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How to Bring 45,000 People Out of Poverty, Sustainably and Scalably by Giving Work with Leila Janah

Leila is the Founder and CEO of Samasource and LXMI, two companies that go beyond charity to #givework to low-income people around the world using cutting-edge social enterprise models in technology and luxury skincare, respectively.

Listen in to learn how to help fight poverty!

How to Bring 45,000 People Out of Poverty, Sustainably and Scalably by Giving Work with Leila Janah

Time stamped show notes:

[01:25] Grounding story: When she was 16, she was already applying for every scholarships that she could find because her parents did not have the money to send her to college. She applied for a scholarship from a tobacco company, and she got it. She got $10,000 in the mail.

[01:52] She felt weird about using money from big Tobacco to go to college.

[02:27] She was 17 she went to Ghana.

[02:31] She graduated from school early and worked in a school for blind kids. She lived in a village where people made a $1.50 a day on average.

[02:41] She saw poverty upclose for the first time, and she was shocked by the fact that so many really talented people, who could read and write in English, just didn’t have job opportunities.

[03:23] We think that we are gonna save these poor starving people by giving them aide, but what they really need is work.

[03:48] She decided to make it her mission to give work to the low income people to help them move out of poverty.

[03:54] The most ethical kind of relationship we can have with someone with a different background is through some kind of mutually beneficial interaction and that what trade really is. Specially for paying people fair wages and work trading unfair terms, that’s what her work is all about.

[04:22] Now, the largest data services in East Africa, they employ nearly 2,000 full-time people, and they became profitable last year as a non-profit social enterprise. 

[04:38] They started with grants and donations but were able to fund their own operations through business revenue.

[04:46] The most remarkable thing is they moved people permanently out of poverty.

[05:00] They now make $8 a day, a better income, and it’s like moving to a middle income.

[05:07] Strong poverty reduction. Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. They don’t just give men and women fish for a day. They are teaching them how to fish and showing them the path from fishing to a digital economy.

[05:47] The mission of LXMI is similar–to give work to the supply chain, but instead of doing it through data services, they are doing it through sourcing rare ingredients from low income places through a supply chain to benefit women. They harvest their raw ingredients from Northern Uganda through women's cooperatives.

[12:08] Now she has amazing team of people who are really good at stuff where she is terrible at. They make each other better.

[12:55] You cannot have full control over everything, every single detail. You have to empower people and let them occasionally make mistakes for them to take full ownership.

[15:32] She got really sick and went through operations. It was a wakeup call for her.  

[18:19] Changed lifestyle: More aware of what a gift good health is. Grateful everyday that Im not waking up in a hospital. I am more a little less impatient, a part of it that me to that situation is chronic stress and always impatient. I’m always feeling that not hitting objectives for myself, we are not moving fast enough. That constant stress is really bad for immune system, body and causes aging.

[21:05] Most people overestimate what they can do in a year and underestimate what they can do in ten.

[24:19] If you want to help these people who are born in poverty or less material wealth than we do, the best way to help them is to view them as producers, as equals on a level field and buy from them.

[24:22] If you care about women in the developing world, and if you care about violence against women, then buy from women. Don’t patronize them by just giving them a hand out.

Three key points:

  1. Strong poverty reduction.
  2. You cannot have full control over everything, every single detail. You have to empower people and let them occasionally make mistakes for them to take full ownership.
  3. Better to give work to make their income sustainable, than giving a hand out.

Resources mentioned:

  1. Book: Escape from the Antarctic by Ernest Shackleton