Microsoft and The Rockefeller Foundation recently co-convened over 30 global industry experts in Johannesburg, South Africa to discuss the future of impact sourcing. This was a follow-up meeting from the one convened by The Rockefeller Foundation in September 2013, and this time around there was a greater focus on each organization’s roles in helping to advance the sector.
The Rockefeller Foundation believes that companies can achieve both business and social impact through Impact Sourcing, which focuses hiring opportunities on qualified workers who would be considered disadvantaged in their local context—economically, socially, physically, or otherwise. The team came together in South Africa to engage major outsourcing firms to gauge their understanding of this sector and to determine existing opportunities to expand their impact.
South Africa is arguably one of the preeminent examples of best practice in Impact Sourcing in the world today, and therefore provided an excellent opportunity for the group to ground their conversation in reality. South Africa is the largest business process outsourcing (BPO) market in Africa and a vast majority of the entry level agents are from disadvantaged backgrounds. Recognizing the need to address extreme unemployment, the South African government has designed a strategy for the BPO sector targeted at building the demand driven skills of these disaffected youth.
This group of industry executives visited the Impact Sourcing Academy and its partner organizations, the Maharishi Institute and Invincible Outsourcing. Collectively, these organizations are ensuring that hundreds of disadvantaged but high potential youth gain the technical skills, life (soft) skills and early work experience needed to prepare them for careers in the IT-enabled services sectors in South Africa, coupled with support to pursue tertiary education. Several youth volunteered to share their inspirational personal journeys. A remarkable transformation from just a few years ago, with no prospects and little hope—today they are team leaders, managers, and aspiring executives.
Beyond the conversation in South Africa, impact sourcing is a global opportunity. By bringing this group together, getting them to experience first-hand how transformational these job opportunities can be, Microsoft and The Rockefeller Foundation hoped to plant the seeds of what could be a complete transformation of the outsourcing sector.
It was exciting to see the shared vision among the participating companies, seeing that they can have both business and social impact and as an industry, inspiring them to do even more. The group learned that many of them are already engaged in Impact Sourcing; consequently a smaller core group was established to explore what projected employment goals should be for growing the Impact Sourcing sector over the next five years, in terms of new hires. A second but short-term goal was to expand the investment being made to expand Impact Sourcing in South Africa.
One ongoing area of discussion is around the current identification of Impact Sourcing as a separate part of the larger outsourcing sector. Does it take the sector to scale or does it limit its growth potential? The group recognized that to organize and draw attention to the field today, the distinction is necessary, but in order for it to be an industry norm in the years to come, that distinction may need to fall away. In the meantime, there is plenty of work to be done to build awareness and industry architecture.
Microsoft is using its significant operational capabilities to pave the way through its responsible outsourcing practices, introducing more and more suppliers to impact sourcing as way to do business. The Rockefeller Foundation is catalyzing change in the broader ecosystem such as supporting work on metrics, building the value proposition with empirical evidence and innovative pilots, enhancing the brand as well as addressing a number of other constraints. These efforts, which will be complete before the end of the year will lend greater credibility to the sector and draw in bigger players who want to match their business decisions with their values. As IAOP noted, impact sourcing will continue to be a “trend to watch” for several years to come.