Leila Janah – WOMAN of ACTION™

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A Celebration of Women™

is elated to Celebrate the Life of this woman leader, one visionary that has used technology to better the lives of women and youth globally. Her root belief that POVERTY on this planet will only be solved once humanity recognizes and utilizes the inherent talents of the poor, with the concept of creating jobs from the bottom – up.




leila visionary


Leila Janah

Janah was born on October 9th, 1982 in Buffalo, New York, and grew up in San Pedro, Los Angeles, California.

africa_montageShe attended the California Academy of Mathematics and Science.

She won a college scholarship at 16, but convinced them to let her spend it teaching in Ghana, and attended Harvard University, graduating in 2005 with a degree in African Development Studies.

While at Harvard, she consulted to and authored papers for the World Bank’s Development Research Group and Ashoka on social and economic rights.

Upon graduation, Janah worked as a management consultant with Katzenbach Partners.

Janah left the firm in 2007 to become a visiting scholar at Stanford University with the Program on Global Justice, founded by law professor Joshua Cohen. That year, she co-founded Incentives for Global Health with Thomas Pogge, Leitner Professor of Philosophy and International Affairs at Yale, and Aidan Hollis, a Professor of Economics at the University of Calgary, which established a blueprint for incentivizing the development of new drugs for neglected diseases.

In 2008, she launched Samasource (then called Market for Change), an idea that was inspired by her experiences at the World Bank and in field work in Mozambique, Senegal, and Rwanda while she attended Harvard.

leila samsourceSamasource is an award-winning social enterprise with a huge vision: to connect the one billion people living in poverty around the world to work using technology.

Samasource combines the fast-paced, results-driven culture of a tech start-up with the idealism and optimism of a next-generation non-profit. We like to move quickly and get things done —if you join us, you will be part of a dynamic team that is passionate about making an impact.

Janah got her first contract for SamaSource with a company called Benetech, a non-profit social enterprise that provides technology solutions.

Samasource® delivers enterprise digital services through a unique Microwork™ model that harnesses the untapped potential of the world’s poor.

We are digital services experts with vast experience managing a broad range of data, tagging, research and online content projects. Our enterprise-friendly approach includes our San Francisco-based Professional Services team, proprietary micro-work technology with an open API and a private workforce of certified agents around the world.

We connect Women and youth living in poverty to dignified work via the Internet.

This work enables people to gain skills, earn a living wage and break the cycle of poverty for themselves and their families. To date, more than $2.5 million has been paid to over 3,000 workers across nine countries.

Samasource was founded in 2008 by Leila Janah.

We are an award winning 501(c)(3) non-profit with support from leading individual donors and philanthropic organizations including The MasterCard Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, Ford Foundation, the U.S. Department of State, Cisco Foundation, eBay Foundation and Google.org.

“Sama” means equal.

Samasource connects poor women and youth to training and employment in the digital economy. As a premier provider of digital services, we deliver a steady flow of work to people around the world.

Leila Janah is a social entrepreneur using technology and lean business methods to promote social and economic justice. The concept of “sama,” the root word for equality or fairness in many languages, is the guiding principle behind the Sama Group, a family of impact enterprises Janah founded and runs.

The first of these is Samasource, an award-winning non-profit business that connects women and youth living in poverty to microwork — computer-based tasks that build skills and generate life-changing income, now part of the broader field of impact sourcing.

sama Our-Team

Samasource has moved 4,000 workers and their families over the poverty line in under five years, and spun out a domestic program, SamaUSA.

In 2011, Janah co-founded Samahope, a crowd funding site for medical treatments in developing countries.

Janah’s work with Sama Group enterprises has been featured widely in the press with features in publications including The New York Times, CNN, Forbes, and Fast Company, and she is the subject of a chapter in the book Hearts on Fire. She was named Social Entrepreneur of the Year by the Social Enterprise Alliance in 2011, and one of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs in 2013.

Janah is a frequent speaker and panelist at technology and social innovation conferences including the 2010 Web 2.0 Summit, Clinton Global Initiative conference, TechCrunch Disrupt, and Tech4Africa. Janah has advocated for alleviating poverty by empowering the world’s poor as producers of goods and services in the global economy, saying that “the greatest natural resource in the world that has been overlooked is the brainpower at the bottom of the pyramid.”

Her work has been profiled by The New York Times,[16] The Wall Street Journal, and The New Scientist, as well as CBS, CNN, PBS, BBC, and NPR.

Janah serves as a director of CARE USA, a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty, and TechSoup Global, the world’s largest provider of donated software to nonprofits. She lives in San Francisco, California.


Sama means equal in Sanskrit, the ancient Indian language.

sanskrit-640x360It reflects a core value that my father taught me and my brother: that all people are equally deserving of dignity and opportunity, and that we landed where we did, in a middle class family with access to good schools, health care, and food on the table every night, by pure chance. He reminded us often that we could just as easily have been born in a poor village or slum, like billions of other people on the planet. My father instilled in us a belief that we have a duty to help people who weren’t as lucky in life’s birth lottery.

When I was 17, I graduated from high school a semester early to volunteer as an English teacher in Ghana through the American Field Service. My parents didn’t have money for this kind of trip, but I was able to use a scholarship from, of all sources, a tobacco company, to cover the cost. I was restless and idealistic, convinced I could help change the world by teaching students the fundamentals of English.

ghana_mapBut when I arrived in Ghana, I was shocked to find out that most people spoke very good English. My students could name US senators.

They listened to Voice of America radio programs and asked me about American politicians, singers, and sports heroes. I had thought people there were poor because they weren’t educated, but I discovered that even a good education couldn’t insure you against a lifetime of poverty in many developing countries.

My students were emblematic of a bigger problem: the aid community spends a lot of resources educating the poor, but the majority graduate from secondary school and can’t find work.

I decided that spring to devote my life to reducing poverty for as many people as possible. I studied economic development at Harvard and traveled to Africa and Asia to wrap my mind around why poor people were poor, and what I could do about it.

I worked briefly at the World Bank, where I quickly became disillusioned by the traditional approach to development: why was so much money directed to governments and big institutions, or to programs that poor people didn’t want or need? Why did people on country teams only spend two weeks a year in the field, talking to the people they were supposed to help? And why were there no good models for creating jobs from the bottom up, rather than through top-down economic reforms? The voices of so many people I’d met in my travels formed a steady chorus in my mind: the best thing you can do to help us is to create dignified work in our communities.

Unfortunately, I could’t afford to do any more volunteer work — I had student loans to pay.

So right after I graduated, I took a job as a consultant in New York, where the firm’s leaders told me I would learn about business by helping management teams grow their companies. My first project was with a big Indian outsourcing firm, the kind that have been demonized by the American press for taking jobs overseas. I felt terrible about working on a project that would take jobs away from people that needed them. But I was also intrigued by the model of moving work through the Internet. I realized the potential that this concept had to bring work to the people I’d met in rural villages and urban slums all over the world.

Internet_Connectivity_Distribution_&_Core.svgMy client in Mumbai was handling secretarial work for large British airlines and insurers. One day out on the floor, I ran into a young call center worker from Dharavi, South Asia’s largest slum, which many Americans know through the film Slumdog Millionaire. He told me that millions of people just like him in India were stuck in villages, talented and jobless. I had an aha moment: why not use this model of outsourcing to address poverty, rather than send the work to big, for-profit companies like my client? I thought: outsourcing has made billionaires out of a few businessmen. Why not use the same model to provide a few dollars to the billions of people at the bottom of the pyramid?

In 2007, I quit my job to work full-time on this idea. I was determined to form a nonprofit that could take on outsourcing contracts and direct the work to people in need, keeping a social mission, rather than profit, as its top goal. I was inspired by the work of Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank, and his pioneering model of social business – the idea that you could create a business whose primary purpose was social or environmental impact, with profit taking a back seat.

That idea grew into Samasource, which I formed in September of 2008.

The core concept was to apply the ideas of fair trade to the outsourcing industry, and redirect a small part of the $200B+ spent on outsourcing to poor women and youth in developing countries. I thought, if we could move even one percent of this large amount of wealth to poor and marginalized people through a smart model that integrated with the global economy, we’d make a tremendous difference in the health, education, and well-being of people who are so often left out. And we’d do it by using money that would normally flow between large corporations, and by helping companies meet their existing needs for data services. I thought of this model as a win-win for people, for businesses, and for governments, who could either spend less on foreign aid, or direct the aid to more useful programs.

The early years were tough. I do not come from a wealthy family; my parents always encouraged my brother and me to work to cover our own expenses. Both of us held odd jobs since we were thirteen and worked throughout college. So when I ran out of my savings from consulting in 2009, I started SAT tutoring to make ends meet and lived what I believed was the Silicon Valley dream: for six months in the early part of that year, I moved to a friend’s futon and lived on a salary of $400 a month. One early donor provided a recurring donation via PayPal which he jokingly labeled “For protein,” because most of my meals consisted of noodles.

In the summer of 2009, we were selected as one of two non-profit members of the Facebook Fund, an incubator of tech startups that used Facebook in new ways. Our fate began to change when two of the Fund’s mentors signed on as donors and board members. That year, the Rockefeller Foundation gave us a small grant to run a program in the world’s largest refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya. Though the program never took off due to the dire security situation in Dadaab, Samasource did, finally.

leila-janah-edited.jpegsecretary-clinton-Since then, with the help of a tremendous team and hundreds of clients, donors, and advisors who believed in the impossible, what started as a pipe dream has morphed into reality. Samasource has generated over $5M in contracts from leading companies and institutions, including Google, eBay, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Eventbrite and Stanford University, directly employing 3,500 and benefiting over 10,000 marginalized people in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and the Caribbean, including refugees, youth, and women from conservative communities.

We pioneered a new model for outsourcing, called the Microwork™ model, that allows poor people to become part of international digital supply chains by divvying up work into small pieces that don’t require advanced training to complete. Our simplest tasks can be done by an unskilled young person from an informal settlement with only two weeks of training. On average, workers more than double their incomes after a few months on the job, and 75% move up to higher-level employment or higher education within one year.

I’m proud that we’ve begun piloting a variation of our model in the Bayview district of San Francisco through a program called SamaUSA, which offers free training to low-income community college students to do online work and earn supplemental income. We believe this program will beef up their incomes and increase their odds of graduating — right now, 70% of community college students drop out, with lack of income cited as a leading factor. It’s a bold experiment. If it works, we’ll work with local partners to scale it nationwide and build it into a separate program, founded with the same core mission to bring work to those who need it most.

Perhaps most importantly, Samasource has helped to seed a broader movement for Impact Sourcing, the concept of employing marginalized people to do computer-based work as a strategy for poverty alleviation. We are now joined by many other organizations around the world with a common vision to end poverty by giving work.

I dream of the day when the entire Fortune 1000 take a One Percent pledge to join the movement for impact sourcing, agreeing to devote one percent or more of their outsourcing budget to people in need.
If the last five years are any indication, I don’t think it’s that far off.


Janah was named one of the Most Influential Women in Technology by Fast Company in 2009.

In 2010, Janah received the Prix NetExplorateur from the French Senate and a World Technology Award for Social Entrepreneurship for her work with Samasource.

In 2012, Janah was listed in a Datamation article, 10 Women in Tech Who Give Back for her work with Samasource.

Janah serves on the board of TechSoup Global and as an advisor to SpreeTales, a technology startup. She is a former Visiting Scholar at the Stanford University Program on Global Justice and Australian National University’s Center for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics.

She is a recipient of the Rainer Arnhold and TEDIndia Fellowships, and serves on the San Francisco board of the Social Enterprise Institute.

social-mediaFIND LEILA HERE:

Leila Janah (@leila_c) on Twitter

Leila Janah | LinkedIn

Leila Janah, Global Economic Advocate | MAKERS Video

Leila Janah | Leila Janah BLOG

For speaking inquiries, please contact Amy Norwood.


A Celebration of Women™


welcomes this visionary into our global Alumni of women leaders, those making positive sustainable change for women and youth; and look forward to collaborations in the education of future women leaders.


Brava Leila!


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