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Hey, it’s Marie Forleo and you are watching MarieTV, the place to be to create a business and life you love. And today I am so excited because I’ve got one of my favorite women on the planet here. We’re gonna talk about her new book Give Work: Reversing Poverty One Job at a Time, and so much more. You are in for a treat.
Leila Janah is the founder and CEO of Samasource and LXMI, both ventures focused on using new sourcing techniques to reduce poverty. A Harvard educated former management consultant, she’s been profiled in the New York Times, Fast Company, Fortune, Wired, Forbes, and Glamour, among others. She was named one of Elle’s 2016 top women in tech, and Samasource was named one of Fast Company’s most innovative companies. She’s the author of Give Work: Reversing Poverty One Job at a Time, and lives in San Francisco, California.
Leila, thank you so much for coming back.
I am so honored to be here.
I’ve missed you. Honestly. You’ve been on my mind and our few texts, they’re always so life-giving for me. And for everyone watching, if you didn’t catch our first conversation together, after this one you need to go back and watch it. I will put links below.
So … so much has happened for you since that last conversation. We’ve got a book, which we’ll talk about, but you also started a for-profit company in addition to your nonprofit.
I want to start out with a little context for this whole conversation. So as it stands right now, the world’s wealthiest countries have donated more than two trillion dollars in foreign aid to the world’s poor. Yet despite all of this, 2.8 billion people still struggle to survive every day. When I read that it broke my heart. Obviously our current approach is not really working, so when it comes to eradicating poverty from your viewpoint, what do we need to change?
Well, really simply, we need to give work. We need to reorient our thinking about low income people to move away from thinking that – thinking of them as recipients of handouts and towards thinking of them as producers – as people who can actively contribute to the global economy.
When we give work, we give so much more than a paycheck. Although a paycheck really helps, we find that when low income people, especially people living on less than two dollars a day, receive living wages, they invest it in exactly the sorts of things we would want them to. Healthcare, education, safe housing. Women reinvest 90% of their paychecks back into the household and community expenses.
So it’s the best development program in the world to give work. Beyond that, work is really at the core of human dignity. When we give work, we give people a chance to make something of themselves, to have a career path, to have long term prospects, and really to exercise the sort of agency that we in the developed world appreciate, but that if you’re living on $2 a day that you’re really deprived of.
You know, I think something you mentioned in your book, and I have so many outlines and so many circles, and I actually want to reread the whole thing again. When you’re talking about this idea, it brought me back to my childhood and the sense of independence that I felt the moment I started babysitting, the moment I could start making any kind of money. To have that agency, to have that independence.
And it brought me to tears, because it’s such a huge part of our lives. It’s like so much joy that we get from being able to contribute. To create something. Yes to get that money and, yes, to be able to take care of your family. But it’s really – it’s fundamental to who we are as human beings. So that’s why I love your mission so much and I love who you are.
And I want to – I want to dive into something else that you wrote that’s so powerful and I think it strikes at the heart of the issue of extreme poverty and also privilege, which is an interesting idea. You say “it’s easy when you have enough food on your plate to think that there’s some reason why people make it – why some people make it and others don’t. That our fate is entirely dictated by how hard we work. I subconsciously bought into the myth that poor people are poor because they didn’t want to better themselves – because they squandered opportunities and wasted their talents. It never occurred to me before that there were places where there simply were no opportunities.”
I think that that shines a light on how so many of us can have preconceived notions and beliefs about “other people” or “poor people.” What was that moment like for you, that realization?
So I grew up in an immigrant family. My parents came here in the late 70s from India. So I’m a first generation American, and we got really lucky. I got the chance to go to really good public schools. My brother and I both made it to amazing colleges on scholarships. And because of really great institutions that we happened to get into … even in this country, many young people don’t have the opportunities that we had simply because they live in the wrong neighborhood and their public schools don’t have as much funding as ours did. Right?
So I didn’t see how lucky I was until I went and worked in the developing country. And I had the opportunity through a scholarship to go and work in Ghana as an English teacher in what would have been the second semester of my senior year in high school.
And I showed up there thinking, like many of us do when we volunteer in a developing country, that I was going to go and save all of these poor, starving African children. And I got there, my students could name US senators. They were like – one of them was reading this book Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, which I was reading in my high school literature class and found quite challenging. I was just astounded by how much talent there was. All of these young people listened to Voice of America Radio, which I still think is one of our greatest exports. And BBC Radio, and they were incredibly literate and motivated and hungry for opportunity.
And it struck me that, but for an accident of birth, I too could have been living on less than $2 a day in a rural part of Africa with zero opportunity. And if you dig into the numbers you see incredibly high rates of unemployment like 70%, you know, youth unemployment, which is I think the unofficial statistic in Kenya.
And so even if you are incredibly bright, even if you make it through high school, even if you’re the hardest working person on Earth, you’re never gonna get anywhere if your opportunity is limited to a small, you know, town in a rural part of Africa where no one makes more than $2 a day and there are no formal job opportunities.
And so we kind of live in a myth that we inhabit a global meritocracy. And in some ways we do that because it feels so overwhelming. And I feel so guilty when I feel like I just got lucky and I have this moral duty to help people who weren’t so lucky. But I think we absolutely have that duty.
And as consumers in a global economy, you know, everything we purchase touches someone’s life in another country. I think we do have an obligation to make sure that the people in those countries have access to the basic, the, you know, most basic, you know, human necessities. So three meals a day and basic education. And we absolutely have enough resources in, you know, in the modern era to provide that for every man, woman, and child on the planet.
That’s what breaks my heart the most is knowing that we don’t live in a zero sum world and knowing how much from an economic standpoint there’s been growth over the past 50, 100 years. From a food standpoint knowing that – what is it? I think it’s either – I may get this wrong, so forgive me, folks. But we can look it up. At least a third of all food is just wasted and thrown out. Probably even higher.
And it’s just about like distribution and will. Do we have the will to solve these problems? You know, something else that you wrote struck me. “If you truly believe that all humans are created equal, than you can’t sit back and watch people live lives of utter desperation and suffering for no reason but the circumstance of their birth to do nothing about it.”
And I always go back to the Warren Buffett quote, right? That he won the ovarian lottery. Just like you and I did. And it’s like we have to keep this awareness alive in us. And your work and what you’re doing with Samasource and LXME, which we’re gonna get to, it’s really – that’s why you’re one of my favorite people on the planet. I’m not just saying that.
That means so much to hear, thank you.
So let’s move on from this. It’s not just a moral imperative, I think, as you write, tt’s critical to the survival of our species. At the root of almost all the world’s scourges from terrorism to domestic violence, piracy, prostitution, and poaching, are unemployment, poverty, and lack of opportunity. So you were like what should – the question we should be asking ourselves isn’t “what can you do to help these less fortunate,” but “what can we do to unlock all the untapped potential?”
I absolutely think that’s true. And I was just attending a conversation the other day of these space pioneers in Silicon Valley. And while I think it’s so exciting that we’re thinking about colonizing Mars and spending, you know, billions of dollars on this, I also think we have a chance to fix our own planet here at home. Right?
And what if we allocated those billions of dollars to, you know, to addressing these issues? And we absolutely could. We could create employment subsidies. At one point in this country we had the Works Progress Administration. It was a period of high unemployment and our national government said let’s create jobs in nontraditional areas. And we employed people to work in the national parks. We employed people to do all sorts of things.
I stumbled into an archive at the Library of Congress of old spiritual songs from black churches in the south. This – during this period in our country we hired people to go and make these recordings to preserve our cultural legacy. These are good jobs that are important. There – this is preserving our identity as Americans.
And so to me, it’s just about being creative. Yes, a lot of jobs are going away due to automation, but we can choose to create new ones. We can choose to allocate some of this money, you know, the surplus that we’re seeing in technology or, you know, our tax revenues, to creating this kind of employment. So I think it’s – it’s frustrating to me, because I think it’s really a failure of our own collective imagination.
And there’s absolutely all kinds of things we could do. And I also am so excited about models that create work instead of the traditional handout or charity model.
I think we’ve been locked into that model because of the aid industry. And many well-meaning people want to change the fates of the billions of people who are living on less than a few dollars a day. And we think the best way to do that is charity, because that’s all we’ve seen. Right? We see the charity appeals on TV. We see starving people in places like Africa and we think, “Oh, my God. Let’s make sure that that person has a meal.” Right?
But we forget often that the best way to ensure that that person has a meal is to increase his or her family income so that he or she can buy his own food from the local market. Right? And then that’s gonna be a long-term, much more sustainable path out of poverty than a wealthy donor writing a check in the immediate, you know, short term or getting a meal to that person today.
Yeah. I mean, that’s why you’re such an innovator. That’s why you are such a trailblazer and why I love what you do so much. And it’s – I make no bones about it. I love work. Like, I love work. Sometimes you have to rip me away from my work. And most people I find do. Even when through literally even when you’re starting out in a job that might not be quote unquote your dream job, but you do have that sense of agency and you’re able to bring something back to your family and start stepping up that ladder.
You know, for anyone watching who’s thinking, “okay, this is all great about the developing world, but here in the US we have our problems.” I want to share something that you shared in the book. The potential fundraiser who said to you in the early days, “Well, why are you focused on Africa and rural Asia when there’s plenty of poverty right here in our country?”
And I nearly jumped out of bed when I was reading the book at your response – I’ll read this and then we’ll talk about it, because there’s so much to unpack here. “As though a human born elsewhere somehow has less value than a human being born within our borders, that geographical proximity carries with it a stronger obligation to help, is an idea I find repugnant. Enough. A life is worth the same whether it’s a town in Africa, a refugee camp, a sleepy town in Arkansas or Silicon Valley.”
Did you – like, that must – saying hallelujah all day long, because that’s so the truth. And I feel like the other thing I admire about you is you took in some of that feedback, some of people – what people were saying, and you said, “You know what? Let’s look around here. What can we do?”
It’s interesting. You know, I struggled a lot with this. We launched Samasource in September of 2008, which was arguably the worst month to launch a nonprofit in the last 100 years. Also at this time of a great recession here at home. And I got my start in social justice work in high school doing community service around – the ACLU at the time was suing the state of California for not providing equal opportunity to low income students in a neighboring high school district as mine, Inglewood High.
And so just seeing the dramatic difference in educational opportunity. You know, at Inglewood High there was like – I think they were – there was one or two advanced placement courses available for high school students. And in a neighboring high school, also a public high school, there were like 42 advanced placement courses.
And so that’s how I got my start in this. And became sort of aware of difference as an opportunity. And when I heard this comment it really hit my heart, because I thought we should be doing something here at home. And we started investigating more ways that we could build out a domestic version of Samasource. And we actually launched that. It’s called Samaschool and in 2012 we started our program here. And it’s focused on a slightly different challenge.
So in places like Kenya there’s a real lack of formal job opportunities. Most people are working in the informal sector, so that’s things like selling stuff by the side of the road, operating a very small business. But where you have no income security. Anad you know, you’re not part of the formal tax system, for example. You’re not on payroll. And so it’s very – it leaves workers very vulnerable.
Here in the US we’ve seen the opposite shift where these formal jobs are shifting towards the gig economy or the freelance economy. And in the last 10 years, this is a shocking statistic, but in the last 10 years all net employment growth in the US has happened in the freelance economy.
And yet if you look at the job training programs that we recruit low income and marginalized people into – programs that are funded by cities and by states and the federal government – we are not training people to benefit from the freelance economy. We’re not teaching them how to market themselves. We’re not teaching them what keywords to use on all of these new job sites. We’re not teaching them how to do customer service if they’re a freelancer.
And so we launched the first ever gig economy training in the US. It’s called Samaschool, and we operate it both in person and online. And in person here in New York, for example, we work with a lot of immigrant populations that have never used these types of platforms before. So many you’re a skilled carpenter but you don’t know that you could make 30 or 40 or 50 dollars an hour on TaskRabbit selling your carpentry skills. But, again, you have to know how to market yourself, right?
You have to know how to get good reviews and reach back out to your customers. And those skills are essential in the 21st century, and we’re just not teaching them to modern workers.
I love this so much, because you know how much I love marketing, and you know how much I love business. And these are really fundamental things. And, you know, I’ve talked about this for a while, and just hearing you share this perspective brings it home even more. It’s like we all have to think like entrepreneurs. Whether or not you want to start a business. Just even to have gainful employment, steady employment, to be able to understand just how to take a clear picture of yourself, how to describe what you do in a way that’s customer centric. Those soft skills of being able to follow up, making sure that you’re on time, all of the things that can lead to someone having a prosperous experience and a continuous experience. It’s wild. It’s, again, why I love you. I feel like a broken record.
So you also said, you know, sometimes when you’ve gotten some tough emails like that and you’ve wanted to fire back. We were talking kind of offline where you were about to say something fiery, and then kind of the better angels took over and you slept on it.
Yes. I’ll never forget this email. In 2009, so we had recently launched Samasource. It was a very tough personal time in my life. I was sleeping on my ex boyfriend’s futon, who very generously let me stay there long after our relationship had ended. I was paying myself like $400 a month. I was so broke and exhausted. All my friends at the time were joining this hot new startup called Facebook.
So I was like – it was I was like being homeschooled, and all my friends were going to the cool high school. It was just really lonely and sad. And then we had launched this – our first ever ad. We got free airtime on Hulu, on the internet TV platform. And so I had made this little video of workers in a refugee camp in Kenya who were living under some of the most desperate circumstances. I mean, a dollar a day type poverty.
We’d actually managed to get them to do work for Microsoft in this pilot program, and lo and behold, these young people in this refugee camp were doing competitive work. And I just thought it was the most amazing thing, and they were so inspiring. So we did this little video, we ran it on Hulu. it was like a public service announcement. And I thought we would just get tons of donations. Right?
And instead I got hate mail. And this guy, Joe in Ohio, wrote me this email and this subject line was, “You are ruining America.” And he said, you know, “you’re taking our jobs and sending them to Africans.” And it really hit a chord. Because I both empathized with him, but I was also incredibly frustrated, because I was doing this as a nonprofit. I was certainly not profiting from this. And these refugees were just barely eking out enough to survive. And so my initial instinct was to write a nasty email back. Right? And I wrote that nasty email, and then, thankfully, did not send it.
Best advice I ever heard in business is, if you’re about to say or do something really nasty, sleep on it. It’s usually not your better angels. Right?
And so I slept on it, and the next morning I woke up and I thought, “Let me just Google Ohio unemployment statistics.” And I did, and it turned out that Ohio had been extremely hard hit by the recession. And I thought to myself, maybe this guy Joe lost his job. You know? Who knows what happens. Like, maybe his wife has cancer and he can’t afford her treatment. I mean, who knows, right?
And so often when people are angry, it’s because they’re suffering. It’s coming from a place of pain. So I thought, let me acknowledge Joe’s pain. And I wrote a really nice email and I was like, “Joe…” I put this in the book. I was like, “Joe, you know, I’m so sorry. Maybe you have a point. Maybe there’s some way that we could do work in Ohio. Maybe there’s a way our model could adapt itself here, and I’m totally open to your ideas and opinions.”
Joe wrote back with a really nice email. And he said, “Thank you for listening. I’m sorry I was rude before, but I just lost my job. My state has been really hard hit. We’ve seen a lot of factory closures.” It totally changed the dialogue.
And that actually inspired us to start our US program. It inspired me to go to my board and fight for us to do something domestically. My board had said “no, no we need to focus – we can only focus on international work.” So it was a – it was a fight. And over the years I finally managed to convince them and raise the money. But it started with that email.
Isn’t that – what a beautiful example of how something that can come in that is so painful can be transformed into something incredible and so beautiful? And how many lives you guys have touched here in the states. I just think it also speaks to who you are as a leader, though. To have the emotional reaction to have, you know, the foresight to go, “Alright. I’m not gonna touch the computer anymore tonight,” but then to go to your board and to fight what sounds like it took quite a while before you were able to get the approval and the endorsement and the support to build out the programs here.
And I think, you know, off camera we were also talking about how important it is to not think you either help people in the developing world or you help them here.
We so often think it’s mutually exclusive, and that part of the current national dialogue is so frustrating to me, because it’s usually the same issues that drive poverty abroad that also drive them here at home. Right? It is the same. It’s the same cross-cutting issues. And, therefore, I think organizations that work on poverty have an obligation to consider poverty here at home and abroad. And we shouldn’t have to choose. We live in a global economy. Again, everything we touch, everything we buy, the fibers in the clothes that I’m wearing, even if it says “Made in the USA” is very likely to have touched somewhere around the world.
And if, you know, if you like coffee or if you like pepper on your food or anything that’s grown abroad, you have to realize we’re part of this interconnected community and, therefore, we can’t otherize human beings who happen to live elsewhere, and we also can’t ignore the needs of human beings here at home. So I think we’re taught to see the world through this very divided lens, and I think that’s toxic.
Yeah, I agree. 100%. One of my favorite stories from the book was the full circle moment that you experienced with Vanessa, one of Samasource’s very first employee – first employees in Nairobi. Can you tell us about that?
Yes. This was such a shock. So there’s a photograph that we have of Vanessa in our office, who’s this very bright, young woman who I met in Nairobi who had come from a low-income background. And she’d gotten a job through Samasource doing data entry work and was one of our top agents. Okay, so we – when I first met her she was working at Samasource, and I will never forget. She was so articulate and polished. I had a hard time believing that she’d ever struggled in her life.
So she makes it through Samasource and then years later we hold our first ever “Ungala”. So we tried to move away from the traditional black tie gala and host a fundraiser where we spent very little money on the food and the drinks and just brought people together, brought our community together.
And so we got this email from Vanessa Kanye, whose name I remembered because her photograph was in our office. Saying, “Hey, I live in the United States. Can I come to the fundraiser and donate?” She wanted to donate I think like $250. The idea that somebody had come from one of our programs overseas where we only recruit people who make under a few dollars a day somehow had made it full circle to come back to, you know, to come to California and show up at our fundraiser and donate just blew my mind. Vanessa Kanye actually showed up at our fundraiser, gave a talk, personally donated $250, and said “this platform really changed my life.” And Vanessa’s main point, I think, what she epitomizes is how much talent is currently totally untapped.
And how often we see Africa through the lens of, you know, the single narrative of poverty as opposed to the narrative of human talent. Right? And who knows how many future Einsteins there could be sitting in refugee camps or in poor neighborhoods in big cities like Nairobi who never have the chance to exercise their potential.
So Vanessa is now a student at Santa Monica City College, I believe, and she’s really transformed her life. And she – I’m sure she’s gonna go on to do amazing things. I can’t wait to see what the next decade holds for her. And imagine how many Vanessas there are who just have untold potential.
It’s brilliant. So let’s shift. You started a for-profit company, this beautiful baby, LXME. This incredible skincare line. Tell me about it. What was the inspiration? Why did you want to do it?
And I think I have a Nilotica nut here. So I’m gonna start with this nut. So we have – at Samasource we’re now the largest employer at – the largest technology employer, we believe, in Northern Uganda.
So we’ve set up a facility there in the most unlikely place in this town called Gulu, which is mostly known to Americans for being the seat of a civil war in northern Uganda. That saw hundreds of child soldiers abducted, and it was just this brutal and horrific civil war. So that’s the idea that most people have of northern Uganda. We don’t think of it as a place where there’s a lot of human talent and there’s the potential to build a data services company, for example.
But we’ve now employed over 400 people from that community, mostly from subsistence, agriculture backgrounds. So I spent a lot of time visiting northern Uganda, and I always love going to the local markets and checking out what people are buying and doing. And I came across this incredible ingredient called Nilotica. And this is the nut. It is an heirloom variety of shea butter that grows wild at the source of the Nile River, and it grows on these beautiful trees that take 20 years to mature, and then local women cold press this nut into a butter that they use on their skin, they massage it into their babies. It’s like the local beauty potion. And women in this region are known to have – it’s called the pearl of Africa. They’re known to have this beautiful pearlescent skin. And everyone says it’s because of this Nilotica.
So I thought to myself, “wow, you know, women in the US, we spend so much money on fancy skin creams.” My mom always said, you know, even if you don’t have money, you only have one face. So invest in the good skin cream. Right? So, you know, it was the one thing I was willing to splurge on.
And I started reading the ingredient labels in my skincare and realizing that so many of my favorite brands had like petroleum as a major ingredient. In a lot of top selling skincare brands. And one product I was using, which was like $150 an ounce, was petroleum based. I was like, “wow, I’m literally putting toxic chemicals on my face. Why would I do that?” So many products have these unnatural additives. And I thought, “wow. Here’s something that’s totally beautiful, it comes from nature. Not only is it great for your skin and your body, but it gives work to low-income women.”
And I thought this should be the luxury brand. This should be the kind of thing that we’re buying at duty free shops, something that’s actually not just good for us, but good for the world. So that inspired me to eventually create LXME. And I went to my Samasource board and I said, “Hey, you know,” no surprise, because I always have these crazy ideas. I was like, “Well, what if we create this beauty brand?” And I said I’ll give Sama some equity in the brand. So Samasource became essentially a cofounder of this beauty brand. I think we’re the first brand at Sephora to be co-founded by a nonprofit. And we ended up getting a deal to launch LXME in all Sephora stores in the US. So as far as I know, we’re the first fair trade and organic brand to launch nationwide.
Yes! Come on, mama. Yes.
And we sell it – I sell it on QVC, which is also like the most surreal experience, because we’re bringing something from this very remote part of the world to mainstream audiences. And what’s so exciting to me about that is that we can solve problems like poverty through the way we consume. Right? If we choose to consume products that give work and that also promote conservation in places like Uganda, we can change the world. I mean, the same model can work and is working in places like the Amazon where we’re sourcing ingredients like açai. I don’t know about you, but I’m obsessed with acai.
Açai. Yes, I have like a whole song on it. Yes.
So açai is a wild berry that’s grown in the Amazon, and when we show native local people that they can make more money preserving these wild assets like trees than chopping them down and selling the land to the nearest cattle farmer, which is – which is a cause of deforestation now, right? When we show people through economic incentives that conservation matters, that’s the real win. Right? And I think products like LXME are just one example, but there’s a whole universe of products that are socially and environmentally conscious that we can kind of choose to purchase and, therefore, vote with our dollars on the kind of world we want to live in.
I love one of the stories you told. You know, for everyone watching who’s ever created anything, whether you make videos or books or, you know, baking or physical products, you were telling the story like you guys, you worked your tails off, you got it into Sephora, you were so excited, and then you hit a speed bump. What happened?
A major speed bump. So this is the new jar, but the old jar that we launched with had this copper band around the top of the jar. And we were told by Sephora like very soon after we had the meeting they basically gave us this nationwide distribution deal. But they were like “you have to have the product in our storerooms in the next two months.” It was some crazy timeline.
Of course my whole team said this is impossible. We’re not gonna get the packaging done or there’s gonna be some problem with the packaging. And being an entrepreneur I said “can’t take no for an answer. We’re gonna make this happen.” So we launched the product and the original design had this flaw in it, which was that the copper band kept rubbing off. But we couldn’t figure that out, because initially when we tested it we didn’t have the product around for that long. We weren’t putting it in our bags for a month and we weren’t rubbing it. The testers in Sephora are, you know, people go with their hands with their skin cream and they rub it all over the jars and it starts coming off. Right? So you have to double coat the jars. There are all these things that we didn’t know, and we were really naive. And I was naive as the founder of thinking that I could push the team to do this.
And of course we launched in all Sephora doors and the jars sit on shelves and start looking really gross because the copper band turns green on a lot of them. So we told the Sephora team as soon as we figure this out we’re like we’re so sorry. And we ended up doing a partial recall of those jars. It’s funny, a lot of our customers didn’t really care because when it’s sitting on your bathroom shelf it’s not – you’re not touching it all the time. But we did have to pull those jars back. And then we redid the design. And it was my lesson that, especially when you’re making a physical product, unlike a technology product like Samasource, a physical product, you know, there’s no room for error. If you mess up, that jar is going to be sitting in 300 stores and it’s gonna be really expensive to get it back.
Was it a big leap for you to go from nonprofit to for profit?
It’s interesting, you know, Samasource is a social business. Right? So if we were starting today we might well have launched as a benefit corporation, as a for profit social mission company. But at the time that I started the company in 2008, that really wasn’t around. I think B Corps had started just the year before, so no one really knew about them. There was not a lot of funding behind them. It was really hard to raise money. I would say that Sama and LXMI are super similar, like whether you’re running a nonprofit or for profit, especially if the nonprofit has an earned revenue model like Samasource, essentially we’re running a business.
You’re gonna encounter the same challenges. You still have to manage a budget. You’re still trying to – my main job is just hiring great people and hoping that they’re happy and doing what I need to do to create a great work environment. And that’s the same either way.
That’s really cool. What’s your perspective on the future of work? Like you know, we hear so much about automation and AI and you’re out there constantly looking at these things, and also from an impact sourcing perspective. Right? A lot of the folks are actually – they’re the ones helping the machines learn.
I know, it’s so wild.
Where do you think we’re going? It’s wild, I know. We’re living into a really – I always think to myself and I say to friends, I believe like 10 to 20 years from now things are gonna look so radically different. We’re not even gonna be able to recognize.
I know. Well, I always start with this anecdote. Apparently there was a union of hotel porters in Pittsburgh a long while ago that tried to ban wheeled luggage in the town, because they said “wheels on luggage are gonna put us out of a job.” Right?
And I use that example because I think it’s really relevant now. Because many people are trying to fight this technology revolution and say “we should – we should put laws in place to stop this innovation from happening.” And I think that’s the equivalent of saying let’s not put wheels on our luggage. Right? Sure, there’s a short term consequence with jobs, but our job is to innovate around that.
And I think what’s so exciting is that as some jobs are going away, many more are, and could be, created. One of those categories is in creating training data for machines to learn to do things. I know this sounds wild, but when we teach cars to drive, when we teach those algorithms how to recognize objects and images, we need tons of data to do that instruction. So it’s the same way that like a child learns. Right? A child learns through pattern recognition. That’s how machines learn.
And so the best way to teach machines is to create lots of this, what’s called training data. And in the case of Samasource, one of the major things we do is image tagging. So we get tons of images of roads and lane lines and objects in the road and we tag them. We put, you know, we annotate the image with points and lines. And we tell the computer this is a human foot, or this is the lane line. And that type of process exists in so many of the algorithms of the future, whether it’s for smart chips and devices in our phones or machines learning how to read emails or respond on Facebook messenger or machines learning how to drive cars. So there’s going to be a lot of opportunity around creating good training data. And then I think there’s all kinds of opportunity in totally offline work. I think it’s gonna be a really long time before we will want a robot to watch our elderly grandmother.
Right? Or our child. Right? Or, you know, or run a nanny service in the neighborhood. And lots of these jobs in the care economy, which were traditionally done unpaid by women, are now becoming formalized. I think there is a tremendous new kind of labor wave in that direction. And I met with the federal reserve in San Francisco, the head of the federal reserve in our city, and I asked him about automation. And he said, “you know, I think people are underestimating how many new jobs are needed to care for all of these aging people we have in our population.”
That are living longer than they ever have before.
The entry level salary for a nurse in San Francisco is $120,000 a year, and there is a shortage right now of nurses in our city. And I think that’s – that’s only gonna grow. Right? So if we can get people into these new types of jobs, which are becoming formalized for the first time, which are often extremely rewarding. I can think of nothing more rewarding than caring for young children or aging people, especially in your neighborhood.
And, again, we can be innovative. We should be, I think, deploying some of the tax revenues that we’re earning from, you know, hopefully more companies like Amazon. I think they’re – I’m a fan of the robot tax idea that Bill Gates has proposed, which is that maybe we should tax some of these algorithms, which are essentially minting money for these companies. And maybe we could deploy some of those taxes to create incentives for local jobs in the care economy, for example.
So I think there are lots of solutions. It’s, again, just about our collective imagination and building the kind of economic system that we all want to live in.
We have to. We have to start thinking that way, because it’s not going away and time is not gonna reverse itself, and we can’t stick our heads in the sand.
Speaking of sparking imagination, I think one of the best parts of this book is the epic reading list that you included in the back. You and I both have such a love of reading. Like, I go into my house and it’s just books seem to continuously appear, and I hate editing them down.
You’ve got one book there that I have on my Kindle, The Brain That Changes Itself. I think we’re both pretty obsessed with neuroscience. And one of the notes you made there is “the best way to keep our brains plastic is to dance.” I was like “now I know. This is why I’m gonna be cute and smart for a long time, because I like to dance.”
Dancing and apparently dabbling. Like doing things that you’re not good at.
I was like so validated by that, because I’m such a dabbler.
This is awesome. We actually – I’m telling you, our multipassionate people are gonna love – we’ve got a lot of dabblers in this audience, because we all like to have our hands in many things. And we all do like to dance. Okay, so, people. We’re good. Just keep watching the show, dabbling, dancing, and we’re gonna…
It’s good for your brain.
Yeah. It really is. So as we wrap, I’d love to know what you would recommend. So we have folks in our audience who are both entrepreneurs and some who are not entrepreneurs. If they want to get in the game and help eradicate extreme poverty, which … I am with you, I believe we can do it in our lifetimes. I think we can do it in our generation. What are some recommendations that you would have?
Okay, so the first thing is obviously give work. Right? And if you are an entrepreneur you can build a social enterprise component into your business by hiring people from marginalized backgrounds. For example, we have so many amazing organizations here in the US that do that.
In San Francisco the Delancey Street Foundation is really known for an amazing restaurant that operates and hires people coming out of prison to work in the restaurant. So you are actively addressing the mass incarceration problem in California if you patronize that restaurant. Right?
So as a business owner or as an entrepreneur you can source your, you know, Christmas cookies from Delancey Street Cafe. We have a number of social enterprises, over 500 of those here in the US in probably every major city, and so you can build that component into your business or you can source from a business like that. And if you’re working at a bigger company, we’ve built something called the Give Work Guide at GiveWork.org, which lists social enterprises around the world that actively reverse poverty by giving work. Everything from fairtrade coffee brands that are employing low-income people and paying fair wages in the supply chain to local cafes, like I mentioned the Delancey Street restaurant or Homeboy Industries is another favorite in LA.
And these are companies that are, again, that are addressing poverty at the root by giving work. And when we give work, we not only prevent problems like mass incarceration, because people are not likely to reoffend if they have a good job and they’re paid fairly. The biggest driver of people going back into prison is unemployment and lack of economic opportunity. Right? So we’re stopping that whole cycle and we’re also creating investment, a trickle up effect in low income communities.
When people take home a paycheck they’re spending that money on the local tailor or the local butcher or the local baker, and that creates a more vibrant community-based economy in low income places. So I think it’s a single best thing to do to give work. Either get your company to source from these types of vendors or to give work yourself as an entrepreneur, or volunteer at a social enterprise.
Leila. This is why. This is why I love her, people. You can see, one of the most intelligent, smart, driven humans I’ve ever met. On a mission to do something we need to do in this world. Thank you so much. I adore you.
Thank you. You are too kind, and it’s mutual.
Now Leila and I would love to hear from you. We talked about so much important stuff. What’s the most important insight that you’re taking away from this conversation? And, most importantly, what can you do to turn that insight into action right now? Leave a comment below and let us know.
Now, as always, the best conversations happen over at the magical land of MarieForleo.com, so please go there and leave a comment now. And once you’re there, be sure to sign up for our email list and become an MF Insider. You’ll get instant access to an audio I created How To Get Anything You Want. Plus you’ll get some personal updates from me, some exclusive content, all kinds of good things that I just don’t share anywhere else.
Stay on your game and keep going for your dreams, because the world needs that very special gift that only you have. Thank you so much for watching, and I’ll catch you next time on MarieTV.
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As consumers in a global economy, you know, everything we purchase touches someone’s life in another country. I think we do have an obligation to make sure that the people in those countries have access to the basic, the, you know, most basic, you know, human necessities. So three meals a day and basic education. And we absolutely have enough resources in, you know, in the modern era to provide that for every man, woman, and child on the planet.