I’m interrupting my regularly scheduled programming (7 Books for Social Entrepreneurs will be continued next week) to discuss a really interesting new take on Samasource’s work. Last week, I participated in a Crowdsourcing for Good (twitter: #c4g) panel with Jacob and John, founders of The Extraordinaries and EduFire

Crowdsourcing event

I spoke about our Refugee Work Program, which links refugees in Dadaab, Kenya with small, paying tasks like the kind that get posted to sites like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. (To give you an example of what the work entails, one of the tasks involved finding email addresses on company websites and returning them in a web form.)

I had an interesting thought: what if microwork is a complement to microfinance? One challenge to microfinance is that there’s a natural ceiling to how much money people can make from small businesses that serve local needs (e.g., a small chicken farm), while microwork leads to all sorts of skills that have broader applications and can serve global needs (such as virtual assistance, which Samasource workers now perform for clients from Silicon Valley to London).

Mechanical Turk-type “human intelligence tasks” represent the most discretized units of digital work — probably the equivalent of a factory floor job. While they aren’t that intellectually interesting, what’s good about this type of work is that it gets people online and skilled at using computers, which in turn gets them onto the same social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc) as everyone else and allows them to build their online reputations — vital to having a voice in the modern world.

Just take a look at this exchange that happened on my Facebook wall last week. Paul Parach, a refugee I blogged about in an earlier post, found his way onto Facebook and into a conversation with my high school friend from LA via my wall:

Microwork can change lives. I’ll bet that in a few years, it will gain traction as a global phenomenon that empowers the poor who aren’t well served by microfinance andd other poverty reduction programs.