The hidden figures quietly powering the self-driving car revolution

This past weekend, I finally got around to watching Hidden Figures, the Academy-Award nominated film based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s New York Times Best Seller. If you haven’t already seen or read Hidden Figures – which I highly recommend you do – it follows the true story of three remarkable African American women who despite gender and racial biases played a crucial behind-the-scenes role in launching the first American into space. As I watched this inspiring plot unfold, I was struck by the similarities between these real-life protagonists and the work of one of our investees, iMerit, a global on-demand digital services company headquartered in Kolkata.

Now, over 50 years since the Space Race, mankind is experiencing a similar technological revolution with the advancements in machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). Just as space exploration was catalysed by a diverse group of pioneers, the advancement of AI is being powered by an unconventional collaboration at iMerit. Eighty percent of iMerit’s 1100 employees come from low-income families and many lack college degrees. Moreover, 55 percent of iMerit’s employees are women, who possess immense talent and grit, but have been denied the opportunity to grow and pursue a career. iMerit has tapped into this talent and provided a platform for them to work in cutting-edge areas like computer vision and natural language processing that serve as the foundation for AI-powered self-driving cars and digital voice assistants. The company even transformed one of its delivery hubs in a Kolkata low-income neighbourhood into a centre of excellence for computer vision, powering some of the world’s leading self-driving car algorithms.

iMerit recognizes that innovation is fuelled by avantgarde thinking and that elite talent does not always originate from predictable sources. In fact, oftentimes, individuals who have faced adversity bring a sophisticated level of creativity and resourcefulness, not unlike the heroes of Hidden Figures. This approach to success reinforces the foundation’s belief that we need to take the risks that our challenges deserve.

I recently sat down with iMerit’s founder, Radha Basu and her colleague, Zarin Fatma to hear iMerit’s story straight from the source. Check out the podcast below to learn more about these remarkable women and how their passion, intellect, and grit have propelled the company and its employees to emerge as leaders in technology and social impact.

Listen to the Podcast with iMerit

00:00/0:00 Volume!