From its headquarters in San Francisco, it might be tempting to categorize Samasource alongside all the other online staffing platforms that have been established to take advantage of the growth in the gig economy over the past few years.
But Samasource has a very different corporate mission from the other entrepreneurial businesses that have sprung up along the spine of Silicon Valley.
Samasource was born out of a belief that talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not. Leila Janah founded the company in 2008 as part of a social mission to end global poverty by giving work to people in need. Samasource provides Internet-based “microwork,” breaking down large digital projects into smaller, easily trainable tasks for workers to complete at local delivery centers.
The nonprofit company offers five services — including machine learning, data verification and image annotation — and the microwork is provided by an impressive range of Samasource clients including eBay, Google, Deloitte, Marriott, TripAdvisor, Walmart, Yahoo and Getty Images.
The daughter of Indian immigrants, Janah came up with the idea for Samasource following her experience as an African development major at Harvard and a series of jobs that included a year at the World Bank and managing a call center in Mumbai.
For most Samasource workers, this is their first formal job and, by the time they have completed their assignment, they should be equipped with digital literacy and professional soft skills that prepare them for jobs in the formal sector. These workers are at the very bottom of the social ladder; many living in slums, where open sewage and disease abound, only able to afford unhealthy foods like sugarcane, with no money for school fees for themselves or their families, and no practical access to medical treatment.
By the end of 2016, Samasource has affected the lives of more than 32,000 people, including direct Samasource workers and their dependents in Kenya, India, Pakistan, Haiti, Uganda and South Africa. Samasource also reports that their workers increase their income by 3.7 times over the course of four years.
Janah sees Samasource as only part of her social mission. In 2012, she founded Samahope, the first crowdfunding platform that directly funded doctors to provide life-changing medical treatments for women and children in poor communities. In 2013, she founded Samaschool, a program that moves people out of poverty by providing digital skills training and a connection to Internet-based jobs that pay a living wage. And in 2015, she co-founded LXMI, a for-profit luxury skin care brand that employs marginalized women in the rural Nile Valley community.
Some people consider freelancing to be exploitative and insecure work and the media regularly fret about the growth of the gig economy and that it might undermine society in general. But there is another side to the story. Some are using it as a force for good — a proactive way to provide the dignity and security of work among the most impoverished communities in the world.