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Leila Janah Dies; Companies Hired Thousands of the Poor

Entrepreneur tapped world's 'biggest untapped resource'
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 2, 2020 11:20 AM CST
Leila Janah, far right, in a panel discussion in New York in 2015.   (Stuart Ramson/AP Images for UN Foundation)

(Newser) – "Let’s build an export industry but only for poor women," Leila Janah said on a trip to West Africa, after seeing people growing nuts that can be used in skin-care products. "We can solve poverty while also making our skin better." That led to projects in which Janah, who died Jan. 24 in New York of cancer at age 37, employed thousands of poor people in India and Africa, the New York Times reports. The child of Indian immigrants, Janah had another epiphany in Mumbai about 15 years ago. Working as a management consultant at an outsourcing center, she realized the staff was educated and middle-class and didn't include anyone from the nearby slums. "Couldn't the people from the slums do some of this work?" she wondered. The minds of the world's poorest people are its "biggest untapped resource," Janah said. She put her belief that employment was the best route out of poverty to work.

One of the companies she started, Samasource Impact Sourcing, employs people in Kenya, Uganda and India, per the Wall Street Journal, on contracts with Microsoft, Google, Facebook and other companies. The workers handle tasks for artificial intelligence projects, such as tagging photos and choosing focal points for face-recognition software. "Leila had a vision about bringing the dignity of work and the promise of a living wage to the world’s most vulnerable," said the founder of an organization in Kenya that works with Samasource. "Young people began to see different possibilities for their futures." In a 2018 blog post, Janah wrote about the challenges her startups face. "We are fighting the battle of birthing a new venture," the social entrepreneur wrote, "while at the same time trying to show the world that we can inject a sense of justice into the business itself, rather than merely trying to rack up profit." (Read more poverty stories.)

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