Sept. 23, 2013

CEO of firm with social mission to give Sept. 30 talk

Leila Janah
Janah

Leila Janah, founder and CEO of Samasource, a company that connects technology firms with an untapped labor market in developing countries, will deliver the Iscol Family Program for Leadership Development in Public Service lecture Sept. 30.

Janah will speak on “Samasource: A Sustainable Solution to Global Poverty,” at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 30, in Call Auditorium, Kennedy Hall. The talk is free and open to the public.

During her talk, she plans to share her experiences of the “fast and furious” process of building an organization, as well as her thoughts on social entrepreneurship – that “survival hinges on getting things done and never giving up.”

Janah spent a semester teaching English in Ghana after high school, where she soon discovered that a lack of work, not education, was the main obstacle for many people in developing countries. She studied economic development at Harvard and took a consulting position after graduation, where she was inspired with the idea for Samasource.

“I was intrigued by the model of moving work through the Internet,” she said of her consulting work, where she came into contact with a large Indian outsourcing firm. “I realized the potential that this concept had to bring work to the people I’d met in rural villages and urban slums all over the world.”

So, in 2007, she quit her job to work full time on her idea and formed Samasource in 2008.

“I was determined to form a nonprofit that could take on outsourcing contracts and direct the work to people in need, keeping a social mission, rather than profit, as its top goal,” she said.

Since its inception, Samasource has generated more than $5 million in contracts from leading companies and institutions, including Google, eBay, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Eventbrite and Stanford University, and has directly employed 3,500 people in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and the Caribbean.

Its work model, which is called “Microwork,” divides work into small pieces that don’t require advanced training to complete. On average, Samasource workers more than double their incomes after a few months on the job, and more than three-quarters move up to higher-level employment or higher education within one year, according to company information.

“The inspirational story surrounding the founding of Samasource reminds our students that public service goes well beyond volunteering, calling upon the talent, vision and energy needed for success in any profession,” said John Eckenrode, professor of human development and director of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research. “We hope that the small seeds sown with the Iscol program will grow once our students leave Cornell and find their own creative ways to make change in the world.”

Janah’s talk will be presented as part of the Entrepreneurship Speaker Series class. The lecture is presented by the Iscol program and the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research in the College of Human Ecology.

The Iscol Family Program for Leadership Development in Public Service was established by Jill and Ken Iscol to help undergraduate students interested in translating their idealism and optimism into concrete action to build better communities for families and children. The program brings speakers to campus and also supports Cornell students in public service internships.

Kathy Hovis is a writer for Entrepreneurship@Cornell.