Since 2008, Samasource has enabled over 40 000 people globally to lift themselves out of poverty by sourcing data projects from some of the world’s largest companies, including Google, Glassdoor and Microsoft. They believe that bringing 21st-century skills and jobs to those at the bottom of the pyramid is the best permanent solution to the complex problem of poverty.

“Reaching self-sustainability is a rare feat for a nonprofit and it proves that our impact-sourcing model is effective, both as a company and for the individuals employed in our programme,” Leila Janah, CEO and founder of Samasource, said in a press statement. “With this landmark under our belt, we are now looking to invest more heavily in our impact programmes for agents and research and developmet for our services to further ensure that our offerings are on the cutting edge of data services, as well as expand our self-owned delivery centres.”

Samasource currently has more than 1 500 young people in training in the field of artificial intelligence at their centre in Nairobi. This is Africa spoke to Phillip Chikwiramakomo, a Samasource programme director to learn more about the organisation.

Samasource Center in Nairobi, Kenya

TIA: Can you describe Samasource in three or five words?

Phillip: Empowering, youthful and impactful

TIA: Would you say that encapsulates the character of the organisation overall?

Phillip: Well, its character is based around equality, talent is universally available but opportunities are not. Samasource democratises opportunity for people who are highly motivated and capable but just have not had the chances in life.

TIA: The training module that Samasource has seems to fill a lot of gaps. Can you talk elaborate?

Phillip: It is geared towards what we call “digitally enabled jobs”. These days, jobs are mainly advertised and found online and through recruitment agencies. More importantly, there is a global economy opening up.

Samasource brings in big data projects which are worked on by young people. Our training modules therefore ensure that their skills match these jobs. It focuses on digital literacy, which means really getting young people to a point where they can independently navigate a computer, competently use the Internet and have the ability to use the programmes they need to complete tasks effectively; interpersonal relationships, which focuses on how to manage and maintain client and work relationships; and specific skills tracks, such as web research, search optimisation, data entry and image annotation.

We equip them for entry-level digital jobs, which someone who came out of high school or has very little higher education can easily do. They can use the skills sets we provide to work at some of our

production centres or as freelancers and even work in administrative functions in local companies and local enterprises.

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TIA: Would you say your work and training model is what sets Samasource apart from other online work hubs?

Phillip: Actually, what sets us apart more is that we provide quality data sets. Yes, part of our strength is working with the marginalised youth and some organisations might respond to that, but our biggest strength is our quality and delivery levels. This is remarkable as we are able to take someone with very low levels of education and, in a short amount of time, train them to complete what is relatively complex digital work.

We also bend to the shape of our workers, to not only give them opportunities but also give them wraparound services to minimise their day-to-day hindrances. Our day-care options, clothing kitty and transport provisions all serve this purpose. Wraparound services are about us acknowledging that there are other factors that stand in the way of young people accessing jobs and then supporting them.

TIA: Looking at some of the organisation’s moves, it appears that Samasource has gained some independence now that it has its own work centres, as opposed to before, when it was partnering with local call centers. Has this been a positive move?

Phillip: As Samasource can now share the margins with employees! For every job completed, whatever profit is made is partly reinvested into the organisation to create more opportunities and partly invested into the welfare and wellbeing of our employees.This means attractive employment starting salaries, subsidised meals, transport provision, health care.

In our previous model, the middle man not only put a divide between us and the worker but also had a share in the profits. This change has enabled us to deepen and widen the breadth of the impact in what we do.

TIA: Going back to what we said about future work being virtual, would it not be more plausible to arm these same workers to work remotely, as opposed to having them in a physical location like your work centres?

Phillip: Yes, especially given that we cannot build or equip a centre every so often, this would be really important for scale.

However, we have to accept that there are some young people who benefit more from a supported environment. Our centres have team leaders, quality assurance supervisors and account managers that act as a support system for them.

We also consider how this support environment can best foster a positive transition from Samasource. In a way we are saying, “We want you to come and work for us but at some point we would like you to move on.” We either want our employees to invest more in their education or we want them to upscale from us into their next job

Additionally, we already have a number of freelancers who work remotely but have the option to use our shared working space for connectivity and infrastructure. They also receive training.

TIA: What are some of the interesting projects or initiatives Samasource is currently working on?

Phillip: We are conducting an amazing pilot in a refugee camp in northern Kenya. Over the next few months we are going to be working with about 800 refugees to test our work model in different geographies and circumstances. Our work centres are just part of our endeavour to reach as many people as possible.

TIA: What can we expect from Samasource going forward?

Phillip: We will continue to be at the forefront of linking young people with opportunities. The next phase would be in making our training more widely available from different geographies.