Opening Doors With Data Entry
By Monica Khemsurov

(Business 2.0) – Want a guilt-free alternative to Indian outsourcing? You might follow the lead of MIT and the Soros Foundation. Both are clients of Digital Divide Data, a nonprofit based in New York and Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The company hires skilled, unemployed, often disabled workers in Cambodia and Laos and pays them $75 a month--not bad in places where the average annual income is just $400. Meanwhile, its clients get a competitively priced data-entry service and the assurance that workers are being treated fairly. "We want to build tech sectors in Cambodia and Laos," says Digital Divide CEO Jeremy Hockenstein. "And we want to show that it can be done in a way that's both profitable and socially responsible."

Hockenstein and his partners founded the company in 2001 after traveling to Cambodia and observing a wide gap between trained workers and job opportunities. With a $25,000 grant and $25,000 from the founders, Digital Divide hired 20 employees, most of them war refugees. By 2004 the workforce had swelled to 200, and last year the company rang up $400,000 in sales. Its revenue covers Digital Divide's operating costs, but the company still solicits donations--about $250,000 last year--so it can offer six-hour workdays and tuition subsidies to help staffers move into better jobs. One alum, 24-year-old Naleak Eng, recently moved from Cambodia to Boston to pursue a high school diploma. No small feat, considering that Eng, born with three fingers on each hand, was destitute four years ago. "Being disabled, I was so shy until Jeremy gave me the challenge of doing this job," she says. Maybe outsourcing isn't so bad after all. -- MONICA KHEMSUROV