From Wikipideia and TechSource
Leila Janah (October 9, 1982 – January 24, 2020) was the Founder and CEO of Samasource and LXMI, two companies which share a common social mission to end global poverty by giving work to people in need. She was also the author of Give Work: Reversing Poverty One Job at a Time and co-author of America’s Moment: Creating Opportunity in the Connected Age, a book by Rework America: A Markle Initiative.
The startup community has lost another moral leader today.
Leila Janah, a serial entrepreneur who was the CEO and founder of machine learning training data company Samasource, passed away at the age of 37 due to complications from Epithelioid Sarcoma, a form of cancer, according to a statement from the company.
She focused her career on social and ethical entrepreneurship with the goal of ending global poverty, founding three distinct organizations over her career spanning the for-profit and non-profit worlds. She was most well-known for Samasource, which was founded a little more than a decade ago to help machine learning specialists develop better ML models through more complete and ethical training data-sets.
The company is distinct for delivering AI-driven services to Fortune 100 companies with a global workforce of data specialists, a large number of whom are located in East Africa.
Janah and her company were well ahead of their time, as issues related to bias in ML models have become top-of-mind for many product leaders in Silicon Valley today.
In that interview Janah spoke of what inspired her to form an AI company in Africa. “I saw huge opportunity for tapping into the incredible depth of … talent in East Africa in the tech world,” she said of Samasource’s origins.
The company has a global staff of 2,900 and is the largest AI and data annotation employer in East Africa, Janah told TechCrunch.
She discussed taking Samasource, and its largely African workforce, from non-profit to for-profit status. “As a CEO I need to make it clear to investors that this is an investible entity,” she said. Janah shared her view that providing for-profit AI training data to global companies can be done while improving lives in East Africa. “I strongly believe you can combine the highest quality of service with the core mission of altruism,” she said.
“A big part of our values is offering living wages and creating dignified technology work for people. We hire people from low-income backgrounds and offer them training in AI and machine learning. And our teams achieve above the industry standard.”
In an unpublished segment of her last TechCrunch interview, Janah underscored her commitment to gender diversity in tech. “We are probably the only firm in our space that has a female CEO, a female COO … and over 60% of our management are women. That’s highly unusual in the tech world,” she said.
In a statement on Janah’s passing, Samasource said:
We are all committed to continuing Leila’s work, and to ensuring her legacy and vision is carried out for years to come. To accomplish this, Wendy Gonzalez, longtime business partner and friend to Leila, will take the helm as interim CEO of Samasource. Previously the organization’s COO, Wendy has spent the past five years working alongside Leila to craft Samasource’s vision and strategy.
In addition to Samasource, Janah founded SF-based Samaschool, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to helping low-income workers learn critical freelancing skills by helping them negotiate the changing dynamics in the freelance economy. The organization has built partnerships with groups like Goodwill to empower them to offer additional curricular resources within their own existing programs and initiatives.
Janah also founded LXMI, a skin-care brand that emphasized organic and fair-trade ingredients, with a focus on sourcing from low-income women’s cooperatives in East Africa. Founded three years ago, the company raised a seed round from the likes of NEA, Sherpa, and Reid Hoffman according to Crunchbase.
Across all of her initiatives, Janah consistently put the concerns of under-represented people at the forefront, and designed organizations to empower such people in their daily lives. Her entrepreneurial spirit, commitment, and integrity will be sorely missed in the startup community.
TechCrunch editor-at-large Josh Constine had this to say of Janah’s impact:
Leila was propulsive. Being around her, you’d swear there were suddenly more hours in the day just based on how much she could accomplish. Yet rather than conjuring that energy through ruthless efficiency, she carried on with grace and boundless empathy. Whether for her closest friends or a village of strangers on the other side of the world, she embraced others’ challenges as her own. Leila turned vulnerability into an advantage, making people feel so comfortable in her presence that they could unwind their personal and professional puzzles. Leila is the kind of founder we need more of, and she’ll remain an example of how to do business with heart.
Janah’s legacy will continue through the AI data-training specialists the company she founded, Samasource, trains and employs. As part of its latest Series A, Samasource increased staff in Uganda to 90 people with plans to grow that by 150% in 2020, she told TechCrunch in late 2019.
Updated January 25, 2019 to include additional quotes from TechCrunch editor-at-large Josh Constine and additional material from TechCrunch reporter Jake Bright’s recent interview with Janah from November
Janah was born on October 9, 1982 in Lewiston, New York, near Niagara Falls, and grew up in San Pedro, Los Angeles, California. She was the daughter of Indian immigrants, who came to the United States with nothing. Janah described her childhood as being difficult, often due to a lack of financial security. As a teenager, Janah worked many jobs, including babysitting and tutoring. She attended the California Academy of Mathematics and Science. She won a scholarship at 17 through American Field Services, and convinced them to let her spend it teaching in Ghana where she spent 6 months during her senior year of high school. In Ghana, Janah taught English to young students in the village of Akuapem, many of whom were blind. Janah has cited this early experience as sparking her passion for working in Africa, and she continued to visit the continent during her time in college.
Janah attended Harvard University, graduating in 2005 with a degree in African Development Studies. While at Harvard, Janah conducted fieldwork in Mozambique, Senegal and Rwanda and consulted to and authored papers for the World Bank‘s Development Research Group and Ashoka on social and economic rights.
Upon graduation, Janah worked as a management consultant with Katzenbach Partners , focusing on healthcare, mobile and outsourcing companies. One of Janah’s first assignments with Katzenbach Partners was managing a call center in Mumbai. At the call center Janah met a young man who traveled each day by rickshaw from Dharavi, one of the largest slums in South Asia, to work at the center. Janah has cited this experience as sparking the inspiration for Samasource, the non-profit she founded in
Janah left Katzenbach Partners in 2007 to become a visiting scholar at Stanford University with the Program on Global Justice, founded by law professor Joshua Cohen. That year, she co-founded Incentives for Global Health with Thomas Pogge, Leitner Professor of Philosophy and International Affairs at Yale, and Aidan Hollis, a Professor of Economics at the University of Calgary, which established a blueprint for incentivizing the development of new drugs for neglected diseases.
In 2008, Janah launched Samasource (then called Market for Change), an idea that was inspired by her time spent in Africa and her experience managing a call center in Mumbai. Samasource delivers secure, high quality training data and is a trusted platform for expert, ethical training data. and is the trusted, high-quality training data and validation provider for 25% of the Fortune 50. From self-driving cars to smart hardware, Samasource fuels AI. The Samasource team are experts in image, video and sensor data annotation and validation for machine learning algorithms. Samasource is driven by a mission to expand opportunity for low-income people through the digital economy, and its social business model has helped over 50,000 people lift themselves out of poverty. One of the first organizations to engage in impact sourcing, Samasource workers are trained in basic computer skills and paid a local living wage for their labor.
Additionally, Samasource provides a host of impact programs to ensure their workers are advancing in their careers and learning life skills. These programs include health and wellness education, professional skills development, a scholarship program to assist with continuing education costs, and the GiveWork Challenge—a program to provide micro loans and mentorship to aspiring entrepreneurs. Samasource has been named one of Fast Company’s “Most Innovative Companies” and counts Walmart, Google, General Motors and Microsoft among its clients. 25% of the Fortune 50 trust Samasource to deliver turnkey, high-quality training data and validation for the world’s leading AI technologies.
Samasource has offices in San Francisco, California, New York, The Hague, Costa Rica, Montreal, Nairobi, Kenya, Kampala, Uganda and Gulu, Uganda. The organization currently owns and operates delivery centers in Nairobi and Gulu, Uganda, and partners with additional delivery centers in India. Samasource previously had paid workers in Haiti, Pakistan, Ghana, and South Africa.
In 2013, Janah founded Samaschool (previously SamaUSA), a program that moves people out of poverty by providing digital skills training and a connection to internet-based jobs that pay a living wage. Samaschool runs in-person programs in Arkansas, California, New York and Kenya, and also provides online classes that are available internationally. Samaschool courses train students in digital literary, workforce readiness and portfolio building.
Samaschool started with a pilot program in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood in San Francisco. The model originally focused on training students to perform digital work competitively, to prepare them for success on online work sites like oDesk and Elance. The program was first introduced in a 2011 TechCrunch article which attracted controversy for its assertion that Americans could compete with African and Asian workers who can afford to take assignments that pay lower fees. Samaschool has since shifted its focus to teach students the skills necessary to gain work in the gig economy. Samaschool is funded in part by the Robinhood Foundation.
Janah founded Samahope in 2012, the first crowdfunding platform that directly funded doctors who provide life-changing medical treatments for women and children in poor communities. Samahope enabled anyone anywhere to directly fund doctors’ life-changing medical treatments for women and children in need. Samahope was built on the belief that transparent funding mechanisms could help close the global surgery gap and ensure that all people have access to medical treatments Samahope combined with Johnson & Johnson’s new global health platform, CaringCrowd, at the close of December 2015. Janah spoke about the decision to merge with Caring Crowd in a LinkedIn post, citing efficiency and branding as the two biggest factors.
In 2015, Janah co-founded LXMI, a for profit luxury skin care brand. Built on the idea of beauty in action™, LXMI employs marginalized women in the rural Nile Valley communities to harvest LXMI ingredients and reports that their producers earn 3x the average local wages. LXMI is named after the Hindu goddess of beauty and prosperity.
LXMI was incubated at Samasource. Janah and Samasource are members of an LLC which owns LXMI, along with LXMI employees and investors. Currently, the jointly owned LLC owns 36% of LXMI, with Janah owning 24% and Samasource owning 12%. The LLC was set up for LXMI in order for Janah to donate the 1/3 of her shares back to Samasource in a way that would give Samasource oversight in the company. If LXMI pays a dividend or is acquired, Samasource would stand to benefit. Jones Day advised on the arrangement and referenced experience with other similar structures.
Awards and honors
a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum, a Director of CARE USA, a 2012 TechFellow, recipient of the inaugural Club de Madrid Young Leadership Award, and the youngest person to win a
Janah was a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum, a Director of CARE USA, a 2012 TechFellow, recipient of the inaugural Club de Madrid Young Leadership Award, and the youngest person to win a Heinz Award in 2014 when she received the 19th Annual Heinz Award in Technology, the Economy and Employment. She also received the Secretary’s Innovation Award for the Empowerment of Women and Girls from Hillary Clinton in 2012, and was a former Visiting Scholar at the Stanford University Program on Global Justice and Australian National University’s Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics. She was a recipient of the Rainer Arnhold and TEDIndia Fellowships, and served on the San Francisco board of TechSoup Global and the Social Enterprise Institute.
Janah was included as one of Elle Magazine’s “Women in Tech” in 2016 and The New York Times T Magazine’s Five Visionary Tech Entrepreneurs Who Are Changing the World in 2015. She was also named a “Rising Star” on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list in 2011, one of Fast Company’s “Most Creative People in Business” in 2012, and was profiled as one of Fortune’s “Most Promising Entrepreneurs” in 2013.
- Samasource Mourns the Loss of CEO and Founder, Leila Janah
- “Triangulation 316 Leila Janah: Give Work | TWiT.TV”. TWiT.tv. Retrieved 2017-10-11.
- Leila Janah’s Crunchbase Profile
- “How 1 Woman Changed 30,000 Lives”.
- “Leila Janah Helps People in the Developing World Find Work Near Home”.
- “Samasource Website”. www.samasource.com. Retrieved 2019-06-07.
- Bornstein, David (November 3, 2011). Workers of the World Employed. New York Times. Retrieved 2013-04-04.
- Gino, Francesca; Staats, Bradley R. “The Microwork Solution”. Harvard Business Review. December 2012.
- “Sama Group Is Redefining What It Means To Be A Not-For-Profit Business”. 2016-02-16. Retrieved 2016-08-19.
- “Samasource | Training Data for AI”. www.samasource.com. Retrieved 2019-06-07.
- Samasource Press Kit. Retrieved 2013-04-04.
- “Samaschool”. Samaschool. Retrieved 2016-08-26.
- “Leila Janah”.
- “Why We Merged: Samahope and the Case for Nonprofit M&A”. 2016-04-07. Retrieved 2016-08-19.
- “Why We Merged: Samahope and the Case for Nonprofit M&A”. 2016-04-07. Retrieved 2016-08-29.
- Janah, Leila (October 9, 2015). “Can your skincare routine help end poverty?”. LinkedIn.
- “Samasource Independent Auditors’ Report and Consolidated Financial Statements”(PDF).
- “The Heinz Awards: Leila Janah”. The Heinz Awards. The Heinz Awards. Retrieved August 24, 2016.
- Samasource website
- “Meet Elle’s 2016 Women in Tech”. 2016-05-13. Retrieved 2016-08-19.
- “Samasource CEO Leila Janah passes away at 37”. 2020-01-24. Retrieved 2020-01-25.