Time for Impact Sourcing




From mobile applications helping smallholder farmers to access banking, to solar innovations providing villages with energy for light and water filtration, technology has served us well to empower poor and vulnerable people in Africa.

But, the potential of new technologies to impact progress and development across the continent is tempered by the reality that job opportunities are not keeping pace with the millions of young people entering the African labour market each year and the tens of millions more who never even try. That is why global policymakers must ensure that technology is not just improving lives, but also creating jobs. Now is the time to harness the explosion in technology to connect low-income, high-potential youth with employment opportunities – specifically, digital jobs.

The possibilities of digital jobs are staggering. Nearly two quintillion bytes of data exist in the world today – 90pc of which has been created in the last two years. Businesses and organisations of all sizes and scope – companies, universities, libraries and governments – need workers who can curate and manage that data; from transcribing printed books into digital formats to creating databases to mine insights from consumer data. These tasks can be performed from almost any location in the world, not just onsite at a company’s headquarters, and often at lower costs.

What if businesses were better intentioned in seeking disadvantaged, but well-trained youth in their recruitment practices and governments sought out contractors who were serious about employing young people struggling to find employment?

That is the question the Rockefeller Foundation has explored in Africa over the last three years, as we have worked to build a new field called Impact Sourcing, which seeks to promote more equitable growth by training and employing youth in information and communications processing centres located in low-income areas.

Impact Sourcing creates job opportunities from the needs of increasingly electronic and mobile government operations; from the rapidly growing technology needs of large businesses, based in Africa and multinationals with business in Africa, to the 512 billion dollar global outsourcing market – providing a win-win opportunity for both businesses, which have seen costs decrease by 40pc, and for employees in developing nations.

A steady income enables job-holders to reinvest money into schooling and healthcare for their family members. And, jobs create jobs. As more Impact Sourcing centres or office spaces open up to house these digital jobs, the surrounding community will see an uptick in its own economy, enabling the creation of other opportunities for small-scale food vendors, housekeeping, construction and transport, among others. Through this multiplier effect, digital job opportunities at scale could help to improve millions of lives.

And, with Africa’s Information & Communications Technology (ICT) sector expected to reach 150 billion dollars by 2016, due to rapid growth and adoption, now is the time to act. That is why we are launching Digital Jobs Africa, an 83 million, seven-year initiative that aims to improve the lives of one million people through job creation for high-potential youth.

Our work will focus on six African countries, several of which were identified in a survey of 800 business executives as likely to be at the top of the ICT sector in the next five years. We will reach one million people through youth employment and the amplification of the impact of their incomes on their households and communities.

Our work through Digital Jobs Africa will focus on three specific interventions. We will continue to work to grow digital job opportunities that meet the demands of potential employers, including in the Impact Sourcing sector, by partnering with the private sector to ensure broad adoption of its practices. We will help develop additional digital jobs in the booming ICT sector, whether through the next big discovery in mobile health or a new innovation in business that will require thousands of digitally trained workers to support and execute.

Finally, we will support organisations that provide training for the skills these jobs require – transcribing, editing, even app development. These skills are not only beneficial for obtaining employment in the short-term. Skills like computational thinking, cognitive functioning and digital media literacy, will be both commonplace and critical to compete for the jobs of tomorrow.

Beyond reaching one million lives in seven years, our goal is to create a flourishing ecosystem for digital jobs that can be coordinated among governments and businesses without the continued involvement of philanthropy. But, we are committed to jump-starting this effort with our governmental and corporate partners and our current and future grantees on the ground.

Together, we believe that technology can do more than just indirectly improve people’s lives – it can provide them with sustainable job opportunities and skills to work with for a lifetime.



By Judith Rodin
Judith Rodin is president of The Rockefeller Foundation. This commentary is submitted to Fortune by Global Issues.

Published on May 19, 2013 [ Vol 13 ,No 681]


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