Wednesday, November 11, 2009

wronging rights: outsourcing that is very cool and helps the extremely poor

From wronging rights:


So This Seems Pretty Cool:
iPhone App to Train Refugees to Do Outsourced Tech Jobs
Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Samasource, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that "leverages technology to create jobs for the next billion," has partnered with CARE International on an innovative project that combines job training with job access for refugees in Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp.

CARE has equipped two technology centers in the camp with broadband links, computers, and other infrastructure. They've selected a small group of refugees who will be trained in "marketable computer and research skills," and partnered with outsourcing organizations to provide jobs. For now, that will be Dolores Labs, which "takes short simple tasks such as translation, transcription, or content moderation and serves them to workers in real-time, creating an on-demand, 24/7 workforce."

Samasource has also developed an iPhone app, Give Work, which allows fancy people with fancy phones to help with the refugee workers' training. As far as I can tell from their website, it works like this: the refugee trainee is given an "outsourced" task, such as checking the copyright restrictions on an internet-sourced photograph. The same task goes out on the Give Work network, where several iPhone users can also select it, and do the task themselves, creating a kind of crowdsourced accuracy measure of the task's "right" answer. The refugee trainee's results are compared to the crowdsourced answers. Once the refugee has developed a consistent track record of correct answers, he or she will graduate to paid outsourced jobs.

A few reasons why I think this is cool:

1. It's not a "traditional craft." Seriously, I have had it up to here with the idea that making baskets/beads/carvings/blankets/weavings is the way out of poverty for people in the developing world. The weird Noble-Savage overtones leave a bad taste in my mouth. So does the emphasis on work for poor people that is aesthetically pleasing to the wealthy. It's all a bit Marie-Antoinette's-shepherdesses for me.
2. It's a skill with positive externalities. I don't know how long this project or its jobs will last, but the skills this will give refugees will continue to have value even if the specific jobs evolve over time. The technical stuff will be good, but I think that the experience with Western consumer culture will be even better. The training program will expose the refugees to the way the iPhonerati approach and solve problems, which should make them more able to participate in the outsourced service economy in other ways as well. That's a tremendously valuable skill set, one I'd take over basket-weaving any day.
3. It's cheap in the right ways. For all that the iPhone thing is a little bit gimmicky, it's a great use of technology. Getting free feedback from lots of people will not only save the cost of hiring trainers, it will also provide better quality feedback than one or two people could.
4. It's about jobs, in refugee camps. Among the many, many, many things that I think are terrible about the "herd them into camps and leave them there forever" model of refugee-hosting, walling refugees off from legitimate jobs is one of the worst. So any program that takes the international job market directly into a refugee camp is on my good list until further notice.

I don't have an iPhone, so I can't try this app out for myself. Do any intrepid readers want to take Give Work for a spin and report back?


Follow-up post here.

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