About a year ago, I met Dr. Paul Farmer at an IDEO talk on social enterprise, and began thinking about Samasource in Haiti.
Haitians live in a densely populated country (10 million people on an island smaller than Maryland), learn French and English at school, share a timezone with New York, and live a short, cheap flight away from Miami - this makes them great candidates for digital work. In a region where the chief economic activity is subsistence farming and 80% of the population lives in poverty, the type of work Samasource offers could make a dramatic impact. Fifty-three percent of Haitians are literate. By the most conservative estimate, that leaves about a million people as potential Samasource workers.
Six months later, Dr. Farmer introduced me to 1,000 Jobs Haiti, an initiative linked to PIH to develop good jobs for people in Mirebalais. The director of the program applied to be a Samasource partner a few months ago. Twenty minutes before the quake struck, our Program Director e-mailed the team to share the news that 1,000 Jobs had been accepted into the next phrase of our training program.
When we heard the news, we thought the program was over -- how could digital work help the people of Haiti in an emergency? It turns out that we were wrong. Architecture for Humanity's Cameron Sinclair and a number of other social enterprise leaders have come together to remind us that rebuilding is as important as relief efforts -- without a decent way to earn a living, the hundreds of thousands of Haitians flooding into towns neighboring Port-au-Prince will suffer long beyond the immediate aftermath of the earthquake.
An XO laptop distributed by One Laptop Per Child, Haiti
One of the leaders of 1,000 Jobs wrote us a few days ago to say..."[Our Program Director] happens to be in Mirebalais and responding, a testament to the power of connections that remain. I hope that you hold open the possibility of sourcing from Haiti since jobs will be a significant need as the community recovers...Mirebalais...for worse or better, has been inundated with people."
Together with the all-star team at Inveneo, we hope to work with 1,000 Jobs to maintain internet connectivity in Mirebalais and provide microwork opportunities to people who have lost their livelihoods. For more on what Samasource is doing in response to the crisis, please visit our blog, or follow us on Twitter @samasource. Please donate to support this effort.
UPDATE: As of January 17, CrowdFlower, a venture-backed startup that helps companies outsource microtasks, has teamed up with Samasource to rapidly provide paid work to Haitian participants in the program. The project will use a volunteer labor force to perform quality assurance on these tasks through an innovative iPhone application, GiveWork. Over 21,000 people have downloaded GiveWork to complete tasks in their spare time to help refugees in Kenya -- now, the same application will benefit victims of the earthquake in Haiti.
Follow Leila Chirayath Janah on Twitter: www.twitter.com/leila_c