There’s people I admire deeply, whose work, life and stories inspire me. As I connect the dots I realise how much influence my role models yield — the way I think, the ideas I have and the purpose I’d like my work to have.
Here’s who they are:
Leila Janah, founder of Samasource and LXMI and author of Give Work
Jacqueline Novogratz, founder of Acumen and author of Blue Sweater
Lilly Singh aka Superwoman
Muhammed Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank
Leila Janah — Samasource and LXMI
I dont’ exactly recall how I discovered Leila, though ever since I’ve come across her I’m constantly in awe of how authentic she is. She shares candidly her experience in starting and running Samasource as well as LXMI. Her purpose in life is to give work to those in need as a way of lifting people out of poverty, Samasource runs outsourcing centres across the developing world and in the US, focused on training and providing work to the poorest of the poor. LXMI is a beauty brand extracting Nilotica (think rare exotic shea butter) from nearby the Nile river. I’ve tried the product, it’s fantastic.
She grew up in a modest environment and during her time at Harvard she held various jobs including cleaning the wealthier kids dorms. In her book Give Work, one of the greatest takeaways for me was an experience of a special event where she was invited by Pope Francis to Rome in 2016 to speak about social impact to a very small group of CEO’s.
During Leila’s time as an undergraduate at Harvard, Larry Summers — the former US Treasury Secretary, had opposed a student led living wage campaign — one of the biggest battles fought on campus in the 90’s. Contracted employees (cleaners & cooks) at Harvard received none of the benefits enjoyed by official Harvard employees.
Students had staged a 21 day sit in to protest for their rights, some students didn’t rally such as the Winklevoss twins who years later sued Zuckerberg over stealing their ‘Facebook idea’, instead they hung a banner outside their dorm which read ‘mo money, mo problems’.
Yet 15 years later Larry Summers walks out on stage and tells the group of CEO’s his biggest regrets was that he didn’t do more to recognise the university workers who didn’t have rights, and that companies cannot marginalise workers in their supply chain and we have a responsibility to treat these people as humans beings. Leila goes on to say ‘Hearts and minds do change, and so can the fortunes of everyone in the world.’
Jacqueline Novogratz — Acumen
In her teenage years, Jacqueline’s grandmother hand made a blue sweater for her with Mt Kilimanjaro on it. She wore it to school and one days as she outgrew the sweater her highschool nemesis poked fun at her amongst his friends. She was devasted. Once she returned home after school and told her mother about what had happened, her and her mother ceremoniously dumped the sweater in a donation bin. 10 years later Jacqueline finds herself working with the World Bank in Kenya, after having left her high flying job at an investment bank. She saw a little boy on the streets wearing a blue sweater, she ran up to him and grabbed his collar, and to her surprise it read ‘Jacqueline’. In that moment the interconnectedness of the world was apparent. Actions and inactions we take througout our lives affect people we may or may never meet. The Blue Sweater is one of my favourite books.
Jacqueline went on to start Acumen, the world’s first not for profit venture capital fund investing in entrepreneurs who solve problems in the developing world in a sustainable manner where governments and NGO’s fail. Another story from her book that struck me was her time in Rwanda pre and post genocide. After helping setup a microfinance initiative alongside 3 phenomenal women she returned years later. The 3 women who had worked relentlessly in the pursuit of providing opportunities to other women all had their own experiences of the genocide — including one who became a perpertrator of violence and was said to have urged soldiers to kill faster. Jacqueline then went to visit her in prison back in Rwanda years later. The complexity of human character over time is described so eloquently through this and many other stories in The Blue Sweater.
There are very very few daily blogs I read, though Seth Godin’s makes that list. His books and blog have shaped the way I think about possibilities, doing work that matters and ‘shipping’. Seth is a writer and now with #altMBA an education pioneer. His book Linchpin was given to me by one of my mentors Isaac Jeffries during a placement at The Difference Incubator about 4 years ago. Seth is known for being one of the world’s best marketers, however his writing is mostly about how things in the world work — people, places and organisations.
I’ve actually just enrolled in the altMBA and this blog was inspired by one of the pre-readings called Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon. In particular one of the chapters (each chapter is about 3 pages) called ‘Climb Your Own Family Tree’ where Kleon urges us to
‘chew on one thinker — writer, artist, activist, role model- you really love. Study everything there is to know about that thinker. Then find three people that thinker loved, and find everything about them. Repeat this as many times as you can. Climb up the tree as far as you can go. Once you build your tree, it’s time to start your own branch’
Lilly Singh — Superwomen (Youtuber)
Lilly was one of the very first South Asian (Indian) youtubers who made content for a previously disregarded group of viewers. After graduating from a pyschology degree, her indian parents gave her one year to give youtube a go and if it didn’t work she had to go to grad school.
Oh boy did she make it work, she’s now one of the highest paid youtubers globally. With a following of 14 million fans, Lilly brings laughter and entertainment to the screens of young people across the world. I’ve particularly admired her relentless work-ethic, ability to be a comedian, entertainer, singer, dancer and even writer! More recently her work with charities in developing countries is admirable as she realised her influence over the next generation.
Her song Voices on youtube is a glimpse into Lilly’s world and the various voices that dictate her life — somehow I think we can all resonate with the various voices of ego, self doubt and indulgence.
Muhummad Yununus — Grameen Bank
The father of microfinance. Yunus founded Grameen Bank in Bangladesh on the principle that you could lend to the poor and contrary to what most people believed at the time, they were indeep capable of repaying their loans. Enabling them to access capital meant they could start and continue microenterprises. Predominately lending to women in groups, Yunus started initially by lending a small amount of his own money. I had the pleasure of listening to Yunus at a lecture at Monash University a couple of years ago and was so grateful to have the opportunity to hear from a living legend. His book Building Social Business inspired me so much when I was working on launching SeCo during university in 2014.
Would love to know your role models, post in the comments and let me know what you admire most about them.