Samasource: Dignified Work is a Human Right

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.

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Photo credit: Samasource


Parvez Z.
Parvez Zuberi8 years ago

I like to extend my congratulations to Leila Janah for the excellent work that she is doing i wish we should take lesson from her and start something of similar kind in our country their is no dearth of such people they only need motivation thank you for the atical

Lynn C.
Past Member 8 years ago

Adding this to my folder of People Doing Great or Amazing Things.

Barbara Erdman
Barbara Erdman8 years ago

noted and thanx....:)

Elizabeth M.
Elizabeth M8 years ago

Thank you for sharing Heidi. Leila Janah and Samasource are to be congratulated for their work! It is just great to see younger people having such convictions to doing good! I thank you and wish you well Leila on your journey to helping so many.

Roopak Vaidya
Roopak Vaidya8 years ago

Children in poor areas need to be allowed to work too.
If they aren't, they will either have to beg or be sold to paedophiles.

neil a.
Neil A8 years ago

What a wonderfull young woman & achieving so much for the needy to give them respect in their work.

Lin Moy
Lin M8 years ago

I say good for her.

K s Goh
KS Goh8 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Julie W.
Julie W8 years ago

This young woman is on a par with the man (forget his name) who set up the Grameen Bank, where small loans are made for little interest so anyone can set up a small business.

Seems that the people doing the most useul work are not in government!

John B.
John B8 years ago

It is an excellent basis. I only give to charities that contribute to creating a future for people not blandly giving them things. If you simply give to people then they don't appreciate it in the same manner as when you afford them an opportunity to handle their own situation. When you show them an opportunity that they can take it gives them self-respect whereas if they are given things with no return they lose self-respect. Look at welfare roles. People are contributed to only and unless they are given a chance to contribute in return they began lazy and indolent. Welfare people create a drain on the society because they stay on welfare. Welfare was created as a short term solution not as a way of life.
Samasource is giving people the opportunity to change their condition in life. It puts the person's future entirely in their own hands.