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Love (and impact sourcing) in the time of Covid

Amanda Lewis, a lawyer specialising in IT outsourcing, describes the diversity and inclusion work of Digital Divide Data

Having advised on IT services and IT outsourcing for nearly 30 years, I am embarrassed to say that I had not heard of impact sourcing until I came across Digital Divide Data in spring 2020.

DDD is a not-for-profit organisation whose social mission is to “transform lives around the world through sustainable training and employment programmes which provide a path to lifelong employment and opportunity”.

In practice, what this means is that DDD takes some of the smartest and most motivated youngsters in Kenya, Laos and Cambodia, funds them to study for a university degree, trains them to a high standard and employs them to provide outsourcing services such as data labelling for machine learning, data conversion, data cleansing and data migration. Its clients include Amazon, Google, Unesco, World Bank, London School of Economics, Sage Publishing, Imperial College and Bristol University.

The strengths of the impact sourcing model are that the nature of the enterprise means employees are particularly motivated. Most keep in contact with DDD even after they move on to work for other employers, through an alumni programme. The fact that DDD’s mission is to provide employees with the best possible training means the services provided to customers are of high quality. The fact that DDD does not need to pay a dividend to shareholders means customers can receive the benefit of lower charges.

However, when Covid started to spread around the world, DDD was faced with serious problems. Some of the employees in Nairobi came from the slums of Kibera, where it was not practical to work from home. In Laos, some of the employees came from inaccessible villages where there was no reliable electricity or internet.

DDD responded to this crisis by raising additional funding from donations to rehouse employees in safe housing. It also distributed food, soap and hygiene products to employees and worked with DDD alumni to distribute rice to local communities. This ensured that DDD’s employees could quickly get back to work during what has been a difficult time for everyone, with a particularly dire impact on the poorest communities.

The way DDD responded during the height of the crisis has meant that it has seen an increase in business in autumn 2020.

As environmental, social and governance considerations gain prominence in board-level discussions and organisations seek to add diversity and inclusion goals to their supplier and procurement programmes, I suspect that, even if this is the first time that you have heard of impact sourcing suppliers, such as DDD, SamaSource and Cloud Factory, it will not be the last time.

Amanda Lewis is a non-executive director at Digital Divide Data

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