The Internet of Women – Bringing Zambian Women into the Digital Age

Below is a featured story of the upcoming book, The Internet of Women, shared by our company CEO.

In July 2015, President Obama, during his visit to Kenya, brought attention to the issue of female employment in Africa, saying, “If half your team is not playing, you’ve got a problem. In too many countries, half the team is women and youth.” Accomplishing gender equality in the workspace takes more than just proactively hiring more women. It requires breaking down barriers to resources, social pressures, and personal confidence that many women in Africa face, as we aptly learned in Zambia.

When we launched Impact Enterprises, supporting female entrepreneurs wasn’t the first thing on our mind. We just wanted to create good jobs. Back in 2008, our company president, Dan Sutera, took a trip to visit rural Zambia with his friend David Seidenfeld, who had spent years in the country between the Peace Corps and PhD work. After 10 years of growing startup companies, two of which cracked the Inc. 500 list of fastest growing companies in America, Dan was looking for his next challenge. Together, they launched Impact Network in eastern Zambia to deliver an e-learning curriculum, called eSchool 360, to rural village schools.

After a few years of building schools and educating thousands of children, Dan realized a quality education it isn’t much use if there are no jobs upon graduation. In Zambia, a southern-African country of about 15 million people, unemployment for 20-24 year olds is at 59%. Those who can’t find work often go into the informal economy, the majority being agriculture.

Harnessing this untapped population, in an English-based country with a stable political and economic climate, had to be possible, and it was outsourcing that brought the solution. Over the last decade, a movement known as “impact sourcing” has emerged in the business process outsourcing industry with the goal of bringing sustainable jobs to untouched communities. Thanks to the diminishing costs of technology, companies were now moving into tier 2 and 3 locations in rural India, away from the established tech megacities. They were building centers in frontier markets in southeast Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Our goal was to bring the same potential to Zambia.

I met Dan back in 2012 while working at a financial software company in New York City. Years ago, I had worked as a director for the Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project, which ran a world-class K-12 boarding school for dalit children – the untouchable caste – in rural India. I was inspired by how the students’ lives had been the transformed thanks to the quality of education they received, and I was eager to apply my business background to a social venture of my own.

By mid-2013, we launched Impact Enterprises with our first client project, becoming the first socially-conscious digital outsourcing company in Zambia. By bringing digital jobs to a developing country, we aren’t just pioneering a new industry but we’re also creating equal opportunities for talented youth.

Setting up a high-quality service company requires a huge investment in employee training. For the majority of our employees, this job is their first time working in a formal company. Beyond just learning hard skills like computer operations and web research, they take part in ongoing workshops around teamwork, communication skills, career planning, financial management, and healthy living. Cecilia, one of our earliest employees, told us her jobs is teaching her “how to be responsible, how to keep time, how to have discipline. The feeling of having some responsibilities keeps me going. Now I know, wherever I go, I have to work hard.”

At Impact Enterprises, we strive to keep an equal male to female ratio of employees to demonstrate that women have an equal opportunity to succeed in the digital economy.  In fact, we’ve found that in the first months of training, the female hires tend to be more responsible, attentive, and timely than their male counterparts. Realizing the unique career opportunity they’ve been given – one that few women in the country could possibly have – they don’t take anything for granted.

However, despite the close and supportive community we had fostered at Impact Enterprises, our young women were still struggling. Their personal charisma and determination seemed to disintegrate when put in a public group setting. Growing up in a patriarchal society meant their self-confidence was deeply undermined. During company-wide discussions, the women would go mute around men and were hesitant to share their opinions, even among just their fellow females. Something had to be done.

In mid-2015, we decided to launch a weekly support group exclusively for our female employees. They quickly made it their own, naming it Ladies of Victory and Encouragement (LOVE). As Dinah, one of the group leaders, explained, “We want this to be a space where we can share our ideas and learn from one another. Building our communication skills is really important.”

For their first assignment, they required every member to speak up in a workshop debate without being prompted. While initially they were nervous, after just one month, participation skyrocketed and they became more engaged in the company. The self-directed group has expanded to topics ranging from entrepreneurship and career advice to self-esteem, gender equality, and maternal health.

“I know that in the future, maybe I will be managing other people,” Catherine, one of the members, said. “What I learn here from the managers really inspires me.” Debra, one of the newer employees, said that she felt the group brought back the energy she used to have in secondary school.

As a company overall, the workshops have significantly strengthened our workforce and services. “It has helped in numerous ways to reestablish my self-esteem and confidence as a woman,” Debra told us after one of the session. “When a person is surrounded by positive minded, dream-oriented, enthusiastic individuals, life is worth living because you know you can make it everywhere.”

Developing the young-adult female demographic is particularly valuable, since they can immediately contribute to the workforce with their skills and perseverance. Unfortunately, existing social initiatives either focus on adolescent girls, in an effort to impact them at an early age, or working adults, who need simpler career mentorship. Meanwhile, few resources are available to young adults out of school, who require a higher investment to impact their lives – they are more mature and sophisticated than adolescents but lack the experience of their adult counterparts.

Empowering young women is crucial for struggling countries such as Zambia. While Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, and Ghana have emerged as tech destinations in Africa, Zambia has failed to embrace the promise of new industries over the years. Even still, riskier ventures are usually led by men. If Zambia hopes to be competitive internationally, a holistic support system must be created with the collaboration of various stakeholders to empower women at work.

In early 2015, the U.S. State Department launched the WECREATE program to establish physical entrepreneurial community centers across Africa. Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, was fortunate enough to have been chosen, and the center provides programs for training, pitch competitions, and grant funding, while also providing family support. Establishing similar facilities is critical, in lieu of the currently inadequate school system.

Providing access to digital information is an easier, less resource intensive method of creating access to education and training. Currently, Zambia is limited in internet bandwidth, resulting in high data costs and unreliable access. While the Zambia Information & Communications Technology Authority (ZICTA) was created with the intention of acting as a watchdog, today it lacks any influence. Investing in fiber optic infrastructure and promoting competition with ISPs will dramatically improve the reach of digital resources.

Women must also have the standard resources outside of work. Health services and family planning must be accessible so they can live healthy lives and raise their families without interfering with their careers. Early education must focus on soft skills to build confidence in girls so they can boldly tackle their careers and interact with teammates. Even family members must be supportive of their sisters and daughters so they can compete with men. Antiquated values such as jealousy and gender stereotyping don’t belong in the modern community.

Unfortunately, the reality is Zambia’s government is saddled with debt and a devalued currency has attenuated the abilities of local companies. Realistically, progress is going to come externally, either through foreign investment or “re-patriates”, who are returning to their native country. For us to see real progress, at least in the interim, the private sector will have to take on the responsibility of multiple stakeholders – both employer and educator – as we’ve demonstrated at Impact Enterprises.

The LOVE workshops at Impact Enterprises teach our female employees skills that are invaluable to entrepreneurship and allow them overcome the psychological barriers many of them face. I’m particularly proud of one of our members, Nelicy. She’s only 19 years old but one of our most determined employees. From the beginning, Nelicy put in great hours and quickly advanced through her projects. During breaks, she was gregarious and carried a bright smile, but in group discussions, she closed up. Just by looking at her, I could tell she had ideas to share, but couldn’t get them out.

Later in the year, we held a workshop on financial planning to teach key concepts like savings, interest rates, and inflation. Rising prices is a major issue in Zambia (inflation reach over 20% in December 2015 due to slowdown in Chinese demand) and Nelicy aptly understood the implication for her pay. The following Monday, during our weekly company morning talk, I had opened the floor to questions. After a long pause, Nelicy raised her hand and boldly requested we raise wages, eloquently explaining how inflation is impacting everyone.

She was absolutely right, and we recalculated our pay structure that week. I admire her courage to stand up for her team. When we featured Nelicy in our company blog, she told us, “Actually, the time I came to Impact I was kind of a shy person. Being here I have had to open up to people.”

When I think back to that Monday meeting, I remember how the long silence before Nelicy spoke up was just as loud as her voice. It demonstrates the reality of President Obama’s remark about missing half our team, and I worry what else we’re missing in that silence.

Dimitri Zakharov is CEO & Co-Founder of Impact Enterprises, a socially-conscious outsourcing company that provides lead generation, content moderation, and order management services with the mission of providing digital jobs for skilled youth in Zambia.

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The top 10 management skills you need for your small scale business

Running a business is a dream for many of us. But it’s not a dream that materializes easily. Getting ready to start your entrepreneurial journey means that you’ll invest A LOT of time and energy. You know the drill: develop the idea, come up with a viable business plan, receive funding, launch, improve, get your first customers, etc.

If you’re successful your idea will turn into a flourishing small-scale business with great prospect of growth. But the hard work is not done yet. Managing your business day in day out actually requires a diverse set of skills and it’s challenging! Having set up the first tech company of its kind in Zambia three years ago, we speak of experience.

No matter if you just started to plan your own business or you’re already running it – there’s uncertainties and challenges all along the way. It’s tough, it’s exciting, and it requires a specific skill set from you in order to succeed!

Based on our own experiences, we compiled a list of the 10 most important management skills for running your business. Do you have what it takes?

1. Motivation

There’s going to be a lot of bad days. There’s going to be a lot of boring and tedious days. It’s essential that you figure out what keeps you going and what you’re passionate about.

For us, working in Africa meant that we were constantly putting out fires and dealing with unforeseen challenges. But we never stopped believing in the potential of our business model. After two years in business, we’ve already hired more than 100 young Zambians and impacted their lives in a sustainable way. Experiencing the impact of our work definitely makes up for many of the hassles in day-to-day Zambian business life.

2. Patience

You have a plan ready for sales, marketing, operations but every development just seems to take more time than originally imagined? It’s just normal. Things always take longer than you plan. It’s important that you don’t loose your motivation over the fact that things are not always running according to your plan.

Here in Zambia, being patient is a big part of our life. There are many things in the institutional environment that slow our plans down, from internet speed, to power shortage, to availability of maintenance workers. Of course, we would love being a huge company by now, but growth just takes its time as well.

3. + 4. Adaptability & Self-Awareness

Being a small team means you have to be a jack of all trades. Small businesses can’t afford to have separate departments to handle everything, so management often has to play multiple parts. You must be able to adapt to the variations of tasks that you are required to master.

But it’s also important to never forget that everyone has their weaknesses. As a manager, you have to know not just your strengths but also be self-aware where you need help. Consider this when you build a great team and find people that compliment your needs.

5. Organization

Since you’re required to master a lot of different tasks and departments simultaneously, staying organized and focused is vital. You must stay on top of your responsibilities! This works best if you break down tasks problems and come up with an actionable plan.

6. Humility

You will constantly be facing difficulties and failures. Humility often means accepting failure and adjusting to those obstacles. Your vision of success will be undercut but the obstacles of reality. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

When we first started our impact sourcing company in Zambia, we found ourselves challenged by even the easiest tasks. Our projects didn’t run smoothly at all and after a lot of frustration, we came to realize that we needed to reassess our business model and prospects.

7. Scrutiny

It’s important to be critical of everything happening in your business and figuring out how to make things better. Problems often need to be addressed early on before they grow out of control.

8. Curiosity

Leaders are always learning. Only if you are striving to improve yourself you’ll manage to become more adaptive, critical, and self-aware.

A while back we’ve implemented an internship program. Young graduates from all over the world and diverse educational background come to work with us on a 2-3 month rotation cycle. Thus, we are constantly exposed to new, fresh ideas and minds, which is one way for us to keep learning and improving ourselves.

9. Empathy

Being able to see the world from your stakeholders’ perspective is critical. You need to understand what your employees, partners, customers, investors, and suppliers think. And you need to be open to hearing their feedback.

At Impact Enterprises, we put a strong emphasize on keeping excellent relationships with our customers. Whenever we travel out of Zambia we try to visit as many of our clients as possible in person, to hear what they have to say.

10. Confidence

Last but not least: Remember that there’s always a bigger fish in the sea. It’s easy to start comparing yourself to your competitors and being discouraged by their success. Don’t let glossy marketing stories tell their whole story. They also started small and face the exact same challenges as you.

How Investment in Internet is Changing Africa

Information and communication technology is driving the new “knowledge-based” economy in the developed and developing world. However, internet access remains comparatively low in Africa, with internet penetration at 20% for the continent.

The barriers to internet usage are many, including the high cost and lack of access, and for those who do have internet access it can be unreliable and slow. Zambia is no different, with an internet penetration rate of 16% for its population of 14 million people. Even worse, 75% of users are only in the capital city of Lusaka.

This creates obstacles for the small and medium enterprises and start-ups in the region, such as us at Impact Enterprises. Beyond just the price tag of getting reliable access, online services are rarely available making simple tasks cumbersome. Online payments and services are costly and rarely available and ecommerce is practically non-existent.

Countries are beginning to see that low internet adoption is becoming a hindrance to their economies, with 140 countries creating a specific broadband plan, compared to just 15 in 2005. As a result, many African countries, including Zambia, are looking to develop their fiber optic networks.

Expansion in Zambia

Internet in Zambia traces back to the Copperbelt Energy Corporation (CEC), which has provided power supply to the Copperbelt mining region of northern Zambia and southern Congo since the 1950s. Investment in the telecom infrastructure of the region eventually led to a joint partnership with Liquid Telecom Group to provide retail internet services.

Today, CEC Liquid Telecom is one of the largest companies contributing to fiber optic development in the region, which plans to lay 18,000 kilometers of cable on the continent by the end of 2015. The Zambia Electric Supply Corporation (ZESCO), the country’s power utility company, itself had installed 5,300 km of fiber network in the country by the end of 2013.

These investments have already led to great benefits. In February 2015, Liquid Telecom announced the launch of its Fiber to the Home (FTTH) service, which provides broadband services to homes and businesses. The new network means individuals gain access to unlimited data packages at speeds up to 10 Mbps with prices less than one fifth of the current available broadband options.

Success in Unusual Places

The increased fiber network and increased access has great potential to impact the local economy. By bringing data packages to homes and small business, it fosters the environment for the development of the technology sector in the economy.

According to a report by McKinsey on the impact of internet on developing countries, SMEs that leverage the internet have higher growth, higher profits, and productivity gains of 5-19%. Furthermore, for every job lost due to internet innovation, 3.2 new jobs are created.

Believe it or not, no place has demonstrated this potential better than Rwanda. Yes, that Rwanda.

20 years ago, the small east African country experienced one of the worst humanitarian events in history. Out of the ashes of the genocide emerged a well-organized economic restoration led by their visionary president, Paul Kagame. In cooperation with foreign governments, NGOs, and consultants, Rwanda laid out a clear plan for its future called Vision 2020.

A major chapter of the plan recognizes how critical ICT is for a country to compete in today’s world. Through major investment in infrastructure and partnerships, their telecom companies now provide coverage to 99.8% of the country, with user penetration predicted to be 95% by 2016. The capital, Kigali, even offers free WiFi across the entire city.

That’s an astounding accomplishment, considering the state of the nation just two decades ago. As a result of these reforms, Rwanda now ranks 3rd in Africa on the Doing Business rankings and is becoming a tech hub for entrepreneurs.

Looking at Zambia’s Future

The value that investing in the telecom network has on the economy is not lost on the Zambian government. The Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA) acting Director General, Mulenga Chisanga, stated recently, “Broadband services would ease the way of doing business in the country and add value to the economy. There is therefore need for industries to embrace broadband services to complete on a global level to grow their businesses.”

According to the McKinsey report, governments need to focus on three types of initiatives – promoting access and literacy, creating a favorable regulatory environment, and e-government services. These all face challenges, including massive investments in curriculums and equipment and receiving pushback from incumbent parties who will be disrupted by change. But the benefits far outweigh the costs.

For us at Impact Enterprises, we are fully embracing the digital age in pioneering socially conscious outsourcing here in Zambia. The developments happening today are laying the foundation for success, but there is still a long way to go. Through our work, we hope to demonstrate the amazing potential the internet age has to offer the brilliant youth of this country and hope that will inspire a cohesive vision for the future.

Generation Jobless: How Impact Enterprises Works to Reduce the Skills Gap

Youth unemployment has become a growing problem worldwide, both in developed and developing countries. As the world’s youth population continues to grow in size, there simply aren’t enough jobs to employ them. This led The Economist to dub today’s youth “Generation Jobless.”

According to the United Nations, nearly 3.5 billion people globally are under the age of 27.  One-third are between the ages 15 and 24, of which 600 million are either unemployed, work in the informal sector, or earn less than $2 a day. This means that unemployment for youths is three times higher than for adults.

To make matters worse, the world is facing a huge skills gap. Those leaving school are finding they still lack the skills required by employers. This may be a matter of not having the soft skills to be prepared for the workplace or aren’t being educated in sectors where job creation is happening, such as technology.

This is especially true in Sub-Saharan Africa, where, although literacy rates and school enrollment have increased over the years, many of the schooling systems still promote “rote learning.” This means students are taught to pass exams instead of gain real world workplace skills.

A recent report by JA Worldwide titled Generation Jobless gives five suggestions for helping the youth find employment. These include:

  1. Boost job creation and labor demand
  2. Better prepare young people for the job market
  3. Increase access to career counseling
  4. Improve current and long-term financial literacy
  5. Foster entrepreneurship

This is an undertaking requiring the commitment of governments, employers, educational institutions, civil society organizations, and financial institutions. All these stakeholders play a part in contributing to fighting unemployment.

Here at Impact Enterprises, we’ve taken the initiative to create a solution to this huge problem in Zambia, where the problem is as acute as anywhere. Our mission to create valuable employment for high school and college graduates means we’re not only providing jobs, but also addressing the skills gap that exists in today’s workforce head-on.

For the majority of our employees, working at Impact Enterprises is their first formal job. Through weekly workshops, we teach the soft skills necessary in the workplace to our employees, such as problem solving, creative thinking, teamwork, and communication. We also provide information on life skills such as savings and goal setting. This means that, beyond the hands-on technical skills they gain on the job, they are now better prepared to compete in the digital economy.

We are also engaging stakeholders domestically and abroad to promote job creation here in Zambia. Fostering an active, mutual dialogue about this global issue ensures that everyone is focused on the future. In Zambia, where development and entrepreneurship has been slow, these partnerships are only taking root. But over the last 2 years, we have seen that so many partners, from the universities to foreign embassies to local startup scenes, are committed to changing the prospects of this generation.

Social Impact Measurement: What are the Tools?

Part 2 of 2

Recently, we looked at how social enterprises are establishing a model for future industries. By blending social awareness into traditional business practices, companies gain various benefits that lead to long-term results. At first glance, this may seem obvious and optimistic, but how do we actually measure the social impact?

Measuring the social impact of these organizations can be difficult, but the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) is attempting to standardize impact research and measurement through their Impact Reporting and Investment Standard (IRIS). The IRIS catalog is designed to work across sectors and applies to various measures of performance including financial, operational, product, sector, social and environmental objectives.

By utilizing standardized impact measurement tools, new investors are able to fairly compare potential investments based on quantifiable data. Social investment fund managers are able to track the performance of their funds with ease. The social entrepreneur is more easily able to track the impact of their company and demonstrate its scalability. Finally, the general public will have a more transparent view of the social enterprise.

From the data gathered so far, this model of sustainability seems to be working. According to the recent GIIN Impact Investing Benchmark Report, social investment funds formed between 1998 and 2004 have outperformed comparative conventional private investment funds. Social investment funds were also more likely to weather the 2008 financial crisis. More recently launched impact funds trail their peers, but this is in large part due to the longer investment horizon for impact investors.

Overall, the study finds social impact funds are performing mostly in line with conventional peers. These figures demonstrate that being socially minded can have high returns on investment for all involved.

GIIN Benchmark

Source: Cambridge and Associates, GIIN Impact Investing Benchmark, 2015

 

From personal experience, being socially minded has benefited us at Impact Enterprises as well. We realize our mission of creating valuable employment in Zambia by providing not just jobs but professional development for our employees. Internally, this results in more dedicated employees and higher overall satisfaction. For our clients, they know that they are offshoring their work in a socially conscious manner. This means we are able to stay competitive even against more established peers.

The question ahead is, what will happen to social enterprises as they grow? As more players become involved in the sector, how will that tip the balance of supporting stakeholders versus satisfying shareholders? For example, in April 2015, Etsy, a certified B-Corp, went public, being only the second company to do so. As a publicly traded company, they will be particularly responsible to their shareholders who have the right to dictate the course of the business.

Public companies are often criticized for focusing on short-term profits over long term economic sustainability. Can these companies that are accountable to profit minded parties – be it the investment funds or shareholders – find the right model of maintaining their social impact?

Impact Enterprises featured at UNCTAD conference on e-commerce

On October 6, 2015, our CEO, Dimitri Zakharov, was a keynote speaker at the UNCTAD conference on ‘Global e-Commerce – Breaking Barriers to Inclusivity’ in Cambridge, UK. The conference presents key findings from the UN’s annual Information Economy Report. Impact Enterprises was proud to present its work in Zambia as a shining of example of how e-services are expanding into Africa and presenting new employment opportunities for a generation of underserved youth.

Below is a transcript of the speech.

Impact Sourcing in Africa: How the e-services industry is bringing inclusivity to a new generation

I want to thank the UNCTAD and Torbjorn Frederikson for inviting me to speak to you all today. It’s a pleasure to be here not just to represent our company, Impact Enterprises, but also Zambia, and its emerging tech sector, and Africa as a whole. I want to discuss with you today the emerging digital service sector in Africa and from our perspective, the success and challenges faced.

To give some background, Impact Enterprises is the first socially conscious outsourcing company in Zambia. We provide personalized, cost-effective support services such as lead generation, content moderation, and order management for dynamic, growing companies and organizations.

We operate in an emerging sector called “impact sourcing.” This is the subsector of the broader business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry that brings sustainable employment to underserved communities. Today, it accounts for 12% of the overall $104B BPO industry and is growing 11% per year.

This has been happening in India, where companies are now moving away from the tech cities like Bangalore into Tier 2 or 3 rural locations. This is happening in Central and Southeast Asia. And of course, in Africa, where youth employment stands at 51%.

Our company, Impact Enterprises, launched in 2013 in Eastern Zambia. Zambia is a southern Africa country of about 14 million people where unemployment for 20-24 year olds is at 59%. Those who can’t find work often go into the informal economy, the majority being agriculture.

At Impact Enterprises, beyond simply providing jobs, as a social enterprise we are committed to the professional development of our employees. Through internal workshops, lectures, and assignments, we strengthen their work during employment with the company and function as a springboard for pursuing higher education or better employment opportunities.

To give you some statistics, for 57% of our employees, working at Impact Enterprises is their first formal job. Just over half of our employees are female. And 83% of our employees now support on average 3.5 other people. They’ve already become leaders in their families and communities.

Bringing the service sector to Africa isn’t just a social cause. It’s become an economic necessity. Like many African countries, Zambia is a commodity based economy. 70% of its exports are from copper mining, a large amount being demanded by China. The problem is, copper is now at a 6 year low and downturn in China has attenuated the Zambia economy.

What Zambia, and many countries, must do is diversify and this is where technology services can help. Like the manufacturing industry, technology services allows for expansion in worker productivity, with the added benefit of requiring relatively little investment to achieve economies of scale. This is why we’re seeing Africa becoming the next destination for outsourcing.

Best of all, companies are already seeing the benefits that impact sourcing has, even beyond the traditional outsourcing model. First off is of course the social impact. For our employees at Impact Enterprises, they report an average 74% increase in their salary from their previous income. 92% said their experience will help them get a new job in the future. One employee wrote, “My job has opened up my mind to how people run their businesses in the other countries.”

From a business case, impact sourcing is proving a better value overall. Compared to even traditional BPO services, impact sourcing has demonstrated added value of 4-6% in South Africa, 10-15% in Kenya. And for our clients, we’re providing cost savings of as much as 50%.

Impact sourcing also provides a new pool of talent that’s familiar with the domestic market. Africa already has the youngest population in the world and will have the fastest growing economy in the next 5 years. This is increasing demand for local expertise.

It also is showing lower attrition rates among employees compared to traditional outsourcing, between 15-40%. This means employees stay longer, gain specialization in their service, and provide superior support.

So why is this so difficult to implement?

Why can’t we just give everyone a computer and internet hookup and they start competing for jobs? Rather than look at the macroeconomic issues, I want to look at this from a different perspective. I want to discuss the evolution of the workplace and how that presents a barrier to entry for a new workforce.

Over the course of our human civilization, the workplace has evolved through 3 major phases. In the first phase, for thousands of years, people worked as individuals. 80-90% of the world’s population was farmers. Work was incredibly unstable and offered no protections. And we still see this in places like rural Africa, where women are growing and selling the exact same vegetables as everyone else for a living.

Eventually, the second phase emerged, which is the idea of the company. This really took hold after the Industrial Revolution and was a drastic shift. Now we began working in teams and hierarchy emerged. More importantly, we had stable, predictable jobs and the corporation protected the individual. We started being able to choose our careers and the idea of work/life balance emerged.

Now, in developed countries, we’re seeing the third phase emerge. This is the time of the freelancer. Thanks to technology, the individual can take on an entire company in a David vs Goliath fashion – think of Uber. We are seeing very horizontal and flexible companies that are blending our work life and personal life.

This third phase is how many of us here are starting to think. But this poses a problem. What we often see in social agendas that try to address the issue of unemployment in developing countries is trying to deploy a Phase 3 type model without having the population adopt the principles of working in a Phase 2 company. For instance, a model of using cell phones to perform microwork in rural locations.

To illustrate this problem, at Impact Enterprises, at the end of last year we conducted our first bi-annual survey. One of the questions we asked our employees was, “What skills have you gained from your employment here?” And the response we got was a complete surprise.

The top answer wasn’t that they learned to use a computer better or how to utilize the internet for research. The top answer was, “I learned to be responsible.” They learned how to dress for work, be on time, work independently, and be accountable for their projects. As one person wrote, “I now understand how to survive in a corporate world.”

This is an incredibly important finding that shows the implication of bringing digital services to a place like Africa. In Zambia, where most people still have a deep connection to the village that still operates in the Phase 1 individual mentality, we can’t overlook the step of adopting the responsibilities of teamwork.

That’s not to say that there aren’t brilliant individuals who can dive into the Phase 3 marketplace and succeed, but this isn’t a scalable approach.

For a sustainable service sector to exist, it requires a deep investment in individuals. We’re talking about more than just digital literacy. We’re talking about shaping the mindset of the future of work.

Last week, as many of you know, the UN adopted the Sustainable Development Goals as the successor to the Millennium Development Goals. On the flight over here, I reread the new SDGs and took note of the last one – number 17.

To strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

What we’ve seen change over the last 20 years is a move from a sole reliance on the public sector for change, to a stronger partnership with the private sector.

If you go to South Africa today, what you will see is a rich, mutual dialogue that’s happening between different stakeholders. There’s corporations that are working directly with universities and training facilities to shape the curriculum. The government is talking with companies to shape policy to meet global demand. Multinational organizations are raising awareness with customers on the benefits of impact sourcing.

In Zambia, this dialogue is only just now emerging and is requiring the private sector to step up to the challenge. At Impact Enterprises, we’ve taken on the role of multiple stakeholders to prepare our workforce for the responsibilities they take on.

This year, in 2015, we’ve launched an ongoing curriculum of workshops that address the soft skills necessary for the workplace, such as professionalism, teamwork, and problem solving. We bring in guest speakers to talk about their careers. Here our employees are doing the “marshmallow challenge” which is a creative thinking exercise.

We’re particularly proud of the weekly women’s group we’ve started that allows the female employees at Impact to get together and support each other in their lives. They discuss career advice, self-esteem, gender equality, and in general how to be a better person.

What the impact sourcing sector is doing is opening new possibilities, both for the communities we’re impacting locally as well as the market opportunities we’re creating globally. It’s asking, who are we missing? How far can we go?

So I want to close out not with my words, but with one of our employees. The other month, we featured our women’s group on our company blog and we asked for them to contribute, and loved this quote from Debra. She’s the one right in the middle in the white dress. Debra started with us in May of this year and has been with us for the last 5 months.

She wrote:

“Being at Impact Enterprises means a lot to me. With a dream of becoming a midwife vigorously bubbling in my spirit, it has helped in numerous ways to reestablish my self-esteem and confidence as a woman.

With this at the back of my mind, I look forward every day to pursue this dream. When a person is surrounded by positive minded, dream-oriented, enthusiastic individuals, life is worth living because you know you can make it everywhere.”

Thank you Debra. Thank you to the whole Impact team. And thank you all today.

 

Can Social Entrepreneurship Succeed?

Part 1 of 2

The Social Enterprise Model

Social enterprises are on the rise and they’re demonstrating a new way of doing business. Emerging from the innovations of decades of social initiatives, they are now reshaping companies in ways not thought possible. And there’s much we can all learn from their example.

The social enterprise movement isn’t just a small niche focused on causes in the developing world. Estimates suggest that there are 62,000 social enterprises in the United Kingdom with revenue of £24 billion. In the United States a recent survey suggested that social enterprises could potentially account for up to $500 billion in revenue.

This industry is blurring the lines between for-profit businesses and the non-profit sector. On one side are non-profits (or the more aptly described not-for-profits), organizations that use their proceeds for the benefit of a social problem. On the other are for-profit companies that direct their earned profits to the owners, such as the partners or shareholders.

For-profit companies can still be involved in social missions, but today this is largely in the form of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and philanthropy arms. These programs are typically an appurtenance to the primary service of the business where consumer and shareholders’ interests are at stake.

Social enterprises fit somewhere in the middle of the business spectrum. Jonathan Greenblatt, Director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation in the U.S. Domestic Policy Council, describes a social entrepreneur as someone who creates change through a market based approach using direction action. Rather than trying to change the market environment through say lobbying or policy changes, they come up with solutions using a business model.

Take for example VisionSpring, which trains local entrepreneurs to check eyesight and sell eyeglasses. Their model tackles both unemployment and healthcare needs. Or Ethos Water, now a Starbucks subsidiary, which donates a portion of revenues towards water and sanitation initiatives.

Social Enterprises

The Benefits of Social Entrepreneurship

The recent growth in popularity and size of socially-conscious companies is reshaping markets around the world. Consumers in particular are demanding more from their products. The sophistication of Millennials, driven by information ubiquity, is putting pressure on companies to connect consumption to cause.

Today, companies are reviewing their entire supply chain, including the labor, materials, transport, and logistics of operations. They are being more transparent with the allocation of their profits. Third parties are able to attest to a company’s social impact, such as the B-Corp certification or the Impact Reporting and Investment Standard (IRIS).

In the past, companies would eschew social causes, seeing them as a cost or logistical burden. Today, social enterprises are proving that adopting a socially-conscious business model has many benefits.

On the top line, companies gain brand differentiation and customer engagement. They attract sophisticated consumers attracted to socially minded companies or a new consumer base that typically might be overlooked or priced out in a traditional for-profit approach. Cone Communications and Echo Research found that

90 percent of shoppers worldwide are likely to switch to brands that support a good cause, given similar price and quality.

These consumers are also having deeper, richer conversations with companies. When a brand stands behind a vision, they can connect with consumers on a whole new level.

On the bottom line, companies can gain cost savings and long term sustainability. For example, reducing the amount of packaging required for shipping can immediately reduce costs but also ensure companies don’t need to reconfigure supply chains in the future.

Even internally, a company benefits from adopting a social enterprise model. Employees become motivated by a higher purpose in their companies. They also strive for higher innovation, to ensure their products are sustainable and socially conscious. Moreover, as Millennials become a more dominate part of the workforce, corporate culture will need to change. A study by Brookings Institute states that two-thirds of Millennial employees said they wanted their employers to contribute to solving social problems, compared to only half of Baby Boomers and Generation Xers.

On the grander scale, it behooves all companies to adopt some mix of social awareness. Pressing issues like global warming, deforestation, food security, and human rights abuses can only be overcome by integrating social entrepreneurship into the market. Today’s social enterprises will hopefully be seen as pioneers for tomorrow’s new industries.