Leila Janah, founder and CEO of the non-profit business Samasource, describes the organization’s core concept as a way for technology “to unlock human talent wherever it may happen to reside.” Sometimes that talent is located in impoverished regions such as East Africa, South Asia, or Haiti. As Janah explains in the following clip from her Big Think interview, Samasource operates out of a belief that the internet can be a great equalizer for people who didn’t win the birth lottery. Thus, the company’s name. “Sama” is a common root word that means “equal” in languages ranging from Finnish to Malay to Esperanto.
“No one should be stuck in a poor place where they don’t have a job simply because of an accident of birth.”
To accomplish Samasource's mission of giving digital work to those who need it most, Janah and her San Francisco-based team pioneered a concept called microwork. First, the company sources large technology contracts from major industry giants like Google, Microsoft, and eBay. Next, they break down the extensive workload into small individual tasks - microwork. Finally, Samasource trains people in countries around the world to accomplish these tasks from local computer centers.
"So the tasks might be as simple as tagging an image. For example, we work with the largest image archive in the world that supplies images of celebrities for major tabloid magazines and media agencies. We work with companies that catalog images as part of major databases. We work with companies that use images for essential processes."
Other tasks include writing copy and creating custom content for website. These are all jobs that didn't exist a decade ago but the internet's growth and continued evolution keeps creating new sorts of opportunities for sourced work. Samasource, as one of the forerunners of impact sourcing, currently employs 900 workerss globally who complete microwork tasks from their local computer centers. It's been found that these types of sourcing opportunities have the potential to raise the incomes of young Africans as much as 400%. For the companies like Microsoft who contract with Samasource, Janah says it's just like working with any other data services company:
"But on the back end it looks totally different. It looks like a man waking up in a rural village in Northern Uganda and walking to a computer center where there’s high speed internet and air conditioning and a computer screen and where he’s able to do these tasks through our technology platform."