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  • Hey, it’s Marie Forleo and you are watching MarieTV, the place to be to create a business

  • and life you love. An idea that I hold close to my heart is the fact that talent is universal,

  • but opportunity is not. And weve recently begun working with Sama Group, an organization

  • whose mission is to fight global poverty through technology. If youve ever wondered what

  • part you might play in helping make the world a more equitable place, my guest today will

  • show you how.

  • Leila Janah is the founder and CEO of Sama Group, and an award winning social entrepreneur.

  • Prior to founding the Sama Group, Leila was a visiting scholar with the Stanford program

  • on global justice and Australian University National Center for Applied Philosophy and

  • Public Ethics. The concept of Sama, the root word for equality or fairness in many languages,

  • is the guiding principle behind the family of impact enterprises Janah founded and runs.

  • The first of these is SamaSource, an award winning nonprofit business that connects women

  • and youth living in poverty to microwork: computer based tasks that build skills and

  • generate life changing income, now part of the broader field of impact sourcing. SamaSource

  • has moved 20 thousand people over the poverty line and spun out a domestic program: SamaUSA.

  • In 2011 Leila cofounded SamaHope, a crowdfunding site for medical treatments in developing

  • countries. Janah’s work with Sama Group Enterprises has been featured widely in the

  • press, with features in publications including The New York Times, CNN, Forbes, and Fast

  • Company. She received a BA from Harvard and lives in San Francisco.

  • Leila, thank you so much for coming out to MarieTV. I really appreciate it.

  • It’s my great pleasure. I’m so happy to be here.

  • So we love you guys, we love working with the Sama Group, and I was wondering if you

  • can take us back to when you started or back to when you were in Mumbai and you started

  • to recognize that outsourcing was providing millions of jobs, yet it wasn’t reaching

  • the poorest populations. How did that experience inspire you and did that lead to the creation

  • of the Sama Group?

  • Sure. Well, at the time I was living in New York, actually, in the financial district.

  • I had just finished college and I had my first corporate job and I was working 24/7 and pulling

  • all nighters. And my manager, knowing that I had some foreign experience, said, “Why

  • don't we send you on this project to India?” So I was… I was basically thrown in head

  • first into a project working directly with the CEO of a big outsourcing company. And

  • this was the year that Thomas Friedman had written The World is Flat and the national

  • discourse on outsourcing was very negative and coming from a place of concern that Americans

  • were losing jobs overseas, that we were becoming less competitive. And so I, you know, being

  • someone interested in social justice was very reluctant to take on this project and even

  • though I’m of Indian origin I didn't really think it was a good thing that we were, you

  • know, partnering with these companies to lower our costs and shift jobs. So I came in with

  • that mindset. And one day in the call center that I was working in I met a young man who

  • came from Dharavi, which is south Asia’s largest slum where Slumdog Millionaire was

  • filmed and the kind of place where there are cholera outbreaks and children playing in

  • open sewers and just really horrible living conditions. They look almost post-apocalyptic.

  • It doesn't seem like anyone in twenty… 2005 or now 2015 could be living that way. And

  • so when it dawned on me that someone from that environment was capable of picking up

  • a phone and answering customer service questions for a woman in the UK, you know, about her

  • plane ticket, I realized that our understanding of poverty is very shallow, that there’s

  • a very large number of people around the world, people who we would consider to be living

  • in extreme poverty, making less than 2 dollars a day, unable to meet their basic human needs

  • for food, water, shelter, and education, who are capable of working in the new economy,

  • working in the digital economy. And that lightbulb is what inspired Sama, the idea that this

  • business model of outsourcing, which has created now billions of dollars and several billionaires,

  • that we could take some of those billions of dollars andand shift the model so that

  • they went directly into the pockets of people we would otherwise consider charity cases,

  • like this young man. And that was the origin of the idea.

  • And so when you had that idea, take me from idea to then the first whether it was project

  • or you actually leaving your job and then making Sama real.

  • It took about 2 years. I mentioned the idea to my boss and as a tribute to that firm,

  • you know, he really believed in personal development and he knew that this was my passion. So he

  • said, “I think we should fund you to do more research on this idea and maybe itll

  • benefit the firm in some way.” So our company actually gave me, like, a thousand dollar

  • travel stipend to go and do some more research on this in Africa. And my idea was to take

  • the outsourcing model and figure out how we could turn it into a social enterprise, much

  • like if people are familiar with microfinance, much like Muhammad Yunus did with the banking

  • industry. He thought, “Here’s this great industry that’s provided access to capital

  • for billions of people globally but has left out the poor,” and he adapted the model

  • to fit the needs of the poor. So I thought maybe we could do something similar with outsourcing.

  • And from that moment inin late 2005, I started working on a business plan on my nights

  • and weekends to start a company that would only hire people like that young man I met

  • at the call center. So the threshold for new workers would be, of course, you have to want

  • to work hard and be capable and have basic skills like reading and writing English. So

  • high school graduates. But you also have to come from a very poor background, and we would

  • actually screen out people who came from wealthier backgrounds who might otherwise get a job.

  • So I worked on the business plan for about a year and a half and I submitted it to a

  • competition online in the Netherlands for this new category of social venture. And lo

  • and behold they sent me an email several months later saying, “Congratulations. Youve

  • made it to the semifinals. Come to Amsterdam.” And I had kind of forgotten at that point

  • that I’d even sent this out. It was really a pipedream. Andand I went to Amsterdam

  • and they gave me I think it was the first runner up prize, so I had, like, 25 thousand

  • dollars that they gave me. And that was enough to convince me that I could quit my job and

  • survive for long enough to do this. And it wasn’t easy. My parents don't make much

  • money, I’ve loaned money to my parents in the past, I don't come from a wealthy family,

  • I still am paying off my undergraduate student loans at the age of 32. So it was a pretty

  • big decision for me to do that, but it just gave me thatthat push. And I had a lot

  • of friends who were willing to, you know, let me sleep on their couches and such for

  • a while.

  • And what did you do with that first 25 thousand? Like, how did you figure out what you wanted

  • to spend that on? I know you had your business plan, but it was like do I need to hire someone

  • first? How did youwhat did you do with that money?

  • So I realized that it wasn’t going to be very much money to hire anyone, even back

  • in 2008, the year that I ended up launching the business. So my first step was to go to

  • Kenya where I knew I wanted to launch based on demographics. Kenya is a former British

  • colony, much like India, that has a large youth population that is both somewhat educated

  • and dramatically unemployed. So you will find young people living in the slums who can read

  • and write English, whove gone to a rural school, and, you know, paid their school fees

  • their whole life and really wanna work hard but arejust happen to have drawn the

  • the wrong ticket in life’s birth lottery and happened to be living in a slum. So looking

  • at the demographic trends across sub-saharan Africa, the world’s poorest continent where

  • we thought we could make the biggest difference, I identified Kenya and I used part of the

  • money to go there initially, stay in the cheapest hotel I could find, and interview local entrepreneurs

  • who could partner with me. And my idea was I saw all of these internet cafes around the

  • world in low income areas and I thought, “What if I could convince the internet cafe owners

  • to make part of their business an outsourcing business? What if I could convince them to

  • hire local youth, use their computers, and complete small projects?” And initially

  • my first instinct was data entry. Something very simple. I had a lot of friends who were

  • entrepreneurs or involved in startups in Silicon Valley that needed basic data processing like,

  • you know, weve collected all these receipts and we need them scanned and entered into

  • a spreadsheet, that sort of thing.

  • Yeah.

  • And so it’s straightforward enough that I could actually be the person to secure the

  • work and do the quality assurance. So the first money I spent going to Kenya, identifying

  • that partner. I came back to the US, I rented a tiny office space, I paid myself 400 dollars

  • a month for the first 9 months or so of the operation until I literally could not do that

  • anymore andand then I got to work. So I spent the money also on software. I found

  • a software platform that would let me load these projects and manage them myself, and

  • then I went around to every entrepreneur I knew who might need these types of services,

  • I made a brochure on my Mac, printed it out at Kinko’s…

  • Yes!

  • ...and I got our first contract in September of 2008, which is the month we started officially

  • the business. A friend of mine who is running a large nonprofit in the Bay Area said, “We

  • have this project for blind readers.” He operates the largest online library for blind

  • readers called BookShare.org and it’s an audio library. And so he had a need for people

  • to review transcripts of books to make them really perfect before he put them into his

  • audio software. And so we loved the idea of working with a social venture and having our

  • first project be, you know, be beneficial forfor disabled people around the world.

  • Andand he was willing to give us a… a 30 thousand dollar contract to start. And

  • and so I personally guaranteed him in the meeting that I would… I would take personal

  • responsibility for the quality of the work, which meant many, many late nights, you know,

  • poring through transcripts of audio books for middle school aged kids. Andand that’s

  • kind of what got us on our way. And the next year we ended up doing about 200 thousand

  • dollars in sales revenue from those types of projects all initially secured by me and

  • then I found someone on Craigslist to help me with sales who remains a friend.

  • How incredible is that? Youre just such an inspiration. I love this story and I haven’t…

  • I’ve done so much research and I love what you do and I haven’t heard that, so genius.

  • Talk to us about impact sourcing. What it means and why it’s important.

  • I’m so glad that you brought that up, Marie. Impact sourcing is a new term that refers

  • to making sourcing decisions in your business, or at least part of them, based around social

  • impact in addition to quality. So the idea is, you know, we have all of these problems

  • around the world, global poverty and domestic poverty being one of them. One way to solve

  • those problems is to deliberately work with enterprises that have a social or environmental

  • mission. And thus you can use thethe budget that you have allocated in your business to

  • address these social problems rather than trying to maximize your profit and then donating

  • it at the end to a charity. And this is a way of thinking that actually has a long history

  • here in the United States. One of my favorite examples is Goodwill Industries. Most people

  • think of Goodwill as a nice charity and they donate their clothes. Goodwill actually earns

  • 3 billion dollars globally in store revenue from all of their stores globally. And all

  • of that store revenue comes from employing marginalized people in the store in addition

  • to recycling donated clothing. And Goodwill also offers services for offices that want

  • tothat want to move and have a large number of items they need picked up and recycled,

  • or I think they also offer setup services for corporate events. So if you are the procurement

  • manager in a company or youre running an event, you have a choice as to what vendors

  • you choose. And the idea of impact sourcing is that youyou deliberately choose vendors,

  • and maybe not for everything that you, you know, need to source, but maybe for some percentage

  • of your sourcing needs, that have an overt social mission. And the other idea of impact

  • sourcing is that you needn’t compromise on quality to have that social impact. So

  • I was just on a panel yesterday with the CEO of Glass Door, which is a technology company

  • that lets employees rate their employers and provide more transparency in the workplace.

  • They now have about 600 employees. And I met him just before the panel, 30 minutes before,

  • and he said, “I had no idea that SamaSource was a nonprofit.” I was telling him about

  • some of the fundraising challenges I had. And he was kind of blown away and he said,

  • Weve been working with you…” they now have about 85 workers who are SamaSource

  • workers globally. He said, “Weve been working with you for over a year and nobody

  • on my team ever said, ‘These guys are a nonprofit.’ I just thought you were the

  • best quality service we could find.” And soso that’s a wonderful story and I

  • do wanna tell people were a nonprofit because I think it helps them understand that if we

  • do ever make a profit on this kind of work it will all be reinvested in our work and

  • none of us are doing this for personal gain. We can’t, by law. And I think the model

  • of impact sourcing that’s so interesting is that by hiring SamaSource, Glass Door is

  • directly contributing to the same kind of poverty alleviation that we would normally

  • be paying for with aid or charitable dollars. So, you know, in the prior model, Americans

  • work hard, we get taxed, some percentage of our income through that tax goes to USAID,

  • our agency for international development, and then that organization hires people to

  • administer programs overseas that theoretically help the people that were helping on this

  • project.

  • Theoretically.

  • Theoretically. Right? Exactly.

  • And, you know, and I think these agencies do a lot of good but I think it’s really

  • interesting to imagine other ways of addressing that same population and if we can marshall

  • the capital that’s available to us in the private sector, we have so much more resource

  • to tackle these problems.

  • The thing I love about impact sourcing, you know, I hadn’t heard that turn of phrase

  • before, but through my lens it’s bringing consciousness and a sense of intention to

  • every aspect of your business and looking at how every piece of what you do can touch

  • another human soul in a positive way beyond the traditional ways that were thinking

  • of it. And that’s why I’m so not only inspired by what you guys do, but I love that

  • were working together now and I can’t wait to do more with you because it is, it’s

  • using the power of entrepreneurship and thinking about how do we tackle these global issues

  • in a really smart, effective way not just in the developing world but here in the United

  • States as well. One of the things that I love is the strong focus you have on outcomes.

  • What are some of the most important metrics you guys track through your work? And I know

  • that’s not an easy thing to do. And how do you do it?

  • I’m so glad that you asked that because I think one of the challenges that the nonprofit

  • sector faces is the perception that were not efficient. And coming from the private

  • sector myself I also had that bias when I came in. I saw lots of aid organizations on

  • the ground in Africa and Asia and I was always the person to eyeroll and think, “Wow, if

  • this were done by the private sector it would be so much more efficient.” I think part

  • of the challenge is that in the private sector we have this unifying measure of success,

  • which is profit measured in dollars. And everybody agrees that that’s a measure of success

  • and we can, you know, we have accounting standards for reporting it and we can look at a company’s

  • PNL and we can look at their, you know, their filed statements and understand how successful

  • that company is. In the social sector we lack, unfortunately, such a unifying metric. You

  • know, if youre working in animal care or animal services, youre measuring, you know,

  • the cost ofof saving an animal’s life. Right? The cost of spaying and neutering animals

  • so more don't get created that we then have to euthanize later. Right? I mean, so that’s

  • one set of metrics. If youre working in the environmental arena you might be looking

  • at the long run impact of your program on something like climate change or, you know,

  • forestry. So there are so many different metrics that it’s very difficult for a donor to

  • determine impact. It’s always like comparing apples to oranges to pineapples. Andand

  • this is a very deep problem. That said, we have relied for too long on what we call in

  • the nonprofit sector, the tyranny of overhead as a measure of nonprofit effectiveness. So

  • we shouldn’t use the challenge of measuring impact across these different sectors as an

  • excuse to look at the easiest thing, which is what percentage of my gift goes to fundraising

  • and marketing versus program related expense, which is typically how impact is seen. And

  • that measure really starves nonprofits of the agency and capital they need to produce

  • good outcomes. So I’m a huge fan of this new movement, Peter Singer calls it effective

  • altruism, many people just call it, you know, strategic giving or venture philanthropy.

  • This new movement around thinking about impact in terms of outcomes for dollars spent. Just

  • like we would in, say, clinical drug trials. We would think, “Ok, if youve got a new

  • drug that’s, you know, being tested for fighting diabetes. We wanna look at, you know,

  • how much it costs to purchase the drug versus what kind of outcome you have on people who

  • have diabetes. And, of course, the outcomes are gonna be different depending on what the