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Samasource: Outsourcing and Poverty

Outsourcing is a controversial topic in the United States, oftentimes discussed alongside the current unemployment rate. The phenomenon has been addressed politically since the emergence of a world market and is especially infamous in the high-tech industry.

It is difficult to take a hard stance on the issue. On one hand, outsourcing is viewed as unfairly stripping Americans of much needed jobs. On the other hand, outsourcing is seen as essential for the success of some businesses, often involving tasks that Americans have little or no desire to do at unreasonable wages and levels of demand.

Perhaps both stances can be fairly arguable under different contexts, but under which context do American voices fight for the needs of the people taking these outsourced jobs? If high-tech is the future of international industry, shouldn’t the leading nations give way for developing countries to enter the new world market?

One company is framing outsourcing in a whole new light. Samasource, an innovative Silicon Valley startup, views outsourcing jobs to developing nations as not only mutually beneficial, but a key element to lifting communities out of extreme poverty (living on less than $1.75 a day).

Samasource is based in San Francisco and partners with pioneering Bay Area tech giants such as LinkedIn, Google and Microsoft. These companies send Samasource large collections of data (referred to as “big data”) which the nonprofit breaks down into simple projects according to their Microwork model.

The work is then given to their overseas employees in one of nine delivery centers in Haiti, India, Kenya and Uganda. Employment is granted to qualified women and young adults who undergo 2-4 weeks of training. Aside from the fact that tasks are as basic as content moderation, photo-tagging and routine data entry, the workplace imagery resonates with a typical First World office environment that many Americans can identify with.

And that’s the point. The people living in extreme poverty are often educated and willing to work but there is the standing assumption that developing nations have a populace who are limited due to lack of education or political stability. However, many have found that these areas simply lack the economic infrastructure to work in advanced industries.

When founder Leilah Janah graduated high school a semester early to volunteer as an English teacher in Ghana she was surprised to see so many educated and capable individuals living in extreme poverty. They could even speak English, but there just wasn’t any work.

Janah has been praised as a Silicon Valley superstar for her individual incentive to work hard domestically to bring jobs to those in need. Embracing the ideology of “sama,” which means “same” in Sanskrit, Janah has adopted the perspective that everyone deserves the agency to help themselves live a dignified lifestyle through employment. To accomplish this, Janah found outsourcing to be the answer.

Currently, 1.4 billion people live on less than $1.75 a day, and Samasource has calculated that 43 million people can benefit from their Microwork model by creating new jobs in the tech market overseas rather than sending them away. Samasource has already lifted 15,000 people out of extreme poverty by providing jobs to 4,100 workers with families to support. Continuing their efforts to help everyone succeed, the nonprofit has recently created their SamaUSA program which teaches City College of San Francisco students high tech skills at no cost.

Samasource isn’t the end-all solution; international aid is still necessary to provide basic needs for people. Once basic needs are met, providing jobs is the next step to helping those in need to help themselves.

– Edward Heinrich

Sources: Forbes, Mission Local, Samasource, The Telegraph
Photo: The Telegraph