Microwork-ing Towards Equality

by Johann Tritthardt, MBA ’14 and Environmental Finance and Impact Investing Fellow (11/12/13)

Johann Tritthardt, MBA ’14 and Environmental Finance and Impact Investing Fellow

In a presentation series sponsored by the Iscol Family Program for Leadership Development in Public Service, Leila Janah, Founder and CEO of Samasource, speaks to Cornell students and faculty about her work promoting social entrepreneurship and her vision for a sustainable solution to global poverty.

“Work is at the core of human dignity,” says Leila Janah, Founder and CEO of Samasource. “What people want more than peace and security is a decent job.” Access to decent work is a challenge for people living in many developing economies, particularly in Africa. According to current statistics, roughly 976 million people around the globe are employed with full-time jobs, for which they earn less than $2 a day. On her first visit to Ghana at age 17, Janah witnessed the economic hardships faced by the local Ghanaians and became determined to make a difference. Thus, Samasource was born.

Derived from the Sanskirt word for “equal,” Samasource, upholds the fundamentals of social entrepreneurship and a bottom-up approach to the allocation of resources. Through Samasource, low-income women have access to dignified work over the internet.  Challenging the established model of outsourcing, Janah asked herself, “What if outsourcing could create a few dollars a day for billions of people rather than billions of dollars for a few people.”

In the advent of big data, connectivity and cheap computing devices, new models have been brought online to address social and employment inequities.  Samasource finds technology contracts, often with multinational IT companies, and puts the projects through a system called Samahub, which breaks them down into ‘microwork’. This simple task-based work is likened to an assembly line. For example, a task could involve tagging spaces in a parking lot as ‘occupied’ or ‘vacant’. This, according to Janah, allows us to “tap the brain power at the bottom of the pyramid with low-cost devices”. To date, Samasource reports more than $4 million in wages paid to over 3,900 workers across 9 countries. Furthermore, its work has lifted 14,500 women and youth out of poverty, 92% of which have been able to maintain a lifestyle above the poverty line after leaving Samasource.

The success of Samasource has led to the creation of Samahope, which supports rare medical procedures in Africa, as well as SamaUSA, which provides microwork opportunities to women in the United States. Janah’s ultimate vision is to create a family of social enterprises as entrepreneurial and innovative as the Virgin Group.