Profile: Samasource

Samasource is one of the organizations we are considering for our Just Giving Challenge pooled donation.  They believe:

  1. It’s better to give work than to give only money
  2. In a digital age, electronic work can be done anywhere

Based on these two ideas, they set up offices in poor overseas communities and train people to do electronic labor.  If you have an iPhone, you can download the Give Work app which allows you to partake in the labor; your answers are used to check their work, and the worker gets paid when the answers match.

I’m personally excited about the innovation, and how they use technology to both employ people and bring them together.  Last year I interviewed the founder, Leila Chirayath Janah, and listened to her presentation at SV2.  I’ve studied their financials and believe they are sound.  If you have any questions not answered in their FAQ, please leave a comment or send me a message.

And remember, Samasource is just one of the organizations we will be voting on.  If you’d like to participate in the Just Giving Challenge (give to the poor as much as you spend on Christmas gifts this year), please go there and leave a comment.  The editors will donate $100 for each person (up to the first 100) who takes up the challenge!

Website: www.samasource.org

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10 thoughts on “Profile: Samasource

  1. A comment and follow-up question…

    I think the real “value-added” of Samasource is not that they are giving poor people access to online labor markets (see http://www.odesk.com and mTurk on Amazon for unsubsidized online labor market platforms) but rather their ability to screen for truly disadvantaged populations that *truly need subsidies*(i.e. refugees, victims of trafficking, orphans, etc.) and train them to be able to compete in the emerging global online labor market. Samasource is similar in concept to http://www.goodpaper.com i.e. Cards from Africa/ Sanctuary Spring. So to the extent that you believe Samasource is a good screening and training organization that will identify the truly needy populations that clearly need extra training and help , it would be a worthy cause to subsidize. I do like how they focus on remote parts of the world where workers cannot use Paypal, Moneybook, etc. to access the labor markets in oDesk or eLance. So, if anything, I’d like to read more documentation on how they select underserved populations, how they train them (i.e. how do they choose what skills to train in), and how they use their donations in the organization.

    Which leads me to my next questions…From what I understand of Samasource, donations would be subsidizing only the identification, training, and organization of workers who are disadvantaged for various reasons so that they can be employed by firms or people with computer-specific projects and tasks.) But is this true? Or will some of the money be going towards subsidizing their wages? (I couldn’t find the answer in the FAQ…)

    And also, their description of who is underserved seems quite general….they say the include women, refugees, etc. but do they *only* work with women and refugees? i.e. exactly how do they choose people to train? (i.e. do they have formal, specific criteria? or a formal decision tree?) Or is it a case-by-case subjective decision by someone in Samasource? I ask because the organization has to face some real tradeoffs… do they target people who are cheaper to train, i.e. already have some education and skills who otherwise could have earned a wage at a job somewhere (albeit lower than the wage samasource offers), or do they target people who have been so beaten down by life (refugees, trafficking victims, etc.) that they have almost zero computer skills and need to train them from scratch, which is presumably costlier? It would be helpful to shed more light on what population they’re targeting.

    • Hi Christina,

      Yes, you are right in that Samasource differs from Odesk and traditional outsourcing companies by the ability and choice of screening for disadvantaged populations. The way they select these workers is not individually, but rather through their service partners — they recruit local organizations which are already doing this work, and serve as a middleman between those service partners and U.S. companies which need the work. More info on the service partner organizations:

      http://www.samasource.org/about/faq#whatissp
      http://www.samasource.org/about/faq#findscreen
      http://www.samasource.org/impact/partners

      The donations go towards building infrastructure to find more service partners and more U.S. companies. The rates charged to U.S. companies more than pays for the end worker wages. But like any start-up business trying to scale, the process of expanding is what consumes the profits.

      The difference I see between Samasource and goodpaper is primarily the type of training. The former helps train people for low-cost data-processing work for industry, while the latter trains people for high-cost consumer goods. I think there is room for both types.

      Hope this answers your questions! Let me know if you have any others.

  2. Thanks for the information Ed.

    Is there a reason that the Samasource website does not provide the names of the 20 service partners they hire? I’d really like to take a look at the organizations they work with.

    And is there any publicly available documentation about their screening process that was designed by a Stanford Law school team? As you mentioned, I would imagine a large part of Samasource’s operating costs goes towards their screening process… which is not necessarily a bad thing if one considers that Samasource’s main contribution is their ability to screen for good service partners.

  3. Another thought– I can understand that Samasource would not want to provide documentation about their screening process since it is their “competitive advantage”… so instead of those documents, can Samasource instead provide demographic statistics about the workers in the service partner organizations? i.e. %(#) refugees, % children, % race category % women, etc.

  4. Hi Christina,

    Samasource does provide the names of their partners on the third link I had posted in my last reply. Could your ISP be having problems displaying the page?

    http://www.samasource.org/impact/partners

    From that list, you can get a general idea of the demographics of the workers they hire. And yes, the financials are not publicly available, since Samasource competes with traditional outsourcing companies.

  5. The iPhone app isn’t that great. The interface for the tasks is NOT designed for a mobile browser. It’s an interesting idea to donate one’s time, but the implementation isn’t that great. They should provide a desktop client or website.

    • Sorry to hear the iPhone app experience hasn’t been very good for you. I’ve had mixed results — some tasks are clearly better-done than others. But it’s on par with what I expect. Everything is in resource-starved mode in a startup, and especially in a nonprofit startup, and that includes resources that could go towards polishing the app.

  6. It would be interesting to see if the people working for the Samasource partners can “graduate” to the fully competitive online labor market found in sites like http://www.odesk.com, mTurk, etc. I think I would be a fan of donating to Samasource if I believed Samasource’s pricing for its services doesn’t introduce incentives for more able workers to refrain from entering the competitive online labor market.

    On a related note it would be helpful to see comparisons of the rates Samasource charges relative to similar services provided on oDesk/mTurk etc. If those rates were too high relative to the online competitive labor market, I would be worried about distortion. But if they’re about the same or even lower, then yes, I would support Samasource.

    • As far as I understand, Samasource goes into labor markets where Odesk doesn’t exist, and chooses partners who recruit from a relatively non-able workforce. At a large-enough scale, this would increase supply of low-cost labor and thus reduce prices and give incentives for more able workers to move to different lines of work. That’s the reality of a zero-sum economic system. However, I believe the hope is that as you provide jobs for the poorest of the poor, then the next rung up (of poor) will move to higher-earning jobs.

      As for their rates relative to their competitors, I can’t comment publicly but encourage you to contact them directly. Thanks!

  7. Pingback: How to Get Started in Giving « Simple Living for Just Giving

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