Outsourcing with a Positive Outcome

February 1, 2013

For years socially conscious entrepreneurs have been trying to find ways to help people in third world countries without giving them outright charity. While microfinancers help many ambitious poor people start small businesses, there are many people who are not ready to assume the risk of starting a business. That’s why a new group of activists is focusing their efforts on “impact sourcing” by providing simple but integral work to citizens of impoverished communities.

Outsourcing jobs to emerging nations is certainly not anything new. But whereas most companies export employment in order to slash costs, impact sourcers specifically work to develop the economies of the communities they serve. For instance, a nonprofit called Samasource acts as a middleman for big companies like LinkedIn and Google looking to outsource menial labor. Much of the work they receive is data based, such as transcribing audio files or collecting phone numbers from websites. Although that may sound dull to some, it represents a lifeline to many. Impact sourced employees in Africa and Haiti are paid a living wage ($100-$300 a month) and gain valuable skills that they can parlay into careers or even entrepreneurship.

Samasource employs a stateside staff of just 30 people to oversee 16 work centers located across the world. Their small domestic payroll makes a big impact worldwide, however. Since 2008 Samasource has paid more than $2 million to 3,000-plus workers. The service works in the favor of its clients, too, as hiring “microwork” centers can cost companies 30 to 40 percent less than traditional, for-profit vendors. While Samasource remains the world’s largest impact sourcer, other companies like Digital Divide Data and the for-profit DesiCrew also provide jobs to marginalized workers. Just like in the case of microfinancing, expect this trend to become more mainstream as time passes.


  1. Why is job creation in developing nations more important than providing charity?
  1. What is the key to Samasource and others success in impact sourcing?


Source: Francesca Gino and Bradley R. Staats, “The Microwork Solution,” Harvard Business Review, December 2012. Photo by Nagu Tron.