I’ve been following Leila Janah‘s work for a year or so. I forget how I discovered her, but both her Sama and LXMI ventures are great and frankly invigorating to follow. Her recent Fast Company interview is worth highlighting, particularly:
Janah, as usual, is feeling bullish about her mission, but she’s chafing at the strictures of the traditional not-for-profit model. Janah may run an antipoverty organization, but she is also a Harvard-educated former management consultant who believes in the startup ethos of experimentation, iteration, and the occasional pivot. Grant proposals, by contrast, typically compel organizations like Sama to detail programs step-by-step, in advance. “It basically requires you to predict what is going to happen in the future,” Janah says. …
For Janah, that is hardly enough—which is why she has dedicated herself to freeing Sama from the stifling not-for-profit funding process. This is a radical burst of independence, and Sama is already close to achieving it. Thanks to contracts with companies including Getty Images, Microsoft, and Qualcomm, Sama has generated enough income to cover the majority of its operating costs. “If we can show that not only can we provide this dramatic improvement [in Sama workers’ lives], but we can do it on a break-even basis, it’s revolutionary,” Janah says. “Let’s say you invested a dollar in 2009. The social return on that dollar will be infinite.”
Sama represents a new model for social impact: a nonprofit that is self-funding.
Earned revenue is where it’s at. This is increasingly what I’m trying to tackle in my own work.