Teach a Man To Fish, Writ Large (Repost of Newsletter from Leila, please use “Sign-up for Updates” section to subscribe at bottom of homepage)

Hello, there!

Happy 2016. I’m writing to you because you subscribed to my personal newsletter. Thank you!

I’ll try to send these at least once a week and discuss my challenges growing Sama and Laxmi and my thoughts on social justice, technology, and social business. They’ll always be written by me. You can unsubscribe at any time using the link below my signature, or contact me at leila@samagroup.co.

For starters, I thought I would share something that’s been on my mind a lot.

Americans are obsessed with donating stuff. Even if that stuff isn’t really helping poor people. We see a person suffering, and we think: she needs a meal. He needs a blanket. The barefoot family needs shoes.

But when we give meals, blankets, and shoes, people don’t escape poverty. In fact, they tend to stay in it. After decades of food aid to sub-Saharan Africa, most Africans are still extremely poor. Why is this? It’s because food doesn’t solve poverty. It’s a stop-gap.

We know this. We’ve all heard the “teach a man to fish” slogan. We all know that giving people income is the most obvious and sustainable way to move them out of poverty.

So why don’t we implement this on a broader scale?

What if we rewarded companies based on how many jobs they created among disadvantaged communities that might otherwise be the recipients of aid or welfare programs?

What if there were tax breaks based on the number of veterans a company hires, or the number of people who were previously below the poverty line?

What if we thought of businesses as true agents of social change, rather than cause marketing vehicles, and rewarded them for doing the work of social service agencies and paying a living wage to marginalized people? More businesses would become social businesses — they’d take a hit on profit in order to achieve more social impact. We’d have a third, powerful category of business emerge — deeper business — and we’d see entrepreneurs lining up to enter this space.

Cause marketing is dead. We need to think beyond One for One type models, even though they’re better than what came before them. I wrote a post on this recently for Laxmi, and described why impact sourcing is so much more powerful than One for One donations as a strategy for changing lives.

A few years back, a longer critique appeared on WhyDev covering the challenges of One for One.

I also shared this thinking in a few articles last quarter, in case you missed them:

Jessi Hempel in Wired

Laura Arrillaga Andreessen in The New York Times T Magazine

Maria Konnikova Hamilton in the Pacific Standard: Bringing The Poor Into the Digital Economy

The only way to make poor people less poor is to put cash in their hands. The best way to put cash in their hands is through a job. Our team at Sama wrote a paper on this, comparing work to cash transfers, and found that work provides longer term benefits than a handout.

What do you think?

All my best,


ps. Here are the last few blog posts I wrote. You can also follow me on Twitter or Facebook for updates.

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$600K raised at the annual Samasource gala

Phew! We made it through our fifth annual gala, themed “From Kenya to California” in celebration of our recent launch in the US. The event raised another $600K for the cause of giving work and highlighted the staff, donors, and customers that made it all possible. I also made a short announcement on the Sama Group.


Check out more pics here.

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November 5, 2013 · 11:54 pm

The 2013 Green Challenge

I just returned from Amsterdam, where I helped judge the Green Business Challenge. The competition, funded by the Dutch Postcode Lottery (a private lottery system that donates 50% of its proceeds to charity), selects the best green entrepreneurs to compete for a 500,000 Euro prize. This year, it was chaired by Richard Branson. Prizes like this can be an effective model for attracting more entrepreneurs to categories neglected by more traditional sources of capital. 

The finalists included paper infused with organic herbs that keeps fruits and vegetables fresh 2-4 times longer, a brick grown from sand and active biologics without firing, and a wind energy system that uses the same principle as kitesurfing. 

If you’re interested in investing or supporting these entrepreneurs, read more here.

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Who Gets Paid?

Kriss Deiglmeier at Stanford’s Center for Social Innovation wrote a great piece on who gets paid for impact in international development.

Below is an excerpt; read the full article here.

“Frustrating. Galling. This is how some of the best social sector leaders I know describe the fact that funding to intermediaries and consultants often dwarfs the support they receive for their work on real issues at the front lines. I’m not talking a small differential — the disparity is large.

The Problem

Here’s a fictitious example that illustrates the disparity, based on several true stories: A well-regarded international nonprofit uses mobile technology to educate youth and bring local populations into the global economy. Say it receives a $50,000 grant to execute its programs and open a new location in India. That is terrific. But then the same funder turns around and pays $500,000 to a fancy consultancy to assess the work of this nonprofit and a number of its peers and write up a report to inform the foundation’s grant making strategy on this fast-paced, emerging field. The consultant has little experience at the nexus of new technology and developing markets and no on-the-ground expertise. Therefore, they must lean heavily on the nonprofit’s knowledge, networks and experience to gather information for its report. In another instance a well-known social entrepreneur was invited by a consulting organization to collaborate with a corporation in a “shared value” venture. The social entrepreneur was skeptical, concerned about the time the project would require and that it would take valuable time from him and the entire organization. Eventually he was convinced that the opportunity’s benefits would materialize quickly and agreed to the venture. As of today, 18 months into the process, the social entrepreneur has given his knowledge, time, and organizational resources to advance the project, with no gains to speak of. He has received no compensation for his contributions or his staff’s to the “shared value” proposition. On the other hand, the consultant is getting paid for every hour of work involved in brokering the project.

Does the tendency to compensate intermediaries more generously than the people actually doing the work bother you as much as it bothers me?”

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Fifty Years Later, A Dream Deferred

MLK, Jr.

Fifty years after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. presented his dream to the world in one of the best speeches of the twentieth century, we are far behind. Though his words inspired progress — many regard the March on Washington as the pivotal moment that paved the way for broad support of the 1964 Civil Rights Act — Dr. King believed that rights weren’t enough. 

In the last four years of his life, King’s focus shifted from civil rights to economic justice. He pointed out that despite the legislative and moral victories of the civil rights movement, the majority of African Americans still lived in poverty, had low rates of literacy, and could not enjoy the basic elements of human dignity that most Americans took for granted. Weeks before King was killed in 1968, he addressed a crowd of strikers in Memphis:

“Now our struggle is for genuine equality, which means economic equality. For we know now, that it isn’t enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t have enough money to buy a hamburger?…What does it profit one to be able to attend an integrated school, when he doesn’t earn enough money to buy his children school clothes?”

We should be careful not to ignore this shift. As we celebrate great gains for civil rights today, we must acknowledge current economic injustice. King’s broader message, that human rights are hollow if people can’t afford to exercise them, is scarily applicable today. Nearly 2 million American households, including 3.5 million children, live in extreme poverty (defined by the World Bank as under $2 per person per day). This number is on the rise. Globally, over one billion fellow humans survive on less than $1.25 per day, adjusted for purchasing power. 

Living at this income level requires people to endure a constant state of suffering without enough food, permanent shelter and access to basic healthcare and education. More than 6 million children die annually from preventable poverty-related causes; life expectancy in the lowest-income countries is thirty years below that of the richest countries. Lest we think poverty can be explained by differing attitudes towards work, one third of the global labor force, over 900 million people, work a full-time job, often under grueling conditions, and earn less than $2 a day. According to the Gallup organization, what the world wants most is good jobs, not handouts. This does not exclude the poor.

Three weeks ago in Uganda, I met a hard-working driver named Hamza whose five-month old baby girl died of pneumonia because the local public clinic in Kampala can’t afford to pay for a doctor on weekends. His eyes welled up as he told me that he and his wife didn’t have the funds to send his only child to the better private hospital nearby, where the doctors are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

The deep economic injustice we tolerate today will shock future generations as profoundly as the brutal racial inequality that characterized Dr. King’s era shocks us today. On the fiftieth anniversary of his historic remarks, Dr. King would not want us to become complacent. We are making slow and unsteady progress towards his dream — billions of people live in avoidable suffering, despite their best efforts to improve their situation. But there is promise in new approaches that use entrepreneurialism, evidence-based approaches, and technology to make poverty reduction programs effective and increase the “voluntary tax” people are willing to pay to promote equality. In honor of Dr. King, below is a list of these.

One Acre Fund
Rising Tide Capital
Partners in Health
Project Muso
Last Mile Health
One Heart Worldwide


*Note: I am affiliated with starred organizations in some capacity.


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Refinery29 Profiles Samasource and Samahope

Leila Janah Refinery29

The Refinery29 team stopped by the office a few weeks ago to learn about Samasource and Samahope. (Check out the full story here.) I had the chance to describe my vision for Sama ventures, inspired by Thomas Pogge‘s moral philosophy: “My job forces me to travel from a city with the highest median income in the United States to places like rural Benin and Uganda, where the average person makes less than $1.25 a day… They literally break their backs to mine the minerals used in our electronics and stitch the clothes we wear. How is this morally permissible? Our greatest natural resource is the human capacity of the people our current economic system has written off. What propels me forward is the vision of building massive social businesses that enfranchise these bottom billions, treat them fairly, and offer them the chance to achieve their human potential.”

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Worker Earnings: Samasource Q1 2013 Impact Report

Last year, we hired a full time Impact Manager at Samasource and created a small team to measure how many people we move over the poverty line, by how much, at what cost, and to what effect. This team is ably led by Jill Isenstadt, our VP of Business Operations and Impact.

We are often asked, “what do workers spend their new wages on?” Last quarter’s report focuses on how household expenditures change when a young person gets a job at Samasource, and finds that the biggest increases are in housing and food.

You can view the full report here.

I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes by Martin Luther King Jr., after we’d passed civil rights legislation: “What does it profit a man to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he can’t afford a hamburger?”

This is the central challenge to those of us in the field of poverty alleviation. The problems we face are less linked to rights and more linked to economic justice. How do we put more money directly into the hands of low-income people?

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