The skills of the future (Part 7)

The skills of the future (Part 7)

__New champions of AI emerge… in Africa!

A few weeks ago I read an interesting article in the Financial Times (FT) entitled “AI’s new workforce: the data-labelling industry spreads globally”, about an industry of the future (and now) that in Africa already employs thousands of people living in informal settlements (slums) in urban Kenya and Uganda. Amongst the early types of jobs emerging in Artificial Intelligence, 2,800+ jobs have been created in Nairobi alone, by just one company…

How? Let’s talk! Founded in San Francisco with headquarters in Nairobi, Samasource focuses on training and employing thousands of people (digital labelling experts) to study video footage and images, carefully labelling frame by frame all they see — road markings, street signs, trees, people, cars, sky and every pixel in between.

This human labeling is then “fed” to an algorithm to “train” it to “see” and recognize objects in the real world. One hour of video takes eight hours to label. (Of course, I am simplifying here.#SeniorClass: Please help the others understand what an algorithm is and does, and how high quality data-labelling is critical for AI’s machine learning and revolutionary inventions like self-driving cars!)

Samasource founder and CEO, Leila Janah, has shared that when she was getting started, it was actually the assembly line #process introduced by Henry Ford in 1913 that inspired her to focus her business on the data labelling #process of AI. As most of you know, Henry Ford broke down the production of a complex machine (the Model T) into small parts, enabling even those with only basic training to be employed in the world-changing motor vehicle industry, back in its earliest days.

When Ms Janah decided to outsource some of the early data labelling work out of the USA, she said she initially faced a great deal of skepticism, with many concerned there would be be too few people in Africa and India with the digital skills to provide world-class data-labelling quality required by the top multinationals. Her skeptics were wrong…

Samasource is now contracted by huge companies like Walmart, Google, Microsoft, General Motors, and many others to carry out this critical work! (And since Women’s Day was last week, let me not forget to mention that a majority of Samasource workers globally are women, as the company’s senior management, even in Silicon Valley).

With thanks to author, Madhumita Murgia let me complete this AI supply chain case study by quoting her FT article directly: 

“According to a January 2019 report by analyst firm Cognilytica, the market for third-party data labelling solutions was $150m in 2018, growing to more than $1bn by 2023. 

‘The largest technology companies don’t want to be in the business of training data, they want to own customer relationships [and] are using partners and procurement wisely,’ said Leila Janah, founder and chief executive of Samasource. . .‘But this is why conversations around ethical AI supply chains are so vital to have now. Before it starts moving out of their four walls, we have to make sure we set the standards, and this market doesn’t go the way of apparel factories. There is a huge opportunity to ensure this [labelling] industry is a positive force’.” 

You can find the full FT article at:

Reflection: What did you learn from this story?

#1. AI is already happening, and there are smart entrepreneurs getting in early! You cannot get in early on anything, if you do not spend time to get a deeper level of understanding.

#2. Be a “doer”, not a “watcher”, of things happening around you. This platform is a “practical class” and not a “discussion forum” or “chat room”.

Every post or even every comment should be read with a pen and paper in hand, reflectively looking for practical things to DO!

Yes, we #LearnToDo

I would like you to become an expert in understanding AI, on behalf of Africa!

To be continued. . .

Author:Strive Masiyiwa

Strive Masiyiwa is the founder and Executive Chairman of the Econet Group. He serves on several international boards including Unilever, and the Global Advisory boards of the Council on Foreign Relations and Stanford University. A board member of the Rockefeller Foundation for 15 years, he also serves as Chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). He is a co-founder of the Carbon War Room, Pathways for Prosperity, and the Global Business Coalition on Education. He and his wife, Tsitsi, co-founded the Higherlife Foundation and are signators of the Giving Pledge.

13 Replies to “The skills of the future (Part 7)”

  1. Afterthought 1.

    “I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge – even wisdom. Like art.” Toni Morrison

  2. Afterthought 3.

    I don’t know anyone at Samasource, but I’m impressed by what I read in the FT article. Please take a look at their website and tell me what you think of the business model. Are there some lesson to be learned here?

    “At Samasource, we believe that connecting people to dignified digital work, and paying living wages, has the potential to solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges – from reducing poverty to empowering women and mitigating climate change. This is why we chose to adopt a hybrid for profit/non-profit business model. Samasource was founded as a nonprofit organization in 2008, and became a hybrid for- profit/non-profit social enterprise in 2016 to allow us to attract impact investment capital to scale. Samasource’s training data business remains majority-owned by a non-profit, and our mission to fight poverty by giving work remains unchanged.”

  3. Afterthought 5.

    I have talked earlier in the series about the high-tech 4IR skills training of the future offered online by initiatives like Muzinda Hub and 21CSkills. Critically important but not everyone can be a developer, programmer, data scientist or engineer right away. Let’s look at the whole supply chain and #Imagine good job opportunities for everyone!

  4. #Investment in African AI related investments [including Start Ups] hit $2,5bn already!

    Hold on to your seat!

    Yes, that is correct!

    More than $100bn has been invested globally in the last 12 months, and $2,5bn went to Africa!

    If you are shocked, then ask yourself:
    “Do I really know what AI is, and is not, at this time?”
    Before you start looking for robots in the street, remember there are a lot more mundane things going on right under your nose!


    “If a tree falls in the forest, where there is no one to hear it, does it make a noise?”

    I use this to remind each one of us, that;
    “Just because you personally have not heard about something happening somewhere in Africa, does not mean it is not happening. There are things always happening in Africa [good and bad] that will stun you. Africa is an amazing place.

    It is also a humble reminder that we must always ask ourselves:
    “I’m I really following the things that really matter, or do I spend my time listening to the same [ political] gossip, day in and day out?”

  5. Thapelo Swereki writes,

    “Lets look at the whole supply chain and #imagine good job opportunities for everyone” – STRIVE MASIYIWA.

    Yes my leader, its so interesting to realize how we are wired. Last night i was doing some lessons on python language “as part of Muzinda hub student here in Botswana”

    I got to realize there are so many things that are POSSIBLE TO BE DONE but because we have been lacking skills “like coding” our vision has not been clear enough to see that.

    From MEDICATION, TRANSPORT, BUSINESS WISE, AND the most interesting thing is plenty of information that is around us that we hardly take into consideration to ANALYZE to extract solutions to our daily needs.
    #(Data analysis ) – a very profound topic you have once touched and since then the sky is the limit when we talk about IDEAS TO WHAT CAN BE DONE TO SOLVE SITUATIONS AROUND US.

    My reply,

    It’s wonderful to hear that you are part of the first cohort of 600 students that we are training in Botswana.
    These are critical skills for the 4IR.
    This program like the one we run in other countries is not a “One off”. It will continue:
    ~Our program in Swaziland is now 10 years old.
    ~Our programs in Zimbabwe have been going for 25 years.
    ~Our program in Rwanda is in its 10th year.
    ~Kenya is 10 years.
    These are programs for which we are not paid by anyone. We don’t do it for profit or to gain favour. I have not even been to Swaziland, yet.

  6. #Trip to Rwanda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Ghana, and Nigeria!

    I’m currently on a five nation tour, meeting our AGRA partners to discuss the upcoming African Agriculture Forum:
    It will be held in Accra Ghana in September.
    I will be meeting with the Presidents, Prime Ministers, and other leaders.
    No doubt you will hear about it in local press!

    What was it President Obama said [again]?

    “We must learn to walk and chew gum at the same time.”

    Even when you are facing different types of challenges or you are focused on business, don’t lose sight of other things that also need your attention.
    #Agriculture is important.

  7. #Condolences to Tanzania!

    This week I read with profound sadness the terrible events that occurred in Tanzania, where in oil Tanker exploded and killed over 70 people.
    This is a terrible, terrible, tragedy.

    My heartfelt condolences to the families of those who are lost their lives. Let us continue to pray for the many who were injured.

  8. Uwem Uke writes,

    Strive Masiyiwa On Sunday evening, a friend called and started taunting me, i was lost on why, until he mentioned Chelsea FC 4-0 loss in the English Premier league. He sensed i didn’t see the match and asked if i was fine. He and everyone knows me(knew me) like a sports/soccer super fan, so they baffle when i am not up to date with happenings. Around me, it seems no one fully understands that you cannot be building my kind of business, and still find time to be a die hard soccer fan. Of course i don’t say that to their faces. I continue to love sport more than they imagine, but it’s dispensable at the same time. If i must, I check YouTube for 2 to 10 mins highlights, saving about 80 mins for business and study. I didn’t ask for it, just saw myself that way.

    My reply,
    Some day you will buy clubs like Chelsea for a hobby!
    First things first!

  9. Franklin Young writes,

    Don’t make perfect the enemy of good.” DR STRIVE.
    Dr Strive Masiyiwa ,I want to say thank you for giving us SASAI .Is a super awesome app.
    Chairman I notice a little ERROR in the FAQS page.
    + How do ___ make voice and video calls? Sir the small letter ( i ) is missing.
    chairman how do i sasai voice and video calls to you…

    My reply,
    Thank you.
    We will “perfect” with your help.

    Our technical guys are working on a solution for me to giving some “coaching sessions” to more than 1m at a time:
    We call the project “Sasai Forum”:
    I will be able to speak to you, and you can ask questions using the text functionality.
    Only members of The this platform would be given a special code to participate.
    I’m not sure how long it will take to complete.
    The key for those who are interested in participating is to download the App, and share it with others.

  10. #Quick Quiz:

    Talking of “perfecting” as you go along:
    Have you visited the new Vaya website recently?
    The business in now in its 10th month, since I first announced it on this platform.
    It has 750,000 customers in Zimbabwe alone!

    Please visit [dont guess] and tell the answers to the following questions:

    (1). How many countries does Vaya currently have active businesses [name them]?

    (2). How many countries is it working on launching a service [name them]?

    (3). How many services in each of the following businesses:
    ~Vaya Mobility?
    ~Vaya Logistics?

    (4). Which of the businesses also operates as a separate company, with its own website?

    No prizes!
    Knowledge is priceless!

  11. Blessing Machiya Shumbakadzi writes,

    Strive Masiyiwa was mulling that idea of switching off the competitor and moving over to Sasai completely too! You see I am an ardent customer of all things Econet and Cassava.
    1. My funeral policy and Hospital Cash Back Plan is covered by Ecosure.
    2. I have 3 personal accounts with Steward Bank.
    3. I use an Econet line and so does my daughter.
    4. My internet provider is ZOL.
    5. I have downloaded Sasai.
    6. I buy my handsets from Econet shops.

    Give me another product and I am on it. No matter what competing products are put on the market, I stick with my product of choice.

    My reply,
    This is a #ShoutOut for me!
    I hope you sell your products on Ownai.
    We are now going to make Ownai continental through Sasai!!!
    Yes, I want you to post your products on Ownai, and even advertise for free!

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