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Leila Janah, entrepreneur whose life mission was helping people beat poverty, dead at 37

By Fabrice Pierre-Toussaint

Contributing Writer for Telegraph Local | See my LinkedIn

 

 

Layla Janah, an entrepreneur whose mission in life was to help alleviate global poverty, has passed away at the age of 37. She died late last month from complications from a rare form of tissue cancer called Epithelioid sarcoma, her company announced. Born in the upstate New York town of Lewiston, Janah started Samasource in 2008 with the mission of employing people in need. She succeeded in that goal, more than 2,900 people worked for the company in India, Kenya and Uganda, according to NY Daily News. More than 50,000 people were able to rise from poverty with the assistance of the company.

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“Her commitment to creating a better world was unparalleled,” Samasource said of Janah in a post to its website following her death. “The ripple effects of her work will be felt for generations.” In addition to launching Samasource and serving as its CEO, Janah started an organic skin care company called LXMI, as well as Samaschool, which aims to train people in digital skills. Wendy Gonzalez will serve as Samasource’s interim CEO. 

A child of Indian immigrants, she created digital jobs that pay a living wage to thousands in Africa and India, believing that the intellect of the poor was “the biggest untapped resource” in the world. Ms. Janah traveled to Mumbai, India, in about 2005 as a management consultant to help take an outsourcing company public. Riding through the city by auto rickshaw, she passed an enormous slum. But after arriving at the outsourcing center, she found a staff of educated middle-class workers. Few, if any, of the nearby poor were employed there. According to New York Times, she used that moment as inspiration to start Samasource. 

She went on to start Samasource in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2008 “sama” means “equal” in Sanskrit with the aim of employing poor people, for a living wage, in digital jobs like photo tagging and image annotation at what she called delivery centers in Kenya, Uganda and India. The workers generate data that is used for projects as diverse as self-driving cars, video game technology and software that helps park rangers in sub-Saharan Africa prevent elephant poaching.

Samasource’s employees have worked under contracts with companies including Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Walmart, Getty Images, Glassdoor and Vulcan Capital, a holding company formed by Paul G. Allen, a founder of Microsoft. Another venture developed by Ms. Janah is LXMI, a luxury cosmetics line that has the same mission as Samasource: to hire marginalized people and give them a decent wage. Begun in 2015, it employs hundreds of poor women along the Nile River Valley, largely in Uganda, to harvest Nilotica nuts and turn them into a butter that is exported to the United States for use in the production of its skin-care products. More people have been hired in other African countries and in India to harvest other ingredients. 

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Ms. Janah said the work done at Samasource underscored her faith in providing decent jobs to poor people. While most of the company’s employees hold entry-level positions, some have moved into managerial jobs and others have started their own small businesses. She will be truly missed by all the people she has impacted.

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