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Samasource: Planting Seeds for Fair Trade Outsourcing

Mary Catherine O'Connor | Friday August 21st, 2009 | 0 Comments

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Chirayath (right) and trainees in Dadaab.

Chirayath and trainees in Dadaab.

Increasingly, organizations that work toward ending poverty in underdeveloped parts of the world are basing their efforts on teaching skills and providing tools for those populations in need–rather than providing them with aid, such as food or other resources. It’s the whole teach-a-man-to-fish principle, and it appears to be catching on in governmental aid efforts, if the $20 billion food security plan that President Obama announced at last week’s G8 meetings in Italy is an indication. This plan is designed to provide seeds and other tools that can be used to help not just feed but sustain the world’s poor.

Samasource, a Bay Area startup, is taking a similar tack, which is spelled out quite clearly in its guiding mission: give work, not aid. But whereas similar organizations focus on building out the agricultural or transportation infrastructures in places such as Africa (Kickstart International and Zambikes/Bamboosero are great examples), Samasource is focused on linking people with computer-based work.

Though it is a non-profit, Samasource works as a bridge between profit-based, socially-responsible companies and marginalized people in countries such as Africa and throughout Asia, linking them with Internet-based work. Samasource screens and then provides training and project management tools to small businesses and nonprofit training centers in the poorest parts of the world. It then connects them with US clients interested in outsourcing computer work.

Samasource founder Leila Chirayath likens the organization’s business model to that used in the fair trade marketplace. “In the way that fair trade is changing the ways that companies source products,” she says, “this would change the way they source services.”

Samasource only works with small businesses that prove themselves to be socially responsible by hiring women, people with various types of disabilities, and without regard for their race or religious affiliation. In a pilot project it conducted in Kenya, Samasource was able to train more than 250 people and link them with small Kenyan businesses in need of works such data entry, transcription and software coding. Over the course of the project, those 250 people earned $125,000.

Now, Samasource is working in partnership with humanitarian organization CARE International on a project in the overcrowded refugee camps in Dadaab, Kenya.

There, the groups are spending the summer preparing refugees for paid, technology-based work. Initially, they’re training team leaders at an IT center in the camps that CARE has equipped with Internet access and computers. These team leaders will extend training to other refugees and once they’re prepared, refugees will begin performing work for Dolores Labs, a company that provides efficient crowdsourcing for short simple tasks.

Built to accommodate 90,000 people, Dadaab now hosts more than 280,000, making it the largest refugee site in the world. Overcrowding puts a strain on basic resources, a problem compounded by the fact that traditional jobs such as ice-making and butchering are very resource-intensive.

The jobs that come from Samasource’s project will, however, consume significantly fewer resources, while also allowing the team leaders to make use of their education. Samasource says most of the team leaders have completed secondary school, and a few have pursued higher education.

Samasource also provides quotes for project work. Companies looking to hire people to provide business or IT support for various projects can request a bid on the Samasource site.

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