Leila Janah, the CEO of Samasource, died on January 24 at the age of 37. Janah suffered from a rare form of cancer known as epithelioid sarcoma.
A statement from Samasource read, “We are saddened to announce that Leila Janah, Samasource Founder and CEO, passed away due to complications from Epithelioid Sarcoma. Her commitment to creating a better world was unparalleled. We will miss her everyday.”
Epithelioid sarcoma is a rare, soft tissue cancer that begins as a non-painful lump. According to the Mayo Clinic, it can begin under the skin of a finger, hand, forearm, lower leg or foot.
Samasource is a for-profit tech company that seeks to reduce poverty by connecting impoverished people with jobs in the tech sector. Samasource has offices in San Francisco, India, Kenya and Uganda.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Janah Was Born in New York to Indian Immigrant Parents & Suffered Financial Insecurity Growing Up
Janah was born in upstate New York, close to Niagra Falls, to Indian immigrants. Janah described her upbringing as financially insecure. The family moved to San Pedro, California, when she was young. Janah described her upbringing in a 2017 interview with the New York Times in which she described her parents as “liberal intellectuals” who came to the U.S. with nothing.
In February 2017, Janah wrote about her family’s story in a blog post on her official website. Janah described her Belgian grandmother moving to India, where she met her Indian grandfather. Janah wrote about her parents moving to the United States and working hard, which allowed both Janah and her brother to attend Harvard and Stamford. According to her LinkedIn page, Janah graduated from Harvard University in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in developmental studies.
Janah wrote in conclusion, “Immigrants have become scapegoats for the joblessness and desperation plaguing America’s white working class. This is unacceptable, just as it was when Irish and Italian immigrants were scapegoats in a prior era. As a nation, we have always been more of an affinity group than an ethnic group, united not by our skin color or religion but by our core philosophy that a person is the sum of his actions, not his ancestry. That’s what makes America great.”
2. Janah Chose to Be Open About Her Cancer Diagnosis Because ‘The Consistent Support of Friends & Community Is a Powerful Tool in the Face of Impossible Obstacles’
In April 2019, Janah announced to the world that she had been diagnosed with cancer. Janah wrote in a Facebook post, “I recently learned I have a rare but treatable form of cancer: epithelioid sarcoma. I decided to share it publicly because I have learned, in the course of building Samasource and LXMI, that the consistent support of friends and community is a powerful tool in the face of many seemingly impossible obstacles.” Janah added that her diagnosis came as she and her fiance were in the process of planning a wedding.
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Last post for a while…but it was too surreal a day not to share. Today I started radiation — excruciating because the (small) tumor in my neck hits a bundle of nerves and it’s like someone is hammering nails into my clavicle 😬. But hours earlier (👉🏽 scroll for news!), we announced a fundraise and for-profit spinout for @samasource that changes the game for our industry, and creates a huge windfall for the original nonprofit I founded 11 years ago. Could not be more grateful to our investors and team for making my dream come true. Two steps forward today!! I feel like this raise is a punch in my cancer’s face 😉👊🏽 #sarcoma #sarcomaawareness #radiation #cancerfighter #samasource
Janah’s final Instagram post came in November 2019 when she showed her self receiving chemotherapy. On her Instagram bio, Janah wrote that she was “healing” and therefore “not posting much.”
3. Janah Is Survived by Her Husband Tassilo Festetics
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It has been a trying few months in and out of @sloankettering with different types of chemo and a chest drain (!). But I have never felt so loved, fortunate, or cherished. My beloved @tassilo_f and our team of doctors, nurses, family and friends have prescribed, cooked, cuddled, FaceTimed, sung, visited, and scrabbled me into as happy a state as possible given the circumstances! I celebrated 37 last month with a “00” on the cake, a symbol of the fresh take on the world this cancer has given me. One thing I realized is how philosophically important my work has been in my life, but how obsessed I was with controlling every detail. In my recovery, I’ve had to change my relationship to work and accept not being able to step into everything. As a founder it is a tremendous relief to have the best leaders and coworkers I could ask for— soon we will share some exciting news on the @samasource front, and the @lxmiofficial team is about to launch a new product. It brings me such joy to see these teams flourish, to see our vision take root and flower. Epithelioid sarcoma is a rare, strange beast. As it moves through my body I’m trying to understand what it could possibly teach me. My biggest lesson is awe: I’m awe-struck by the complexity of human biology, and equally by the almost mystical power of human connection and love flowing my way. Thank you all for your support and care ❤️🙏🏽 #sarcoma #epithelioidsarcoma #cancer #cancerfighter #msk #mskcc #sarcomaawareness
Janah’s husband was Tassilo Festetics, the vice president of global solutions at Anheuser Busch. The statement from Samasource announcing Janah’s death mentioned that she was survived by Festetics and his daughter.
In July 2019, Janah told CNBC in an interview about the difficulties of being treated for a rare form of cancer. Janah referenced that she was not burdened by the financial problems many sufferers incur in the U.S. because of her and Festetics’ careers.
4. In Addition to Her Professional Achievements, Janah Was Passionate Kitesurfer & Dancer
On her Facebook page, Janah talked about her passions for kitesurfing, paragliding, scuba diving, ballet and salsa dancing. Those interests are listed alongside Janah’s long list of professional accolades. While on her Instagram bio, Janaj wrote that she was an “adventure lover.”
5. Janah’s Short Life Is Being Celebrated by Tech Figures Across the World
As news of Janah’s death spreads across the world, some of the biggest tech figures in the world have taken to social media to celebrate her tragically short life. Here are some of the most poignant messages of remembrance:
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Saddened, shocked, and stunned to have to say goodbye to one of the most brilliant & beautiful souls I’ve ever known. As announced by her companies @samasource & @lxmiofficial today, @leilajanah is no longer in the world as we know it. In her wake, we are saddled with the unimaginable truth that someone who was working so hard to make the world a better place was cruelly taken from it too early because of #fuckcancer. If you didn’t know her, Leila was a global traveler (I was jealous she spoke French so well!), she was a very talented yogi and kite surfer who loved the wind and water (this photo was from our 2018 downwinder in Brazil), and she was really, really funny. She was raw and honest. And so smart. And so loving, passionate, and so beautiful. And so supportive. She was one of @lifeakua’s first investors. She was our friend and I miss her. I regret not spending more time with her while I could. There is no silver lining… except another unwanted reminder that life is so precious. Surround yourself with love, let gratitude consume you, and hang on tight. #leilajanah 🦋💔🦋 photo by: her beloved @tassilo_f ♥️
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In memory and deep gratitude to @leilajanah. One of the most incredibly kind, authentic, caring and inspiring leaders and souls the world has ever known, a saint and pioneer. We will always remember you; bold, courageous and fearlessly trail blazing the way as you did everything with such purpose. I know I will. Thank you for leading the way with such grace and for your faith in goodness @leilajanah. Thank you for being such a pure eternal light in the world Leila. Thank you for being forever inspiring and for being a caring friend to so many. The world will miss you and your legacy will continue lighting the way always. 🙏 💫 #leilajanah #leadership