Rural outsourcing – can it mak

some of the satelites that have already been constructed in Karoo,South Africa

Rural outsourcing – can it make a dent in SA’s unemployment figures? (Part II)

Business process outsourcing has been, for India, a way of leapfrogging the lack of physical infrastructure and spreading wealth wherever talent and language skills cluster. Could this same model work among dispersed rural populations? We explore the implications for rural South Africa in this two-parter.

Rural outsourcing – can it mak

some of the satelites that have already been constructed in Karoo,South Africa


Read part II of our article on the potential of rural business process outsourcing for rural development in South Africa here. 

Rural outsourcing in South Africa benefits from superior power supply and stability of internet connectivity compared with rural India. Indeed, the concept has percolating for some time. According to a 2010 South African Supplier Diversity Council discussion paper, rural outsourcing might also be termed socially responsible outsourcing, sustainable socially responsible sourcing (SSS), Fair Trade for Outsourcing and ITES 3.0 (the ‘third wave of ICT enabled services’).

If rural outsourcing is socially responsible, it is in the inherent justice of enriching communities while also keeping them intact, thereby mitigating the rural brain drain and giving smaller and mid-size towns in South Africa a fighting chance at maintaining their standard of living. But, as RuralShores has shown, doing well and doing good are far from incompatible. Rural workers’ salaries, for example, are lower than those in the cities. If a roughly comparable talent pool exists in a rural area, urban BPO concerns must begin to ask themselves why they continue to pay a premium for urban premises.

A leading international practitioner of rural outsourcing is Nairobi and San Francisco-based Samasource, whose employees are empowered to do digital work in remote locations for first-world clients. This obviates the incredibly difficult choice that especially rural women face between supporting their families materially and securing meaningful employment (or losing their partners to the cash economy of the cities). 

Source For Change is an all-women rural Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) company based in India’s Rajasthan state that empowers women through employment opportunities and providing quality dedication and best practices to the BPO industry. Source For Change aims to present rural women with a platform to be financially independent and to achieve greater social standing. 

Large corporates like Tata Consulting have made similar moves into this area.

From all the examples mentioned, it appears that rural outsourcing is a matter of time in South Africa. One thinks especially of the potential for work in the contact centre industry (where language skills are important) in the Northern and rural Western Cape and Kwazulu Natal for English-language work, and in the rest of the country’s rural areas for technical, financial and clerical work.

The expansion of the Square Kilometre Array into the Karoo is one area in which some measure of rural outsourcing will be integral to the success of this long-term, multi-billion dollar scientific venture. Once the great telecommunications infrastructure needed to serve the SKA telescopes and scientists is in place, the BPO industry would have every reason to reach into the Karoo and tap its outsourcing talent.

Indeed, projects like the SKA may succeed in blazing the trail that government was supposed to, but never has. As far back as 2006, President Mbeki announced that 30 000 rural South Africans would be working at 10 rural contact centres within a few years, as the first step in a broader strategy to make South Africa a world leader in BPO within a decade. That hasn’t happened, yet. But the chances are that, as South Africa’s BPO industry matures, the voice that answers your call to ASDA or Sainsbury’s or Tesco in the future might well be sitting in view of the Cederberg or the Transkei.

Read more about outsourcing:

BPO in the Western Cape: how has Government come to the party?

Cape Town CBD exerts global pull on BPO clients

South Africa wins Offshoring Destination of the Year Award 2013