Its methods: Working in areas where living wages are scarce, Samasource trains people living in poverty, particularly women and youth, to perform data-processing work for companies such as Google, Getty Images, and Walmart. Its employees use this experience and income as springboards to build careers and businesses, return to school, and improve their families’ health and livelihoods, thereby tackling many of the world’s biggest challenges. “Poverty is the underlying cause of many social problems—infant mortality, malaria, sex trafficking, and lack of access to education. The best way to solve all these issues is to connect people to living-wage work,” says Leila Janah, Samasource’s founder and CEO.
The organization uses a rigorous evaluation method that helps it fine-tune its approach and hold itself accountable. “The data point we really care about is outcomes,” Janah explains. It’s not how many people it employs that matters to the organization, but the number of employees who gain long-term benefits. So Samasource tracks its outcomes and releases information about its impact quarterly, even hosting live learning calls with donors, clients, nonprofit leaders, technologists, and others to ensure it is constantly pushing its work forward in impactful ways.
Samasource operates on the revenue it earns, which allows it to invest donor support into building strong infrastructures and expanding into new geographies. (For every $2,600 it receives, it can employ, train, and equip one person.) “We run according to the lean startup methodology,” Janah says. “We test things frequently, we use data to inform most of our decisions, and our small budgets force a level of experimentation that you wouldn’t see in a bigger organization.”
Its impact: Samasource’s model gives people in poverty the freedom to choose the lives they want to live. Its workers often start savings accounts so they or their family members can buy better quality food, move out of the slums, and earn college degrees.
“We help people gain skills to earn a living, which is much more powerful than simply receiving assistance,” Janah says. “What’s inspiring for many workers is that we show them that somebody on the other side of the world sees them as valuable—someone sees that it’s worth paying this person for the contents of her brain.”
Take, for example, Juliet, a young woman whose parents both died of AIDS during the Ugandan civil war. As a Samasource employee, she was able to afford school fees and has recently submitted a strong business plan for her own company. “It goes to show how much we overlook human capital at the bottom of the pyramid and how much talent there is in the world just waiting to be unleashed,” says Janah.
How the Satter Foundation has helped: “Muneer understands how addressing poverty can solve many of the world’s problems in a way that many other funders do not,” says Janah. “He knows that the real wins are the outcomes, and that many of those outcomes take time. Muneer has also tapped into his networks to introduce the organization to potential donors.”
What’s next for Samasource: The organization is building its capital by increasing its revenue and raising funds in new ways. “We have expansion plans that include building a new delivery center in India and establishing a virtual call center in rural Arkansas that will employ people who have faced job losses,” says Janah, who is also working to find unrestricted growth capital in the form of loans, program-related investments, or recoverable grants.