Reflections on a Sunset: Lessons Learned from the Global Impact Sourcing Coalition

July 27, 2021
  • Sara Enright

    Former Director, BSR

It has been seven months since we sunsetted the Global Impact Sourcing Coalition (GISC), and I’m still troubled by the question: “Did we fail?” 

If we measure our progress against our ambitions, the answer is “yes.”  

But I’m also compelled to make the case for “no.” While it didn’t live up to its full potential, we did something extraordinary. Our effort was valuable for those who participated and positively impacted thousands of employees’ lives around the world. The experience is worth learning from.

The GISC officially launched in 2016 with the aim of building more inclusive supply chains through Impact Sourcing—a business practice where companies prioritize suppliers that intentionally hire and provide career development opportunities to people who otherwise have limited prospects for formal employment.

We began with 20 members, and by the end of 2020, we had the support of over 75 companies and stakeholder organizations hailing from 32 countries. But ultimately, at the end of last year, BSR and the GISC Steering Committee made the responsible decision to disband the GISC, releasing the resources and energy we had centralized back into the universe to support new opportunities.

At BSR, we believe that collaborations go further and deeper when they are designed for impact and that the practice of multistakeholder collaboration is very much a work in progress. In our efforts to continuously improve, we are sharing a Lessons Learned report that seeks to capture both the successes and missteps that we encountered while running the GISC—so that other collective action efforts can build on our experience. 

What Worked Well

GISC’s premise was simple: By prioritizing suppliers that have established inclusive employment initiatives, GISC members could send a powerful market signal to all corporate suppliers—which employ a fifth of the global workforce—encouraging them to compete based on their social impact. Inspired by the supplier diversity movement, we held the ambition for all large companies to pledge a percentage of their procurement spend toward suppliers that intentionally offer good, career-advancing jobs to people who formerly lived in poverty.

To our delight, this market-driven approach began to work. Many supplier companies launched or expanded their inclusive employment programs to better distinguish themselves to their clients. They also began to update their policies and practices in accordance with the requirements of the GISC’s Impact Sourcing Standard and, as a result, created more inclusive workplaces and good jobs for all employees.

Due to the commitments of companies like GISC’s supplier members to hiring the most vulnerable in their communities, the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry is both expanding its talent pool and more evenly distributing gains across entire communities.

Our most visible success resulted from a multi-year Impact Sourcing Challenge that led GISC suppliers to pledge and then meet their goal to employ over 29,000 impact workers in good jobs from 19 countries around the world. This included people on the autism spectrum in the United States, long-term unemployed youth in South Africa, and people who formerly lived in poverty in India and the Philippines. Furthermore, suppliers reported to the GISC many additional business benefits that companies often report experiencing with more inclusive and diverse cultures, such as decreased turnover and a more highly motivated workforce, further reinforcing their commitment to inclusive employment.

What We Could Have Done Better

At the same time that we were seeing these advancements, cracks in our business model began to appear, and they only deepened as the GISC grew.

Among other important lessons, we should have worked to secure, from an early stage, multiple funding partners who shared the GISC’s vision for market-driven poverty alleviation across supply chains and who could provide strategic injections of philanthropic and patient capital to support this long-term vision.

We found that a business model built entirely around membership dues was weighted by the requirement to deliver member benefits, making it more difficult to engage in forward investment and the creation of public goods. To continue our progress, we would have needed to invest in in-depth measurement and evaluation, rightsholder engagement and consultation, due diligence, advocacy to reach new audiences, and to build up an emergency fund to better react to unexpected circumstances.

And because of these missteps, just as we had the evidence that our theory of change was robust and it was time to hit the accelerator to reach scale, we ran out of the funds necessary to do so.

Through the GISC, we managed to rally a wave of professional and personal energy whose ripples continue to spread around the world in new and exciting ways. We are proud to note that, beyond GISC’s tenure, many former member companies, industry networks, and other stakeholders have stepped up to continue to champion the Impact Sourcing movement, utilizing their influence, communications, and networks to inspire more companies. Several GISC members have gone on to launch Impact Sourcing chapters and working groups, taking collaborative efforts forward in key geographies such as North America, India, and South Africa.

We hope that, in reading the Lessons Learned report, you see that we were able to go further through collective action than any one organization could have alone and that there are many metrics beyond a collaboration’s continuation that might better define impact and success.

BSR continues to support companies in developing their Impact Sourcing strategies, so please contact us to learn more. And be sure to join the Impact Sourcing Champions LinkedIn group to connect with like-minded professionals.

Let’s talk about how BSR can help you to transform your business and achieve your sustainability goals.

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