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Sama: Building an Ethical AI Business

Published 25 Mar 2022
Reference 6749
Region Global
Summary

In 2008, Leila Janah founded Sama (formerly Samasource) with the view that providing access to outsourced digital work was an effective way to lift low-income communities worldwide out of poverty. Over the years, Sama has transformed itself from a small nonprofit social enterprise to a mission-driven company that now is attracting investors and aspiring to be a global leader in AI training data services. But how far can Sama push the boundaries as a business hoping to grow profitability based on the principle of “doing well by doing good”?

Teaching objectives

This case is well suited for teaching modules related to purpose-driven business, tech for good, artificial intelligence, responsible outsourcing, social entrepreneurship, nonprofit management, ethical leadership, impact evaluation and impact management. It provides a basis for discussing how combining an intentionality for impact with the discipline of a market-based approach can often lead to more effective and sustainable solutions. It also brings out the dilemmas involved in pursuing commercial goals in an impact venture, especially in the context of external growth-focused funding that might dilute the focus on impact. Finally, the case provides rich information related to rigorous impact evaluation and impact management, including the use of randomized control trials and B Corp certification.

Keywords
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • AI for good
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Social Enterprise
  • Impact Evaluation
  • Inclusive Business
  • Outsourcing
  • Impact Sourcing
  • Africa
  • Impact Investing
  • Business Model Innovation
  • Machine Learning: Technology Strategy
  • Tech for Impact
  • Q1 2022