Women on Top

Starting out with just a game-changing idea, a bulletproof business plan, or an electrifying design, these women are reinventing their industries and demolishing boys' clubs from the ranks of the military to Silicon Valley. They're all under 40, but those aren't stars in their eyes: They're planning a revolution.

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October 20, 2011 9:00 AM
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Peter Hapak
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Top Social Activist

Leila Chirayath Janah, 28, founder, Samasource

Résumé: As an undergrad at Harvard, Janah bagged a six-month World Bank consulting gig. She graduated in 2005, and three years later, founded Samasource to provide "microwork" — transcription or data-entry projects — to people in the developing world. Her goal? Provide a living wage to those living in poor slums and rural backwaters. Samasource, whose name comes from the Sanskrit word for "equal," has signed contracts with Google, Intuit, and LinkedIn, allowing Janah to pay more than $1 million in wages to 1,500 people, from Haiti to Zambia, so far.

Background Check: "My parents are Indian immigrants, and my mom sliced onions at Wendy's when they first came over, so growing up I understood the value of work. I had three jobs at Harvard to supplement my financial aid, including scrubbing toilets, but I always felt a duty to help others who were less fortunate."

Big Break: "In 2009, a year after launching Samasource, I was sleeping on my ex's futon and paying myself $400 a month. I thought the company would never take off. Then, at an investor event, I showed a video of an African refugee working in a computer lab in a camp on the Kenya-Somalia border. I told his story in tears; my desperation fueled the best presentation of my life. Two people wrote $25,000 checks immediately."

Dukes Up: "Boxing is my favorite exercise — you burn 900 calories an hour! And boxers train for months. In social business, where the goal is humanitarian rather than capitalistic, people tell us we'll fail daily. Boxing helps me cope."