Ideas & Insights / All Perspectives / Ideas & Insights

Harnessing the Power of Networks to Help Businesses and Improve Lives in Africa

In response to the growing problem of youth unemployment in Africa, The Rockefeller Foundation launched its newest Initiative, Digital Jobs Africa in May 2013. The effort aims to impact at least a million lives across six countries in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, Morocco and Egypt by generating digital employment for disadvantaged youth—improving their lives, and those of their families and communities.

These new jobs—ranging from digitization of records to data processing to call centers—often respond to foreign direct investment (FDI) and global demand; therefore they represent a growing service-based phenomenon within global supply chains, which are no longer based solely on traditional sectors like manufacturing, agriculture, and extractives.

The Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) Conference was an excellent opportunity to discuss how we can promote social responsibility and sustainability in these supply chains, especially at a time when the power of some of the institutions we relied on previously to encourage or ensure a better return to workers—like unions and local industry commitments—are shifting.

One opportunity is to use the power of networks to get the best possible results for the young people we’re trying to help, specifically focusing one kind of digital job: the growing impact sourcing industry.

Impact Sourcing is the socially responsible arm of the business process outsourcing (BPO) and information technology outsourcing industries. Impact sourcing provides ladders of opportunity by employing people who have limited opportunity for sustainable employment—often targeting women, people with disabilities, and the economically disadvantaged.

To determine how to create impact sourcing jobs at scale, we recently held a convening at our Bellagio Conference Center in Italy, with a range of businesses and nonprofits from around the globe, dedicated to making impact sourcing work.

One of the first gatherings of its kind, the convening brought together key actors—including a range of private sector players, Impact Sourcing service providers, labor standards experts, and industry groups—to share their challenges, achievements and ideas, and articulate a shared vision of how the outsourcing sector can create a new paradigm by placing social impact as a key part of its overall value proposition.

In keeping with our own lessons on building effective networks, we were intentional in our effort to create a small, dedicated group of individuals who are path breakers in the space, nurture and curate expertise—not just interest—and begin the delicate and important work of building trust among the new network’s members.

The convening conceptualized a common vision for Impact Sourcing, launching a nascent network to implement an Action Plan with a set of activities under 3 pillars: Supply, Demand and Enabling Environment Infrastructure.

  • On the supply side, the network must expand and support training of both frontline workers and the management level. In South Africa, for example, demand far exceeds supply, so it’s essential that training is aimed at the right level. A network outcome would include standardized, global curricula, and efficient delivery models.
  • On the demand side, the priority was developing actual partnerships between Impact Sourcing providers and traditional outsourcing providers. Next steps include 1) sharing best practices for management and training, and perhaps sub-contracting Impact Sourcing; 2) creating partnerships where companies collectively buy Impact Sourcing services, helping to diversify the risk associated with being an early adopter in this space; and 3) to attract more buyers for Impact Sourcing, building a data-driven business case, a value proposition, and testimonials from those already engaged.
  • To get to scale, the industry must enable environment infrastructure by requiring common infrastructure and services. One critical activity is to market Impact Sourcing with a specific new identity and brand as an “obvious choice” for outsourcing. Standard metrics and measurement are needed, as a tool for buyers and providers to assess progress and impact. Creating tools for collaboration will enable the sharing of best practices and access to resources. And finally, a directory of businesses that provide Impact Sourcing services will help buyers more easily find providers that meet their needs.

The members of this nascent network believe that impact sourcing could, in the near future, be standard practice for the outsourcing sector, enabling the sector—and its positive impact on youth, their families, and communities—to grow exponentially in the years to come.

The challenge is enormous, but our grantees and partners give us confidence that Digital Jobs Africa will not only contribute jobs and skills to the ICT sector, but will garner larger lessons for creating more inclusive economies through global supply chains in services. We hope others will join, and learn from, our journey in the months and years ahead.

Leave a comment