I have the good fortune of working for BSR, a global nonprofit organization that works with more than 250-member companies and other partners to build a just and sustainable world. We do this through consulting, research and cross-sector collaboration. It’s this last piece I’d like to talk about today.
BSR facilitates opportunities for like-minded companies to collaborate across various topics so they can solve world problems. We have a number of current initiatives, one of which is the Global Impact Sourcing Coalition (GISC). The goal of GISC is to provide career opportunities in the formal sector to people from disadvantaged or vulnerable backgrounds, who might otherwise not have the opportunity for such employment. It is through this project that I first learned of Televerde, which recently became a GISC member company, and had an opportunity to visit their operations in Arizona.
Televerde describes itself as a high-tech, demand generation company. They work with recognizable brands like Microsoft, Dell, Adobe, SAP and Marketo. What makes the company unique, however, is that five of their nine call centers are staffed entirely by women incarcerated at the Department of Corrections in Arizona and Indiana. They’ve been operating this way since 1994.
I had the opportunity recently to tour their call center operations at the Perryville prison. What surprised me most during my visit is how much the women knew about technology and business, and how much education many of them had. I listened in on a few of their outbound calls and was impressed by their level of knowledge about the client they were calling, how effortlessly they were able to interact with and recognize the client’s specific needs, and how easily they directed the client to exactly the right product. You can tell these women are trained extensively in their clients’ business and technology infrastructure.
Touring Perryville underscored what a great fit Televerde is for the GISC, and the important role impact sourcing can play in employment today and in the future. Impact sourcing is a business practice where companies prioritize suppliers that intentionally hire and provide career development opportunities to people with limited prospects for formal employment. There are many benefits that come with this approach, including access to a broader talent pool, lower attrition and stronger employee engagement. But what I appreciate most is that this business practice offers disadvantaged people the opportunity to start a career that leads to financial independence, growth and fulfillment. This is something Televerde has been committed to and accomplishing for the past 25 years with a population that is severely stigmatized. The fact they’ve been able to produce the results they have is a strong example of how business can operate as a force for good, while continuing to build strong client relationships.
What I realized when I visited Televerde’s prison-run operations is that as a country we are too removed from the people who mass incarceration impacts. As a result, it’s way too easy to label these women by their crime and then discard them for the rest of their lives—an action that serves no one. The women I met are strong, smart and determined to succeed. They have goals, ambitions and families. They want to change. They want to contribute. They want opportunity. In this way, we have way more similarities than differences.
I believe as a country we have a moral obligation to stop actively working against opportunities for certain communities and start paving a way for everyone to succeed. We all know stereotypes of any kind don’t serve us well and prove incorrect more often than not. We need a broader conversation today on how we treat different demographics and why. I look forward to seeing the progress that Televerde and our other GISC member companies deliver as they work to create a more inclusive workforce for all.