A Social Entrepreneur is an Entrepreneur First: [Video] Interview with Leila Janah

Before STATION F opened its doors to the world this summer, one of the special guests who got a sneak peak was Leila Janah, Founder and CEO of Samasource & LXMI. We sat down with her to find out what it means to be a social entrepreneur. She opened up about her inspiration and what it takes to really make a difference in ending poverty. Watch the full interview here:

Joining French President Emmanuel Macron on Fortune Magazine’s Forty Under 40 list this year, Leila Janah is an entrepreneur leading the charge of social impact in business. She is founder and CEO of Samasource, a technology services outsourcing company and LXMI a luxury beauty goods producer. What makes these companies different, is they employ with a fair wage, some of the most marginalized people on the planet.

“I think in the future we’re going to see a world in which social impact is an imperative for every business, not just something marginalized to charities.”

Leila’s Inspiration for a Business that Ends Poverty

After spending much of her time trying to figure out why poor people were, she was inspired by Thomas Friedman’s book “The World is Flat.” Friedman talks about how the internet was proliferating around the world, and making it possible for the first time for someone from a slum in India or a rural part of Africa to sell their services online. Leila came up with the idea for a digital marketplace for all the brainpower at the bottom of the economic pyramid. What Samasource does, is break up large technology service jobs into smaller tasks they call “microwork” and train people to do these jobs. One example of this microwork is image tagging used for machine learning, which can be done from a smartphone

Since 2008 Samasource has moved over 35000 people out of poverty, by increasing their income by over 400%. Raising daily income from $2 to $8 a day is even more effective than microfinance in keeping people above the poverty line long term. According to Janah, we still live in an outdated economic model where companies and people make a profit, then donate a percentage to charity.

“They don’t need our charity. What they need most is work. And they need a chance to participate fairly in the global economic system.”

A New Phase in Captialism

“We’re at the dawn of a new phase in capitalism where social impact will become a primary lens through which consumers make purchasing decisions, and through which businesses operate. Purchasing decisions can go towards vendors that promote fair wages for low-income people and that give people work and that adopt this philosophy of social impact.”

LXMI is luxury beauty and skincare company that Janah founded with the goal of showing indigenous populations that they can make more money harvesting sustainable wild botanicals than selling or leasing their land to mining companies or cattle farmers. This kind of business practice could not only help local people, but the entire planet, once deforestation of places like the Amazon becomes the less profitable option.

Helping the World by Creating a Great Product

The trick though, is selling people on the economics and the product, not the environmental impact. She’s seen many eco-friendly companies fail because they wore unattractive packaging as a badge of honor. Unfortunately, to survive in the market your product has to work and work well. If it doesn’t solve a real customer problem, no one is going to buy it no matter how good for the world it is. A big part of LXMI’s success is the products are high quality and many of the customers that love them, may first buy them without being aware of their positive social and environmental impact.

You can watch the entire interview on YouTube. Subscribe to our channel for more interviews and fun goings on at STATION F!