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Agent of Impact: Leila Janah, Samasource, 1982-2020

ImpactAlpha, Jan. 31 – Corporations outsourced. Leila Janah impact sourced.

With global companies offshoring digital processes to trim costs and boost shareholder profits, Janah more than a decade ago seized the opportunity to grab some of that business to raise incomes for low-income workers.

Janah didn’t invent what has come to be called “impact sourcing,” but she was a fierce advocate and effective promoter for the up-skilling of disadvantaged workers and dignified jobs.

Samasource, founded in 2008, has connected thousands of such workers to companies like Google, Walmart and Ford to input data for machine learning and artificial intelligence applications. Next came Samaschool, a digital training center for low-income workers, and LXMI, a fair-wage luxury skincare company.

“Often, we think that things are the way they are because of intelligent design,” Janah wrote for Aspen Ideas. “Actually, things are often the way they are because of an accident of history. So it is our duty to challenge things and to make them better than they were in our parents’ generation.”

Janah died on Jan. 23 from complications of epithelioid sarcoma. She has been part of making impact sourcing an established model, along with firms such as Laboratoria (Latin America) and Digital Divide Data (Africa, Asia and North America) that leverage corporate spending, distributed technology and overlooked talent to raise incomes and opportunities for thousands of families.

Like Janah, Laboratoria tweeted, “We believe that talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not.” Friends and colleagues remembered Janah’s will, spirit and vision.

“Leila should be so proud that she reconfigured the world in her image just a little bit, and left so many people in love with her,” tweeted Sarah Cone of Social Impact Capital, where Janah was a venture partner.

The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof said Janah “used her brilliance, vision and tech skills to create opportunities for people all over the world.”

Acumen’s Jacqueline Novogratz tweeted, “She deeply believed in change, never, ever gave up and will be missed for a very long time.”

Shivani Garg Patel of Skoll Foundation wrote, “Leila challenged the status quo when it came to questions around who gets access to dignified work.” 

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