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27february201032Dharamshala: The non-profit organization Samasource yesterday began a data-processing employment program for Tibetans in Dharamsala. YC Dhardhowa, editor of the Tibet Post, talked to Samasource’s Chief Executive Officer, Leila Janah, and Heidi Minx of, who is involved in coordinating the project.

Leila Janah

Samasource is based in San Fransisco, USA. Our mission is to level the playing field for digital work on the internet, by training women, youth and refugees for employment. Sama means “equal” in Sanskrit.

The organization was set up in September 2008, and currently we work with 600 people from nine countries - in Africa, South and South Eastern Asia, and Haiti in the Caribbean. We have found $350,000-worth of work for our trainees in digital services.

My parents come from India, but I never spent much time here when I was young. My only exposure to poverty was when my parents told me to eat all the food on my plate, because there were starving children back home in India. I never really understood what that meant.

When I was sixteen, I received a scholarship from the Lorillard Tobacco company. I felt really guilty about using this money for college because it was dirty tobacco money! I thought maybe I’d feel better if I used it to volunteer somewhere, and I also wanted to learn more about poverty outside the US.

27february201033So I finished high school early and moved to Ghana, West Africa, to work as an English teacher in a small village of about 200 people.

My students were incredibly bright and motivated. I knew that if they were in US public schools, they would flourish. The main reason they weren’t able to find job opportunities or continue their studies was that they happened to be born in a poor place, through no fault of their own.

I realised then that the most tragic outcome of poverty is wasted talent, and I wanted to devote my life to doing something about that.

Later, after graduating from university, I became a business consultant and leaned about the outsourcing sector. I saw big companies in places like Bombay and Bangalore employing tens of thousands of people to do digital work for US companies and I thought, if it can work in Bombay or Bangalore, why can’t it work in Dharamshala and Nairobi…?

Right now our trainees are about 50-50 women and men. We have highlighted work for women because they often do domestic work which goes formally unacknowledged. So they often don’t get the benefits of working outside the home, and very rarely develop the skills that can move them out of poverty.

We think digital work is part of the new economy. It is the way the world’s headed in terms of jobs. We want to make a special effort to include people who would otherwise be left be out. And that includes women.

1.4 billion people in the world live on less than $1.25 a day. That kind of extreme poverty means you don’t have enough money to meet your basics needs. You can’t afford to care for your children. You can’t afford basic health care, education and personal security. It’s that kind of poverty that we want to eradicate from the world. I would like to see one million Samasource workers one day!

Regarding our Tibetan workers, their primary benefit is the money they’ll earn. Secondly, they learn about how to use the internet to gain paid employment. These skills will benefit them wherever they live after the training.

For now, we’ll see how our pilot project in Dharamsala goes. Then we may accept other Tibetan refugee partner organizations.

Our organization exists to benefit people through income generation. It’s completely apolitical.

We don’t train our workers to find jobs on their own. We train them to do work. We find them a job and they do the work. If they perform to a certain standard, which means their speed has to increase during the training, we can find work for them.

In San Francisco, we have a sales team, a business development unit and an account management unit that identifies big American companies that can provide work. We convince these companies to sign contracts with us, then we work with our partners to deliver the workers.

Heidi Minx

27february201031I found out about Samasource last summer, from friends in California who are involved in different social networks and fundraising. I checked it out and realized it could provide job opportunities for my friends in Dharamsala who have trouble finding work.

Plenty of work can be done remotely from different cities and countries using a computer. But even if you could do that work, if you don’t know how to pitch to the client and collect the money, you won’t get it. The Samasource model takes that difficulty out of the equation.

In Dharamsala, we approached different NGOs. I would say half our students are Gu Chu Sum graduates, with others from the Hope Centre and LHA.

Students with intermediate English skills and basic computer training qualified for the program. If our workers later move abroad, then they will have had the benefit of computer work experience, not just classes. And whilst they are with the program, they are well paid.

So, the project is built on giving people respect and sustainability, and the tools to enable them do what they do best.