In New Delhi earlier this month, 75 individuals and philanthropic groups convened for a unique opportunity – to share their community initiatives with one of the leading global voices of interdependence, His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Delhi Dialogue enabled the participants to make presentations before His Holiness requesting his suggestions and advice during the daylong event.
One young presenter, Leila Janah, is particularly close to my heart, and is fast becoming a favorite in social entrepreneur circles. She is the founder and CEO of Samasource, a social enterprise whose mission is to give work to people living in poverty. Fast Company Magazine recently cited Leila as one of the most Influential Women in Technology; Forbes has said Samasource is a name to know; she has presented at TED India, and her work has been profiled on PBS.
I first met Leila over the phone in 2009, when a friend had suggested our NGOs should partner together. It was an energetic call, as I delved into the story behind her work and life mission: to equal the playing field, and bring computer-based work to women, refugees and youth. She used a phrase that I still think of today, “the birth lottery,” and how, because of our birthplace, certain advantages and disadvantages affect our lives and the opportunities with which we are presented.
Leila explained her own experiences teaching overseas, and the resounding desire we all share: to be able to complete dignified work, and be fairly paid. That was nothing new, but Leila’s approach was.
Sama is translated as ‘equal’ in Sanskrit. Janah, half-Indian, is drawn to this word and its meaning: the playing field should be level, all people are equal, their right to work should be equal as well – and technology can enable this.
Samasource is a non-profit based in San Francisco. Their operations are two-fold. First, they manage projects and provide technical assistance to entrepreneurs and workers in countries such as India, Haiti, Pakistan and Kenya. With not much more than a room, computers and an Internet connection, some of the world’s most needy are connected to computer-based work.
Second, Samasource works with corporations to secure contracts for their workers, often simple online searching tasks, which can be done with intermediate English skills. While some people may have concerns about outsourcing while the U.S. is in need of jobs, we need to look at the fact that some work can NOT be done here. For example, last year in Haiti, Haitian Samasource workers translated emergency text messages from Haitian Kreyol into English for aid workers, ultimately saving lives.
Leila and I first met in person in February 2010 after Built on Respect partnered with Samasource to bring work into the exiled Tibetan refugee community of Dharamsala. We both had literally just landed in India, and within hours delved into training 11 new students.
I’ve been proud to watch Samasource grow. While many corporations tout their “socially conscious” projects in their ad campaigns, Samasource truly gives the chance for corporations to put social responsibility in their work chain, making them effective participants in global citizenship. I can also speak first hand on how this has positively helped many young people, who because of “the birth lottery” are not afforded the chances we have.
I greatly admire young people who so selflessly look for solutions to problems, and work to relieve suffering from people’s lives, no matter where they are in the world. Leila, still only in her 20s, has the potential to effect change in the lives of thousands.
I encourage you to learn more from the video below, taped last year in India.
If you are interested in supporting Samasource, consider if your company may have work to source, or consider making a donation to help Samasource give more work to people living in poverty. Giving work ultimately gives chances to those who do not have them, and allows them to do for themselves.
Photo credit: Samasource