Sateen Sheth

Special Series (Part 4): BPO for the BoP – Work+Study=Job: Understanding of employment impact of a mid-stage Impact Sourcing Service Provider in Africa

Editor’s note: This post is the fourth in a six-part series examining the emerging Impact Sourcing space through work performed by the William Davidson Institute (WDI) and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.

In part three of our series on Impact Sourcing (to learn more about Impact Sourcing, please read part one and part two), we shared some findings from our visit to an early-stage Impact Sourcing Service Provider (ISSP), Impact Sourcing Africa, based in Kisumu, Kenya. Like many start-up ISSPs, ISA is excited by the potential of Impact Sourcing but faces real challenges relating to accessing resources, training disadvantaged employees, and securing new client work.

As we continue to profile innovative ISSPs, this post focuses on Daproim Africa, a mid-stage ISSP based in Nairobi, Kenya. Daproim, which was has been in operation since 2006, is an acronym for “Data Processing and Information Management.” The organization’s mission is to provide high- quality business process outsourcing services that are geared towards providing jobs and ensuring a transformational impact. Daproim employs over 100 full-time workers in addition to more than 400 part-time university students. The company offers a range of services, including online research, data entry, audio and video transcription, and invoice processing.

While Daproim has grown to become a healthy mid-sized enterprise, it has humble beginnings. Steve Muthee, founder and CEO of Daproim, saw the high unemployment in Kenya upon graduation from college and decided that becoming an entrepreneur who provides employment opportunities to others was the best way to address the jobless problem. He took out a small loan, received four computers and hired some university students to begin digitizing court records in a small space in the business district of Nairobi. Through his own ingenuity and in partnership with organizations like Samasource, Muthee quickly grew his company from four to more than 50 employees within two years. He now runs Daproim with a management team that includes his wife Caroline Wanjiku, who serves as chief operating officer.

Similar to Impact Sourcing Africa, Daproim has benefited from networking with and receiving peer support from other ISSPs. Wanjiku went to a training program in Cambodia at the headquarters of Digital Data Divide, an established ISSP based in several countries. (Note: We’ll be profiling DDD in part five of our series). “I was able to learn about operational elements that helped us at Daproim develop and operationalize our own internal processes (for example, developing training manuals and a code of ethics) that ultimately improved organizational efficiencies,” Wanjiku says.

One of Daproim’s most promising undertakings is the Digital Campus Connect (DCC) program. The program started in 2011 with funding from the Rockefeller Foundation and in partnership with TechnoServe. DCC’s objective is to employ disadvantaged university students while they are pursuing their degree. As a result of employment, students are able to gain formal sector work experience, improve their skills and earn income to help pay for tuition and other expenses. Daproim also provides relevant life-skills training on topics such as interpersonal skills, time management, career development, and personal finance. Post-graduation, students are able to move on to better paying-jobs as a direct result of the valuable work experience they’ve gained in addition to their college degree. Muthee believes that DCC and other such programs are having an even greater effect on the country at-large.

“Programs like DCC are changing the Kenyan traditional mindset in regards to work and school,” he said. “Initially, parents wanted students to just study and not work … Emphasis was placed primarily on education. Now parents are seeing the benefits of doing both and as a result they are having a more positive outlook on their children’s education as a whole.”

The program, also referred to as “Nikko Workx,” which is Kenyan slang for “I’m hustling,” is particularly intriguing because it leverages a virtual work model. Some work at the Daproim office in Nairobi, but many students work remotely from university computer labs or personal computers. Remote work has been somewhat challenging for Daproim to manage, as it can be difficult to train employees and the quality of work can suffer, especially during exam periods. Some tasks, such as transcription services, do not even allow for remote work. Daproim has taken proactive measures to mitigate some of these issues, including developing a flexible work-study program that accounts for exam schedules and emphasizing in-person training in order to ensure that students are clear on job role and responsibilities. In addition, the organization has helped formed university clubs of Daproim employees to support peer training.

While Daproim does not encounter the same issues faced by newer ISSPs, such as a lack of a track record or resource constraints, securing a supply of work to meet the demands of the growing DCC program has been challenging. Daproim currently has more than 400 students enrolled in the program and the goal is within a year to increase to 800 students from three Kenyan universities (Maseno, Kenyatta and Moi). While those numbers are large, Daproim has received more than 2,000 applications for the DCC program. Unfortunately, it is not able to hire more students without the appropriate workload from new client work. The organization is currently looking at opportunities to sub-contract work from other larger BPO companies in India as well as leverage existing partnerships to secure new clients.

In order to better understand the effects that ISSP employment and the DCC program has had on Daproim workers and their families, the WDI team interviewed and visited the homes of several employees. While the stories we heard are anecdotal and detailed impact assessment studies are needed to truly understand and quantify long-term impacts, the substantial change that had taken place in those we had spoken to was evident. One student shared how he was able to increase his income about 20x (from about 1,000 Kenyan Shillings a month to 19,000). This increase in salary allowed him to not only move out of his family’s one room house and into his own place, but also enabled him to help his family move into a larger place. The employee was also able to purchase a computer for his place so that he could perform more remote location work.

The changes we observed, however, go beyond income. Friends, family and community members see employees as independent, positive role models. Many mentioned that their aspirations for the future had also increased as a result of their working experience; some shared their interest in continuing their studies to receive graduate degrees while others wanted to start their own companies.

While there are many positive aspects to ISSP employment, Daproim and other ISSPs must be aware of and account for potential adverse effects as well. For example, juggling both work and school can be stressful, especially when deadlines for both come up at the same time. Overall, Daproim would like to better understand and quantify the social impact of its work so that it can articulate these benefits to key stakeholders and use the information to improve its programs. It finds it difficult to do so as the organization does not currently have the internal capabilities or resources to perform such impact assessment. “As a social business, we want to know our impact as this is a key internal goal. Without help from other grantees, it does become difficult,” Muthee says.

As Daproim and other mid-size ISSPs continue to grow, it will be critical that they are able to clearly articulate the social impact of their work as well as continue to secure new business to meet the ever-growing supply of youth workers looking for employment. Check out my brief video interview with Muthee below:

Education, Technology
business development, employment, skill development