Empowering the poor to be breadwinners

October 25, 2010

Samasource, a non-profit that connects people living in poverty to work via the Internet provides a different kind of economic aid. The founder of the organization, Leila Janah, who is also 2010 PopTech social innovation fellow, says that instead of just giving money and help to the poor, Samasource empowers them to be producers so that they are not forced to simply be receivers and consumers.

“There’s a new paradigm that’s an alternative to aid,” Janah says. “Aid is not necessarily the best solution for poor people. We spend a hundred billion a year on stuff that we know very little about — there’s very little transparency in the foreign aid world — and it has a perverse effect on small economies.”

While in Kenya in 2007, Janah realized that there was a disconnect between market access in the U.S. versus in India and Africa, which is close to zero. In rural India, for example, there are 150 million people who don’t have jobs. In part, because they don’t have access to the Internet. Samasource bridges these two realities not only by securing jobs, but also by providing the untapped, underemployed human workforce with an Internet connection so that they have access to jobs.

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So far, according to Samasource, they have provided a livelihood for over 900 people in Africa, South Asia, and Haiti. In turn, they say, socially responsible companies use them to contribute to economic development and to fight poverty.

“There are more than 4 billion mobile phones in use globally. There are a billion laptops and netbooks in use and 200 million get sold every year. That means a huge new swatch of humanity can now be tapped for their brainpower, not just their manual power,” Janah says. “So instead of them always receiving information from us, we can now receive information from them.”

With lower entry barriers for certain type of work these days and so much data being collected on these laptops and phones, there’s an enormous role — and thus work opportunities — for humans to categorize and improve the data.

For example, business listings need to be verified. Every month in the U.S. there are about 4,000 new businesses that get started in each state. As of now, there is no centralized way of collecting the data on these new businesses. So Samasource provides their workers with a very simple web platform to gather up to date information on the businesses.

“We are empowering them by allowing them to become breadwinners,” Janah says. “We are rethinking the way we engage the poor.”

For more from Janah, click here.

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