The first time I saw Leila Janah speak was at the Social Good Summit in 2015. I remember being blown away by the vision and success of her company, Samasource. She was intelligent, articulate, passionate and determined to have a positive impact on the lives of others, all qualities I deeply admire. Her untimely passing at the age of 37 from a rare form of Epithelioid Sarcoma has sent shockwaves through the global tech community and according to a statement on Samasource’s website, united her team who is committed to continuing Leila’s work, and to ensuring her legacy and vision is carried out for years to come.
For a woman whose life was cut tragically short, she accomplished more than most people can hope to accomplish in a lifetime twice as long. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Leila grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles. As she chronicled in her book, Give Work, a childhood rife with financial insecurity fueled her drive and work ethic from a young age. While attending high school, she received a scholarship that took her to Ghana where she taught English for six months during her senior year. At 17, the experience was so transformative that it sparked her passion for working in Africa.
When I read her book, I immediately felt a kinship with Leila as we had grown up near each other in L.A., I was also the daughter of an immigrant, I had also spent time living and working with underserved communities in Ghana. And we both founded nonprofits in our twenties. To say that I admired her success would be an understatement. For me, Leila Janah was the ultimate social entrepreneur rockstar.
At The Heart Series last year, Leila took to the stage to share her thoughts on poverty alleviation. She strongly believed that talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not. Job creation and economic empowerment, she said, are the best ways to break the cycle of poverty. We had lunch together after her presentation and she shared more about all three of her social enterprises.