Leila Janah was born in 1982 to parents who came to the US from India. When Leila was 17, she won a scholarship which gave her the opportunity to teach in Ghana, Africa for six months. Many of the students she taught were blind due to nutritional deficiencies. She later remarked, “I had never experienced anything like the poverty I saw there. I could feel the intense suffering caused by poverty, by seeing what people had to do every day to survive. It helped me to understand how poverty oppresses people…I left Africa with a sense of urgency to do something about poverty.”
Following her internship and during her college years at Harvard, Leila managed to spend significant time in Africa. After graduating in 2005 with a degree in African Development Studies, she worked as a management consultant, where she often helped set up call centers in underdeveloped nations.
When Leila left the consulting company, she created a company, Samasource, to provide training for low-income people to work in the digital economy. She was able to help over 50,000 people develop the skills they needed to earn a living wage. Leila took her concept beyond just employment training. She also focused on life skills, health and wellness, and professional development. She also created the Give Work Challenge, which focused on entrepreneurial development using micro loans and mentorship.
In 2012, Leila created Samahope, which provided life-changing medical care for woman and children living in poverty. Samahope used crowdsourcing as its funding mechanism. She felt that public involvement could generate the funds needed for essential medical care. Samahope was eventually combined with Johnson & Johnson’s CaringCrowd initiative.
In 2015, Leila formed LXMI (named for Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of beauty) as a non-profit skin care company. The employees of LXMI are women living in poverty. The employees of LXMI make 3x the average wages in the Nile Valley where they work.
Leila won numerous awards during her young life, including many in recognition of her efforts to change the world. Tragically she died of a rare form of cancer at the age of 37.
Leila is what is known as a serial entrepreneur. People like Leila create businesses, and once these businesses are well established, they move on to other innovations. In Leila’s case the business she established had a social justice purpose.
Just imagine how much one person can achieve in such a short life span. Leila did not come from wealth. Just imagine what the combination of a caring spirit and an entrepreneurial mind can accomplish. Just imagine how different the world might be if young persons of privilege pursued their own missions focused on societal improvement.
“So often, we leave the selfless side of ourselves for nights and weekends, for our charity work. It is our duty to inject that into our day-to-day business, into the work that we do, to improve corporations, to improve civil society, and to improve government.”–Leila Janah, social entrepreneur
This is part of our “Just Imagine” series of occasional posts, inviting you to join us in imagining positive possibilities for a citizen-centered democracy.