A. How did you find this company? What are the main facts about its activities?
Samasource is a nonprofit organization which aims to alleviate poverty by bringing over-the-Internet work opportunities to people living in developing countries.
The company was founded in 2008 and it is based in San Francisco; it focuses on three specific categories of workers: women, young people between 18 and 30, and refugees or internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in refugee camps.
The way it operates is simple: Samasource gets data and content management projects from large enterprise clients, some of which are Fortune 500 companies, which might include data entry, content moderation, business listing verification, transcriptions and document digitalization, as well as other types of outsourcing services.
These projects are then broken down into what its founder Leila Janah has called “microwork” tasks, and distributed via a proprietary web application, the SamaHub, to 16 global delivery centers in South Asia, East Africa, and the Caribbean.
The local centers are those in charge of organizing the work, hiring the workers, doing quality control and training, with the help of an account management directly hired by Samasource.
Workers are engaged in a long term commitment, as their tasks do not end with the project itself but run on a longer term basis. Moreover, they are trained at the delivery centers in order to ensure their performance is effective, and there is no need for a second quality check on the tasks.
B. What are the Ethical challenges this company is addressing?
Samasource does not want to reduce poverty by giving monetary donations to people, or by building westerner infrastructures in developing countries; instead, it believes that only through work opportunities it is possible to empower workers and improve their living conditions.
Through an engaging long term relationship which goes beyond the individual task assigned, the company is able to provide a steady work flow: this is why the workforce has been expanded its quite slowly, to avoid the risk of laying people off when there is no work for them. Moreover, tasks are generally more complicated than what different businesses such as Mechanical Turk might offer, and as such they require on-going training; this is another reason for not hiring workers just for on-the-spot tasks which –once performed- do not require their participation anymore.
Samasource decided to focus on three specific categories of people: women -believing they would spend a greater amount of their income on sustaining their families; young people –as they usually represent the highest unemployed category; and refugees –people escaping from wars or natural disasters with no possibility to find a job.
The countries where Samasource is currently operating –Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, India, Pakistan and Haiti, tend all to show a large amount of skilled workforce with university degrees, good knowledge of English, but unemployed as opportunities are lacking; now, with a computer and an internet connection, these educated people can earn a decent income.
Workers are paid on average between $1 and 3$ per hour; while these amounts might sound low for us westerners, they are well-above the national averages; to make a comparison, in Kenya people earn on average $50 cents per day. Samasource pays $1 per hour to its workers.
C. What makes this company really inspiring to you and why would you trust it?
Samasource is a nonprofit organization which connects global profit-seeking multinationals with individuals living in poverty. As such, it positions itself in a middle position where conflicting interests might arise: on the one hand is oversees for-profit companies’ efforts to depress workers’ wages in order to get higher returns, on the other hand it has poor workers who duly perform tasks in exchange for a proper salary and sustainable working conditions.
It is not just another ousourcing company but a system of balances: Samasource is accountable to large organizations for delivering high quality work, and at the same time it is accountable to its workers. Without a proper balances system, one of the two parties would not be willing to do their job and the system would collapse.
Not only the company provides above-average wages, but it also ensures no child labor is used, and 85% of its gross revenues in year 2010 was redistributed to workers.
Samasource believes in microwork: people in developing countries have skills but no opportunities, and with the aid of internet and technology they can be connected and earn money above national average wages.
D.What are the possible challenges facing the company in the future and how do you think this company may improve?
Samasource’s business model is not without challenges.
A main concern regards wages, on average between $1 and $3 per hour, clearly well below minimum U.S. standards. The company claims that their purpose is to maintain living wages which are above workers’ countries’ averages, in order to contribute to their development in a long-term, steady way. It is also important to keep wages in line when they would start raising as a natural effect of economic development.
Another criticism comes from the entire matter of outsourcing jobs from the United States, where the unemployment rate is stuck around 8%; in responde to this, the company is trying to develop its business model also in U.S. economic depressed regions.
Samasource also runs the risk of running out of business, in case such multinational enterprises decide to switch to other, cheaper alternatives, in the logic of profit maximization. It is thus fundamental that the company builds awareness by engaging in proactive relationships with such companies, as well as developing partnerships and two-sided commitment in order to ensure long lasting collaborations.
Very important in this matter is goodwill: using Samasource’s workforce, multinationals can improve their image as ethical companies and show to the world they are committed towards sustainable empowerment of workers and contribute to the development of poorer areas.
An important issue with nonprofit is transparency: I believe the company could improve its performance on this topic by showing on its website a banner with key indicators about its business, for example how many people are currently working on how many projects, how much money is allocated to workers’ wages, as well as more information concerning multinationals using Samasource’s workforce.