In India, computer-based jobs provide much more than just income to those coming from disadvantaged backgrounds.  The jobs are helping women and men quietly circumvent longstanding cultural barriers such as caste and gender inequality, providing youth access and exposure to the numerous personal tools available online, and helping fill a serious void in the education system.

I have spent the past three months in India working with Samasource’s existing Indian service partners, the employers of the nearly 200 youth, women and refugees who are completing data-entry, web scraping, transcription and other computer based tasks.  I have also been identifying and bringing new partners on to meet the expanding pipeline of available work.  During this time, I have had the chance to visit and speak with both the managers of these social enterprises as well as the workers.  Though the income the jobs provide is what attracts most workers in the first place, the indirect impacts are equally significant and will keep the workers sticking around for a while.

Samasource’s Indian partners can be divided into two main categories – urban and rural.  The urban organizations are located in and working with youth and women from impoverished backgrounds in cities.  The rural organizations’ training centers and work centers are located in villages 2+ hours from cities, where there are few, if any, other employment opportunities and they are employing youth, women and refugees from the surrounding areas.

For rural Indian women, who are often prohibited from traveling far from home by their parents and/or husbands, or simply unable to do so due to safety concerns, the need to care for their children, or other reasons, the rural Business Process Outsourcing centers (or Rural BPOs) I visited are their only option for steady work due to the office’s close proximity to home.  At one partner, Desicrew Solutions, the workers travel between 30-45 minutes on average to reach the work-center.  If required to travel to the nearest urban center, the trip would take at least twice as long and cost twice as much making it unfeasible.

At Usha Martin Rural Services in Rukka, India, Shama, a 21 year old girl from a traditional Muslim family has found new confidence and enjoys the feeling of independence that this work brings her. “It feels nice to be able to work and earn money and not ask my brothers for my personal needs. Before UMRS, I had not worked and didn’t know what a job was all about. But now, I am confident and plan to work even after marriage.”

The village men, whose movement is much less restricted, often do commute daily or relocate entirely to the cities in search of work.  The resulting village brain-drain stunts village development and stresses the already struggling urban infrastructure.  Involved in village development for more than 9 years, Nitin Gachhayat, co-founder of Drishtee noted, “When the talented and high-earning workers leave the village, they reduce the demand for quality services, such as doctors, which prevents the services from reaching or remaining in the village.”  With jobs now within bicycling distance or a short auto-rickshaw ride, the men can also spend more time in and contributing to their community.  The shift from multi-hour bus/train/car commute to short bike-ride has obvious benefits to the environment as well.

For Usha Martin Rural Services, whose first work-center is located in Rukka, a village in the north-eastern state of Jharkhand (that did not show up on Google maps last I checked), the demand for such work is affirmed by the large number of young men and women lining up to join their program.  On a recent site-visit, one worker revealed to my colleague Sandesh Sharanappa that he had to swim across a stream (on more than one occasion) to get to work.  Usha’s Rukka center is one of the only options for consistent modern-economy work in the surrounding villages.

  Brad in India with Prasanjit and Anudip teachers.


I have heard that escaping the constraints of being born into a lower caste without leaving your village is still extremely difficult, so the rural BPO is not the silver bullet for all villagers’ problems.  However, after visiting most of the major Indian cities over the summer, it is clear that they are not currently equipped to handle more rural-to-urban migration.  The rural BPO therefore is a promising option for spreading what have typically been city jobs to rural areas.

In Samasource’s urban BPOs, the workers still experience many of the benefits their rural counterpart’s experience.  However, by being located in a city, the workers at these organizations actually have options for other types of work.  Some common options for poor men and women include construction laborer, mechanic, maid, rickshaw driver, car driver, clothing maker, factory worker, office assistant, or small street shop owner.  Few of these however, teach the modern economy skills, which can be continuously built upon throughout life commanding higher and higher wages.  A computer job doing work that is primarily in English provides a platform for practicing three skills which as far as I can tell, are critical to improving your life here: English, computer, and general workplace skills.  The last of which includes basics such as office etiquette, meeting deadlines, showing up on-time, decision making and teamwork.

After realizing the failure of the government school system to effectively teach students to think, it was easier to understand why many high school and college graduates still need to be taught such basic skills.  By no means an expert on the school system, I have seen that in Kolkata, its class sizes regularly reach 60 – 100 students, it does not penalize teachers for cutting class (which occurs often), and somehow forgot to include critical thinking in the curriculum.  Therefore, for the majority of the youth, who cannot afford private school, useful skills are acquired primarily though work.  This point was hammered home when I set out to hire an in-country Quality Control Mgr.  Not a single recent college graduate, whether in Engineering, IT, Business or other, could complete a medium difficulty-level MS Excel exercise.

Though not the case with every computer-based job, Samasource’s partners, both urban and rural, provide basic computer skills and English skills training programs to prospective employees.  The training, which ranges from 45 to 90 days depending on the partner, is a great start, though it is the continued use of these skills, through data-entry, web scraping, transcription and other computer-based work, that locks the training into long-term memory and allows for developing more advanced skills such as programming, and graphic design, to name a few.

In addition to providing a place to perform the work, at Uran Software Services in Kolkata, the office is the only place many of its employees have personal access to the web.  Facebook and personal email can easily detract from work productivity, though without a computer in their home or hostel, these free services are “the” place where most store photos and memories rather than simply a venue for sharing.  LinkedIn, though not fully exploited by most of Uran’s workers today, will also prove to be a valuable networking tool and proof of their experience if and when they begin to look for new work opportunities outside of their immediate vicinity.

The list of positive impacts seems to go on and on.  At each additional work-center visit, I hear new stories and find new additions to the list.  The message, however, hit home after just a few conversations with women workers during my very first visit to Usha Martin Rural Services…with these jobs, good things are happening.