Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

Digital Divide Data: Finalist's Statement

Social Capitalists

Digital Divide Data


Digital Divide Data (DDD) is a social enterprise established in July 2001 to create jobs and educational opportunities in developing countries by providing outsourced data services to business and public sector customers. DDD is established in the U.S. as a 501(c)3 organization; locally it is organized as a non-governmental organization in Cambodia and a private sector company in Laos. Our business employs disadvantaged individuals, including people with disabilities, landmine and polio victims, orphans, and abused women.

Background, the Problem

In developing countries like Cambodia and Laos, low levels of education and poverty reinforce each other. As children in poor families reach their teens, they must support their families and are unable to remain in school. They take unskilled low-wage jobs and remained trapped there. The situation is even more difficult when compounded by a physical disability, deceased or missing parents, or when young women are subjected to the horrors of the sex trade. Even when disadvantaged people are able to receive some training, it is extraordinarily difficult to land an initial skilled job where they can experience some stability in their lives and gain work experience and self-confidence. Compounding this is a disconnect between existing educational and training programs and real job opportunities. Few organizations exist in developing countries to make the connection between education and the workplace, especially for disadvantaged individuals.

The DDD Model

Digital Divide Data creates low-skill technology jobs and offers basic workplace experience plus further education and other services to break the cycle of poverty. Our program uses a "social enterprise" model to provide an integrated educational, vocational training and work program for disadvantaged young adults. Rather than rely indefinitely on grant funding to support a vocational training program, we combine the revenue-generation and self-sustaining nature of a business with the focus on social impact of a non-profit. DDD earns revenue from clients in Cambodia and throughout the world by providing data entry and similar IT-enabled services.

Typically, our staff have already received training in English language and computer skills from local NGOs. Staff work on data entry and digitization projects for a half-day, then participate in a subsidized education program of their choice for the balance of the workday. While working at Digital Divide Data, program participants receive above average wages plus a range of services including health care, eyeglasses (if needed), teambuilding activities and counseling on their educational and vocational choices. Importantly, they gain the confidence and self-esteem that comes from self-reliance.

The combination of paid work experience, health services and further education prepares participants for higher-paying skilled work opportunities. More than a dozen program participants have now "graduated," moving on to other employment and education opportunities. Another ten program participants have been promoted internally. The impact of our program reaches beyond the individuals working to their families and the community; when these disadvantaged young adults have stable jobs and an income, they can contribute something back to their families, many for the first time.

Results, Growth Plans

In three years, DDD's has earned more than $450,000 in revenue, paid out over $200,000 in compensation to local staff and grown to employ a staff more than 170, rapidly becoming a financially sustainable enterprise. Our clients include Bain Capital, the Harvard Crimson student newspaper, Tufts University Libraries and others. Having established a successful model for social enterprise, DDD is now focused on scaling our work.

Our goal is to grow our offices in the next 2 years to employ 500 individuals. This will require annual sales of approximately $2 million per year. This level of sales will allow us to fully fund our ongoing operations from earned income. However, to reach this level we require an investment of philanthropic support to build our operations and business development.

The Team and Its Supporters

Digital Divide Data was established by a team of international volunteers with experience in business, technology, non-profit management and international development. All our local managers are native Cambodians and Laotians. Support for DDD has come from individuals and foundations including Asia Foundation, DFID, Global Catalyst Foundation, the Mekong Private Enterprise Development Facility (MPDF) and Open Society Institute. In addition, DDD was the recipient of the World Bank's Development Marketplace Award and with that recognition received additional support from the International Finance Corporation and infoDev. Many individual donors support the scholarship program for our staff.

Learn more

The above information was provided by the profiled organization.