Access for all – Samasource, one woman’s crusade to empower the powerless

24 January 2014 06:05 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


Samasource. Kind of sounds familiar. Sama in Sanskrit and in Sinhala means ‘all’ and that’s exactly what Samasource founder, Leila Janah, is confident it will be - giving equal opportunities for all, particularly those who would not have the power to access the opportunities.

Creating digital jobs for the young
Samasource, founded by Leila in San Francisco, is based on creating digital jobs for young people that assure them of a minimum decent wage. Leila’s project has touched some of the world’s poorest places such as the sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and the Caribbean.

Collaborating with in-country partners, typically the big wig IT companies, it works towards recruiting prospective employees and handling market requirements such as data augmentation, digital transcription, image tagging for SEO and machine learning.

Estimates show that on average, Samasource workers are able to earn more than double their incomes following a few months on the job – after their exit from Samasource, which is essentially a non-profit, 92 percent have succeeded in staying out of poverty.

Today, Samasource employs over 4,000 people directly throughout the world. Having generated over US $ 5 million in enterprise and academic institutions-related business, Samasource has provided services for tech giants such as eBay, Google, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Eventbrite and the Stanford University.

The inspiration for Samasource? Leila’s concern for the poverty of the region and the lack of opportunities for the poor to exit the poverty trap. “Something has to be done about extreme poverty,” she said, “It’s an abomination that half the world’s population lives on US $ 3 to US $ 4 a day. “

“The more time I spent in developing countries and the more time I spent talking to poor people, I realized what they want more than anything is a good job,” she said.
“We spend billions on international aid annually but we don’t find ways to connect people to dignified work. I realized that if we don’t think about ways to harness private capital to solve problems, we’re leaving large amounts of money on the table and doing ourselves a disservice.”

The Harvard graduate, who has also worked at the World Bank, was inspired by a young call centre employee she met while in India on work – the young man had to travel every day from the notorious Mumbai slum, where he lived, to his office.

Dismantling middlemen structure
Leila said that she realized then and there that there were high-quality employees in poorer countries but their work for the big companies did not always mean the benefits trickled down. She says she believes that giving opportunities and empowerment can change things and mean a better future for the poor.

Essentially, her mission is all about dismantling the middlemen structure to better enable the host company and the line end employee work better in a way that mutually benefits both.

Leveraging a proprietary micro-work platform called the SamaHub that converts large digital projects into several smaller, more manageable tasks that can successfully be completed by individual workers, Samasource works via the Internet, which gives it the freedom to locate anywhere in the world.

The computer centres and Internet cafes used are carefully evaluated by the non-profit and  potential staff members are identified; once they complete two to four work training programmes, they can be hired on client work via SamaHub, a software that recompiles each project and evaluates the work using an automated five-step quality assurance.

Leila has a line that she uses with the clients, one which almost always resounds back with success. “You’re going to spend this money on an outsourcing company anyway, so why not end poverty and save the world without spending more money than you already spend?”

For her, it is critical that Samasource is able to assure corporate top guns about the potential locked in their business model.

Leila is seeing the results she wanted to see; Samasource has paid over US $ 4 million to workers across nine countries – the project has been granted financial support by MasterCard, eBay, Cisco Foundation and the U.S. Department of State. Given the economic downturn in the USA, Leila has initiated SamaUSA, a pilot project that offers work for community college students of low income categories.

Samasource is a great example of how one individual, whether man or woman, using technology, can add meaning and empower people without access to resources while enabling them to work for some of the world’s biggest companies. What Samasource has done, can be easily replicated elsewhere too, harnessing the power of technology for economic empowerment.

(Nayomini Weerasooriya, a senior journalist, writer and a PR professional, can be contacted at

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