An interview with Leila Janah, Founder and CEO of Samasource.
1. How can businesses achieve financial sustainability while doing poverty relief at the same time? What were some challenges and benefits you’ve faced while running Samasource?
Samasource recently reached self-sustainability, which is pretty rare for a non-profit. Reaching this milestone proves that the impact-sourcing model — the practice of hiring people at the bottom of the pyramid so they can earn a living wage — is both an effective business model and solution to ending global poverty.
As an entrepreneur, you have your own set of challenges and benefits that are different than if you were just hired as a CEO. As an entrepreneur, there’s this sense of complete control you want to have because you feel like everything – from the first rug you buy to the email signatures – is an extension of you. Relinquishing control to employees can be a challenge, but it’s also where I see amazing results. Successes are the product of other people coming in and infusing life into ideas.
2. Would you say that setting up a business like yours is more challenging than setting up a regular business? Or has it given you a competitive edge instead?
There are definitely challenges to running a non-profit, especially in a competitive place such as Silicon Valley. For non-profits, the employees we hire are often overqualified and highly-educated, which means they have options when it comes to where they work. However, this gives us an advantage because the people we hire are extremely passionate about our mission and supporting a bigger cause.
3. In your view, how does the future for social enterprises look like?
We’ve seen a growing interest in social enterprise globally – some of this is consumer-driven and some company-driven. Nine out of 10 times*, today’s consumers, especially millennials and Generation Z, use their dollars toward socially-minded companies, thereby driving the market toward social enterprises. Eighty percent of them want to work for companies with a social mission, so social enterprises tend to have more engaged workforces with less turnover. Large corporations that choose to work with vendors and suppliers who are social enterprises see up to a 10 percent savings annually compared to working with traditional vendors. We’re also seeing traditional businesses take a page from social enterprises. Samasource has proven that impact sourcing is a viable business model and we’re seeing more companies adopt social good practices.
* Source: 2013 CONE COMMUNICATIONS/ECHO GLOBAL CSR STUDY