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December 04, 2013

TELUS International Talks Outsourcing and Social Responsibility, Part One

By Blaise McNamee, Web Editor

What corporations owe or do not owe to the societies and communities in which they operate is the focal point of the debate surrounding corporate social responsibility (CSR (News - Alert)).  The extent to which a private venture can and should contribute to the public good has long been a topic of contention in business, politics, and academia.  At its face, it often appears that maximizing profits is at odds with such societal duties.  Others, meanwhile, argue that these ends are not mutually exclusive and can, in fact, be harnessed toward a collective benefit. 

The business process outsourcing (BPO) industry is particularly tied to such discussions.  The act of saving money on operations overseas has naturally raised questions to the effect of “At whose expense?”  The ethics of outsourcing and the utility, if any, provided to local communities that supply the manpower (often in developing countries) is thus a complex one whose nuances extend beyond simple cost-benefit analysis.  

Recently, TMCnet caught up with Marilyn Tyfting, vice president of human resources at TELUS (News - Alert) International, a global contact center outsourcing provider, to discuss the ever changing face of business process outsourcers (BPOs) and their approach to CSR.  That interview follows below:

1. Why should BPOs worry about CSR? How can a company and society at large benefit from CSR initiatives?

The business process outsourcing (BPO) industry was born primarily out of the corporate desire to find operating efficiencies and to cut costs. Moving operations from one country to another meant saving money; it didn’t necessarily mean giving back to the new community. Thankfully, given the growing importance of corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives, the face of outsourcing is changing. Today, by responsibly and ethically employing hundreds of thousands of people, often in developing countries, BPOs are realizing that they have a role to play in shifting the social landscapes in emerging economies around the world. And that by doing so, the BPO, its customers, its employees and the community all benefit.

Progressive BPOs see CSR as contributing to their business success. BPOs are now going beyond the basics of providing well-paying jobs. They are learning just how strongly community development and employee well-being impact staff retention and service quality.

A true commitment to CSR within an organization helps with employee engagement, lowers attrition and increases employer respect, making for a stronger recruitment brand. When people feel valued and cared for, they become more loyal. Retention increases as agents feel they are making a real contribution to their families and communities through their employers.   

Clients of BPO services have come to recognize CSR as a vital way to assess the values of a company – how integrated it is in the community, how committed it is to nurturing an environment that cares about its agents, and how much it cares about customer satisfaction.   

And of course, communities benefit directly when BPOs start to address basic social issues such as housing, education, health and wellness, access to clean water, poverty alleviation and child welfare.    

2. What are the biggest challenges facing companies that genuinely seek to incorporate CSR into their overall business strategy?

CSR programs need to remain authentic. At a time when decent wages and benefits are table stakes, a CSR program can seem like an attractive way to recruit new talent and help strengthen a company’s brand in the market. This is especially compelling in highly competitive call center locations like the Philippines or India. However, in order to remain authentic, it is critical that all levels of management are committed to a comprehensive CSR program for the right reasons. This means that CSR has to be part of the DNA of the company’s culture and values. It has to be seen as a fundamental, strategic pillar of the business and not as an afterthought or an addendum. This is perhaps the biggest challenge to launching meaningful CSR initiatives.

CSR takes planning, commitment, time and resources to work. Realizing that CSR is truly an investment that requires the same air time as other important business issues is the first hurdle.

3. What steps can BPOs take to embrace CSR?

To fully embrace CSR, the first step is to get everyone on board from executives to frontline agents. CSR has to be part of how a company does business. It starts with BPOs thoughtfully analyzing the social issues its employees and communities are facing, and then developing effective strategies to address the problems that matter most.

This also means that the BPO has to be in it for the long haul. CSR is not a one-time event. A thriving CSR program, which becomes ingrained into the corporate culture, takes years to develop.  For example, what started as several hundred TELUS International agents building homes for the homelessin the Philippines and constructing schools for young children in Central America has now turned into annual, global events involving thousands of TELUS International volunteers and their families. It took successive years of living our CSR philosophy for it to become a core pillar of our business success.   

Next, BPOs need to carefully select their CSR partners. It’s important not to go it alone and to partner with organizations that share your company’s values. Working with local non-government organizations (NGOs) and other charitable groups not only helps with local logistical issues but also, it naturally fosters more engagement among local employees and their communities. They can see real differences being made in their own backyard. 

It’s also important to realize that CSR is not free. Many companies are surprised at the amount of time and money it takes to run a successful CSR program – from selecting partners to recruiting volunteers, organizing the event, sourcing materials, measuring the results, celebrating successes – the list goes on. Again, CSR is an investment.  

Interview continues in Part Two...

Edited by Blaise McNamee
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