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Why I Joined the Samasource Board of Directors

Ben Parr
 

By Ben Parr

(Medium) – In November 2015, I met V. at the Samasource Ungala in San Francisco. You see, I had to meet her — V. had just spoken about her journey (I’ve changed her name for her privacy).

Before Samasource, she was making less than $1 a day in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. This wasn’t enough to help her with her dream of getting a university degree. Her trajectory in life was halted, simply because of where she was born. But then she told the audience that Samasource picked her up as one of its first employees. She started in data entry, then virtual assistant work, and eventually become a supervisor and manager for Sama. Eventually, she was able to move to California and get a scholarship from Santa Monica Community College.

The Ungala audience was moved by her story. I was moved by her story. I simply told her, “thank you for sharing your story.”

Because of Samasource, V. was able to gain meaningful work, pursue her dreams, and move upwards. V. is one of the 50,000+ people who has been positively impacted by Samasource’s mission to lift people out of poverty by giving them good-paying work, along with the training needed to complete that work (Check out Samaschool). Samasource sources its employees and contractors in third world regions such as Kenya and Uganda and gives them meaningful pay that allows them to pursue a better life.

“The ticket you draw in life’s birth lottery shouldn’t determine your fate.” ~ Leila Janah

Samasource accomplishes all this by helping businesses around the world organize their unstructured data through software and scalable work. Businesses need annotation, classification, and data verification for everything from machine learning to image recognition. Samasource helps businesses accomplish this by employing and contracting thousands of people across the world to accomplish these tasks. If you’re interested in structuring your unstructured data, contact me or the Samasource team.

Getting Closer to Sama

I first learned of Samasource in September 2009, when founder Leila Janah presented at Facebook’s FbFund Rev demo day. I was an editor for Mashableat the time — I even wrote about Samasource that day. I admired the company and the mission, and my admiration has only grown as I’ve gotten to know Samasource and its dedicated team through meetings, fundraisers, and conversations with supporters.

In 2015, I got more involved. After seeing the impact of my book Captivology, Leila Janah invited me to attend a board meeting to get an idea of what Samasource really did and whether I could help in a more impactful way. I got a chance to see the books and understand Samasource’s uniqueness as a non-profit making a profit. The mission and the direction truly started to make sense. I officially joined the board three months ago.

As a member of the Samasource board, I will be involved in oversight and governance, providing advice to Janah and her team, and helping steer not just Samasource’s future, but the future of work itself. This leads to me to the reasons why I decided to join the board.

Work Provides Identity and Hope

I have always found pride and identity in work. I was thrilled to be a lifeguard and swim instructor as a teen, and I built my relationships and brand as Mashable’s 24-year-old Co-Editor wunderkind. I’ve always been happiest when I was working on something I was genuinely proud of. When I look back to my darkest moments, they were almost always when I hated my job, had no job, or when I didn’t know if I could pay the rent.

I suspect many of you have had similar experiences. Having work meant you were a productive member of society; not having a means to pay your bills created a giant weight that paralyzed your thoughts and stoked your fears. There’s a reason why the first question most people ask strangers is, “what do you do for a living?”

Work is the core of modern identify. Work is how we provide for ourselves and our families. It is the activity we spend the most time doing, outside of sleeping or raising our families. We as a society idolize innovators, entrepreneurs, geniuses, and celebrities because of their work. You know LeBron James for his skills on the basketball court; you know Mark Zuckerberg for the company he created.

You don’t even have to ask a person who is out of work or cannot find it how they feel. Ashamed. Afraid. Depressed. Useless. In my eyes, Samasource does not provide jobs — it provides identity. It provides empowerment. It provides hope.

Since 2008, Samasource has given identity, empowerment, and hope to over 50,000 people and lifted thousands out of poverty in the process. That is worthy of celebration, but Samasource is on track to give work to thousands or even millions more over the next decade.

I joined the board of Samasource to help Leila Janah and her team accomplish this mission, but I also joined because I believe Samasource is at the forefront of the future of work.

Work Is Changing, Thanks to AI

The concept of work itself is changing at a rapid pace globally. Technology has enabled millions of jobs that were not possible even a decade ago — data entry, machine learning, and transportation, to name a few. But technology will also make many jobs obsolete in the next few decades. Self-driving cars and trucks, for example, will replace millions of jobs as more people begin to trust a technology that avoids the deadly weaknesses of human drivers.

AI advances are increasing, and it will not be long until AI helps automates every industry. Yet it could be these AI advances that create new jobs and improve the lives of millions. Where this technology goes depends upon the people at the forefront of these innovations and the priorities they hold.

The only way for me to help shape this future is to be at the forefront of this seismic shift. I envision a world where every member of humanity can pursue his or her passions and dreams through the work they choose to do. In order to achieve this goal, we must give work to those in greatest need now and study and support policies that democratize access to work and wealth.

The Future of Work

Giving more people meaningful work and shaping the future of AI are personal missions for me, especially since I’m the founder of an AI company. I cannot predict exactly how work will evolve over the next 20 years. However, I do know that Samasource is providing thousands of people with identities and meaningful incomes, and that the technology they have built and enabled could potentially help millions or even billions more.

I want to be a part of Samasource’s work to bring work to others. Samasource is unique in that it is run like a true business with a product. Many people know of Samasource’s work to help lift people out of poverty through work and training. But Samasource’s product — the structuring of unstructured data — will also shape the future of work in a tremendous way.

The mission to give work is only going to become more important as the new automation revolution advances. How we treat our fellow man during this crucial stage of society will be how future generations judge our actions.

Let’s get to work.

~ Ben

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