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A recent study released by development consulting firm Banyan Global sheds light on Microwork and Impact Sourcing highlighting the different sides of the industry by looking at what clients want out of service providers and how to ensure that workers are being offered steady work with future opportunity. Microwork is a series of small tasks which together constitute a larger project. Impact Sourcing, also known as socially responsible outsourcing, refers […]

[Research] Big Data Drives Boom For Microwork and Impact Sourcing

A recent study released by development consulting firm Banyan Global sheds light on Microwork and Impact Sourcing highlighting the different sides of the industry by looking at what clients want out of service providers and how to ensure that workers are being offered steady work with future opportunity.

Microwork is a series of small tasks which together constitute a larger project. Impact Sourcing, also known as socially responsible outsourcing, refers to the creation of employment for high potential but disadvantaged people in the services sector via contract work.

Key findings in the study include:

  • Microwork industry is expecting 5x growth by 2020.
  • Data science, algorithm-based IT approaches and technology advances have expanded the range of work performed by microwork service providers.
  • Microwork service providers are structured in three different models offering varied benefits and drawbacks.
  • Clients selecting outsourcing partners look to business factors such as cost, quality, and timeliness as central decision factors.
  • Impact sourcing initiatives must be well structured and well-managed to produce cost-effective, high-quality products on time.
  • Concerns around microwork include security, implementation complexity, and potentially low-quality products when workers are not sufficiently skilled or managed properly.

Big Data + Data Science Drives Boom for Microwork

In today’s fast-paced digital world, change is the only guarantee. Organizations are struggling to keep up with innovation, having to spend the majority of their budgets and human resources maintaining their current offerings. This creates a gap between current offering and innovation. Over time, this gap threatens to open up as lean startups jump ahead and the competitive landscape evolves.

Technology breakthroughs and innovations have opened new opportunities for business. Today, advancements are commonly driven by leveraging the ever-increasing abundance of available data. The need to remain as lean as possible while extracting insights and innovation from data is the key driver in the evolution and growth of microwork and impact sourcing. This increase in data work has given rise to the microwork industry, changing the type of work available from very basic data work to work that requires domain-specific skilling, including image and video annotation to power machine learning algorithms or UGC content moderation to enhance user safety and experience. According to the study, it is projected that the microwork industry will grow from a $400 million industry today to $25 billion by 2020.

To remain competitive, companies need to be using data to their advantage; to better target customers, to provide personalized insights, and to enhance the customer experience. While everyone has access to data, the challenge is in gaining useful insights. To do this, the data needs to be in a structured format. Algorithms that are used in artificial intelligence, machine learning and computer vision rely on accurate data. The most advanced digital companies are heavily powered by human data services in the background. Cleansing data is a crucial task that needs to be done with extremely high accuracy to minimize false outputs and increase accuracy. Structuring data typically requires highly repetitive tasks completed accurately. High-growth companies are looking outside of their human resource pool to complete data tasks while their core team remains focused on core business objectives.

Technology innovations, such as cloud computing, increased bandwidth, and expanded access to reliable internet, are fueling employment opportunity for people all over the world. As the microwork industry grows, so does the opportunity for individuals in developing countries to join the “digitized economy,” offering skilled employment where there previously wasn’t any stable options, increasing their purchasing power.

The type of work that microwork providers can handle varies greatly but is centered in dataset skills. The study highlights work case studies from Ancestry.comGetty Images, and eBay. As an example, Getty Images, the world’s largest provider of digital media content, processes over 40,000 still images per day. To increase search accuracy for their customers, they outsourced image categorization to microwork service providers, including iMerit. Adding high-quality metadata to each image enables customers to find what they are looking for, providing a better customer experience.

Different Types of Impact Sourcing Models

The study has classified microwork service providers in three different categories, each one varying in advantages and disadvantages to both the client and the workers.

The Micro Distribution Model















This model is commonly referred to as ‘crowdsourcing’ – a company creates a platform that acts as an intermediary between client and workers. This model is highly scalable and low cost due to the lack of infrastructure as workers are self-employed and dispersed (working from their home or local cafes). This structure also has the capability for broad impact as it’s accessible to anyone with reliable Internet and basic literacy and numeracy skills.

The micro distribution model can cause challenges for workers due to fluctuating demand for services. Because of the dispersed nature of the structure, there is less opportunity for skill development and can create quality control difficulties due to lack of direct management.

The Direct Model



In the Direct Model, service providers build and operate delivery centers and employ and train local workers to complete work in those centers. Services providers will usually have a United States-based headquarters with delivery centers in developing and emerging countries.

In this model, workers are offered education, up-skilling opportunities, and a management team to offer guidance. While this model represents the highest level of investment, fixed capacity, and operational complexity for the service provider due to infrastructure and training, according to the study, it also has the highest potential for performing high volumes of work at a high level of quality.

The Indirect Model



This model adds a layer to the direct model between the client and the workers in the form of delivery partner, service intermediaries, or subcontractors, who find contracts to bring to their partners. While this is a very scalable model, quality control can be very complex and is affected by all collaborating firms.

iMerit is an example of the Direct Model with a headquarters in California and delivery centers in India. Employees are offered stable employment with continuous on-the-job training and advancement opportunities enabling them to join the digitized economy. A stable work environment, skills and opportunity advancement, and a management team on site leads to below 3% attrition rates and projects that are completed with above 95% accuracy on time, and on budget.  Knowing that the team you partner with today is the team that will be here tomorrow creates a sense that the iMerit workforce is truly a part of the client’s workforce. This helps build valuable long-term client relationships, encourages investment in knowledge transfer and technology, and adds to the quality of work.

Microwork increases production, scalability, and lowers costs without risk

With direct and indirect models offering the skilling required to complete more advanced tasks, more and more companies are looking to outsource their data work saving them money through lower salaries for workers, lower training costs, and lower attrition rates. According to the study, impact sourcing can lower client costs by up to 40% and replace the need for staff augmentation, saving addition costs, as service providers take on the responsibility of acting as the employer, or that workers are hired as freelancers.

Not only does enlisting dataset service providers reduce costs, but it can also help clients scale their work at a reduced risk. According to the study, the “large-scale digitization of service production and the unbundling of service value chains have enabled firms to view individuals and locations as calculable, marginal and substitutable in the performance of this work.” As an example, companies who are launching a new product will utilize outsourced workforces to help manage increasing amounts of data and to refine their product before launch. The study mentions that Microsoft did this when testing the algorithms used in its search engine, Bing.

Challenges and Concerns

There are concerns or challenges that arise when hiring an outside team to complete important work. According to the study, clients interviewed are concerned about security, implementation complexity, and potentially low-quality output. To reduce these concerns, initiatives must be well structured and well-managed to produce cost-effective, high-quality products on time.

In the case of the Direct Model, teams are managed in delivery centers. This creates an opportunity for high security as data is not leaving the centers. Through project managers, upskilling, and low attrition rates, teams can take on more complex projects. Because management is right there with them, quality control is a key component, ensuring the client receives high-quality work.

While I have focused mainly on the client-related aspects and opportunities that microwork and impact sourcing provide, the study details the incredible opportunity that it offers marginalized individuals all over the world. For more information and to read the entire study, you can check it out here.

For more information on the on-demand data services iMerit provides, get in touch today!

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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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iMerit was named one of the five startups tackling social problems in India. Take a peak at what Forbes India had to say below, and read the whole article here. Ask any Nasscom company if they’d hire an underprivileged person, the answer is likely to be “well, they don’t have engineering degrees” or even a college degree, she says. iMerit wants to prove that, given the right training, even these […]

iMerit was named one of the five startups tackling social problems in India. Take a peak at what Forbes India had to say below, and read the whole article here.

Ask any Nasscom company if they’d hire an underprivileged person, the answer is likely to be “well, they don’t have engineering degrees” or even a college degree, she says. iMerit wants to prove that, given the right training, even these young women, who aren’t fluent in English and have, at best, managed to clear class 12, do exceptionally well. “The vision is to see how we can create a model that taps into the massive digital transformation that is going on all over the world, and have these young people coming from very low-income households become part of that transformed economy.”

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Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are a key goal for reaching the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and empowering communities around the world. Starting today, leaders from tech, private industry, government and the development sector are going together to explore ways to harness cutting-edge information technology to help the world’s most marginalized communities at the 8th annual Information and Communications Technologies for Development (ICT4D) conference. We are thrilled to be […]

Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are a key goal for reaching the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and empowering communities around the world.

Starting today, leaders from tech, private industry, government and the development sector are going together to explore ways to harness cutting-edge information technology to help the world’s most marginalized communities at the 8th annual Information and Communications Technologies for Development (ICT4D) conference.

We are thrilled to be sponsoring this fantastic event, alongside wonderful sponsorship partners like NetHope, HP Enterprise, Catholic Relief Services, Oxfam, and more.

From demonstrations and trainings on how to use UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) to assess disaster zones as well as deliver emergency supplies, to using remote sensors to monitor water levels at far-flung rural wells and boreholes, to training rural farmers on tablets and mothers on nutrition via SMS, to ensuring good governance and accountability on social media, this year’s ICT4D Conference has something for everyone.

“Today across the developing world, people from all walks of life – farmers, teachers, mothers – are using mobile devices to access weather data, market information, financial services, and medical advice,” said Carol Bothwell, CRS’ Director of Technology Innovation for Development. “Local governments, development organizations, and social enterprises are harnessing the power of real-time data, social media, and analytics to improve the quality and reach of the services they provide to those living in extreme poverty. We can improve the speed with which we achieve the sustainable development goals if we share these innovations and create more.”

The conference has grown from the 80 development professionals who met in Nairobi for one day in 2010, to 750 professionals from some 315 organizations and 75 countries who will meet for four days this year. Speakers include leaders from a wide range of international and local organizations – the World Health Organization, the International Telecommunications Union, the UN Conference on Trade and Development, the governments of Kenya, Sierra Leone, Indonesia and Bangladesh, CISCO, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, Equity Group Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, ICRISAT, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Nairobi, and the University of Notre Dame – as well as the CEOs of a wide range of entrepreneurial businesses and social enterprises.

For a full list of speakers and conference agenda, go to ICT4Dconference.org. For the latest updates on the conference, follow #ICT4D2016 on Twitter.

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Last week, we introduced four of iMerit Metiabruz’s data experts. This week, we delve deeper into their stories, and get a glimpse of iMerit from their eyes. How did you first become interested in iMerit? Rukhsar: I would always notice how happy my cousin was after a shift working at iMerit, so I thought to myself, “Why don’t I give it a try?” Hearing about her experience with her friendly […]

Last week, we introduced four of iMerit Metiabruz’s data experts. This week, we delve deeper in to their stories, and get a glimpse of iMerit from their eyes.

How did you first become interested in iMerit?

Rukhsar: I would always notice how happy my cousin was after a shift working at iMerit, so I thought to myself, “Why don’t I give it a try?” Hearing about her experience with her friendly colleagues there got me really interested in joining iMerit. It seemed like a fantastic opportunity.

Arfana: I heard about so many different work centers, but when I heard about iMerit it sounded different. I learned that this organization is working for human development through the support of rural communities and their livelihoods, and it made me happy and very interested to work with iMerit.

Zaheda: There are lots of things that attracted me to working with iMerit, but the first of these would be my curiosity in learning about the IT sector and my desire to learn more about the professional world. I’ve always had a passion for technology and a desire to see myself as a more independent individual. Before joining iMerit I had spent my life as a student, but I had always wanted to have a profession of my own, one where I could see myself as an independent person. I’ve always loved learning about technology, and here at iMerit I learn about technology every day. I’ve added to my skill set, too. Now I’m a professional person and I have an identity that I can call my own.

How have you grown personally or professionally as an individual?

Mushtari: iMerit has given me the opportunity to really enhance myself. When I first joined, I had very little knowledge about computers and the IT world, but because of iMerit, I’ve had the platform to learn so many different things – networking security assembly, for example. It is in thanks to the iMerit community that I have had this opportunity to learn and grow as I have.

Rukhsar: Personally speaking, I was a very shy girl in my school days, but since joining iMerit I have developed the habit of interacting more with people. This has turned me from an introvert to an extrovert, and it has also brought immense confidence in me. Not only that – it’s also helped me to speak frequently in English. All these factors have definitely allowed me to grow as a person. Professionally speaking, after having observed my managers and fellow team leaders, I’ve noticed how hard they work and the way they speak and behave with others. I’ve tried very hard to embody similar leadership qualities that they have set as an example. This has helped me to get promoted as a Team Leader here at iMerit Metiabruz. It feels good to be recognized as a leader in this office.

What are some of the skills that you have learned while here at iMerit?

Arfana: I have learned so many things here at iMerit – it’s hard to put them all into words. I’ve been working with iMerit for around five years now, and in that time I’ve definitely developed and advanced my leadership skills. For example, I’ve learned how to motivate others, like the members of the team I lead. I’ve improved my communication skills and also learned how to learn from past failures and shortcomings. I have learned that leadership can play a large role in our career development.

Mushtari: I have learned so many things during my time here at iMerit: IT skills, management, and workplace etiquette, for example. I’ve also had the opportunity to improve my English communication skills here, too. All of these things relate to one another, so the skills I’ve

learned here get practiced again and again.

What is your favorite thing about working at iMerit?

Mushtari: My favorite thing about iMerit is that here we can learn and work

simultaneously. This is the only center in this area where girls can work; so many

girls love to join our office.

Arfana: My favorite thing is the Communication Training by Anita, the Annual Functions, and that we can learn and work simultaneously.

What would you tell someone who is interested in working with iMerit?

Rukhsar: I always talk about my office work environment to my relatives and friends. I tell them about how much I enjoy working in iMerit, as this is a center where mainly girls work. We work as a family together. iMerit gives a great opportunity to all educated girls of Metiabruz to work and earn a livelihood and become self-dependent. Not only that, several girls also help to run their family by working in this office. Lots of girls I’ve met in my community have been inspired by my experience here. After listening to my story, some have also joined iMerit.

What has been one of your most memorable experiences here at iMerit so far?

Mushtari: At the 2016 iMerit Picnic, my name was announced as the recipient of the Ownership Award. I was so shocked – I really can’t express my feelings in words now, thinking about that moment when Radha Didi (iMerit CEO, Radha Basu) presented me with the award. It was really one of the sweetest memories of my life.

Rukhsar: In the last iMerit Picnic in February, I sang a song in front of a huge, appreciative audience – it felt very good to do that. It also gave me a lot of confidence and courage to face similarly daunting challenges in the future.

Zaheda: In the beginning when I first joined, we were working a lot and faced many issues. We didn’t have very reliable internet then, but all of us were driven by our ambition. We had the curiosity to do this kind of work to the best of our ability, and we were also a symbol of women’s empowerment from our locality. All those people who thought that girls are not able to work in offices were proved wrong. We showed them that we have the power to do these things. Now, many people love to see their daughters working here in Metiabruz. Working with iMerit has been one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

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