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South of Kolkata, in the poor Indian village Prashenjit Baidya calls home, many families depend on a single source of income. Baidya’s father, a farmer and laborer, was his family’s breadwinner until he slipped and broke his wrist while cutting bamboo. Given the physical nature of his work and his lack of education, he could no longer provide for his family. As the eldest of four sons, Baidya felt responsible for filling the gap.
In stark contrast to his community’s rural garb, Baidya wore a button-up shirt and slacks as he headed to the Anudip Foundation’s Diamond Harbor location, an information technologies training center for impoverished individuals. Anudip Diamond Harbor is one of sixteen “delivery centers” partnered with Samasource, a San Francisco-based non-profit dedicated to bringing dignified, computer-based work opportunities to poverty-stricken people around the globe. Thanks to Anudip and Samasource, Baidya acquired key digital skills that allowed him to become his family’s chief source of income.
Founded in 2008, Samasource takes complex data projects from companies like Google, Intuit, eBay, and Walmart and breaks them down into “microwork” — relatively simple tasks like data mining, image tagging, and transcription. Samasource trains and utilizes a distributed workforce to carry out these straightforward, typically data-centric tasks that companies still struggle to automate.
Unlike oDesk or Elance — two private, for-profit freelancer marketplaces — Samasource was founded to achieve an altruistic mission: give work to the people who need it most. “If outsourcing was generating billions of dollars for a few rich guys in India and China,” asked Samasource CEO Leila Janah during a TEDx event in Brussels, “why couldn’t the same model create a few dollars for billions of people in poor countries?”
Although Samasource remains far away from its billion-dollar aspirations, the company has already paid out over $2 million to 2,600 workers in India, Pakistan, Haiti, Uganda, South Africa, and Kenya. Since those countries’ economies have different real living wages, Samasource takes the Fair Wage Guide into account for worker compensation. The Samasource team intends to launch a pilot program in the United States soon.
Ultimately, high-quality results remain Samasource’s number one priority. “Obviously we’re an impact-driven company — we wouldn’t exist without our mission — but companies would never work with us to begin with if we didn’t have the service-oriented architecture that they expected, or that they needed in order to be profitable,” Lauren Schulte, Samasource’s director of marketing and communications, told Crowdsourcing.org. Without content clients, Samasource’s workflow would dry up — which means Prashenjit Baidya, the poor Indian villager, would not be able to feed his family.