Bay Area profit-purpose company Samasource rebrands a year after founder’s death


San Francisco-based AI training company Samasource is now Sama, says CEO Wendy Gonzalez.

Sama is a for-profit training-data company focused on annotating data for artificial intelligence algorithms. It provides work for low-income individuals in developing countries through the digital economy. The international company also has an office in Montreal, in Mile-Ex.

Sama is akin to a “profit purpose” company, having previously served as a non-profit entity.

Its solutions include image, video and sensor data annotation and validation for machine learning algorithms for a wide span of big-name clients, including Google, NVIDIA, and Walmart.

A fresh rebrand

Gonzalez revealed in a blog post that the name change comes at a time when Sama “is at an inflection point”:

“Since transitioning our business model, we’ve streamlined our approach to focus on accuracy, consistency, and simplicity, launching solutions like PII Data Anonymizer and Machine Learning Assisted Annotation. These solutions leverage automation in addition to human oversight, allowing efficient yet accurate data annotation and validation to take place,” wrote the CEO.

“Moving forward, our focus is on further developing our tech as we expand our presence in industries such as retail, biotechnology, and media communications.”

Sama trains workers in basic computer skills and pays a local living wage for their labour, referred to as “impact sourcing.” In fact, it’s motto is “Give work.” It uses a secured cloud annotation platform, SamaHub, to manage the annotation lifecycle. 

SamaHub reduces data projects from large companies into small tasks that can be completed by women and youth in developing countries following a few weeks of training.

In Kenya, Sama offers an immersive hard and soft skill training program to help prepare underserved youth for the workplace. The company says it hires workers who were previously earning less than the local poverty line, paying a living wage and providing access to benefits.

Sama also has offices in Costa Rica, Kenya, Uganda and The Netherlands.

Death of founder

The company’s founder, Leila Janah, passed away in early 2020 following a battle with epithelioid cancer, at age 37.

“Since then, we’ve worked to fulfill her legacy through technological innovation, navigated the challenges of COVID-19, and stepped up to address the ongoing challenges of bias in artificial intelligence (AI),” wrote Gonzalez.

The late Janah was the daughter of Indian immigrants. Raised in Los Angeles, Janah later attended Harvard University. During her time at Harvard, she conducted fieldwork in Mozambique, Senegal and Rwanda. There she authored papers for the World Bank’s Development Research Group and Ashoka on social and economic rights. She later joined Katzenbach Partners and become a visiting scholar at Stanford University with the Program on Global Justice.

Janah launched Sama (then called Market for Change) in 2008, after time spent in Africa and while managing a call center in Mumbai, India.

According to Sama’s website, by 2019 it had “helped over 50,000 people move out of poverty,” an incredible feat by any standard.

Janah was included in Conde Nast’s Daring 25 list in 2016 and as one of “Five Visionary Tech Entrepreneurs Who Are Changing the World” by The New York Times Style Magazine.

Sama has received numerous awards and grants, including the 2012 Secretary’s Innovation Award for the Empowerment of Women and Girls and the 2012 TechFellows Award for Disruptive Innovation. Meanwhile, Fast Company named Sama as “One of the Most Innovative Companies of 2015”.

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