why should their intervention be necessary? Why aren’t the bumper stickers of “doing good while doing well”
or “give work not aid” enough to drive
growth of this new IT model?
The answer is a series of challenges
that must be addressed and which the
market alone may not solve or may not
solve in a foreseeable timeframe. From
the perspective of demand, there is a
long familiarity curve to be traversed.
Vast numbers of potential clients are
unaware of impact sourcing’s existence
(and the lack of immediate meaning in
the terminology does not help). Some
clients are half-aware but associate the
base of the pyramid with backward villagers they would never consider as an
outsourcing possibility. And some clients are three-quarters-aware but perceive too great a level of risk.
For the intermediaries, to the issue
of sustainability noted earlier, we can
add the challenge of scalability. Making a difference to the life of one poor
person is a valid endeavor. But impact
sourcing needs to make a difference
to the lives of hundreds of thousands
if it is to be taken seriously as a mechanism for development. ISSPs need
help to grow beyond a cottage industry model.
And down at the BoP, there may be
millions of possible employees but
most are still on the wrong side of the
digital divide in various senses. They
might have a cellphone—a base that
some ingenious ISSPs are using for
impact sourcing—but the great majority will need broadband connectivity and substantial up-front training investments before they can find
themselves on the right side of the divide, with the ability to participate in
impact sourcing. Some models—such
as those based around cellphones, or
around breaking contracts into tiny
“micro-work” packets, or those seeking to automate quality controls—will
require further technical innovations
before they can be mainstreamed to
Whether impact sourcing overall
can be mainstreamed and fulfill its
potential as a significant develop-
ment tool is as yet unclear—it may
remain a niche activity. But I cannot
help noticing how very similar this all
is to IT offshoring to India 30 years
ago: A few brave companies had tak-
en the plunge but the great majority
of U.S. and European firms had not
heard of the option, or laughed off
India—which they saw as a land of
bullock carts and maharajahs—as a
possible IT location. Consider what
Impact sourcing is unlikely to be the
next India as an IT sourcing model. But
if it is to grow, it will need the support
of the IT community. In part this means
adding impact sourcing to the range of
IT sourcing options considered. But it
also means academic engagement. In
the social sphere, all those involved
need guidance on business models,
best practices, and impact evaluation.
In the technical sphere, new technologies are still needed to improve sustainable, high-quality access to digital
tools for those at the BoP; and to deliver fast, contextually relevant IT training. If this support materializes then
so, too, may impact sourcing’s developmental promise.
1. babin, r. and nicholson, b. Corporate social
and environmental responsibility and global It
outsourcing. MISQ Executive 8, 4 (dec. 2009),
2. heeks, r. a model for assessing It impact sourcing
relationships. IC Ts for Development (sept. 27, 2012);
3. heeks, r. and arun, s. social outsourcing as
a development tool. Journal of International
Development 22, 4 (may 2010), 441–454.
4. kubzansky, m., Cooper, a. and barbary, V. Beyond Aid.
monitor group, boston, 2011.
5. madon, s. and sharanappa, s. social It outsourcing
and development. Information Systems Journal 23, 5
(sept. 2013), 381–399.
6. rockefeller foundation. Job Creation Through Building
the Field of Impact Sourcing. rockefeller foundation,
new york, 2011.
Richard heeks ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is
director of the Centre for development Informatics at the
university of manchester, u.k.; http://www.cdi.manchester.
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Down at the BoP,
there may be millions
of possible employees
but most are still
on the wrong side
of the digital divide.