Literally hundreds of new BPOs have sprung up in the Nearshore region in recent years. Aside from hiring locals, driving efficiencies and trying to build profitable businesses – what should their commitment to the local community be?
We see many BPOs quietly working in the region – but very few operate in an open and transparent manner. We often wonder: what are they trying to hide? CEOs and country managers should take proactive and meaningful steps to show their interest in being a serious partner in the emergence of the local area and the betterment of those societies.
Mental Wellbeing as a KPI
Joel Walker, Global Head of Procurement – Corporate Services at Vodafone Procurement Company, recently said his wish for 2021 was to see “mental wellbeing” highlighted as a key performance indicator (KPI). Indeed, the disruption caused by the pandemic has gone on longer than most people expected and the burden on people’s wellbeing is a real threat. We now need to invest the same energy into protecting agent welfare as we did mobilizing enabled agents to get home at the start of the pandemic. The first few weeks of Zoom quizzes, virtual team meetings and daily stand ups were all good reflexes. But the realities of cramped homes and limited social contact are taking their toll. Not every call center agent can easily work from home so we need to be more understanding of his or her challenges. These agents did not choose a remote job, it was given to them in a crisis. Despite the best efforts of team leaders, the camaraderie of the call center is missing for many people. We all need to take some time to reflect on what we can do to ensure everybody gets through this, nobody is left behind and mental health becomes a primary KPI for BPO organizations.
Development in the Nearshore
It is also important that executives reflect on how they are developing the youth in their communities. Whether these young people work for you or not, their future strengthens yours. According to UNESCO, the Caribbean was experiencing at least 25% unemployment rates for youth between the ages of 17-25 in November 2019. Two-thirds of the population in the region is under the age of 30 and experiences three times the rates of unemployment compared to their over-30 counterparts. According to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), as of December 2020, some Latin American countries like Chile and Colombia are experiencing unemployment rates greater than 25% for their 15-24 year olds.
Such data suggests profitability and potential for the BPO industry are both very high. I see employment solutions, costs savings and a plethora of youth ready to enter the workforce where a job in our field is desirable and a viable lifelong career solution. But I still can’t find answers to questions such as: what are we doing to nurture this? What ‘give back’ philosophies have we implemented? When will we move beyond superficial statements such as “we invest in education”?
To reach unemployed youth, the BPO industry must focus on recruiting beyond traditional means. Businesses must connect with their communities rather than rely on social media adverts or other conventional recruiting practices.
“As business leaders, you have a responsibility to get closer to the issues that exist where you are doing business,” said Peter Boos, the Chairman Emeritus at EY Caribbean. “Create a structure, governance and a plan. This includes finance and funding as well as marketing.”
Boos suggests that companies identify a partner to help them deepen their levels of local engagement.
“There are third party sector, private and other organizations in your communities of business that will engage. [They] need and want this type of assistance and support,” he said. “As an organization you will have under-utilized assets like transportation, space, skilled employees. Engage with your community.”
The New Face of Community Outreach
One of the best ways to deepen knowledge and create connections is through a micro-mentorship program. Companies can offer online mentoring to small businesses in areas such as human resources and finance. In addition, internal online leadership development courses can be adapted and offered free to students in the local community.
Nearshore software development companies seem to be more actively engaged in the development of youth. However, this generally focuses on skills rather than on intangible leadership and general management capabilities.
Team International – another Nearshore company – appears very committed to youth education in their communities. If you are a student, you can take several courses in the countries where they operate for free.
As we have evolved from “where can we do business Nearshore?” to “where do we want to do business Nearshore?,” we may have watered down the value add that used to exist in the region. In my experience, I have found the best partners have direct and distinct local ties. Owners or operators are also regional or local community leaders, and in some cases philanthropic investors. BPO companies have the same obligation to commit since they are the mass employers. Simply saying we invest in education or wellness, the “we promote from within” lingo is not enough.
I challenge leaders to go beyond the implementation of said programming – only in the USA or Canada – where their offices are headquarted. Can this still be called community development and social responsibility if only a small fraction of your workforce is in fact “up north”? What if the FDI checklist was reversed and local governments and investment promotion agencies had a selection process that involved the “what can you do for me?” attitude we use when making final implementation decisions? Are we adding value in a sustainable and meaningful way that fosters our next generation of leaders? I would like to see and hear more about what is universally being facilitated, but more importantly, how programming at a corporate level is fitted to truly benefit all employees equally while simultaneously growing the community and not just increasing localized “jobs” in the Nearshore.
A sample of a potential partner for BPO is an organization like this… they exist. If we can find ways to get business done, we can find ways to get involved.