Leila Janah is the Entrepreneur Who Really Did Make the World a Better Place

Leila Janah pioneered impact sourcing. Just a few months after her death, her vision is more relevant than ever.

“Social impact and profitability are not mutually exclusive. Every customer, with each dollar spent, vote, and choose products that give work.” — Leila Janah

How can we create dignified work for everyone? This was the question that the entrepreneur Leila Janah, who died in January 2020, devoted her life to answering. Just a few months later, as we struggle to understand the impact of the pandemic on global supply chains and the lives of workers around the world, her message has taken on a new urgency.

Leila’s mission was to eradicate poverty, not through handouts and charity, but through leveraging market forces. She built two companies, Samasource and LXMI, based on the belief that talent is equally distributed but opportunities are not. She created employment by tapping into the brainpower of four billion people at the bottom of the pyramid: poor people who were no less smart, talented or motivated than anyone else, but were simply born in a part of the world where there was no opportunity to find work, even at the poverty line of $3 a day. In her short life, Leila successfully moved 50,000 people above the poverty line.

To Leila, work didn’t just mean handling money; it was also about giving agency and letting people make their own decisions.“Where’s there’s opportunity, there’s the potential for every human being: to ride and decide for themselves what’s possible,” she said in her book Give Work.

As the founder of a sustainable fashion company, there was an obvious way for me to pay tribute to Leila’s legacy: by creating a dress in her memory. But what was even more important was to put her ideals into practice. Leila inspired me to build a business that puts social impact front and center.

I started Maakola in 2015 in line with Leila’s concept of impact sourcing, a business model that prioritizes suppliers who employ people who have been previously unemployed or living under the poverty line. Maakola was conceived as a business that would generate both financial return, and social impact in its own practice, design and supply chain. The majority of our creations are hand made in Ghana, and we work closely with our network of tailors to link their talent to the global market. We are constantly improving our practices to make tailoring a viable choice and not a plan B. Most of the young people in Ghana start sewing because they can’t afford to go to school, and need to provide for themselves and their family. Maakola recognizes their talent and work to turn their skills into a valuable and recognized asset that can help them earn a fair wage.

Thank you Leila for being an inspiration, an amazing woman, and a pioneer who led by example and made it much easier for all of us to be social entrepreneurs.

None of us will ever forget the first few months of 2020. Now more than ever, when we feel scared and uncertain, we want to find inspiration in the stories of people who made a difference. Sheroes is a series highlighting the lives and work of the women who inspired me: women who, through their grit and resilience, made their mark on history.

Aurora

Maakola is a made-to-order sustainable fashion brand, handmade in Ghana and Italy and aiming to empower women through stories and design.

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