At age 18, Vanessa Lucky Kanyi lived in a settlement in Nairobi, Kenya, where she earned less than 1 USD a day. Having in mind most young people her age were unemployed, she was lucky. Despite all difficulties, she tried to obtain a Psychology degree at Mount Kenya University. Some later, destiny took her to the doors of Samasource, a company with a social mission: to offer new opportunities to people with low-income through digital economy.
Samasource gave her the tools and the support she needed. A Canadian client hired her as a virtual assistant. As time passed, Vanessa became involved in increasingly complex projects, until one of them took her to West Africa, where she earned enough money to finish her studies. For the first time in her life, Vanessa had the chance of doing something that many of us usually take for granted: she could choose. Then, she applied for a scholarship at the University of Santa Monica, in California, and she got it. Now she lives in Los Angeles, where she works as a nursing assistant and studies Engineering, a course of studies that seemed to fit her best.
Vanesa’s present day would have been unthinkable without Leila’s proposal, the founder and CEO of Samasource, who is a source of inspiration herself. From a very young age, the path that Leila Janah took was very different from peers’. Her Indian parents arrived in the United States with nearly nothing, so Leila started working at an early age in order to help with the expenses. At 17, she obtained a scholarship that she decided to use in Ghana, where she studied at high school for six months and taught English lessons in Akuapem, in a school where most children were blind.
In her book Give Work: Reversing Poverty One Job At A Time1, Leila explains that Vanessa is proof of how talent is wasted every day due to our misconceptions on people with low-income which make us disqualify or underestimate them. Besides, Vanessa´s case proves everything people can achieve when they are given an opportunity, “Vanessa represented the culmination of everything we were trying to do at Samasource. In fact, she showed us our efforts had paid off beyond anything we could have imagined. Our original goal was to give people a chance to be productive, to escape their misery and move above the poverty line, but I don’t think any of us anticipated the extent of what could happen once they’d crossed it.”
Not only does Samasurce allow poor communities to connect with potential employers to get digital jobs, but also it offers impact programs that ensure employees are advancing their careers. These programs include Health and Wellness, Education, the development of professional skills, a scholarship program and the “GiveWork Challenge”, which provides micro loans and mentoring to those who wish to undertake their own projects.
Leila’s plans did not seem to end at Samasource since in 2012, she founded Samaschool, which offers training for low-income people who want to give it a try to a freelance job. Then, she funded LXMI, a skin care product she came up with after travelling to West Africa, where she saw people planting shea in their gardens.
“I said, ‘Let’s build an export industry, but only buy from poor women,’” she says in an interview. LXMI promotes the employment of women who do not have the means to get an income for their families. Behind every raw material used in cosmetic products there is a story. As in the case of Nilotica nuts, which are highly beneficial for the skin. They are obtained from the Nile River valley, in Uganda, by women who widowed due to the ongoing conflict that takes place in the country.
The above-mentioned proposals put forward by Leila are key to fight against social inequality, offering more possibilities to those who need them and changing their reality through technology. There are many people who reveal great talents that can be fruitful to humanity but are limited by their socioeconomic status. Because like many of us, they deserve to have the tools that allow them both to join the labour market and overcome the poverty line, to make their own decisions and design their own future.
1 Give Work: Reversing Poverty One Job At A Time by Leila Janah, in agreement with Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Leila Janah, 2017.
Photo: Christopher Prentiss Michel