 100 most creative people in business by Fast Company.[28] She is the recipient of a 2011 World Technology Award,[29] a Social Enterprise Alliance Award,[30] and a Club de Madrid award.[31]


Sama is currently[when?] facing a lawsuit in Kenya over alleged unsafe and unfair working conditions when the company fails to comply with 12 labor claims presented to it. Nzili and Sumbi Advocates, the law firm representing Daniel Motaung, a former Sama employee who was fired for organizing a strike over poor working conditions and pay in 2019, accused the subcontractor of violating various rights, including the right to health and privacy of Kenyan and international employees. Motaung was allegedly fired for organizing the strike and trying to unionize Sama's employees. On March 29, 2022, the law firm gave Meta and Sama 21 days to respond to the claims or face legal action.[32]

The threatened lawsuit followed a Time report detailing how Sama recruited the moderators under the false pretense that they would take jobs at call centers. According to the report, the moderators, who were recruited from all parts of the continent, only learned about the nature of their work after signing employment contracts and moving to the center in Nairobi. The moderators sift through social media posts on all platforms, including Facebook, to remove those that spread hate, misinformation and violence.[32]

In a post published after the revelation, Sama denied any wrongdoing and said the company is transparent in its hiring practices and maintains a culture that "prioritizes the health and well-being of employees".[32]

It was revealed by a Time investigation that in order to build a safety system against toxic content (e.g. sexual abuse, violence, racism, sexism) in e.g. ChatGPT, OpenAI used Sama's services to outsource labeling toxic content to Kenyan workers earning less than $2 per hour. These labels were used to train a model to detect such content in the future. The outsourced laborers were exposed to toxic and dangerous content, and one described the experience as "torture".[32][33] Following the Time investigation, Fairwork conducted a study of Sama. Benchmarking them against Fairwork principles, the company scored a 5/10.[34]


  1. ^ a b "Interim CEO shares how Samasource is moving ahead after founder's death". San Francisco Business Times. Retrieved 25 January 2021.
  2. ^ "Bay Area profit-purpose company Samasource rebrands a year after founder's death". Montreal in Technology. 25 January 2021. Retrieved 25 January 2021.
  3. ^ Stengel, Geri (January 20, 2021). "How A Purpose-Driven Startup Managed The Death Of Its Founder, Funding, And The Pandemic". Forbes. Retrieved 22 January 2021.
  4. ^ Cookson, Peter W; Iscol, Jill. Hearts on Fire (2011). New York: Random House. 2011. pp60. ISBN 0812984307
  5. ^ "Why Big Tech pays poor Kenyans to teach self-driving cars". BBC News. 3 November 2018. Retrieved 25 January 2021.
  6. ^ a b Bornstein, David (November 3, 2011). Workers of the World Employed. New York Times. Retrieved 2013-04-04.
  7. ^ a b Gino, Francesca; Staats, Bradley R. "The Microwork Solution". Harvard Business Review. December 2012.
  8. ^ Samasource Press Kit Archived 2016-08-17 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 2013-04-04.
  9. ^ Samasource. "Samasource and Cornell Tech Announce iMaterialist-Fashion, A Robust, Free Open Source Fashion Data Set for Research and Development". (Press release). Retrieved 2019-06-07.
  10. ^ How We Work, Retrieved 2013-04-04. [dead link]
  11. ^ Gino, Francesca; Staats, Bradley R. "Samasource: Give Work, Not Aid" Archived 2013-07-12 at the Wayback Machine. Harvard Business School. February 12, 2012.
  12. ^ Bright, Jake (20 November 2019). "Samasource raises $14.8M for global AI data biz driven from Africa". TechCrunch.
  13. ^ "Ending Poverty in the Digital Age", TED Talk by Leila Janah, January 2010. Retrieved 2013-04-04.
  14. ^ Dolan, Kerry A (June 8th, 2011). "Samasource Taps Silicon Valley To Create Jobs For Poor People", Forbes. Retrieved 2013-04-04.
  15. ^ Bhattacharjee, RB (December, 2009). "Mr. and Mrs. Smith". Hypermarket.
  16. ^ Rice, Andy (August 3rd, 2010). "Samasource, a cyber solution to global poverty". Daily Maverick. Retrieved 2013-04-04.
  17. ^ "Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to Announce the Winners of the first Innovation Award for the Empowerment of Women and Girls", March 7, 2012. Retrieved 2013-04-04.
  18. ^ Constine, Josh. "The Winners Of This Year’s $100,000 TechFellow Awards Are…". February 22, 2012. Retrieved 2013-04-04.
  19. ^ "PopTech Presents 2010 Class of Social Innovation Fellows". September 9, 2010. Retrieved 2013-04-04.
  20. ^ "Sama". Fast Company. Retrieved 2016-08-19.
  21. ^ Cutler, Kim-Mai (26 February 2015). "SamaUSA Rethinks Workforce Development For The Digital Age in East Palo Alto". TechCrunch. Retrieved 2016-08-19.
  22. ^ Hempel, Jessi. "The Woman Finding Tech Jobs for the World's Poorest People". Wired. Retrieved 2016-08-19.
  23. ^ "The 13 most innovative schools in the world". Retrieved 2016-08-19.
  24. ^ "Daring 25". Archived from the original on 2016-11-16. Retrieved 2016-08-19.
  25. ^ Arrillaga-Andreessen, Laura (2015-10-12). "Five Visionary Tech Entrepreneurs Who Are Changing the World". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-08-19.
  26. ^ "30 Under 30 - Social & Mobile - Forbes". Forbes. Retrieved 2016-08-19.
  27. ^ Scheffler, Daniel. "Leila Janah's 'microwork' - power to many". SF Gate. December 30, 2012. Retrieved 2013-04-04.
  28. ^ "The 100 Most Creative People in Business 2011". Fast Company. May 16, 2011. Retrieved 2013-04-04.
  29. ^ Branch, Heather. "ISP Speaker Series - Leila Janah. Yale Law School, Heather Branch's Blog. September 18, 2012. Retrieved 2013-04-04.
  30. ^ Melwani, Lavina. "Leila Janah's Samasource: A World of Equals". Lassi with Lavina. December 20, 2012. Retrieved 2013-04-04.
  31. ^ "Club De Madrid 2012 Young Leadership Award goes to Leila Janah". Club December 19, 2012. Retrieved 2013-04-04.
  32. ^ a b c d "Ex-Facebook moderator sues Meta". TechCrunch. 31 March 2022. Retrieved 2022-04-01.
  33. ^ "Exclusive: OpenAI Used Kenyan Workers on Less Than $2 Per Hour to Make ChatGPT Less Toxic". The Times. 2023-01-18. Retrieved 2023-01-19. One Sama worker tasked with reading and labeling text for OpenAI told TIME he suffered from recurring visions after reading a graphic description of a man having sex with a dog in the presence of a young child. "That was torture," he said.
  34. ^ "Fairwork AI Ratings 2023: The Workers Behind AI at Sama". Fairwork. GPAI. December 2023. Retrieved 17 January 2024.