Edgy Boots, IT Microwork and Poverty Reduction: Leila Janah links them all

While leafing through a recent ELLE magazine I came across a Sorel ad titled “Get your boots dirty” featuring Leila Janah.  I’d never heard of her before (my bad!) but the description caught my eye: “Leila Janah is travelling the globe creating work where there is little opportunity.”  So I did what every curious person would do – I Google’d her.  What an amazing journey she’s on!

Leila spent time in Africa as a teenager teaching English to a class of 60 girls.  The experience changed her life as she realized many of her students were very bright but did not have the same opportunities available to them as she did in America.  She decided to focus her life on creating opportunities for girls and women in other countries.

Fast forward a few years.  After stints at Harvard (Bachelor’s in Development Studies), Stanford’s Program on Global Justice and Australian National University’s Center for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics (Visiting Scholar) and work as a management consultant with Katzenbach Partners among other work, in 2008 she founded Samasource.

Samasource connects workers with projects.  Here’s the twist – similarly to Majority World, where MW connected photographers in the majority world to clients in key markets in North America and Europe, Samasource “is an innovative social business that connects women and youth living in poverty to dignified work via the Internet.”  Although Samasource has been set up as a nonprofit, Leila is leveraging expertise in for-profit markets to bring together people needing respectable jobs with companies needing work done.  Indicative of Leila’s mindset, is that the company is headquartered in Silicon Valley.

How would Nike (and other companies caught up in the sweatshop debacles of the past) have been perceived if they had built their business model around outsourcing to the developing world not only for the purpose of maximizing profits but also to improve the livelihood of their workers…And what other opportunities exist today to do that in other markets?

The company has a specific vision of impacting 120,000 women and youth by 2016.  During a panel discussion at the2010 Clinton Global Initiative, Leila explained how the company helped create jobs in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake.  In partnership with a handful of other Silicon Valley companies , including FrontLineSMS, Samasource setup a 911 system using txt messaging because ‘everyone’ had a cell phone but landline infrastructure was unavailable.  The txt messages were logged in an online database and from there could be addressed.  A problem arose when the organizers realized the txt messages were written in Creole while the emergency assistance crews mostly only spoke English.  So Samasource (and another firm called CrowdFlower) set up a central location in rural Haiti were 25 computers were used to give 50 people work translating the 911 messages.

A social enterprise, Samasource has already distributed $2million in compensation in the few years since it’s inception.   Noteworthy company, interesting founder!  I wish Leila all the best as she continues to find ways to do better in this world!

So, how  do you get your boots dirty?

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