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[liberationtech] Facebook Live: Slumdogs & Millionaires 💪 💻

Yosem Companys companys at
Thu Feb 16 09:35:51 PST 2017

From: Leila Janah <leila at>
Greetings from Nairobi!

I just recorded my first Facebook Live from Kibera slum
morning. It was pretty crazy — Kibera is an informal settlement with nearly
a million people living beside open sewers and giant trash heaps.

But it’s also a magnet for talent. Since we began recruiting here, we’ve
trained almost 500 youth from the slum to do digital work, and placed about
60% in jobs.

Some of them now earn 10X what they made before, support a dozen people on
their salary, and have moved up and out. Some are Kenyan
Shilling millionaires.

All of this happened because we figured out how to grow our
Samasource Nairobi operations to 700 people, giving work to young people
from marginalized backgrounds all over this giant city.

Getting to scale in a social enterprise is really, really hard. Most don’t
make it. I’m still surprised we did. In thinking about how we got here, I
guess it comes down to a few factors:

   1. *A solid business model.* So many social ventures have their hearts
   in the right place, but no way to earn real money. I think social business
   is much more helpful in the long run than the traditional charity approach
   of giving stuff away, but it’s hard. In our case, we settled on digital
   work early on, and now sell into the enormous market for technology-enabled
   services like image tagging, data verification, and content creation.

   2. *Insanely talented people.* Good startup teams are made up of
   athletes. They have to have the know-how to do their jobs, but more
   importantly they need stamina and purpose to drive them to do the
   impossible. I think social ventures have an edge, because the stakes are so
   much higher. If you fail at your job, you’re not just hurting the company
   or your team, but you’re hurting the people you’re trying to help. That’s
   really motivating.

   1. *Timing and luck.* Life is hard. Most things are out of your control
   — all you can do is respond as best you can. I got lucky in picking Nairobi
   as our first location, because soon after we started, Kenya got its first
   fiber optic cable. There has been no major political instability. We got
   lucky getting started here.

What are your lessons for scale? Do you have other questions for me? I'm
eager to hear from you.

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