Global Impact Sourcing Award Winner in a Provider Organization: Samasource

There’s No Stopping Leila Janah


Leila Janah is used to people telling her no. She just doesn’t listen.

When the Harvard graduate came up with a plan to lift women living in the slums of Africa out of poverty by providing them with digital jobs, she was told by investors that the idea wouldn’t work, she wasn’t the right person to lead it and she wouldn’t get any funding.

But that didn’t stop her resolve.

When Silicon Valley wouldn’t back her, she turned to donors who shared his passionate belief in her mission and launched her social enterprise, Samasource, as a nonprofit in 2008 basing its name on the Sanskrit word for equal – “Sama.”

The company sees its work as an equalizing force that distributes opportunity where talent resides. By providing living wages, healthcare and other benefits for low-income and marginalized women and young adults in Kenya, Uganda and India, Samasource has made an amazing difference in the lives of individuals, their families and communities, raising some 50,000 people out of poverty.

Samasource employs over 2,000 people globally providing high-quality “training data services,” which involves work such as tagging images and text, validating data, and flagging inappropriate content. Training data is crucial to the implementation of Artificial Intelligence for Samasource’s clients like Microsoft, Google, Ford, Glassdoor and other Fortune 50 companies.

Today, operating as a hybrid social enterprise, Samasource is one of the largest AI companies in Africa. The company is an expert in image, video and sensor data annotation and validation for machine learning algorithms in industries including automotive, navigation, AR/VR, biotech, agriculture, manufacturing, and e-commerce.

For its leadership in impact sourcing over more than a decade, Samasource was recognized with IAOP’s Global Impact in Sourcing Award (GISA) for a provider organization at OWS19 in Orlando, Florida.

“It’s been an incredibly exciting journey to prove to the world that this model is absolutely viable,” says Janah, who serves as Samasource’s CEO. “Winning this award honestly has been a watershed moment for Samasource.”

Next Battles Ahead

Recently diagnosed with a rare but treatable form of cancer called epithelioid sarcoma at the age of 36, Janah is more committed than ever to fight for a world we want to live in.

The biggest lesson she’s learned along the way that keeps her going is: Don’t assume you can’t change things.

“It’s absolutely right to question the status quo,” she says. “When you go back to the drawing board and reimagine the world in the way that it should be based on a solid moral backbone, you see it should look different than it does today and you can build a company to solve that problem.”

Janah founded Samasource to solve the problems of poverty and climate change.  By creating digital jobs, she has reduced both. While labor violations are common in this area of work, the company has gone above and beyond with its practices, including providing subsidized nutritious meals for its employees, implementing elements of nature into its delivery centers and providing ongoing professional and personal development training for its workers.

The company has focused on doing training data work in AI that makes the world better and has positive social outcomes, such as tracking illegal fishing and poaching; detecting diseases in crops or within human cells; eliminating racial basis in facial recognition technology; and teaching self-driving cars.

Janah also launched Samaschool in 2015 that teaches low income and vulnerable populations in the U.S.  how to succeed in the freelance economy following a model it has used in refugee camps and other settings. More than 20,000 people from 65 countries have taken courses with Samaschool. She hopes to one day open a delivery center in the U.S.

Janah’s next challenge, along with battling her health issues, is to create a new path for social businesses in the United States that mirrors countries like New Zealand that have a national strategy and provide tax incentives for impact sourcing companies like Samasource.

And while both may seem daunting to outsiders who doesn’t know her, don’t tell Janah it can’t be done.

From self-driving cars to smart hardware, Samasource fuels AI. Founded over a decade ago, we’re experts in image, video and sensor data annotation and validation for machine learning algorithms in industries including automotive, navigation, AR/VR, biotech, agriculture, manufacturing, and e-commerce. Our staff are driven by a mission to expand opportunity for low-income people through the digital economy, and our social business model has helped over 50,000 people lift themselves out of poverty.

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