Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Leila Janah for SamaSource

Name: Leila Janah

What is your job? Trying to run Samasource without losing my mind.

What social causes are most important to you?
Samasource connects women, youth and refugees in the poorest parts of the world to livelihoods via the Internet. “Sama” is Sanskrit for equal – we think that everyone deserves a chance to have a decent job. I think the best way to end poverty is to give work.

What charities do you support – and how?
Samasource encourages people to vote with their wallets, and I try to follow that philosophy more broadly by buying from companies that source from marginalized people and treat them fairly. My favorites are Goodwill (which I support through a healthy obsession with vintage clothing and furniture), World of Good, an online fair trade marketplace with awesome products, and Kazuri, a Kenyan shop that sells beads made by local women.

Why do you have a passion for these, is there a personal tie?
When I was 16, I used a scholarship from a big tobacco company to spend six months teaching in Ghana. My students were incredibly bright, but forced to do menial work for little pay simply because they had lost the birth lottery. They didn’t want handouts; they wanted opportunity. It is my mission in life to give work to the people who need it most.

Is there a particular way you would want to encourage readers to be involved?
Think about where you buy your stuff, and how much workers are paid to make it. At the root of a range of social problems, from the drug trade to sex trafficking, is a lack of good jobs for poor people. We can choose to buy things from companies that provide decent employment to people and give workers a share of the profits. This is often far more powerful than writing a check to a charity that pulls at our heartstrings. Dollars speak louder than words.

How would you define social responsibility?
Social responsibility means understanding the true consequences of how we spend our money. It’s being intimate with the supply chains that produce our stuff, and demanding accountability from the companies that we purchase from. Many people don’t realize that when tomatoes are ten cents cheaper this year than last year, it might be because the people that pick them are no longer being paid a living wage.

Do you have any tattoos that relate to your social/charitable beliefs/work?
Yes: I have the Sanskrit characters for “sama,” or “equal,” tattooed on my right wrist.
I love Tamding, the Tibetan artist who did my tattoo in Dharamsala, India.

Learn more – see Leila getting inked by Tamding and heidiminx’s video interview with her here:

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