Leila Janah, Founder and CEO of Samasource and LXMI and a Fortune 40 under 40

On how to end poverty for good

As Leila’s new book Give Work describes, “Despite trillions of dollars in Western aid, 2.8 billion people worldwide still struggle in abject poverty. Yet the world’s richest countries continue to send money — mostly to governments — targeting the symptoms, rather than the root causes of poverty.”

Give work — not aid” is the mission behind Leila’s ventures, Samasource and LXMI. Both redirect aid money to social enterprises that give dignified, steady, fair-wage work to low-income people, and incentivize big companies to choose suppliers that use this model.

The idea for Samasource came to her during a during a trip to Mumbai as a recently graduated management consultant. Travelling to a sleek call center there, staffed by well-educated Indians from middle-class families, she passed one of Asia’s largest slums, where cholera outbreaks are commonplace and children die of preventable diseases. While outsourcing might have been providing millions of jobs, it wasn’t helping the country’s poorest. She began to question why the people from the slums couldn’t also take part in some of the call center work.

Samasource — Sama is Sanskrit for ‘equal’ — is a non-profit business that connects marginalized women and youth to dignified work via the Internet. It moves people out of poverty by providing work that pays a sustainable, living wage in places with high rates of unemployment, including slums and rural communities in East Africa, South Asia, and the Americas. To date, Samasource has helped over 34,000 people lift themselves out of poverty by sourcing data projects from some of the world’s largest companies, including Google, Glassdoor, and Microsoft, with an average worker income increase of 3.7x in 4 years. It has been named one of Fast Company’s “Most Innovative Companies” and counts Walmart, Google and eBay among its clients.

Recognising the problem lies at home too, she also launched Samaschool in the US, which provides digital skills and job readiness training to enable low-income people to leverage the gig economy as an on-ramp to the workforce.

Samasource is not only unique in its approach to poverty eradication. It is also disrupting with a new model for social impact: a nonprofit that is self-funding. Leila is achieving this through the launch of an affiliated for-profit business called Laxmi, a high-end cosmetics line that enlists poor African people, predominantly women, to grow, harvest, and process its ingredients in exchange for a fair wage. Her goal is to use some of Laxmi’s profits to fund Samasource’s current operations as well as give her additional capital to find new ways to fight poverty. While buy-one, get-one companies like Toms and tech-powered not-for-profits like Charity: Water have blurred the line between charities and startups, Janah wants to merge the two worlds entirely.

Leila will be hosting a Deeper Business Debate at the House of Beautiful Business in Lisbon, November 3–10th, 2017, to discuss how industry can make the world more just, verdant, and peaceful. For more information visit us here.

In the meantime, grab a copy of her new book “Give Work”.

The House of Beautiful Business will host start-up founders, executives, nonprofit leaders, investors, writers, philosophers, scientists, designers, technologists, artists, to discuss and prototype how to lead with purpose and passion; how to build human companies and workplaces; and how to design for deeper connections in an age of exponential change and massive societal disruption.

Hosted in collaboration with the BCG Henderson Institute, the House will serve as salon, stage, and sandbox for people who are keen on rehumanizing business and exploring meaningful conversations around humanity and technology. You can find more information and buy tickets at: houseofbeautiful.biz