Opinion by Trent Lockstone, Group CEO of the Impact Sourcing Institute of South Africa, a fully integrated division within SA Business School that focuses on upskilling and creating opportunities for society’s most vulnerable individuals.
South Africa’s thriving BPO sector is primed to make Impact Sourcing an invaluable social compact for global businesses. With SA’s Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry voted the most favoured offshore CX delivery location in 2021 and then again taking top spot in 2022 (in a tie position with India) in the annual Ryan Strategic Advisory BPO Omnibus Surveys, the burgeoning sector is well positioned to play a critical role in ‘Impact Sourcing’.
Also known as socially responsible sourcing, our global business services (GBS) sector leads the way in providing employment for previously disadvantaged and disabled young South Africans who find meaningful, stable employment and career development in contact centres, which are primed to create 500 000 new jobs in the next 10 years according to Business Process Enabling South Africa (BPESA).
Many global business services organisations find themselves in a position to make a profound difference within disadvantaged communities through ‘impact sourcing’, by recruiting, training and employing socio-economically disadvantaged individuals as principal workers in business process outsourcing centres. Without this intervention, many very capable, willing and talented people would be lost to the job market, and in essence to society, by not having access to the economy.
The AlefBet Holdings Group houses a diverse range of customer service and collections BPO businesses and training organisations. The Impact Sourcing Institute of South Africa was founded as part of a strategic drive by the group to provide full-time employment opportunities for disabled learners from disadvantaged backgrounds within its extended network of BPO businesses and corporate client base.
Our model bridges the gap by recruiting people who struggle to access the labour market – either because they are outside traditional recruitment pipelines due to their lack of access to networks, or because transport costs from townships to jobs are high, or because they face physical disabilities which prevent their integration into the mainstream workforce. South Africa faces a burden of massive structural, youth unemployment. For disadvantaged youth who also live with a disability, the hurdles are enormous. They have traditionally been excluded from fully participating in mainstream activities, effectively preventing them from being full members of society and disempowering them from achieving any sense of self-determination. We believe that with the right leadership, investment and training, this large untapped pool of South African talent has the potential to be guided and supported into meaningful career paths in the Global Business Services sector, and uplifting communities, families and livelihoods in the process.
We soon realised that many corporate businesses want to get involved and make a difference but lack the dedicated expertise and know-how of creating a structured work environment that is designed to meet the safety, security, training and support models needed to cater for disabled learners and employees. Besides living with a disability, many of these youngsters live in far-flung areas, away from urban business hubs and without the financial ability to access transport, let alone transport that caters for a disabled person. Many live without electricity, running water, connectivity and in many cases, access to specialised public healthcare that caters for their disability. The Impact Sourcing Institute’s model was scaled to provide this critical link that bridges the gap between social imperatives and strategic business objectives, and addresses all the challenging practicalities that lie in-between.
Impact Sourcing potential in South Africa’s BPO sector is huge
The Impact Sourcing Institute works with learners to provide them with the required equipment to learn and work safely from home, along with support from work-and-learning-teams who engage with them daily. Where appropriate, learners are also trained within the institute’s dedicated call centre ‘simulation’ environment. Over the course of 12 months, learners gain valuable work experience and a recognised qualification upon course completion. Additionally, learners are upskilled with the life and soft skills required to succeed in a corporate environment. At the end of the learnership, they are offered full-time employment within the BPO sector with the option to maintain their work-from-home structure where feasible.
By providing fair wages and professional development to people who find themselves on the periphery of the socioeconomic pyramid, we can make a massive difference not only for these individuals, but for families and entire communities. South Africa has an oversupply of underutilised talent, and it has become more pressing than ever that businesses provide pathways to ensure that our disadvantaged populations have access to formal employment and decent work.
All businesses have a unique opportunity through impact sourcing to empower people living with a disability to improve their living conditions, shape meaningful careers and lift themselves and their families out of a cycle of perpetual hardship and poverty. Not only is it a sustainable means to economic growth, but businesses get to support a programme with outputs that align with the UN’s sustainable development goals. At the same time, they are developing a skilled workforce for long-term employment, they get to fully maximise the benefits of their BBBEE scorecards in terms of skills development and they get to fundamentally reshape societal outcomes for the better.
South Africa’s BPO sector has a key role to play in South Africa’s economic recovery for all sectors of society. By harnessing the power of impact sourcing to make a fundamental, long term difference in our most vulnerable communities, business gets to bring together the best of economics, quality workforces through diversity and inclusion, and socially responsible supply chains.