Samasource Give Work Not Aid

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  • Topic: Business process outsourcing, Poverty, Work
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  • Published : February 20, 2013
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REV: JUNE 18, 2012


Samasource: Give Work, Not Aid
Work is at the core of human dignity: it is how we define ourselves and our position in the world. The disparity in access to decent work that pays a fair wage between rich and poor represents, in my mind, the biggest threat to global stability. — Leila Janah, CEO and founder, Samasource As she landed at the San Francisco International Airport, Leila Janah reflected on her most recent visit to Samasource’s delivery centers in Kenya. Founded in September 2008, Samasource connected over 1,500 people living in poverty to work over the Internet. The company secured contracts for digital services from large companies in the United States and Europe, divided the work up into small pieces (called “microwork”), and then sent it to delivery centers in developing regions of the world for completion through a web-based interface. Samasource, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with 20 people working at headquarters, was growing rapidly. By October 2011, the company worked with 16 partner delivery centers in South Asia (India and Pakistan), Africa (Kenya, South Africa, and Uganda), and Haiti (see Exhibit 1 for a map of Samasource’s partner delivery centers). The company had disbursed over $1 million in direct payments to workers. The data Samasource had collected showed that its work had an impact on over 6,000 people in these developing regions. While the company had come a long way since its founding, Janah also knew that it still had far to go to fulfill its mission of fighting poverty through the provision and execution of digital work. As she walked off the plane, her mind started racing with the scaling challenges the company faced. How could Samasource best secure additional funding to sustain and accelerate its growth? How could it best help entrepreneurs at delivery centers and workers develop new skills? And even more fundamentally, how could this social business efficiently scale to 10,000 workers and beyond?

Microwork and Impact Sourcing
Before founding Samasource, Janah had spent over 11 years exploring economic development in emerging regions through multiple paths. First, as a 17-year-old, she had won a scholarship to travel to Ghana and teach English to 60 children. During this time, she was struck by the curiosity and intellectual engagement of her students. As she recounted, “I left Ghana wondering how a country so rich in human capacity could be so poor.” When Janah arrived home, she received various letters from her students asking her to send them money or products such as pencils, calculators, or even computer games (see Exhibit 2 for examples). “I was shocked: these were letters from the same ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Professor Francesca Gino and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Professor Bradley R. Staats prepared this case. HBS cases are developed solely as the basis for class discussion. Cases are not intended to serve as endorsements, sources of primary data, or illustrations of effective or ineffective management. Copyright © 2011, 2012 President and Fellows of Harvard College. To order copies or request permission to reproduce materials, call 1-800-5457685, write Harvard Business School Publishing, Boston, MA 02163, or go to This publication may not be digitized, photocopied, or otherwise reproduced, posted, or transmitted, without the permission of Harvard Business School.

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Samasource: Give Work, Not Aid

students I had in my classes—students with talent and ambitions. What I realized is that they saw a greater opportunity in soliciting help from me than in earning their own money,” she commented. According to Janah, these letters were symptomatic of a larger issue: well-meaning...
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