News from the conference room: this is a series of blog posts in which blogging experts briefly review key Tech4Africa 2010 talks and panels from Day 1 and 2.
The keynote speaker for the first day of Tech4Africa 2010 was Leila Chirayath Janah from Samasource, a woman that every one of us should aspire to be like. She gave up a life in America to come to Africa to teach.
Out of this she founded Samasource, which allows people living in poverty to cross the digital divide. Leila surprised the audience with some astounding stats on education and literacy levels in Africa, which are higher than we all think. The real problem is lack of work, unemployment drives young people to join terrorist organisations in droves because it is the only way to earn money to feed their families.
Local trade and crafts does not make an impact on the poor either. Products made by poor people are often only bought by locals or a few tourists, making a maximum of $1 a day for the sellers.
Conversely, most corporations do not make products that are affordable for the majority of the 3rd world citizens. In Leila’s words, ‘we must engage the bottom of the pyramid if we are to eradicate poverty‘.
Samasource’s mission is to connect poor people to work via the internet, it builds tools to allow their customers to work with them without outsourcing to a large company.
According to Leila, “the Internet is not just an information superhighway, its a work superhighway”, we can use the tools and connectivity the internet provides to make a real difference to global unemployment.
Samasource’s key value proposition is the ‘virtual assembly lines’, where companies give work on a per task basis. This allows people to work from local centers and internet cafes, eliminating the need to travel long distances to big cities to find work.
The system, and Leila herself, is inspiring and taught every delegate at Tech4Africa today that we can use the internet to make a difference and we don’t have to be rich or famous to do it. We can only hope that local initiatives like Heather Ford’s ‘GeekRetreat’ can follow in Leila’s footsteps and we, as South African Geeks, can begin to bridge the gap between the connected and the rest.