4 Ways AI Makes a Positive Impact on Communities in East Africa

Liliosa Mbirimi Muturi

February 28, 2020

6 Minute Read

In a small town in Northern Uganda, Ocem turns on his lights at 6am to get ready for work. It’s his second year working at Samasource, and before becoming an AI trainer, he was a student at the local university, moonlighting as a farmer.

Working in AI was not a path Ocem imagined until he was recruited to work at Samasource. In fact, like many students, his greatest uncertainty was whether he could put his degree to good use at all, post graduation.

Ocem’s story is like many other young professionals in East Africa, but as AI adoption explodes, these talented, untapped communities are finding work they never thought possible, at the cutting edge of AI.

Here are four ways AI makes a positive impact on communities in East Africa.

Gainful Employment

A report by the World Bank shared that 60 percent of the unemployed in Africa are youth, who after graduating from University will take on average, one year to find employment in their field of study. 

I believe this is due to the lack of formal career opportunities within the region, making it difficult for the employment industry to support the volume of college graduates entering the workforce.

As a result, talented graduates find work in menial jobs that often don’t provide a sustainable income, but Samasource and other tech companies are working to fix that.

The explosion of AI has birthed the demand for high-quality, ground truth data for artificial intelligence, and with training, recent graduates like Ocem can find meaningful work in the growing digital economy.

Driven by a mission to expand opportunity for low-income people, Samasource's social impact business model has helped over 50,000 people move themselves out of poverty through digital work.

Workers in our East Africa centers are paid a living wage and competitive benefits. They also receive ongoing digital skills training and have access to professional development opportunities that further help increase the purchasing power of their communities, potentially ending a long cycle of poverty.

Skills and Knowledge

As more tech companies expand operations to Africa, and more people start gaining on-the-job experience working in machine learning and AI, the positive impact AI makes on communities in East Africa will only expand.

I’ve personally witnessed how energized the youth in East Africa are about the intricacies of enriching data for AI. For many, this budding tech boom has motivated them to enroll in courses centered around data sciences and AI.

Also, the Deep Learning Indaba, an annual meeting for AI enthusiasts in Africa has brought together a growing number of youths for week long discussions, debates and research on machine learning and AI. 

With a reliable IT infrastructure, paired with increased trust in the skill level of youth workers in the region, East Africa has the potential to become a major hub for AI training data.

At Samasource, our AI training classes fill up weekly, and this level of investment in skills development for young professionals is what’s needed to continue developing the talent pool. 

Diversity and Inclusion

Unesco reported that 30% of the tech-workforce in sub-Saharan Africa are women, and despite the challenges of gender discrimination in the technology sector, the percentage of female workers is steadily growing. 

Women in Africa have often been set apart from the tech industry because culturally, they were considered primary caretakers, expected to focus on their family, not their career. Now, the vast opportunities in AI are helping to change that. 

We actively recruit women and youth to work in our East Africa centers, providing in-depth technical training, so underserved communities can pursue a career in AI. From scholarship programs to nursing rooms, we’ve also made it a priority to establish an office culture conducive to the success of women workers.

Our baseline survey data found that women earned 70 cents for every dollar earned by men, before joining Samasource. By ensuring we achieve gender parity in pay, while simultaneously paying a living wage, our workers can support themselves and their families sustainably.

Data Privacy and Protection

As more populations in Africa adopt mobile technology and digital apps, their exposure to AI-enabled technologies that collect data to improve experiences will only increase. These interactions can be as simple as product recommendations from an online store, or interactions with an automated messenger bot. 

Given the rapid advancement of AI and the Internet of Things (IoT) , the Kenyan government recently passed a data protection law which complies with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). 

Similar to GDPR, this legislation outlines restrictions on data handling and sharing, in an effort to regulate the processing of personal data and information in the country.

This commitment to increased digital security will no doubt have a positive impact on the citizens of Kenya, and in many ways, it sets the standard for data privacy and protection across the continent. 

McKinsey Global Institute predicts that AI has the potential to deliver an additional economic output of $13 trillion by 2030. This economic growth, alongside the digital transformation of sub-Saharan Africa will have enormous positive impact on communities in East Africa.

If you’re interested in learning more about how Samasource connects people to dignified digital work, you can read about our social business model here.  

Liliosa Mbirimi Muturi

Liliosa is the Impact and Marketing Manager at Samasource.