There are over 7.3 billion people alive today, and 4 billion of those people live on less than $3 a day. Statistics like that are depressing, but Leila Janah didn’t just groan and turn away. Instead, she decided to utilize technology to give people in developing countries access to living wages.
While traveling abroad, she uncovered a common theme when she asked people living in poverty what they wanted. They always replied, “A job.” She saw firsthand that while outsourcing had helped some, it had not benefitted the poorest people in a country, and saw that foreign aid wasn’t making enough of a difference for them either. So in 2008, she started Samasource, an organization that provides digital jobs such as tagging photos or organizing data for people living in the slums of developing countries. Companies like Getty Images, Google, and Microsoft got on board.
“Business can be a primary driver of social change,” says Wendy Gonzalez, Managing Director of Samasource. After working for many years as a consultant and product executive, with lots of experience in telecommunications, she heard about Samasource.
“I learned of Samasource’s mission and was immediately hooked. I was delighted to find a nonprofit organization that was agile, results-based, and constantly looking at how they can best meet their constituents’ needs,” she says.
Outsourcing is a word that makes some cringe. Yet Samasource focuses on ‘impact sourcing,’ an idea that focuses on how outsourcing improves the global economy. It’s a concrete, practical method of providing work for people in developing countries and improving their lives in a way that’s more effective than foreign aid.
“Impact sourcing is about getting jobs to the hardest to reach people and making sure that money gets directly to the worker. The additional wages go towards nutritious food, safer housing, education, and supporting others within their family and community,” says Wendy. “It reduces the need for traditional aid and welfare.”
It works. 92% of people were either unemployed or underemployed before they started working at Samasource, and their income increased by 114% after working for six months. 89% of Samasource employees go on to obtain further education or employment.
Impact sourcing also benefits workers in the United States. “The responsible sourcing of jobs allows US companies to engage their employees in jobs and activities that are more core and strategic to their company,” says Wendy.
Samasource became the basis for the Sama Group: Leila expanded her organization, founding Samahope, a crowdfunding platform for medical care, and Samaschool, a program that began by training low income Americans for skills necessary in digital jobs. Samaschool has since expanded to Kenya and also offers an online program.
“Talent is truly equally distributed,” says Wendy. “If you can open up the window of opportunity and invest in developing people, the return is exponentially greater.”
Sama is the Sanskrit word for ‘equal,’ and Wendy has seen individuals’ lives change through equal access to work and education.
“I met one young woman who attended one of our Samaschool training courses in the Kabiru slum of Nairobi. She was shy, didn’t look up from her feet, and had a hard time expressing herself during my mock interview. When I came to Nairobi just last month, I did a worker interview not even realizing that she was that same young woman I had interviewed some time back. She was bright, confident, vocal, and shared with me that for the first time in her life she’d been able to contribute to paying for the house bills, that she was saving for school, and had a business plan to start her own catering company,” says Wendy. “It was truly transformational.”