SA’s thriving BPO sectoris primed to make Impact Sourcing an invaluable social compact for global businesses

With South Africa’sBusiness Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry voted the most favoured offshore CX delivery location in 2021 in the annual Ryan Strategic Advisory BPO Omnibus Survey,the burgeoning sector is well positioned to play a critical role in ‘Impact Sourcing’.  Also known as socially responsible sourcing,the 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 its call centres, which are primed tocreate 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 individualsas principal workers in business process outsourcing centres.  Without this intervention, manyvery capable, willing and talented people would be lost to the job market, and in essence to society, by not having access to the economy,” explains Trent Lockstone, CEO of The Impact Sourcing Institute of South Africa, a member of Alfbet Holdings.

The AlefBetgrouphouses 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,” says Trent.

“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 thegap between social imperatives and strategic business objectives, and addresses all the challenging practicalities that lie in-between,” adds Trent. 

Impact Sourcing potential in 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.  The pandemic has widened the gap and deepened the poverty crisis besetting our most vulnerable communities. 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,” concludes Trent.

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.

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From spondyloarthritis and a disabling car accident to Impact Sourcing Champions

AyandaNtshingila’s spunk, positivity and all-round optimism is highly infectious.The 27-year-old mother of two is outgoing, jovial, loves working with people and is determined to make a positive impact on the world.Something she is bound to do in her learner management role at the Impact Sourcing Institute of South where she works withdisabled and disadvantaged young South Africans.

Ayanda is also living with Spondyloarthritis, an umbrella term for a chronic inflammatory and auto-immune disease that affects the spine, pelvis, neck, larger joints often in the arms and legs, and even internal organs, like the intestines and eyes.For Ayanda, the arthritis has attacked her lumbar spine and besides the debilitating effects on her condition, she also lives with chronic pain as a constant companion.

Her condition was finally diagnosed when she was in high school and living with her grandmother in Kwazulu-Natal. It had a marked impact on her academic performance at school as she struggled to manage her studies and exams in between regular hospital stays and physiotherapy sessions. In 2012, Ayanda’s grandmother encouraged her to move back to her family in Johannesburg where she could access better healthcare and physiotherapy care for her condition, something that was not readily available to her in KZN.Financially, it was incredibly tough for Ayanda and her family, with her father being the only breadwinner.

It was in Johannesburg during 2019, at the age of 25, that Ayanda would take up a learnership opportunity with the SA Business School, a training provider within the AlefBet Holdings Group. It was her very first exposure to the world of work. Fast forward to 2020 and the completion of her 12-month learnership, and Ayanda’s potential, work ethic and very obvious people skills saw her offered a permanent position in a management role within the Impact Sourcing Institute.

“I often tell our disabled learners that I am ‘impact sourcing’ in action – my progress and the opportunity I have are exactly why impact sourcing is such an invaluable tool towards changing lives in a very tangible and meaningful way.  I often think that my role today is all about helping the Ayanda of five years ago that faced incredible hardship and uncertainty. My lived experience of what it is like to be both disadvantaged and a disabled woman really helps me to understand andempathise with every learner and the many challenges they face.It’s a role I am passionate about. I love being the conduit between helping our disabled learners find their purpose, breaking down their psychological barriers after living with years of societal exclusion, and helping them find their way to playing a meaningful and fulfilling role in society.It’s also about showing society and corporate employers just how much unrealised potential there is in South Africa’s disabled communities.Being part of an organisation that’s all about giving back disabled people the gift of self-determination and self-worth is priceless,” says Ayanda.

SelbyJele’s life changed dramatically at age 13 when he was involved in a serious car accident that left him with permanent back injuries. While he is still reasonably mobile today, his back injuries mean that he is very limited inthe type of work that he can do – anything requiring periods of standing or physical exertion are simply not possible, and he is grateful for his office-bound role at the Impact Sourcing Institute.  Selby recalls the days as a teenager when his mom secured part time work for him at the retail store where she was employed. 

“In retail, the job is pretty much 95% on your feet, and it was murderous standing for such extended periods of time with my back injuries.  It was very clear that my back injury would dictate the kind of work and role that I could undertake as a young adult. Being from a disadvantaged and poor background and living with a disability meant that opportunities were few and far between in a country where more than 50% of youth are unemployed,” explains Selby.

But a chance opportunity to complete a learnership in IT and systems support for contact centres would be the precursor to Selby securing a permanent position in the IT department of Shapiro Shaik Defries and Associates (SSDA), a first party collections business within the AlefBet Holdings Group.  His immediate supervisor was quick to recognise Selby’s potential and encouraged him to apply for a role with SA Business School, a training provider within the Alefbet group.  From there, Selby was promoted again and joined the Impact Sourcing Institute where he now works as an administrator.

“It makes the world of difference to be in a workplace where you are understood and embraced. At the same time, while we have an employer that understands the challenges of living with a disability and coming from a disadvantaged background, we are also pushed and encouraged to fully embrace our potential. We are not limited by our disabilities here – while our bodies may be disabled in some way, our minds are not.  I am working in a call centre environment where the roles and opportunities are many and diverse, and there is real opportunity for career progression from junior to senior management roles.  My background does not define my future and my disability is not a full stop,” adds Selby.