In Samasource’s urban partners, some of the indirect benefits to the workers overlap with those of their rural counterparts, such as an increased sense of independence and decision-making power within the family. However, unlike in the rural setting, the urban workers have numerous options for other types of work. Some common options for poor men and women include construction labourer, mechanic, maid, rickshaw driver, car driver (for a company or a family), clothing maker/tailor, 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, and are in demand by multinational companies. A computer job performing work which 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 and leapfrogging out of poverty: 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 independently, it was easier to understand why many high school and college graduates were still lacking such basic skills. Though no expert on the school system, I have seen that in Kolkata its class sizes regularly reach 60 – 80 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 moderately difficult 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, graphic design, and other.
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 in both the urban and rural organizations seems to go on and on. At each additional work-center visit, I hear new stories and find new additions to the list. The most important 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.