LEILA JANAH: The CEO and founder of Samasource, a nonprofit that aims to bring digital employment opportunities around the world.
Leila Janah, the CEO of a buzzy nonprofit that helps poor people find tech jobs, has a post on Medium about her experience with systemic racism and the lack of access to high-speed broadband in Dumas. The nonprofit she founded and heads as CEO, Samasource, hires low-income people around the world to perform digital tasks for companies like Google, Walmart and Getty Images. A related effort, Samaschool, teaches low-income people the basic skills they need to work in the digital economy — not aimed at making them tech entrepreneurs, but helping them to learn to do often low-wage work like data verification or photo tagging. Wired has a Q&A with Janah that offers good background. There's a Samaschool in Dumas that's been in operation for about a year and a half.
On Medium, Janah writes about the racism she's encountered there:
Yesterday our Samaschool instructor Terrence Davenport called me from Dumas, a town on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi River Delta. He was out of breath. He’d been showing around a film crew covering our work for a documentary, and as part of their visit Terrence took them to the local chamber of commerce.
The Chamber had just published some books on the history of Main Street. Terrence, a local history buff, asked if he might borrow the books to show the film crew. The older white lady behind the counter gave him a long look, and then, without smiling, told him coldly, “you’d better bring the books back, or we’ll tie a rope around your neck.”
Terrence is about the nicest person you’ll meet. He grew up in the Southern Baptist Church, high-fives everyone in town, and moved back to Dumas after getting his degree in Fayetteville in order to help his community.
Racism is the injustice that gets swept under the rug in our country. It makes it that much harder for Sama to do our work. How can we convince people to get motivated and seek projects on Internet-based platforms when their personal histories include so much overt discrimination that they’ve lost hope? When they’ve been paid 30% less for the same job at the local furniture store, or told to be careful after dark?
Another barrier? Sufficiently fast Internet.
Two of our students, for example, got great job offers as virtual call center agents. But these were canceled when they discovered that they can’t get sufficient bandwidth at home to meet the call center requirements. The ISPs simply don’t serve rural communities with the same products, cutting them off from desperately needed income.
High-speed connectivity, like clean water, is a basic human need in the twenty-first century. There’s no excuse for the richest country in the world to deny its poorest citizens what they need most: a chance to connect.
Here's a video diary of Janah talking about Dumas, which she says has similar problems to the high poverty communities in Africa and Asia where Samasource also works: