In what ways can an organization achieve social impact and, at the same time, transform itself into a profitable and trustworthy company for its customers? Researchers Roberto Gutiérrez and Gabriel Berger found in Arbusta not only an answer to this dilemma, but also a case study. The results of their research have recently been published in “Arbusta: integration of young people in a competitive job market” on the Harvard Business Publishing platform, as part of the SEKN (Social Enterprise Knowledge Network) case collection, within the educational content repository of this prestigious university.
The strategies of a social impact company on how to grow and how to compete in the market while retaining the talent it has developed are among the findings highlighted by the researchers, which have transformed the Arbusta experience into a teaching model so that what we do – which is to combine social impact in the community with the generating of value for customers – becomes increasingly known and referenced as teaching material for business courses around the world.
This paper synthesizes the research and analysis of Roberto Gutiérrez, visiting professor at the Universidad de San Andrés and associate professor at the Universidad de los Andes; and Gabriel Berger, professor at the Universidad de San Andrés, who discovered in Arbusta strategies for answering the question that many social impact companies ask themselves: how to sustain the objectives, while at the same time growing and retaining the talent it has developed. The research was supported by the International Development Research Center (Canada) and the Case Program of the Business School of the Universidad de San Andrés.
The labor, economic and social dynamics of the 21st century present challenges in the whole world but, above all, in Latin America, where young people make up the sector most affected by declines in education and in economic activity in recent decades. Faced with these weaknesses, the researchers point out how three Argentine entrepreneurs decided to join forces to respond to the problem of youth access to the job market and the shortage of talent in the technology and information technology industry, an increasingly expanding sector. Faced with stigmas and prejudices (“How to get civil society to trust companies?” “How to entrust profitability to unseen talent?”) Emiliano Fazio, Federico Seineldin and Paula Cardenau bet that in order to change reality, the first thing to do is to change your outlook: in 2012, with this shared vision, they created Njambre with the mission of developing social impact companies.
As the researchers note, under the motto “We promote opportunities that create power”, Njambre began operating as an incubator (“company builder”) and nested Arbusta in its early days. The challenge that has spurred the birth of Arbusta is the idea of placing the focus on the potential of these young people, and tie it, in turn, to value generation. By highlighting our history, researchers take note of our conviction: talent is universal but opportunities are not distributed evenly.
Currently, Arbusta is a company that provides technology services through four hubs: Buenos Aires, Rosario, Montevideo and Medellín, and has more than 350 collaborators. The research paper recounts and exhibits our experience as a Latin American technology company, and describes why we are a role model amidst the challenges of the contemporary world. Thus, a connection between social impact for young people from vulnerable populations and value generation in the tech industry is emphasized.
The organization’s team is composed, for the most part, of young millennials and centennials who come from fragile socioeconomic backgrounds, and of which 60 percent are women, in an attempt to reduce the gender gap that dominates the tech industry.
Gutiérrez and Berger point out that the number of companies in the sector grew by almost 50 percent between 2006 and 2015, and that Arbusta’s proposition, in this regard, bets on specific, intensive and brief training. The researchers explain: “Where others saw marginalization, Arbusta recognized shared fragility and the potential for collective learning and enrichment.” The consolidation and expansion of Arbusta has dismantled many myths by demonstrating that: civil society contacts could run deep, that the implementation method could be through a company and not necessarily an NGO and that a bet could be placed on work. Young people, who were regarded only as consumers of technology, could be part of the administration of knowledge. And the strategic decisions to be able to carry it out: to avoid competing in the area of software development and instead focus on quality, a market which is ready to be capitalized.
“Where others saw marginalization, they recognized shared fragility and the potential for collective learning and enrichment.” Gutiérrez and Berger.
And afterwards? In this paper, the researchers explore the challenges for a social impact company not only with regard to how to develop talent, but also on how to simultaneously retain that talent once it has been developed. In its early days, Arbusta’s focus was not on the “traditional” area of the market –software development– but instead, on quality assurance: providing a good service to customers while also developing the capabilities of its “Arbusters” through intensive training. At present, faced with the challenges of a growing company, the response that researchers have highlighted and praise is the diversification of services. By 2019, Arbusta began to include Data Management, Digital Interactions Services and Machine Learning Training, in addition to continuing with QA & software testing.
Faced with this problem of how a social impact company transforms itself into a profitable organization that retains talent, the solution implemented by Arbusta, and highlighted in this research, has been to diversify its service offerings. By expanding its service offerings, it has been able to combine its core with the expanding of its workforce and economic proposals for the talent it has already developed.
Guadalupe Marín is Senior Sustainability Manager at Mercado Libre, one of Arbusta’s client companies. The researchers also interviewed her to delve into the impact that Arbusta has on those who receive its services: the challenges and benefits of contracting a social impact company as a vendor. Marin reflects on her sustainability role as a link between both organizations and also with regard to the quality of the service provided by Arbusta: “Sometimes there is a perception that if a vulnerable population is brought in, that this team will probably not perform as well as a team made up of young people with more training or from another social sector. I believe that we have an enormous challenge, not only at Mercado Libre but also as a society and specifically in the business sector, to start from within our organizations and promote a more diverse perspective”.
For the researchers, another key to Arbusta’s success lies in its values and its holocratic management model. Holocracy in Arbusta implies that people do not occupy a position, but rather exercise roles. Arbusta, the researchers emphasize, represents that integration and that mixed proposition. Paula Cardenau, founder of Arbusta, remarks: “The Arbusta model has made it possible for young people without prior technical training to achieve high productivity through three specific actions: taking advantage of and satisfying their own vocation to learn; giving them permission to make mistakes; and, when faced with having made a mistake, encouraging them to ask for help, as opposed to what a person with a university education tends to do, which is to hide the mistake”.
“The Arbusta model has made it possible for young people without prior technical training to achieve high productivity through three specific actions: taking advantage of and satisfying their own vocation to learn; giving them permission to make mistakes; and, when faced with having made a mistake, encouraging them to ask for help, as opposed to what a person with a university education tends to do, which is to hide the mistake ”. (Paula Cardenau, co-founder of Arbusta).
“Arbusta’s journey was a source of pride for its founders,” Gutiérrez and Berger point out, and after their reflection, they continue: “The indicators show that Arbusta had proven its ability to contribute toward generating quality employment and producing an inflection point in the professional future of young people with high potential that the current labor market does not consider”. The figures collected by the researchers are conclusive regarding the impact model and success provoked by Arbusta: 87 percent of its Arbusters affirmed that being in the company had prompted them to commit to other personal development projects. 90 percent indicated that since working in the organization they had felt improvements in different dimensions of their life: in their sense of autonomy, family income, health, housing, education or self-esteem. Arbusta has achieved the objectives that led to its birth and the company continues to grow: that is the reason it was chosen by these researchers as an innovative case of a social impact company. The page is not blank and we also continue to write the page every day with what we do.