In a sentence, what’s Accenture Development Partnerships [ADP] trying to achieve?
ADP is essentially an attempt to develop a vehicle for channelling high quality business and technology consulting to organisations that wouldn’t normally have access to such management capabilities.
Sounds a little complicated. Can you elaborate?
Well, it all started with our involvement in VSO’s Business Partnership programme, which has now been rolled out worldwide within Accenture. The scheme provides professionals with voluntary postings in developing countries for a six to nine-month placement.
A number of us who had been through the VSO programme saw that there was a chronic shortage within NGOs, donor organisations, and even some government departments of the kind of skills that we have in Accenture.
So we began to look at alternatives to a leave of absence that would give these organisations access to our people’s skills – the quality assurance, the programme management, the proven frameworks and techniques from our commercial practice at an affordable rate.
How did you go about proving your business model?
We did a three-month feasibility study at the beginning of 2002. We tried to answer three questions: (i) is there a demand for our services? (ii) would our people be interested in doing this kind of work on the other side of the world for half their salary? (iii) do the numbers add up?
Answers to the first two were unequivocal. Our discussions with the development sector showed them to be excited about gaining access to business and technology consulting skills. Surveys of our staff also showed a widespread interest in the programme.
And the numbers, did they add up?
From the start, our vision for ADP was that it be self-sustaining. One thing we’re certainly not is the pro-bono department of Accenture. I don’t believe that pro bono is sustainable for us, nor am I sure it’s as valued by clients as paid work.
Our goal is to be cost neutral, which we achieve in two ways. On the one hand, we charge for our services – albeit a fraction of normal market rates. On the other, we aim to keep low overheads and running costs. Co-location in Accenture’s London office, together with access to its people and its back office support, help us achieve this. I should also add that all the individuals that work for ADP do so on a reduced salary.
And were Accenture’s leadership persuaded?
The response we got from leadership at Accenture was very positive, but a project such as ADP would not be approved without meeting certain criteria. Persuading them that this was going to be a self-sustaining unit was crucial. The benefits that would flow back into the business through ADP were also vital in getting Accenture’s go-ahead.
The real test of leadership support came when demand for services from the commercial business increased. It’s easy to convince managers if you have some people not on projects. At the moment, though, there’s too much work, so there’s a big opportunity cost for the company. I’ve been very impressed with how the leadership has honoured their commitment. If there’s a conflict over a staffing need, I have access to the highest level of management to make sure these people are freed up if we’ve gone through the due process.
What are the benefits?
They’re mostly tied in with human resources – around people development, recruitment and retention benefits.
Interestingly, what we’re finding is that it’s our best performing people that are putting their names forward for the programme. There’s latent demand among the top end performers to have what I call a ‘constructive’ or ‘hybrid’ career option.
ADP is tapping into that demand. Being able to spend three to six months every other year working with an international NGO or a donor organisation, like the World Bank or UNDP; channelling your skills directly to that organisation in a way you can see the impact of your work. I think that’s worth a lot more to some people than the next salary rise.
We believe that individuals will be more likely to stay with Accenture if they have opportunities like this, particularly the best performers who we want to recruit, retain and develop.
And is ADP delivering?
We’re finding that people are certainly coming back feeling more positive about the company. They’re also coming back as better consultants than when they went. They show a number of personal development characteristics, whether in terms of their confidence, problem solving abilities or communications skills.
The feedback we’ve been getting from the wider UK practice has also been very encouraging. People like to know that their company is making a difference and initiatives such as ADP can generate huge amounts of goodwill internally.
Do you have a system for managing these HR benefits?
We make it clear from the outset that this is not about taking a sabbatical. This is an integrated career option. The performance and career management processes are exactly the same on an ADP project as for a commercial assignment.
We have got a performance benchmark as well, so we only take the top performers. But we also screen the people for their soft skills, such as adaptability, motivations, and ability to fit into an NGO environment.
This is not a soft option. This is about stretch roles. ADP participants work with chief executives or equivalent levels within the partner organisations.
So how have things gone so far?
We piloted for six months at the end of 2002 with three or four charter clients to prove that the model could work. The initial projects included an initiative with Care International in Vietnam and help with the International Finance Corporation’s Small business development programme in the Balkans. We’ve now worked in equivalent ‘Project development facilities’ for the IFC in China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, North Africa, and Bolivia.
To date, we’ve completed about 17 projects in 19 countries across four continents, involving over 50 participants.
Who are ADP’s typical clients?
We work with donor organisations, foundations (often linked to our commercial clients, such as the Shell Foundation) and international NGOs.
We work on everything from organisational development and technology, to strategy and supply chain programmes. An important priority for us is to be in country long enough to have an impact – say, between three to six months – but not so long as to build up a dependency on high value consultancy skills.
The Balkans’ project is a good example. We’re with business consultants there to give them the skills and capabilities required to advise small enterprises on how to access Northern markets. What we’re not doing is consulting directly to these small businesses. We always look to work through an intermediary and build their capacity so we leave a legacy of knowledge behind.
How many in the immediate ADP team?
I have a small management team of six people; two of whom dealing with internal operational issues; finding the people, training, financing, marketing etc. The other four are responsible for external issues; finding the projects, identifying clients, overseeing the delivery of the projects.
What does the future hold?
We’re currently rolling out the programme to other countries. In addition to the UK, we’ve now got Canada, South Africa and Ireland. In the long-run we plan to expand ADP’s recruitment base to involve all countries where Accenture people are based.
How does ADP link in with Accenture’s CSR strategy?
What we’re trying to do is integrate our corporate citizenship approach into the way we do business. This goes right to the heart of what we do in Accenture. This is really just about consulting in a different way, so that we can extend our positive footprint in different countries.
The amazing statistic is that we operate in 47 countries which represent almost 98% of the world GDP. This is a way of providing our capabilities in the remaining 2%.
ADP is very much active at the intersection of the non-profit and for-profit sector. What we’re talking about is innovation, fresh approaches, and a new way forward in CSR.
For more information see: http://www.accenture.com/xd/xd.asp?it=enweb&xd=aboutuscitizenshipadpadp_home.xml
Corporate Citizenship Briefing, issue no: 75 – May, 2004
Gib Bulloch is a business professional with over 12 years’ experience in a variety of large private sector companies in the UK and abroad. Working primarily as a strategic consultant to multi-national clients, he has also played an active role in developing Accenture’s approach to Corporate Citizenship and helped to establish the VSO Business Partnership scheme within the company in 1999. As part of this initiative, Gib spent a year working in Macedonia as a volunteer, providing business planning and capacity building support to a local non-profit business support center for SMEs.
Gib currently heads up Accenture Development Partnerships, a new not-for-profit group which offers high quality business and technology consulting to non-profit organisations in the international development sector. ADP’s clients include CARE international, Oneworld and The World Bank Group where field based teams strengthen local partner organisations in a wide variety of countries in the South.
Prior to joining Accenture, Gib worked for 4 years in Mars Inc and 2 years with BP. He has an engineering degree and an MBA and has recently embarked on a post-graduate course in cross sector collaboration at Cambridge University.
Outside of work, Gib’s other activities include speaking at a number of development sector conferences in the UK and abroad. He is also a keen sportsman, enjoying in particular the diverse pastimes of golf and martial arts
Originally born and brought up on the Isle of Bute on the west coast of Scotland, Gib currently lives in west London and works out of Accenture’s Old Bailey offices in central London.