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The One Thing Leilah Janah of Samasource Wants You to Know About AI/machine learning and Social Entrepreneurship

May 31, 2019

 

"The fact that at least 1 billion people work extremely hard and still earn less than $2 a day for toiling away in mines, on fields and in homes. It's a disgrace."  -Leilah Janah

 

What is social entrepreneurship?  The combination of hard-nosed business acumen with big-hearted humanitarian impact seems irresistible. "Do well while doing good" is the bumper sticker, T-shirt and meme of the social entrepreneurship fan club. But actually doing good while actually doing well as a business proves much more difficult than many imagine.

 

Many might run from the trade-offs, hypocrisies, too small wins compared to grand challenges, and endless, endless complexities.  I for one am impressed that Leilah Janah ran into, instead from, the challenge of social entrepreneurship, using the for-profit start-up toolset to help solve social and environmental problems. Perhaps it was her singular conviction that the number one job of social entrepreneurs should be to give work.

"The best way to end poverty is to simply give people work."

I recently Janah’s Give Work.  I would recommend it for those interested in social entrepreneurship and next-gen technology. Leilah Janah is founder and CEO of Samasource, Samaschool and LXMI, organizations that apply her “give work” philosophy to serving and empowering low-income people around the world.

 

Her website says she uses “cutting edge enterprise models in AI/machine learning, digital freelancing, and clean skincare."

Janah was born to Indian immigrants in New York (near Niagara falls) but raised in Los Angeles. An experience teaching English in Ghana during her senior year in high school ignited her passion and set her on a course to social entrepreneurship.  Give Work is her story and that of her three ventures:  
 

  • Samasource is a for-profit business providing digital “impact sourcing” services to some of the world’s largest companies
     

  • Samaschool, a non-profit, trains people for digital freelancing in the gig economy
     

  • LXMI, a skincare company specializing in a rare type of shea butter Janah discovered in Uganda.
     

Janah started in Kenya by interviewing 30 different entrepreneurs working in software engineering/computer skills education space. She discovered they had the skills but not the travel money or contacts to compete for global contracts with the likes of Google, Walmart, eBay and Zillow (all are past or current Samasource clients).


If she could connect these entrepreneurs and their students to global companies, she could "give work"--safe, well compensated work--to the poorest of the poor.

 

The one thing, in case you missed it, is to give work.  Often we think of giving aid which is fitting for emergencies but can get locked in as the defining way of dealing with poverty. (If you haven't seen Poverty, Inc...make time to watch it). One might say this is what entrepreneurs have always done. Any business benefits society by providing jobs, paying taxes and providing products/services people need. So why do we need social entrepreneurs?  That is a good question which we will continue to explore as I shared insights from her book.

 

 

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