Njambre and Arbusta: A mini case study in impact sourcing, co-creation in Latin America
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Spanish on NextBillion en Español.
“Just as microfinance demonstrated that poor people are trustworthy borrowers, impact sourcing is demonstrating that people from villages and urban slums are reliable knowledge workers.”
– David Bornstein, author of “How to Change the World“
Since we created Njambre, a social enterprise accelerator in Buenos Aires, we have known that our most important asset to contribute to a new economic model (one of integration and sustainability, one that puts people in the center) is to directly create impact innovation enterprises (I2Es) . Our biggest added value comes from engineering things from the start: identifying a social problem, designing the solution, recruiting the entrepreneurs to lead the start-up and partnering with them. Just like any company builder.
That’s what we did with Arbusta, an I2E that provides digital services to the corporate world, providing work opportunities and empowering underprivileged women and young people with little or no access to the labor market.
Why did we create Arbusta?
There are 31 million Latin-American youths who are neither employed nor attending school. And even though there are a host of organizations looking to solve this situation through coaching, training in various trades, employment attitude and skills, and insertion into the corporate world, among other strategies, the cold hard fact remains that access to a decent job for at-risk individuals just does not scale. One of the main reasons why is the strong prejudice surrounding their backgrounds – poverty is often associated with crime, sloth and lack of ability. This perception continues even when the individual is perfectly capable of performing the required job. This situation, coupled with the fast growth of the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) global market, expected to reach USD $574 billion in 2015, presented us the opportunity for Arbusta.
What services does Arbusta offer?
Arbusta offers the following services: social media management (i.e. community manager services) and event coverage, software quality control (application testing), audio-to-text transcription and picture tagging. Aside from these services, we adapt to the specific needs of each client in the digital services field. Our consumers range from big companies and small/medium sized businesses to professionals and social organizations and/or that require any of the above services.
What’s the impact?
We started up in April 2013 and by December we had 10 corporate clients, including Grupo RHUO, MercadoLibre, AAPRESID, IAE and Educ.AR. We provide jobs for 16 people who work in service provision and we estimate reaching a workforce of 100 for 2014. These figures show the expansion of the digital services market, but Arbusta is much more than numbers; we provide what often is a unique opportunity to women and youngsters who have no job and no career trajectory:
The job has flexible hours. This is especially important for young mothers.
Workers learn digital skills, which is a completely new craft, but in a format which is familiar (“I’m going to make money by using Facebook!? Get outta here!”)
We provide a first job opportunity. On top of increasing their incomes, which is very important, people who work in Arbusta find themselves more sociable, eager to work in teams, thrilled to find a new calling, less shy, and willing to interact.
Additionally, Arbusta’s impact can be felt in the corporate world as a cultural shift by eliminating the prejudice against people from impoverished origins to produce good quality work.
How was Arbusta co-created?
Federico Seineldin, one of Njambre’s partners, who comes from the tech world, has been following Samasource for a while. Samasource is an American organization that provides digital services through a microwork model based out of Africa. He assessed the possibility of adapting the model to the Latin American context and enrolled Anaclara Dalla Valle (http://www.linkedin.com/in/anaclaradallavalle) and Luis Cardoso Ayala (http://www.linkedin.com/in/carday) as partners. Their strong entrepreneurial spirit and combined skills and experience made them the perfect fit for managing the company.
From the get-go, the Arbusta and Njambre teams were one. While Luis and Anaclara carried out the daily operation, Njambre plays a more strategic role and participates in key actions like establishing the organization model, performing business development, networking, fund-raising, etc. Both teams meet on a weekly basis, but on top of that Njambre provides constant mentoring through its shared services unit and the appointed mentors working for Arbusta as well as other companies in the group.
Lessons learned through co-creation
We know we are treading on uncharted territory in the process of co-creating impact innovation companies and we have lessons to share. Two very important ones are related to governance and ownership. Within these companies, governance takes the form of a dynamic, flexible and participative decision making process, reducing the risk of vertical management, which is very common in the entrepreneurial world. With regards to ownership, a very common trait among social entrepreneurs is reluctance to let partners in, out of fear that the social impact will dilute if the new partner does not share common values. The co-creation model that Njambre encourages is one of sharing values, of course, but also one of openness to adding new partners if this will result in a greater impact, larger scale and help reach the goal that the social company is seeking.
In Arbusta we believe that fostering access to job opportunities is one of the key paths to incorporating into the global economy millions of people that are outside of the system, and thus alleviate poverty in a meaningful way.
As a result, we believe we are the first impact sourcing social company in South America.
Paula Cardenau leads the Social Business Initiative at Ashoka, a platform that supports Ashoka Fellows with market-based approaches to scale up their social impact. She is a co-founder of Njambre, a social enterprise accelerator.
 Impact Innovation Companies (I2C) are those companies with a focus in integrating destitute communities and/or helping the planet by using a high degree of innovation and technology.
 Exploring The Value Proposition for Impact Sourcing, The Buyer´s Perspective, Accenture & The Rockefeller Foundation