Leila Janah was an activist, adventurer, social entrepreneur and founded LXMI skin care, Samaschool and Samasource. She passed away on January 24th and will be dearly missed. She was only 37 when she lost her life to complications due to Epithelioid Sarcoma. She was a pioneer in the world of impact sourcing. The world will remember her due to her work to eradicate poverty.
Leila believed the creation of dignified work for all people during the next 50 years was the greatest challenge of all. In 2008, she founded Samasource. Her goal was to provide work as opposed to aid by hiring people living in impoverished areas. She wanted to train them in artificial intelligence data annotation. She believed if they had the skills, they could earn a living wage in the global economy.
The Early Years of Leila Janah
Leila was born in 1982 on October 9th in Lewiston, New York. She spent her childhood in San Pedro, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. Her parents were Indian immigrants arriving in the United States with absolutely nothing. When she spoke of her childhood, she said the years were difficult because her family was not financially secure. She worked numerous jobs including tutoring and babysitting.
Leila graduated from the Academy of Mathematics and Science in California. At the age of 17, she was awarded a scholarship from American Field Services. She convinced them she should spend her time teaching in Ghana. This is where she was for six months during her high school senior year. She taught young students English in the village of Akuapem. Many of her students were blind.
Leila has said this experience is the reason she became passionate about working in Africa. While she attended college, her visits to the country continued. She graduated from Harvard University in 2005. Her degree was in African Development Studies. During her time in college, she conducted fieldwork in Rwanda, Senegal and Mozambique while consulting for Ashoka and the Development Research Group of the World Bank regarding economic and social rights.
During this time, Leila Janah witnessed the tragedy suffered by hard-working individuals living in poverty. She knew it was because they were in a geographic location where the people were unable to find a well-paying job. Eventually, this became the driving force of her life. Leila used her experience to create an African Development Studies degree of her own at Harvard University.
Leila became a Secretariat leader for World Model UN and Harvard Model UN while she was an undergraduate. She also conducted research and wrote travel guides for Let’s Go for Borneo, Mozambique and Brazil. She even found time to work in the Development Research Group for the World Bank in addition to her studies.
After Leila graduated, she began working as a management consultant for Katzenbach Partners. The company is now called Booz & Co. While working as a call center manager in Mumbai she found out one of her employees took a rickshaw to work from his home in the slums every day. This was when she had the idea to place the call center directly in the slums.
In 2014, she discussed her idea with The Christian Science Monitor. This became the idea behind Samasource. Her frustration with the typical approach to alleviating poverty was the reason Leila founded Samasource. She felt the focus of everything was placed on jobs instead of providing poor people with the skills they need to compete in the market.
In 2019, $14.8 million was raised for Samasource during Series A of the funding. The company is now hiring people from India and Africa, then training them for broad digital work and AI data skills. Due to the efforts of Leila Janah, these people are offered global opportunities to combine technology with human judgment. These individuals now encompass approximately 25 percent of the fortune 100 including Walmart and Microsoft.
There is no doubt Lelia was ahead of her time. The issues she tackled regarding business bias resulted in solutions now used in Silicon Valley. Samasource has impacted more than 50,000 lives since founded. People in developing countries across the globe received the tools necessary to become competitive in a digital market because of Leila. Her book was released in 2017.
Leila Janah has an impressive list of achievements. She was a visiting scholar for the Global Justice Program from Stanford and the Center for Public Ethics and Applied Philosophy through the Australian National University. She was the Care USA Director and the Incentives Founding Director for Global Health. Leila was the World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, received the Young Leadership Award from the inaugural Club de Madrid, was a TED Fellow and a 2012 TechFellow.
In 2014, she became the youngest individual to receive the Heinz Award. The same year, Fortune named her one of the Most Promising Entrepreneurs. Cover stories were written about Leila in Conscious Company, Fast Company and Entrepreneur magazines. The same principle was responsible for all of her efforts. She believed world poverty could be eliminated by combining dignity and work. As time passed, she found a way to make it happen.
Leila founded Samaschool in 2013. The focus of the non-profit school was providing new skills for the modern economy. She wanted to eliminate the digital gap present in the United States by teaching underserved local communities technical skills. She did not want to teach the people specific skills aimed at certain jobs. Instead, she believed training the people in global literacy and basic computer skills would increase the number of online jobs available to the communities.
After spending some time traveling in Uganda, Leila founded another company in 2015 called LXMI. The ethical, organic skin care company focused on fair-trade. Everything started as a means of providing Ugandan women with economic opportunities. Leila accomplished this by using the local beauty secret. She learned there was a wild botanical in Nilotica growing by the Nile. The business began as a part of the Accelerate Cohort for Sephora.
Within a short period of time, the business expansion included the local economies in South Africa, Kenya and Suriname. A major partnership was more recently secured by LXMI with Conservation International for the preservation of 235,000 hectares in the Amazon wildland. This is where LXMI sources a lot of the traditional medicinals used for its products.
Samasource was re-established by Leila in 2019 as a for-profit company. As the original non-profit, Sama became the largest shareholder for the tech company. Samasource received the external capital access necessary for growth while making certain the core DNA remained an important aspect of the business. Wendy Gonzalez worked side-by-side with Leila for five years at Samasource. She is now the interim CEO of the company because she understands Leila’s strategy and vision.
When spring of 2019 arrived, Leila received a diagnosis of ES or Epithelioid Sarcoma. During her last few months, she displayed a great deal of courage. Even though her health was declining, she read her godchildren and stepdaughter stories. When night came, she lovingly tucked them in. Birthday candles were blown out together. Leila turned away from salsa dancing and traveling to far-off places.
Instead, she learned how to play the ukulele and started painting. During this time, she received well-wishes from all over the world. Her bedside was never empty because her dearest friends gathered around her. She once said that were it not for cancer, this would have been one of the greatest times of her life. She started working with a non-profit initiative for biomedical research called Research to the People as the cancer progressed.
Leila wanted potential treatments identified outside of standard care and the research accelerated for this rare sarcoma. A summit consisting of more than 50 oncology, bioinformatics, molecular biology and software engineer experts was convened just two weeks ago. The data involving Leila’s case is being analyzed to try to locate new therapeutic options to fight this aggressive disease.
In-depth research was conducted for three days to determine the genetic mutations of ES. Leila also had a genome sequencing conducted for her cancer with the hope research would advance. The analysis of her tissue sample provided a meaningful opportunity for the scientific community. As the research continues, the results will be shared to benefit ES patients of the future. This was Leila’s wish.
Leila and Tassilo
Mutual friends introduced Leila to Tassilo Festetics in 2017. After they were married, they had numerous adventures together. They studied cenotes in Mexico, observed Kenya wildlife, traveled to Indonesia to explore plant life and went kitesurfing in Brazil. Leila wanted to become a marine biologist because she loved the ocean. She went scuba diving regularly and was a performance freediver.
Leila and Tassilo had a home in Kenya and went paddleboarding among the mangrove forests. Leila will be missed by her husband, stepdaughter Mia, godchildren and all of the friends who loved her. Leila Janah left her mark on the world and society and her loss will never be forgotten.