Virtual workforce found in Kenyan refugee camp
Thank you to Leon Benjamin for alerting us by Twitter! (@ixtlan)
Andrius Kulikauskas, Minciu Sodas, http://www.ms.lt, ms@...
* New Scientist, 14 October 2009 by Jim Giles
* Magazine issue 2730. Subscribe and get 4 free issues.
THE very poorest people on the planet have benefited little from the
digital economy, but a pilot project in African refugee camps has hinted
at how that might change. Refugees at the Dadaab camps in Kenya have
been able to dramatically increase their income by tapping into a global
demand for unskilled digital labour.
The project uses CrowdFlower, a website that allows companies to quickly
outsource routine tasks such as transcription and image-tagging to
online workers. "We can generate an incredible amount of social impact
through this technology," says Leila Chirayath Janah, founder of
Samasource, the San Francisco-based charity behind the project.
Workers typically receive a few cents per task and companies can often
get jobs done in minutes. CrowdFlower lets companies choose from several
virtual pools of labour, including Amazon's "Mechanical Turk" service.
Thanks to Samasource's work, a group of over 150 refugees in the three
camps at Dadaab will soon make up one of those pools. Over the last two
months, a pilot group of 16 workers has been given access to computers
and trained on a range of tasks, including a data-entry job for a
mapping company. The firm uses software to identify roads in aerial
images, but its software sometimes mistakenly tracks other features,
such as lines of parked cars. The refugees check each image and decide
whether the software has done its job.
After an unpaid trial period, the workers started taking paid tasks late
last month. They have been earning around US$2 per hour; the typical
income among the camps' 250,000 inhabitants is $50 per month. Lukas
Biewald of San Francisco-based CrowdFlower, says that the 16 refugees
have received $1200 so far. Samasource now has funding to train another
150 refugees and is also working with Kenyans outside the camps.
Meanwhile, it is in talks regarding a second refugee-camp project, this
time in northern India.
Biewald says that firms like the feel-good factor that comes with using
the Dadaab workers. And the results can be more reliable than those from
other labour pools. "The refugees have more interest in a long-term
relationship," says Biewald.
CrowdFlower and Samasource have also released GiveWork, an iPhone
application that lets users donate their labour: its users complete the
same tasks as the Dadaab workers, but the fee for those jobs is paid to
the Dadaab team instead.
Later this month, cellphone users in Kenya will be able to sign up to
txteagle, another remote-working service that distributes translation
and image tasks by cellphone. Nathan Eagle, a cellphone technology
researcher at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico and the developer of
txteagle, estimates that 15 million Kenyans will be interested in taking