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On October 9th, in Milpitas, CA, The Indians for Collective Action (ICA) honored Radha and Dipak Basu for their work developing IT and social entrepreneurship in India. The award recognized the Basus’ work with NetHope, Jhumki Basu Foundation, Anudip Foundation, and iMerit. Anshu Gupta, social entrepreneur and founder of Goonj and Adhik Kadam, co-founder and director of Borderless World Foundation also received accolades for their work. Indians for Collective Action […]

On October 9th, in Milpitas, CA, The Indians for Collective Action (ICA) honored Radha and Dipak Basu for their work developing IT and social entrepreneurship in India. The award recognized the Basus’ work with NetHope, Jhumki Basu Foundation, Anudip Foundation, and iMerit.

Anshu Gupta, social entrepreneur and founder of Goonj and Adhik Kadam, co-founder and director of Borderless World Foundation also received accolades for their work.

Indians for Collective Action was founded in 1968 by young Indian Americans in the San Francisco Bay Area. ICA is dedicated to working towards a secure life for every Indian, in a sustainable environment and a just society.

Read more about the awards here.

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I wholeheartedly believe in the power of self-learning. This conviction comes from a very personal place. When my daughter was in grade two, I wasn’t happy with the math curriculum at her school. At that time, I was traveling a lot for work and, though I may have wanted to, I could not direct the learning I saw she was missing. So, I started looking for a curriculum that she […]

I wholeheartedly believe in the power of self-learning. This conviction comes from a very personal place. When my daughter was in grade two, I wasn’t happy with the math curriculum at her school. At that time, I was traveling a lot for work and, though I may have wanted to, I could not direct the learning I saw she was missing. So, I started looking for a curriculum that she could use on her own and learn by herself.

I looked everywhere.

I even made my own worksheets, but found them terribly boring and repetitive. I sought out online resources and talked to peers. Eventually, I came across Everyday Mathematics. It didn’t take much digging before I knew my daughter could use these to learn.

That’s exactly what happened. No matter where I was in the world, we would come up with monthly plans and then check in every week to see how she was progressing. She was excited and engaged by the material, eventually taking control of the monthly plans herself. She quickly showed not just how much she was learning, but how excited she was to do so.

Self-learning at iMerit seeks the same results: motivation, self-empowerment, and growth. Many of our team members may not have a growth mindset given their past financial backgrounds. Often, they have learned to reject hope, and that hopelessness has become a coping mechanism for their lives.

To inject hope for growth into their lives by showing them they can actually learn something almost completely by themselves is to me the biggest way of enabling social change.

Here are a few ways we engage our employees in their own self-learning processes.

1) Put learning in the contract

All of our employees know that at iMerit they are not only expected to work, but to learn as well. They know that a successful employee here is not just one who performs well, but who grows while doing so. It’s all part of the terms of their work with us.

2) Measure the results of learning programs

We’re a company obsessed with data, so why would we not use that internally, too? We track weekly learning on each worker in our company-wide platform. Everyone from the newest hire to the CEO are invested in monitoring these metrics, and building an environment in which we can watch them improve.

3) Acknowledge the trade-off

iMerit is a company that, just like others, reports to investors, and to a bottom line. But we also serve a greater social good, and deliver to a second bottom line of impact. Delivering to both of these well means building a system that works so that it can create impact while generating revenue. It means we must acknowledge that there might be tension – at first – between a learning team that wants to train our employees as often as possible, and a delivery team that wants to have employees working as often as possible. At the end of the day, we strive for a system that meets both of these needs. One where learning creates even better delivery outcomes. It’s truly a win-win.

4) Use a platform that works in your context

At iMerit, we love self-learning methods because they are great for contexts in which motivation abounds, but resources like teachers and time may not. For us, our self-learning platform incorporates learners, learning assistants, subject matter experts, and contextual FAQs. Together, these tools and resources allow learners to answer their own questions in a way that flows with their learning. Other organizations may benefit from MOOCs (massive open online courses), which have shown huge success in developing contexts – over 50% of users in the developing world complete courses or receive certification, compared to only 5-10% in developed countries (IREX).

We are here to shatter existing models and demonstrate that the future of work is bright.

To do this, incorporating learning is absolutely fundamental for us. It isn’t easy, and requires decisively including previously marginalized populations. But it is definitely worth it.

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In our previous blog post about working with external teams, we talked about the importance of knowledge transfer when creating, enhancing, and cleaning datasets. Take a look here. This week, we’re talking about communication. When we work on projects with co-workers, we do a great deal of communicating: meetings, calls, stand-ups, check-ins, you know the drill. When work with external teams – from consultants to BPOs to crowds – it’s […]

In our previous blog post about working with external teams, we talked about the importance of knowledge transfer when creating, enhancing, and cleaning datasets. Take a look here. This week, we’re talking about communication.

When we work on projects with co-workers, we do a great deal of communicating: meetings, calls, stand-ups, check-ins, you know the drill. When work with external teams – from consultants to BPOs to crowds – it’s important to remember that though there may be fewer in-house team members, communication is still key.

In practice, this first means establishing good knowledge transfer, as we talked about in our last segment. However, that one-way channel is not enough.

It’s important to create feedback channels from your external teams to in-house teams.

When working with a managed team – whether it’s a group of consultants or an iMerit team – this can be straightforward. Between email, phone calls, Slack, Skype – the list goes on – channels are established and it’s just a matter of making and sticking to a schedule.

When working with an anonymous crowd, however, you need to get creative.

The “team” you’re working with could be ever-shifting, making it hard (but not impossible) to gather unified feedback.

One method to try is adding a “task” in your process that asks for the workers’ feedback. You can gather feedback on the task structure, the task documentation, and see if there is anything you can change to make the task more straightforward for them, and more useful for you.

Encourage honesty, and then you can iterate your tasks based on the feedback you get. Over time, your tasks will be clearer and easier for the crowd to complete, ensuring even more accuracy for you!

What does this look like in reality?

Perhaps you have an online clothing store, and are entering new items into your retail site’s taxonomy. As you go through the data coming from your crowd, you notice that there is an item with markedly low inner-agreement rates. Different crowd members keep placing it in different categories, there is no agreement on where it should belong.

hoodie_blog_imgTake a look at it on the left.

Your crowd is baffled.

Some call it a “hoodie” – it does have a hood, after all – while others are placing it in the “sleeveless top” category. If they were sitting in-house, they could ask you which of these categories is more important to your categorization, or they could suggest placing it in two categories. But, they’re not in your office, so you need to anticipate their thoughts.

To avoid this confusion, design tasks in a way that makes it easy for workers to voice their thoughts.

Going forward, there are many interventions you could take:

  • Add a checkbox workers can tick to mark that they are “unsure of the category”
  • Include a free-text field that workers can fill in with any questions they have about the categorization of each particular item
  • Place a question at the end of the tasks asking your workers if they faced any confusion at an overall level
  • Require a final question where workers can offer suggestions for tasks or instructions

Get creative with the questions you ask your external teams, and remember they’re team members just like those you see in your office everyday!

Stay tuned for more tips on using external teams.

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Youth around the world face challenges previous generations have not. No matter how much work they put in, many graduate ill-equipped for careers. Educational systems around the world aren’t reliably preparing youth for today’s careers, much less those of tomorrow. This lack of job-ready skills holds true in the U.S., just as much as it does in developing contexts. These challenges are not only for youth or educational systems to […]

Youth around the world face challenges previous generations have not. No matter how much work they put in, many graduate ill-equipped for careers. Educational systems around the world aren’t reliably preparing youth for today’s careers, much less those of tomorrow. This lack of job-ready skills holds true in the U.S., just as much as it does in developing contexts.

These challenges are not only for youth or educational systems to tackle.

These challenges are relevant to any company wanting to stay current, grow and thrive.

So what do today’s employers and companies need to do? And when they do address these challenges, what’s in it for them?

If you want to recruit, retaining and grow your young talent, training & ongoing development are key. For us at iMerit, this means that when we bring on new staff, their learning journey is far from over. All of our employees, from executives to newest hires, are expected to continue learning and gaining skills both on their own and with our support.

Employers must integrate skill-development into their company culture; when they do, everyone comes out ahead.

In practice, this learning is guided by a dedication to integration and usefulness. We need an integrated approach so that our workers can both work and learn. Also, we focus relevant skills like English and technology to ensure learning can be applied. Over the years, we’ve taken best practices from distance learning programs, MOOCs, self-directed learning programs and more to see what works best in our context.

The outcome is an integrated, self-directed system that allows our employees to earn a living while learning, deliver fantastic results while gaining critical skills. By empowering them to be self-driven learners, we see our employees quickly develop their own problem solving skills, and strengthen their own motivation.

focus on learning
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The results have shown in company culture, individual learning outcomes, and client results.

The same skill-building that enables our workers to build datasets for machine vision algorithms contributes to their personal skill sets. Each extra unit of productivity delivered to our clients is reflective of an extra unit of skill-development and personal growth. By integrating learning into company DNA, we’ve seen:

  • Industry-best levels of retention (95% and above!)
  • An increase in employee-driven initiatives
  • Employee-driven recognition of colleagues’ progress and achievements
  • Improved project metrics from beginning to end of an engagement
  • Energetic pursuit of new trends and technologies

For companies around the world, integrating skill-development into company culture can look different. It might be a more informal focus communicated from managers to their reports; it could be a company-wide initiative to take a particular online course; it could manifest as an increased budget for professional development.

No matter what, we are certain that technologies will continue changing at an increasing clip. We know we want each of our employees to feel motivated to contribute their best.

Learning is the only way to keep up.

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The path to the relevant, clean and complete dataset you need can be a long one, made up of many small, often time-consuming tasks. Maybe it’s tagging hand gestures in a video in order to build an algorithm training dataset. It could be […]

The Foundation to Creating Datasets with External Teams

The path to the relevant, clean and complete dataset you need can be a long one, made up of many small, often time-consuming tasks. Maybe it’s tagging hand gestures in a video in order to build an algorithm training dataset. It could be reading individual user comments to keep your site clean and relevant. Or perhaps it’s conducting complex web research on financial entities.

These tasks take time and focus away from other core tasks, and the option of passing them along to an external team can be quite appealing. However, using external teams – from consultants to crowds – is not straightforward. Communication can be time consuming, and results may not match what you needed. To address these challenges, we pulled together tips we’ve learned along the way of our data journeys.

The first tip? Document, document, document.

No matter how you look at it, your external teams are like new hires. They don’t have the company knowledge or familiarity you do. That means it’s best to do all you can to start them off with a good infusion of knowledge.

To ensure good knowledge hand-off, start with a process document. Chances are this isn’t the first time you have gathered or enhanced the particular dataset in question, so walk through the process as you’ve found it to be working best and document that. Make notes of what teams can expect to see as they create and/or enhance the dataset, and include step-wise instructions as appropriate. Don’t stop there, though! Remember, these are just like new team members. That means…

Adopt the persona of a complete newcomer and revisit your instructions.

Make sure there’s no insider jargon, preconceived notions or assumptions that might derail your external workforce. Remember, nothing is obvious. Double-check your language for clarity, and imagine how it would read to someone entirely unfamiliar with the process and the context.

If you can find common ways to break your instruction design, then you can make it more robust out of the gate.

To find bugs, and weak spots in our instruction design, we have found it incredibly useful to discuss edge-cases and outliers. It’s hard (perhaps impossible) to account for all possible variants of edge-cases, but it’s critical to include even a few. Talk through how your teams – or other external teams – have handled edge-cases and outliers in the past. Do your best to explain the logic and assumptions behind decisions made that perhaps fall outside of the typical cases. This insight into your internal processes and priorities is invaluable to your external teams, and will help them even more than discussion of “typical” cases.

For one ecommerce client, we were asked to develop a set of tasks that would help them spot marketplace listings of counterfeit items. Though some items were quite obviously counterfeit, not all were as easily identifiable.

pear_smartphone

The less-well-known Pear brand smartphone

In addition to the clearer cases, we were able to identify some trends that marked the more difficult edge cases of counterfeit products. These included things like suspiciously low prices, or account names that seemed to suggest something suspicious was afoot (names like **CHEEP**REPROS** might be a give-away). By incorporating these special cases into documentation, we were able to ensure quicker identification of tough-to-spot products.

tip for process documentation

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Keep this tip sheet handy for next time you need to document your data process, and stay tuned for more tips on using external teams.

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