Hacking a Non-Profit (special guest: Leila Janah)
I'm super psyched that while here on dh have been involved with some mistress for some time, we're just gonna jump right into it because I want to get into the tactical and you might be thing yourself. Well, okay, dot organon profit like, what does this have to do with me? Well, good entrepreneurs were good entrepreneurs, period, we'll get into that. But first thing, alaska's, just you have the horse power, a lot of people, senior ted presentations, you're great presenter, you could have gone into any number of industries. Why did you end up choosing nonprofits and samba source? And I want to show off one think teo uris that's a true believer, that's sama on the wrist. S oh, if you could just give us the origin story a little bit, you don't have to do that, by the way, mandatory don't need teo, I'm just very passionate about this issue of poverty alleviation. When I was seventeen, I went to africa to teach before I started college, and I taught english in a small community in ghana, an...
d I thought I'd go there and teach these poor kids english and lift them out of poverty, and I got there, and there were all of these incredibly bright students who all lived on less than two dollars a day but could name u s senators and could recite parts of president clinton's speech when he visited there, and I realized that there was this wealth of human talent that was going untapped in poor countries simply because people there had lost the birth lottery simply because they happen to be born in a poor place. And then I learned later that four billion people around the world make less than three dollars, a day and that's already adjusted for purchasing power. So that's, what three dollars would buy you in an american city in two thousand five? And it's it's just hard to fathom that, you know, we've put a man on the moon, we've mapped the human genome, and we still live on a planet where so many people live in suffering, so I felt like a moral calling to do something about it. I'd worked as a management consultant actually had a gig in seattle for six months, and and it just felt kind of empty to me when I knew that there was this huge problem and that I could use my entrepreneurial energy to fix it. And, uh, was there a particular point? When did you decide, like, all right, all in like, I'm going to do this? What was what was the moment? The ah ha moment um, I had I'd worked in nonprofits and international development as an undergrad um, I went and got grants and went abroad to africa and felt really disillusioned by a lot of the traditional approaches that I saw, which were all extensions at this idea of giving a man a fish, right. And even when we taught amanda fish in some of the more enlightened programs that I participated, we were still teaching men to fish who live in deserts, right? So there was no connection to the market, and there was no, um, no broader understanding in the nonprofit world of how to create massive numbers of jobs for poor people. And I felt like there was an acute need. I went into the business world trying to understand something about business. I could apply that learning tio hopefully starting a nonprofit. And, um and I had my ah ha. Moment when I was assigned to work for a big consulting firm in india, a big outsourcing firm in india. Sorry. And I had this consulting assignment to help them. I po. And this is one of the one of the giant firms that all americans were afraid of. They were, like twelve thousand people sitting there, taking calls for british airways and big american and european companies. And I thought if this method of digital work can provide jobs to middle class indian people in middle class filipino people, can we then take it to the next level and use the same method to provide jobs to the very poor people who live in those countries? And I had my ah ha moment when I was walking a call center floor one day, um what? I was on this project in mumbai, in india. And I met a guy there who was from dharavi south asia's largest slum. And this is like where? Slumdog millionaire heiress film. So he commuted in in the morning from a place with, like cholera outbreaks and open sewers and just horrible development outcomes into this brand spanking new outsourcing facility. And this little light bulb went off in my head. And I thought, if this guy can do this kind of work, then surely other poor people. Okay, so this, uh, people think people have ideas of what non profits are ok, thank you, tv and asked for money to do this. What is salma sources model? How do some work? So our mission is to connect people living in poverty to work via the internet. So we break down big technology projects from companies in silicon valley that include google and linked in and microsoft we break those projects down into really small units of work we call it micro work and then we trained poor people on the other end to do this work from local computer centers and we work exclusively with women in youth from very low income backgrounds so people who previously made less than four dollars a day maybe they were employed in the informal sector you know, selling handicrafts by the side of the road that sort of thing and we train them to do this computer based work which increases their income threefold while they're at samba source and then they tend to stay at that income level after they leave so many of our workers are able to afford higher education they can go to college for the first time or they can move into a higher paying work often you know as I mention making up to four times more than they ever made before so just to point out the obvious here and people that one of the things that has sparked a lot of emotional response in the us it's like outsourcing oh my god stealing american jobs or like oh my god slave labor how do you feel about like these people shackled the radiator is working for you and indian is like actually like they could not be happier to doing this work and the impact dollar for dollars so enormous in terms of looking for like the the highest leverage place to put a single dollar truly incredible. So no, you mentioned a couple names except we have a little bit of time to talk like google huge companies, right? But I would imagine the early days it wasn't so easy you couldn't just walk up billy hey, schmitty what's up, buddy. Hey, I want you to give us a big check. What out? Right? So maybe if you talk about, uh like raising your first big check first big donation first big deal like with the company like what's how did that happen? What was the actual like what was the pitch? How did it tell them? I would love to just hear the story. It was so hard and so much less glamorous than it seems in in hindsight in the early days. So I quit my job in two thousand seven in manhattan and I had, like, really great job fancy apartment, you know, corporate credit card that works much to the horror of my immigrant parents told him I was goingto quit that stable, you know, salary and lose a silicon valley where I had a position at stanford a very sympathetic professor had offered me basically a title with no funding and a desk corner of the campus and I told him I was going to go there and write up a business plan for this idea that I had and I'd also had had the basics of a business plan and I had entered it into a competition so I had like twenty thousand dollars that I'd won from a business point competition I found online armed with that and little else I moved to silicon valley and very quickly ran out of money in the early days I had to do tutoring on the side to make ends meet I had to move in with an ex boyfriend and stay on his couch for like several months it was it was pretty tough all together very glamorous yeah yeah I'm not gonna miss it all that sounds really comfortable and and you know but I had teo I had to do with what a lot of entrepreneurs do which is get out of my comfort zone and ask people for things you know I had to start asking my friends to support me I had one donor in the very early days who I met at a cocktail party who gave me a recurring like it was like a twenty five dollars a month donation on paypal and it was just labeled protein because I told him that I only eight top ramen what looks like a true team donates it was I'm twenty five dollars and then our big our big uh, I think our winning streak started when we when we got into the facebook fund, so there was this incubator program, and now there are so many of these all around the valley, but at the time that's true for the two thousand nine that's right? The summer of o nine this was still in the early days of all of these incubators and facebook had one that was teo encourage promising facebook applications, and we were one of two nonprofits that were selected out of twenty organizations to to do this program for I think it was like for two months except that they didn't give the nonprofits any money they gave for profits and investment, right? And then they guilted all the people like you who were in the room into into giving us some contributions so probably made the best pitch of my life at a cocktail party following that event that one of the angel investors was part of that had invited me to, and he went into facebook fund you met these different angel investors, and then you met you, then met again, this angel mr at a cocktail party? Yeah, actually I met him his aerial polar I think you knew him, he was one of you know, one of the angels who came to the final picture fool is a great mystery often I find that the's serendipitous events just happened as a result of you continuing to spread the word, you know again and again, so so I did the final pitch day, ariel was in the audience. He said, come over, I'm doing this cocktail party. I'm allowing three non profits to share their message, and I'm going to invite all of the rich people I know to come and support you, so I at that point had just sort of reached the limit I had run out of all my cash. I'd sort of overstayed my welcome on the bhutan and was just really ready to make this happen, and I had also spent the summer traveling to kenya to meet some of our workers. We had about fifty workers at the time who were doing some source projects, and I met this refugee, um, in a pilot that we done in a refugee camp, and his story was just unimaginable. He had hit. He had left his home village when he was like, seven, walked across the border to kenya and lived his whole life in this refugee camp. Just dirt poor and was so desperate to contribute something to the world and so we showed him how to do micro work and he started doing work for microsoft inside this camp, and it was like the coolest story I've ever heard. And then I left the camp and he sent me a facebook friend request he, like, figured out how to use facebook on his own from inside this camp in this computer left. So I told that story to this group of donors, and at the end of it, I said, you guys have invested in, you know, silly iphone apse that let you share your party pictures, you've invested millions of dollars and all these companies that have gone bust, like even if you think we're going to go bust, this is a worthwhile endeavor, and you should invest in what way we're doing and it's not going to give you, you know, a for profit rate of return it's not going to give you any return except a social return, and maybe, you know, karmic dollars or something like that, and and I think it really resonated with people so out of that cocktail party, two of my future board members and longtime donors came awesome and, uh, following that, then the hard work begins, right, it's, like you have enough to keep you afloat. And then you have to go out and you actually have to get the companies we also set up the workers what was the first big of corporate partner that you got on board had headed that apple so the first contract that we got and and this is tricky because we do enterprise sails right? So I much prefer a consumer audience I love talking to people I love you know, selling individual people but selling accompanies a whole different process and that was a big you know, learning for me over the last few years but our first deal was with actually a nonprofit and uh and it was this organization called ben attack that operates the largest library for blind readers in the world that's online it's called a book share and so they have this huge need to digitize all of these books from pds into text files and then there's an audio program that reads the tax to blind people and and so there was an affinity there I thought why not go after a contract from a firm that I know likes what we dio they're socially minded and I'd heard that they were looking for vendors and I went in there with a brochure that I made on pages on my mac like I literally had made it beautiful it was it was not your design abilities I'm not a designer and we got we didn't have a budget was it was godawful just be honest but luckily they were more concerned with the substance of the offering on the style and uh and I just pitched hard, you know, I told them I got a meeting with the ceo and this is one thing that helps I think that they approach you or did you cold email? I mean, how did that I cold email jim fucked herman who is the ceo of the company probably like eight or nine times before he responded to me on them and I do feel I feel like this is a persistent theme in successful entrepreneurs that I have heard of this just just, you know, willingness is to get out there and not be afraid of people, you know, getting annoyed with you, right? If you think you have an important message to share with people, they need to hear it and short of being obnoxious, which you shouldn't do right, I think people appreciate that level of persistence and gyms and entrepreneur he gets it. So he took the meeting and I said, look, jim, you know, I have these young guys in nairobi who are desperate for work and I talked to him about the kenyan elections that had happened in two thousand seven in these riots that had happened after the elections and the riots were a direct result of high youth unemployment in nairobi like the arab spring lots of young men who have no you know, economic opportunity of course they're going to write so I said you could play a role in preventing this from happening again in kenya by employing all of these young guys who would otherwise be out on the street and if our quality is worse than your other vendors and you know you can fire me we'll write that into the contract but I guarantee you that I will make it happen and I will be personally committed to making this project work so he signed the deal and four years later they're still a customer that's awesome that's circle all right, well, I know we have limited time I want people wanting one emphasize that everybody who's here today is it's easy to look at where they are and say oh, well, you know that's lyla stop that's this person not me it's always challenging always like you have there so many rites of passage and a lot of people quit when they're like a hundred feet from the finish line. So anyway, having said that uh I want to I want to definitely jump to audience questions I want to ask one more question first and that is the most come like the biggest waste of time let's let's do biggest waste of time but biggest waste of time and or mistakes that nonprofit people who jump into a nonprofit, the nonprofit world with good intentions make sure from your standpoint sure. Well, I think the biggest mistake that nonprofit leaders and management make is not being transparent about failure. You know, in silicon valley were used to like a nine out of ten failure rate based that's what we see is anticipating nine and ten of their investments are not going to yield much. And yet in the nonprofit world, talking about failure is its poo pooed right? People people think that you're a terrible leader and I think that that needs to change if we want to be innovative and we want teo take risks and try new things which we absolutely need to do to solve these big problems we have to we have to be okay with owning up to failure, so we try to publish when we make mistakes. We try to publish that no newsletters were actually rolling out this quarter section of our website devoted to impact, including things that we think we spent money on, that we shouldn't have and things that we would do differently had we known better, and our hope is that other nonprofits will be able to look at that and not repeat our mistakes, okay, so let's let's jump to some some questions retake audience questions? Yes interweb question let's do some audience questions christina my name's kristina and I worked for a nonprofit based in canada cause called cause kids, and it was founded by my parents twenty eight years ago, and we focus on education along with micro credit and have basically the next generation of child sponsorship, and I want to be able to cross from one thousand scholarship for kids in sierra leone and it's, a new project within an organization that has existed for a while. So I guess my question is, if you were starting again trying to get your message out, where would you start? What was the kind of big catalyst that you found kind of skyrocketed messages to make people kind of see your name, recognize it and kind of relate to it's the right person e that's, true, but I love that question because as a side project as telling him earlier, and he was making fun of me for having my hands maybe in too many pots, but is a side project. I launched a crowd funding site called sama hope, which is just like kickstarter or kiva, but for surgeries in developing countries for people who can't afford them when we're starting with surgery around birth complications in sierra leone, so hee and so so just thinking about your problem, reminding me of the early days of some hope and trying to get the word out there, and what I've found is firstly, relying on your network to amplify the message is really important. And we forget that you know, the best way to teo communicate a stories through our friends and family because those are the people who are most going to resonate with your message. So I actually this is probably not a best practice, but I had supported my gmail contact list. So the four thousand people that I communicate with most frequently and, um and I wrote I didn't write them a spam e message. I wrote this long personal letter. I got engaged a couple of months to go inside, get in there. You got the letter, you know? And I said, this is my life is what I've been up to for the last year. You know, osama source is going well, you guys have supported me with some a source. I got engaged to a great guy here's a photo, you know, and I went to sierra leone and discovered this horrible problem, which is that one in eight women die in childbirth that should not. That should not happen on our planet it's an abomination right? And we have to do something about it and so this is the side project that I'm doing and I didn't ask for money he said this is a campaign that were running on indiegogo which is like a kickstarter for nonprofits check it out but more importantly give me your feedback on the site and I have had like at least one hundred people write these long, thoughtful emails with detailed feedback on the work that we do and that's the first step right? Some of those people might be donors, others might not and really it's about more than harnessing just their capital yeah, this is there's a couple really important points I work with few nonprofits have been really fortunate tio have you know some involvement with with some sources have gone tio uh kenya the best nonprofits get people invested in their campaigns or their projects before they're asking for money writes like website feedback or how would you change this messaging before it's like hey open your wallet because they get hit with that all day long whether it's salma saurus donors chooses another nonprofit that I work with of new york and have for many years charity water I think another good example and uh the second part I want to add since I did get that email is at the end of the email, it said uh, in effect, like, if you're too busy, no problem, like, if you don't get these updates on my projects, just let me know, and I'll take off the list very soft like, and just hopefully for people who didn't see philip or did see philip, same thing it's, not like, I know what's perfect for you. Please do this now. Thank you for your favorable response for years like, you know, very like, evenhanded take it, if you like it, ignore it, if you don't, I feel like a question, no, no, it's, it's more than this is ah, this is, and I want you to speak to this, but it's it's viewing, as there are plenty of direct asked, but you don't necessarily you don't, you don't make that dress that she did have a direct ask, she just gave people in out night, and she had a direct asked before it was write a check, but also just from a media standpoint, you're really good with the media, so if you feel like trying to get your message out, what are the things that you have? What have differentiated salma sources in how you've approached the media or presented the message? I think a couple things, um, one is, I think we've we benefited from some early training and storytelling so you know, I use these big numbers like four billion or, you know, one in eight women dying from birth and that's sad but really what stands out for a lot of people is the story I told about the refugee who's name is paul peratis who I still correspond with on facebook people love paul people people resonate with him people feel empathy towards an individual person so the more you can personalize the story you know, like if there's one child that you can think of in sierra leone who's got a you know, maybe elements of their story will resonate with families in america and that's really what will build that connection? Charity water did a great job great job they had a video captured on video which you do also which donors choose does yeah using video and visuals absolutely. I left the video they had a video where celebrities in manhattan we're going to fill up these jerry cans of water on the water was like brown and yucky and you were like, oh my god that's horrible and then they were like, well, this is a reality for all these people around the world and as soon as you personalize it and you imagine yourself you know, dragging or jerry cannon your kids to central park all of a sudden that problem becomes more real kind of like part of our ideas that we want to give people the opportunity to be micro philanthropists write so that everybody has this amazing experience of giving and when I was in sierra leone this year I met the girl that I have sponsored for the last few years and it was this amazing thing because she was entering grade nine and that doesn't happen right like because of class kids she say this school longer she didn't get pregnant she's gonna have healthier kids as a result of that she's probably well we work with mothers to to prevent child that's right? And but there's all these amazing things that happened with educating the girl child and it was a great experience but to be able to share that and spread that message is I think the other thing I would say is people in the nonprofit world very infrequently view each other is competition just somewhat different in the for profit? So for instance, uh develop a network with people like lila's of the world the charles best stoners choose uh scott harrison charity water and you control best practices so like if you if you always have and I'm guessing you do this but a lot of non profits are so focused on the donor that they forget they have this wealth of assets and resources around them for instance, charity water really pioneered popularized this concept of like the birthday give back it's like it's my thirtieth birthday but I don't want any presents I want you to donate thirty dollars, to this. Well, something like that usually successful then donors choose has been really good at bringing corporate corporate partnerships like creighton barrel like him want you send a ten dollar gift like a gift card to donors choose to each of your customers for the most loyal is a thank you. I've been really, really good at this corporate partnerships, and so I just introduced it to them over drinks in new york and I think you guys have to, like play friends, go, go, go because you do so many different things so well, like just trade and they did so now both of them have both of those tools. Uh, tim got about five minutes left. Yeah, and I think we've got one more question from jessica let's do it. Hi. I'm jessica uh, I work in vancouver and I do investor relations work similar, I think maybe to what you did two thousand seven for you started doing on profit. I've been looking at, um, putting the businesses together in terms of nonprofit for profit I guess my biggest question is for you is how did you scale, uh, your business in micro work, starting with the first piece and then scaling it along, but keeping it personal back to your dorms, which you touched on a little bit him. But you could expand on that a little bit. Yeah, it's a great question and some donors really want to hear the scaling peace and other donors want to hear the stories. So just to give you a sense of the numbers we have now, we have now brought more than fifteen thousand people out of poverty by directly employing thirty, two hundred people around the world doing work. When we started, I mentioned we had about fifty, people in the first year, so we scaled a lot in the last few years. It's, a very direct model it's different from a charity water and that we are giving people employment for a year, six months to a year. So that's a it's, a very big investment making one person. But then that person has a job and there are all these following effects. So we approach scaling. Firstly, by raising the capital, we were funded by the rockefeller foundation. Google that oregon some big donors and that took a lot of time some of those are two and a half to three year sale cycles, so you've got a really you know proactively keep updating the donor and we're very impacted metrics oriented, so every quarter we share a bulletin that says these air how many more people we've moved over the poverty line this quarter, these air, the challenges we had this is how much donor capital we took and this is what we spent it on, and I think people appreciate that and then in terms of communicating the message, we love those simple line charts that the economist uses, you know, I'm just a simple line that goes up like that is usually enough for a lot of people um, and then we supplement that with more personal stories and we share, you know, those basic charts for all of the relevant fares sales people employed, you know, you name it a really good way to get an idea of how successful nonprofits continue to sell their donors and their support base looking at their annual reports so like room to read there's a great job of showcasing that so john would wrote leaving microsoft to save the world great book room to read the really good organization, but their reports are beautifully done there really slick, so I'll check that out uh also, if you want to watch someone who's like currently really hustling, they're all hustling hard you know how crucial the timing his intense he's awesome they just had their first million dollar month in terms of bringing in money, so they're sort of like a kiva dot org's for education specifically and, uh, take a look at their press releases, take a look at the graphic representations that use on their sides, all of which are intended to show how much of an impact the single donation has, but also how it scales uh, but also a good way to look, you kind of zuman and museum out on the museum in again way have a ton of questions from our audience that is watching online, but we're gonna we're gonna pick out one free at least for starters is I carry yuki sorry if I pronounce that correctly. Who asked, so how do you break into the terrain and countries where you don't know the business and the terrain in frustration? Good question that's a great question so we operate what we call a pole model were pulled into places rather than pushing ourselves into places it works very well in places like kenya or india or ghana, where there's a base of educated local entrepreneurs who built local computer businesses, so when we started I had one partner in nairobi who is the guy who ran an internet cafe and I approached him with this idea and he was a young entrepreneur, he was really hungry, and he said, you know, if you could find me work from america, I would go, I would guarantee that I would hire poor people, I'd recruit from the slums, and I would train them to do this work, but the problem is, we don't have the work, so he we start off with four employees, and now he has over one hundred and fifty, all doing samba source work. Actually, tim visited his enter steve, he was an awesome entrepreneur isn't as much fun and floors no in other countries, we sort of rely on the power of our network, so people have talked about us a different development conferences on local entrepreneurs were looking for a way to bring in more revenue, have found our website, or read our story, or heard our bbc radio interview and come in applied on our site, and then we select from that pool that's already applied. The benefit of that is that we know we're working with somebody who really wants the work there, we make the application process very rigorous, it's really hard to be an entrepreneur in our network, and that means that the people who are left at the end are are pretty excited about this opportunity and take it seriously amazing! I feel like I'm going theme for the next two days is going to be I wish we had more time, but, um, I think we do have to move on, unfortunately. So lila, can you if you have any closing thoughts, would be great. And also can you tell us just one more time? How teo find your organization some a source inside the hope as well? Sure well, we are on facebook and twitter as sama source say m a s o u r c when some of sama means equal in sanskrit um, so so you can find us there in and I'm lila underscore see on twitter and just lila at asama sources find me everywhere and in my vision for the organisation is to turn it into the virgin virgin, the company, as was mentioned earlier the virgin for social business. I really think that there is a whole set of tools that we can use from the for profit world to build more effective nonprofit solutions to some of the world's most pressing problems, whether it's funding maternal health and sierra leone or providing work to people who desperately need it. And I hope that there's in the future of family of salma businesses that that we start cool too so very much okay all right, well, let's tell, let you released from custody. Thank you, wait. March on every march are like so inspirational and just one one more comment I would make for the nonprofit inclined, or even for the for profit inclined. Take a look at what some of the best nonprofits do with their media, like four media tabs. Donors choose, dot, or does a good job of this. Make it easy for people to cover you if they have to contact you, and you're busy doing something else. Lost opportunity have higher is like versions of your logos. Have head shots, have bios. Have all of that stuff. Make it easy for people to cover you.