California Tech Company Samasource Employs the World’s Poor

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SAN FRANCISCO — A Californian tech company is increasing workers’ incomes in the developing world from below the poverty line at $954 a year to $3,540, in three years. Samasource, based in San Francisco, is connecting workers in the developing world with employers in the developed world. This process, called impact sourcing, facilitates employment for the world’s poor by getting them hired to do digital work.

Its founder, Leila Janah, left a consultant job in New York to start the company in 2008. “It was important to me to start this business in a way that would track people’s income, find people below the poverty line, and move them above it,” she told Wired Magazine in 2015.

Employing the world’s poor is a tough sell to investors. When she realized that profit prospects for the startup were not promising, she launched it as a non-profit. Today, the Californian tech company has received over $5 million in donations from the Rockefeller Foundation, the MasterCard Foundation, Oxfam and others. In 2015, she received a $1.5 million grant from Google.org.

The Director of Charitable Giving at Google.org, Jacquelline Fuller, told Forbes that “Samasource stood out as an organization with strong leadership, demonstrated income and an ability to scale”.

Their model is simple. Find contracts of digital work from wealthy corporations in the developed world and outsource them to those in need. Since 2008, they have employed 7,896 people, whose incomes have grown 3.7 times in four years. They have also impacted a further 24,399 people who are the dependants of their employees. Past clients have been eBay, Walmart, TripAdvisor, Marriott Hotels, Google and Yahoo.

They break down complicated data-processing jobs into smaller, manageable components. Their clients are very satisfied with the work they deliver. “Most of our clients have commented that the fact that we are a non-profit is an added bonus; it’s the fact that we outperform other data service providers that continue to win us more business,” Ashley Grabill, the firm’s Marketing Communications Executive stated.

The CTO of Getty Images, one of their clients, agrees on the Californian tech company’s ability to deliver results. “I would recommend Samasource to other businesses because it is an enterprise-level professional service and is incredibly effective. They would be a good partner even if they weren’t trying to end poverty.”

They operate in some of the world’s worst-performing economies, delivering employment to the world’s poor and disadvantaged. Haiti, Kenya, India, Uganda and Ghana face a 20% share of the population living below the poverty line, according to the World Bank. Haiti’s majority is extremely poor with 58.5% living below the poverty line.

Employment benefits the world’s poor in a sustainable, lasting way. Samasource conducted a comparative analysis of the benefits of employment versus the benefits of cash transfers. Giving people work led to an 184 percent increase in income over four years, whereas cash transfers only to 41 percent. Furthermore, the employees who were given jobs were observed to save more and spend more on education and food.

The company also started the Samaschool program in 2013, which trains American low-income women and youth in high-demand digital skills. “Someone heard me speak and challenged me, saying that we aren’t doing anything to address poverty here in our own backyard,” the founder said on starting the program.

Samasource has grown to impact thousands of people in a meaningful way, but the gravity of the problem demands a huge scale-up in employment for the world’s poor.

Eliza Gkritsi

Photo: Flickr

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Eliza Gkritsi

Eliza writes for The Borgen Project from Athens, Greece. She has a BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from the University of York in the UK. Eliza volunteers in refugee camps in Greece and plays the piano.

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