by Esteban Herrera

From orchestras to outsourcing

Oct 27, 2015

Why we must provide opportunity to ensure the positive impact of outsourcing can be felt in big and small ways around the world.

Recently, I attended Centro Fox’s CITEK Forum 2015 in Leon, Mexico, where IT, energy, automotive and aerospace experts came together to discuss innovation and business opportunities in technology. While the experience was enriching in many ways, the opening of the event—in which a talented children’s orchestra played four numbers—was perhaps the most remarkable. What does this have to do with outsourcing? Bear with me as I trace the steps of my thinking.

One of the things I love about outsourcing is that, as an industry, it’s a real, live meritocracy. It relies primarily on knowledge—not assets—so anyone who works hard and gets an education can succeed. This is particularly apparent in countries with low wages: India’s middle class has been built almost entirely on the back of its powerful outsourcing industry. Even in small countries like Costa Rica and Panama, as much as 10 percent of the population works in business services. Outsourcing is rewarding to me, in part, because I see the economic impact it has on developing nations.

An important piece of the puzzle, of course, is education. There isn’t enough available, and many who would like to partake in it aren’t able to because of financial limitations. It is no surprise that countries like India, and, on a smaller scale, Chile and Costa Rica, have fared better than their neighbors largely because of essentially free, high-quality higher education.

But education alone is not enough. Good employees are most often people who from an early age were taught to think, encouraged to become better students, and learned to prioritize competing demands and forge ahead amid challenges. Students like these may just land a job that gives them satisfaction and upward mobility, perhaps in the outsourcing industry.

And this is where the children’s orchestra comes in. First of all, these kids were good. Second, the orchestra, part of a charity run by Marta Sahagún, the wife of Mexico’s former President Vicente Fox, busses these kids in from poor neighborhoods for four hours of musical education and rehearsals four times a week. They are committed. More importantly, these children are getting an opportunity to develop their brains in a safe environment away from the temptations of far less productive teen and pre-teen experiences.

While these kids may not all grow up to be world-class musicians (though I bet some will), they will all grow up with the well-documented benefits of a musical education, and most will be able to find their way to the kinds of opportunities their parents could only dream of. Some will probably end up as engineers, accountants and managers in the outsourcing business.

In a world of quarterly performance pressure, it is hard to take a generational view on progress. By getting involved in efforts like this orchestra, IT executives are behaving like true stewards on behalf of long-term stakeholders—not just those with stock in the company, but the communities they serve, recruit from, and sell to.

Poverty is a reality for over 75 percent of the world’s population. Families often need their adolescents to work in order to survive. In environments like the neighborhoods that surround Leon, where the transition from schoolchild to breadwinner can be brutally quick, programs like this children’s orchestra promote economic progress, community safety, language ability, creativity, and yes, a greater talent pool for our industry.