Leila Chirayath Janah of Smasource.org: In Conversation with Women 2.0
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Primary Language: English
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Leila Chirayath Janah, founder of Samasource.org, discusses how she became interested in socially responsible outsourcing and why she set up shop in the Bay Area.
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00:00:00 00:00:04 I'm Emily Golagosky with Women 2.0's In Conversation Series.
00:00:05 00:00:07 I'm here with Leila Chirayath Janah from Samasource.org,
00:00:08 00:00:11 a social enterprise that aims to provide jobs for skilled
00:00:11 00:00:13 but economically disadvantaged individuals.
00:00:15 00:00:16 Samasource is a social enterprise.
00:00:17 00:00:19 We are working on two main programs right now.
00:00:19 00:00:23 The first is defining what we're calling socially responsible outsourcing,
00:00:24 00:00:28 which is really a new brand of outsourcing that focuses on small and medium sized
00:00:29 00:00:32 service providers in very poor parts of the world.
00:00:32 00:00:36 And the second is we're connecting these small companies
00:00:36 00:00:38 to a global market for services.
00:00:39 00:00:41 We're running a Pilot now with eight small firms,
00:00:41 00:00:45 in Nairobi, rural India - Bihar, and Kathmandu, Nepal.
00:00:46 00:00:50 And we do diligence, do due diligence on the firms rather,
00:00:50 00:00:52 and then connect them to clients, based on,
00:00:52 00:00:56 a number of different skill sets they may have.
00:00:56 00:00:59 So, how did you get interested in this work, and why is it important?
00:01:01 00:01:05 This interest has had a really long incubation period.
00:01:06 00:01:11 I first got interested in social justice as a high school student, in Los Angeles.
00:01:11 00:01:14 I actually did work for the ACLU, and a couple of organizations locally.
00:01:15 00:01:17 But, as a child of Indian immigrant parents,
00:01:18 00:01:21 I was always curious about poverty in India, where they had grown up,
00:01:21 00:01:24 and I never really had much direct exposure to it.
00:01:24 00:01:27 When I was about 16 years old, I decided that I wanted
00:01:28 00:01:31 to leave my cushioned, suburban life in Los Angeles
00:01:32 00:01:34 and get out there and explore the world a bit more,
00:01:34 00:01:39 and I ended up getting a scholarship, that I convinced the organizers of,
00:01:39 00:01:42 to let me take and use to travel in Africa.
00:01:43 00:01:48 So, I found a volunteer opportunity in rural Ghana, in a small town called Akuapem,
00:01:49 00:01:51 and it was sort of a shock to there as a 17 year old.
00:01:52 00:01:56 But it was also the best thing that I've ever done.
00:01:57 00:01:59 I think it really impacted me.
00:01:59 00:02:03 My students, and I had about 60 of them, they were middle school aged,
00:02:03 00:02:07 were incredibly bright, heartbreakingly bright.
00:02:07 00:02:10 I had a student in particular, Femi Abbas,
00:02:10 00:02:13 who would stay after class with me, for two three hours a day,
00:02:14 00:02:16 and ask me about opportunities outside of Ghana,
00:02:17 00:02:20 and how he might become a writer, and, you know, where he might be able to get funding,
00:02:21 00:02:27 and it really crushed me that people with Femi's talent were unable to succeed.
00:02:27 00:02:30 And I think that as an American, especially this Election Year,
00:02:31 00:02:34 we've all become very excited about meritocracy,
00:02:34 00:02:37 and about providing people with opportunity,
00:02:37 00:02:40 if they have the skill and the drive, to take those opportunities.
00:02:41 00:02:44 And I think that for a vast, vast portion of the world,
00:02:44 00:02:47 there simply are none of those opportunities.
00:02:47 00:02:51 And I think that's the biggest moral challenge of our time.
00:02:51 00:02:54 So, this seed was planted about ten years ago,
00:02:54 00:02:56 and I ended up studying African Development,
00:02:56 00:02:59 working for the World Bank in a couple of development projects,
00:03:00 00:03:03 and getting kind of frustrated with the large scale approach
00:03:03 00:03:06 to economic development in places like Africa.
00:03:06 00:03:11 I think that while large infrastructure projects are certainly needed,
00:03:11 00:03:15 what I found time and time again, is that the Femis of the world were being ignored
00:03:15 00:03:18 by these development programs.
00:03:18 00:03:22 And I decided, that as an individual, the area that I could have the most impact,
00:03:22 00:03:24 was in starting some kind of an organization
00:03:24 00:03:27 that could provide more good job opportunities for people like Femi
00:03:28 00:03:31 and that was the initial inspiration behind Samasource.
00:03:32 00:03:35 And how have you found the Bay Area and Silicon Valley,
00:03:36 00:03:38 as a place to make this idea come to life?
00:03:38 00:03:43 I think that Silicon Valley, and I was there for about a year
00:03:43 00:03:46 before moving up to San Francisco a month ago.
00:03:46 00:03:53 I think that Silicon Valley is unparalleled as a nexus of entrepreneurship,
00:03:53 00:03:55 of Social entrepreneurship, and the regular kind.
00:03:56 00:04:00 And I think that being around technology companies,
00:04:00 00:04:03 and around the sort of innovation that's common here, has been really beneficial.
00:04:04 00:04:07 We share office-space with several Y combinator startups,
00:04:08 00:04:10 and their work ethic has been really inspiring, and I think,
00:04:10 00:04:13 frankly, many of the non-profits that I know about,
00:04:13 00:04:16 just don't kinda have that same approach.
00:04:16 00:04:19 So, I think from that perspective, it's been really helpful,
00:04:19 00:04:24 and I think from the perspective of being a socially focused organization,
00:04:24 00:04:26 the Bay Area is an incredibly receptive place.
00:04:27 00:04:29 There are tons of non-profits active here.
00:04:30 00:04:34 There's a whole, there's a nascent movement around social capital,
00:04:34 00:04:37 that's really rooted in the Bay Area.
00:04:37 00:04:40 There was a Social Capital Markets's conference here a few weeks ago,
00:04:40 00:04:41 that we participated in.
00:04:41 00:04:44 So I think there's also this sort of enabling environment
00:04:44 00:04:47 that you need to succeed as a social entrepreneur here,
00:04:47 00:04:51 in a way that doesn't exist elsewhere. - Thank you so much.
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