Recently, BSR’s Global Impact Sourcing Coalition (GISC)—which seeks to create more inclusive supply chains through procurement—published “The Autism Empowerment Kit,” which offers recommendations and resources for employers to provide workplace accommodations that empower employees with autism. Microsoft, one of the sponsors of this kit, recently shared this resource with its suppliers at an event on disability inclusion. We spoke with Tim Hopper, Microsoft’s manager of responsible sourcing initiatives, about this initiative and the company’s wider commitment to Impact Sourcing.

Sara Enright: Microsoft has been working with its suppliers on Impact Sourcing for several years. Why does this work matter to Microsoft?

Tim Hopper: We have been working on Impact Sourcing for several years together with our suppliers to encourage inclusive employment. For Microsoft, Impact Sourcing is about knocking down artificial barriers to employment and allowing high-potential individuals to bring their strengths to the marketplace. By partnering with our suppliers, we can bring people in who would not otherwise have an opportunity and support their success in the workplace. It’s a business model that strongly aligns with the company’s mission to empower every person and every organization to achieve more.

It’s important to note that the benefits of Impact Sourcing extend to the business as well. As we see in the case studies presented in the autism empowerment kit, together with other case studies on Impact Sourcing that have been developed over time, there are clear business drivers for inclusive employment, including less attrition in work that is at similar quality or higher than that done by traditional workers. This has been consistently demonstrated across all the different categories of Impact Sourcing.

Enright: For the past year, you’ve been leading a working group on disability inclusion in the workplace, leading to the development of this report and other engagement with Microsoft’s global suppliers. Tell us more about this initiative.

Hopper: Recently, we launched a special focus on inclusion of people with disabilities. The clear majority of these people are under- or unemployed.   

We encourage suppliers to partner with us in two ways. First, we include Impact Sourcing as an evaluation criteria in our strategic requests for proposals, offering providers that have inclusive employment programs higher points in the procurement evaluation. Second, we run an annual awards competition to recognize the good work of suppliers who are doing Impact Sourcing. This year’s competition focused on suppliers who empower people with disabilities.

It’s exciting to see how much this work has already caught on within the company and with our suppliers. At Microsoft, we see disability as a strength and encourage individuals to come as they are. 

Enright: The GISC is initially focused on Impact Sourcing in the business process outsourcing industry. What additional categories of supplier do you believe may be a good fit for Impact Sourcing?

Hopper: We believe that Impact Sourcing can work across all supplier categories, from call centers, to facilities management, all the way up to application development. If you think about the variety of people who are long-term unemployed or informally employed, there are opportunities for them to enter the workforce through all industries. Every industry can make an impact.

Enright: As a member of GISC, what opportunities do you see through a collaborative approach to advancing Impact Sourcing?

Hopper: The most challenging thing for Impact Sourcing has been getting to a common definition of what it is, and how to measure it consistently. I think GISC is delivering on that need with the development of an Impact Sourcing standard and measurement toolkit, which will help to ensure that our suppliers are doing impact souring in a way that is measurable, and that offers assurance that they are having a real impact. Coming to a common definition and agreement on a standard is key.

In the long run, we could see Impact Sourcing growing in many exciting directions. Can we create a certification that allows suppliers to register as certified Impact Sourcing providers, so that we can prioritize them in the same way that we do minority-owned, women-owned, and disability-owned businesses? That would be a big deal, allowing companies like ours to offer beneficial procurement contracts to companies that are committed to workforce inclusion. 

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