This week the untimely passing of the incomparable Leilah Janah hit me hard. She was a rockstar in the world of social entrepreneurs, committed to ensuring that there were opportunities available for everyone to rise out of poverty. 

I first met Leilah at a friend’s holiday party, and she walked in like a glamorous royal guest, while being able to connect with everyone in the room.

I was drawn to her because Janah’s core belief is one I share: while talent is equally distributed around the world, opportunity is not. She spent her life and career creating companies and organizations that provide opportunities for work instead of charity.

Why did her untimely death hit me so hard? I wanted to see how many more incredible initiatives she would give birth to. The world needs more committed passionate visionaries like her, not less. And, I think it is part of the kinship I feel toward many social entrepreneurs. 

Being a social entrepreneur is a long and sometimes lonely journey, and I’ve often looked to people like Janah for inspiration and practical guidance. Those who have ridden the highs and weathered the lows, and who have built something that has, against all odds, succeeded in making the world more equitable and just.

I want to celebrate those world renowned social entrepreneurs who left the world too soon, and who have been an inspiration to me:

By giving work instead of charity, Leilah Janah transformed development. She created numerous companies and organizations including Samasource, Samaschool, and LXMI beauty products, and had just closed $15M in investment to grow her impact.

James Le Mesurier, who passed away in November 2019, founded and led Mayday Rescue Foundation, the organization that originated the Syrian White Helmet volunteer teams who were trained in search and rescue for conflict affected areas. 

And, Priya Haji, who Van Jones called “the best social entrepreneur of our generation,” died in 2014. She started numerous social enterprises including SaveUp and World of Good. A favorite phrase of Haji’s:  “Dream a solution the size of the problem you’re addressing.”

We should continue celebrating and carrying on the incredible work of Leilah, James and Priya — And, I also want to celebrate the many millions of unsung heroes. The everyday heroes who live in communities around the world — heroes who, with limited resources, develop brilliant ideas that make their communities better. It is their stories of grit and determination in the face of mountains of trash, or unresponsive bureaucracies, or disaster that are the stories of AtmaGo users, and are equally worthy of celebration. Like Erlina, who spread solutions to plastic waste in her community to hundreds of others. And, Joko, who uses AtmaGo to both organize garbage clean-ups and his disaster rescue team.

These everyday heroes give me hope in thinking about the impact of Leilah’s life. My first impression of Leilah is how she will remain etched in my memory — a spark who graced the world with her vision and passion, and whose work will live on forever.

Sincerely,

Meena Palaniappan
CEO and Founder, Atma Connect