Thursday Plenary: “Fear not. The world is beautiful. Trust the world.”

Posted by on September 4th, 2014

By: Danielle Abraham

Do not underestimate the determination or resilience that is required to realise your vision and meet with success. That was the message sent out this morning to the budding social entrepreneurs sitting in the audience.

An inspirational case study in determination and resilience was presented during this morning’s early plenary session through the story of Leila Janah – the founder and CEO of Samasource. An innovative social business, Samasource connects women and youth living in poverty to dignified work via the internet. Samasource is now an award winning 501(c)(3) non-profit with support from leading individual donors and philanthropic organisations including The Rockefeller Foundation, Ford Foundation, the U.S. Department of State, and Google.org, just to name a few.

 

Leila Janah

Leila Janah

Such success, however, did not come easily. During her conversation with Kevin Jones, they recounted the tough early years she faced trying to get Samasource off the ground. Kevin recalled that when they first met he gave her $50 a month as a protein donation because she was only eating ramen!

Leila shared with the audience that at the beginning she received a lot of negative feedback about her idea. People were not convinced by her vision, politely informing her that women from the slums will never be able to do computer work. Convinced that the problem was not with the intelligence of these women but the lack of opportunity, Leila pressed on, her determination and resilience shining through.

During those early stages her real validation came from the people on the ground. Alongside that validation Leila was aware that the most worthwhile ventures are usually the hardest, and it was in this context that her grandmother’s motto “Fear Not. The world is beautiful. Trust the world” made so much sense to her.

However, solid determination, resilience and trusting the world alone will not lead to success. It is just as important to pair such qualities with an understanding of when you should stop or change direction. As Leila suggested, the trick is to know when to adjust and pivot and not to give up too early!  So how do you know?

Kevin probed Leila to share with the audience the advice she would give to aspiring social entrepreneurs on this point. Her key pieces of advice were:

  1. Set clear goals and targets. If you are not meeting them you should begin an evaluation process, see what is going wrong and adjust accordingly.
  2. Along with such metrics it is important to remember that every model has an incubation period. Most initiatives cannot get off the ground or gain traction for three years – so ensure you have enough funding to really give it a good run.
  3. Don’t quit before adjusting or pivoting.

Leila’s final words of advice were to the young social entrepreneurs who would like to follow in her path. “The most important thing is to clarify your core values and then when you have decided on a model embrace it with grace, grit and optimism.”

Danielle Abraham is the Co-Founder of ID² Invest for Impact – an Israeli venture facilitating the connection between impact capital and Israeli enterprises with technological solutions for the BoP and emerging markets.