Speaker Series: Changing the World through Crowdsourcing

October 20, 2011

Ed. note: Leila Janah, the founder of Samasource, was at LinkedIn recently as part of the LinkedIn Speaker series. Here's a recap of her presentation on how crowdsourcing is making a big difference in the lives of people in developing nations. You can also check out her entire presentation below. 

I first heard about Leila roughly a year ago, when I read her interview in TechCrunch. It captured my imagination, because she was able to use crowdsourcing to directly deliver work to the poor and impact the world. So, I was thrilled to have Leila over at LinkedIn for the most recent edition of our Speaker Series.

Samasource is an internet non-profit with the mission of alleviating poverty in developing countries by giving people the opportunity to do “microwork.” Applying Henry Ford’s assembly line thinking to the standard outsourcing model, Samasource takes large data projects from its clients and breaks them down to small discrete tasks that can be accomplished over the internet by thousands of workers in developing countries.

Leila spoke of the similarity between “microwork” and Mohammed Yunus’ model of microfinance, which entails giving very small loans to the poor. Like Yunus’ work, which challenged prevalent assumptions that poor people were too irresponsible to be lent money, Leila’s work at Samasource challenges similarly incorrect assumptions: that poor people lack the skills to participate in the global economy, and even if they had these skills, there isn’t the infrastructure to employ them at scale.

The Samasource platform, or “Samahub,” takes advantage of the internet, connecting hundreds of workers in India, Haiti, Kenya, Uganda and South Africa to work from companies in the US, allowing large-scale data projects to be completed with high quality.

Leila told several stories of the ways Samasource has impacted her workers’ lives. For instance, with the wages, her workers are able to save for college tuition, support the members of their families, and gain a sense of participation in the global economy. Each task accomplished earns the worker a couple of cents, which adds up to several dollars a day. While this may not seem like much, this is a substantial increase in quality of living for her workers, who previously lived on less than three dollars per day. After working for Samasource, workers have a proven job record, work experience, and relevant skills. Rather than giving charity, Samasource provides a meaningful solution to poverty by giving poor people the ability to provide for themselves, and a future. Additionally, Samasource consistently performs better than typical outsourcing firms, making a company or team’s decision to use Samasource not only an act of support for poor people in developing countries, but also a smart business decision.

Since LinkedIn encourages every employee to volunteer one day a month ("InDay") to help good causes, I'd decided to use my InDay time to help Samasource. As I looked for the most effective way to help them, I discovered Development Solutions Organization (DSO), an organization that pairs professionals and students to work on international development projects.  Through DSO, I guided and mentored students to do substantial work on our first project with Samasource, the creation of a video transcription module that would allow workers in developing countries to take in video and transcribe it to text.

Ever since I started volunteering for Samasource, I’ve been struck by the similarity in Samasource’s and LinkedIn’s missions. Samasource uses technology and the internet to connect people in developing countries with opportunities to do non-menial work, allowing them to be employed en-masse in the execution of large data projects. LinkedIn uses technology and the internet to connect professionals and students all around the globe to opportunities, and to each other. As an employee of LinkedIn, I am proud to serve this mission, and to be part of an organization that encourages me to volunteer my professional skills to help Samasource in a meaningful way.