End Outsourcing. These words were painted on banners all over the Student Union center of my University. I was starting the second term of my postgraduate program, where I was specializing (unironically) in labor relations, when my curiosity for “outsourcing” as a transformative industry sparked. As someone who also works in the outsourcing space, I wanted to understand why these demands have become extreme to the point of upending a USD 92. billion dollar industry. A bigger question began to stand out: what can be done to fix this?
Image source: The Norwich Radical
It is no secret that the outsourcing industry was (and still is) notorious for racing to the bottom of many developing countries, which has led to decades of exploitative labor and business practices. I have the unique opportunity of being part of a company that strives to change this side of outsourcing. So much so, that becoming a B Corp in 2021 was one of Boldr’s milestones as a purpose-driven company. What is worth noting, however, is that out of the 4,000 certified B Corp companies in the world, only 11 companies fall strictly under “outsourcing” – one of them being (you guessed it) Boldr.
Being B Corp certified is not a silver bullet to solve all the systemic problems of outsourcing as an industry. But it did force us to reflect on how we do business and to question if our decisions and actions truly reflected our values. Throughout our certification, we were confronted with key lessons that I believe are starting points for companies seeking to do business the ethical and socially responsible way.
Here are three key lessons from our B Corp journey that can make a difference in outsourcing:
Ensure your commercial and social mission are in sync
Since its inception, Boldr’s mission was to make an impact in the world by connecting talent to opportunity. But just having the mission written down was not enough. Being held against the highest global standards of accountability, ethics, and social responsibility showed us the practical actions we needed to take to reach these standards. This meant rethinking the way we hire and care for our teams, finding Living Wage baselines in our countries of operations, and demonstrating our commitment to addressing systemic economic inequalities by bringing economic opportunities in underserved communities.
While we drew from examples of serving our communities through an extensive catalog of corporate social projects, we realized that Boldr could not continue operating like a traditional Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) company. We did not want to perpetuate the outdated industry practices we were working to change. This realization pushed us to be more intentional in building our own “Theory of Change”, which ensures that our social impact is tied to our commercial success. Otherwise, our impact would remain an afterthought or lip-service at best. When our impact worked in direct lock-step with every business decision, pursuing “race to the bottom” strategies (that are intrinsically exploitative) never became an option.
Secure strong leadership buy-in and alignment to do better
Going through the certification process meant acknowledging what we’ve been doing right as well as the opportunities to do better… and there were a lot. After identifying these opportunities, the next step was building accountability mechanisms and owners for each gap we were trying to address. Most of these changes were largely institutional and required a concerted buy-in from Executive leadership and department heads to invest the time and resources necessary to adopt these improvement opportunities.
For instance, to socialize our mission sustainably, we needed to thoughtfully integrate impact measurements and targets across all departments and functions. This means every manager and department head is responsible for adopting strategies and work streams that support our Theory of Change and its tenets. A practical example of this is Boldr’s recent adoption of an “impact sourcing” strategy for training and hiring talent from underserved communities. This process involves inter-dependencies across client success, talent acquisition, talent development, and service delivery.
Plan for sustainable and scalable long-term change
B Corp certified companies are required to recertify and go through the same process every three years. This is meant to establish longevity in how B Corps continue to hold themselves accountable to the certification’s standards. Boldr has set five and ten year objectives as well as pathways towards this accomplishment, with long term goals designed to deepen the quality and quantity of our impact overtime – and not to simply retain the acceptable B Corp compliant way of doing business. This long-term approach to impact can be seen in Boldr’s variable ratio of team members sourced from underprivileged communities, directly proportional to the company’s overall growth.
Part of the long-term vision Boldr has for itself and for the industry is to encourage more outsourcing companies to see the value of becoming a B Corp. As it stands today, the industry is still muddled with negative perceptions. But by no means does this have to remain the norm. When done right, the potential for Outsourcing to generate economic opportunities globally is massive, especially in countries where opportunities are scarce. This is where we aspire to highlight the transformative potential of Outsourcing and make a dent in addressing some of the existing perceptions of the industry.
So why does it matter in outsourcing?
B Corp matters in outsourcing because it challenges the industry to assess itself against the highest ethical, social, and environmental standards while providing a framework and guidance towards achieving these. B Corp helps companies in outsourcing and beyond, measure what matters for their workers, the environment, society, and their customers. In the same vein, we believe outsourcing can become a sustainable economic vehicle for addressing inequalities in employment for people who need it the most globally. For Boldr, this meant always going back to our purpose for existing: to help people grow and connect. Being a B Corp helps us deliver on this purpose sustainably and with other companies committed to do good in the world.
As someone working in and studying outsourcing, I personally believe in the potential of the industry to lift many families out of poverty by expanding access to decent and meaningful work. This can only be achieved if there is an honest, conscious decision and full commitment from industry leaders and companies to challenge the status quo and join the fold of other companies working to make a difference, one action at a time.