Impact sourcing and its contribution to the Economy

Ms Liliosa Mbirimi, the Impact Manager at Samasource Kenya.

Samasource is a technology company focused on training data for artificial intelligence with its sub-Saharan hub located in Kenya.

The firm uses the impact sourcing business model where it employs people from disadvantaged backgrounds. This is aimed at lifting them out of poverty through digital work. Ms Mbirimi talked to Financial Standard on the impact sourcing business model and how it is contributing to the economy.

Why does Samsource use the impact sourcing model?

Samasource is driven by the mission to expand the opportunity to youth at the bottom of the pyramid through digital work.  Our founder built this model on the precept that ‘talent is equally distributed but the opportunity is not.’ Hiring in emerging markets helps support those economies by providing jobs to youth and paying them a wage. Our staff has on average two of dependents and this model allows them to cater to their dependents’ needs.

Has this business model impacted Kenya’s economy?

Our model attracts and facilitates export-oriented investments. We are building ground truth data for 25 per cent of the Fortune 50 firms, some of whom have set up shop in Kenya.  Our staff are not only acquiring sought after skills in the tech industry but have a guarantee of earning a  paycheck that facilitates better standards of living. We currently have over 2,400 youth training data in our centre in Nairobi and each one of them fully taxes compliant and contributing to the local economy.

What is the demographic make-up of the Samasource Kenya team?

Our staff aged between 18 and 28 are largely sourced from low-income communities. Many of them have not had an opportunity to take up tertiary education because of the minimal opportunities available to them.  Samasource serves as a first formal job opportunity for those who were either unemployed or doing informal work that was unsustainable or did not guarantee them a living wage at the end of the month. 52 per cent of them are female.

How much is invested in training the recruits before you can employ them?

We start training from the grassroots. We equipping some first-time computer users with basic digital literacy skills and then introduce them to image tagging and machine learning. This enables them to train in data for artificial intelligence. We have trained and employed over 10,000 women and youth in the past 10 years and we have grown into a training data powerhouse. We have a robust learning and development team providing staff with full skillset to enable them to move up in the tech space.

What are some of the challenges that you encounter while sourcing? Are they unique to Kenya?

Kenya has a high unemployment rate. Our universities are churning out graduates who take on programmes that are market flooded. This forces them to apply for jobs that are unrelated to their field of study. On the other hand, we have youths that have been shut out from the tertiary system because they cannot afford the tuition. We run a scholarship programme at our delivery centres to support those who want to get an advanced education. We solve for the unemployment challenge by hiring the youth and providing them a training ground and sustainable income. We currently have a wait list of 2,500 youth who want to join our programme. We cannot employ all of them at the same time.  They have to undergo interviews to earn a position as AI trainers. We are however realising that three out of five students secure job post-training.

How do you ensure the impact sourcing model doesn’t affect the quality delivered to clients?

Our impact model allows us to deliver high-quality data. We provide a great working environment which incorporates nature and plant life into the office environment, excellent training, and have an inclusive culture. All these make Sama a great place to work and our attrition rates are low. This allows us to provide expert annotation because our teams have developed skills over time to ensure quality. 

Are there long-term plans to extend training to more youth?

A Samasource recruitment criterion has two main tiers. The primary group is largely from low-income communities and has little to no formal work experience. Outside Samasource, we have a subsidiary providing freelance training on the gig economy.

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