Impact Sourcing and Inclusive Supply Chains: A Conversation with Bloomberg and Digital Divide Data

July 18, 2017
  • Sara Enright

    Former Director, BSR

The next wave for employment in outsourcing is not about finding the next location; it’s about thinking more inclusively when tapping local talent. Through Impact Sourcing, companies benefit from offering good job opportunities to disadvantaged people in any country they source services from, including the United States.

During a breakfast event held by BSR's Global Impact Sourcing Coalition (GISC) in New York, we spoke with Erin Lambert, global head of sourcing for Bloomberg’s Global Data Division, and Jeremy Hockenstein, CEO of Digital Divide Data, about their partnership to provide good job opportunities to underemployed populations in the United States. This interview was conducted by Jon Browning, CEO of Strategic Sourcing Advisors.

Jon Browning: Jeremy, tell us about Digital Divide Data’s work, and your partnership with Bloomberg.

Jeremy Hockenstein: A few years ago, one of our board members approached us to see if we could do Impact Sourcing in the United States, given our successful workforce development and employment programs in other countries. This was the beginning of our U.S. program, Liberty Source, which focuses on employment opportunities for the military community, including military veterans and military spouses.

Most of us are aware of the difficulties many veterans have transitioning to civilian employment, but you might be surprised to learn that military spouses are more likely to be unemployed than the average population, with an unemployment rate of 30 percent, which is six times higher than their civilian counterparts (at around 5 percent). They often cannot find work flexible enough to accommodate their spouse’s schedule or deployments. Through Liberty Source, we are able to offer stable work with more flexible work options, and as a result have a loyal, highly educated workforce that can deliver great value to our clients. Our partnership with Bloomberg has really been key in helping build our U.S. business.

Browning: Bloomberg has been working with its suppliers on Impact Sourcing for several years now. Erin, tell us about your experience to date.

Erin Lambert: When Bloomberg partnered with Liberty Source in 2015, our goal was to find a location and a partner to replace the need for contingent workers locally. We found that partner in Liberty Source, and our relationship continues to expand.

Most of the Liberty Source team have a university degree, and several have multiple degrees. I think one success factor is that we don’t just set up the work and forget about it; we visit the facilities in Virginia. And we enjoy visiting! I’ve got trainers who beg me to go there because they enjoy working with the Liberty Source team so much; they treat them as an extension of our internal teams. Impact Sourcing engages both hearts and minds. It is meaningful to Bloomberg employees that we are enabling military spouses to work remotely while their husbands or wives are deployed.

We are also sourcing from a provider in India that operates in remote villages outside of Kolkata, employing undereducated youth who would otherwise have to migrate to the large cities to find jobs. In visiting these job sites, I’ve met employees whose families were previously living below the poverty level. Through Impact Sourcing, the provider has been able to bring up the employees’ family income as much as 400 percent to 500 percent. Once you’ve visited some of these facilities in these countries, you’re even more dedicated to finding commercial ways to help make this work.   

Browning: Digital Divide Data also does work internationally. Jeremy, what are some of the differences between the work you do in the United States versus the work you do in other locations?

Hockenstein: Our operations first started in Laos, and then we moved to Cambodia and Kenya, where we targeted very talented high school graduates who couldn’t afford to go to university. We learned we could tap into a motivated, talented population who, without training and work, would be stuck in a cycle of poverty. Our work-study programs in those countries provides our employees about 35 hours of work a week plus scholarships and loans to go to university. In the United States, most of our employees come to us with higher levels of education, so we don’t need as much pre-employment training as we do internationally.

No matter where we operate, we see these jobs as stepping stones to future opportunities and career growth, maximizing the impact for employees. Even from the beginning, we had high retention rates compared to the average for the business process outsourcing industry, with new employees staying more than four years with us before moving on to bigger roles elsewhere. With higher employee retention, we are able to offer training in more advanced skills and a career progression that does not come with short-term employment. And this strategy has been good for our clients and our business. 

Browning: Erin, have you had any challenges in introducing Impact Sourcing within Bloomberg?

Lambert: Philanthropy and corporate social responsibility are deeply engrained in Bloomberg’s corporate culture, so there actually haven’t been a lot of challenges internally.

The only concerns that have been raised are whether our Impact Sourcing providers could continue to grow as Bloomberg grows. We have partnered with Liberty Source for over a year. They’ve grown a lot with us already, and we have a growth strategy in place that I’m pretty confident we will achieve together.

Browning: Erin, as a member of the GISC, what opportunities do you see through a collaborative approach to advancing Impact Sourcing?

Lambert: The Coalition has grown even since Bloomberg joined a couple months ago. For us, the value in participating in the GISC will come when we are able to evaluate the true social impacts of inclusive employment. Until then, it’s important for companies like Bloomberg to step up and talk about our work, and encourage other companies to follow. There’s an opportunity for others to learn from our experience, to hear that, yes, we are working on Impact Sourcing, and when issues have come up, here’s how we worked through it.

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