Arbusta: training, employing and developing youth in Colombia in the tech industry

Arbusta: training, employing and developing youth in Colombia in the tech industry

October 18, 2019

“IT’S A PROBLEM OF INEQUALITY AND OPPORTUNITY. ON THE ONE HAND, YOU HAVE THE IT INDUSTRY THAT IS DEMANDING NEW TALENT TO FILL OPEN POSITIONS. AND ON THE OTHER HAND, YOU HAVE 22 MILLION PEOPLE WAITING FOR AN OPPORTUNITY TO WORK”.

We caught up with the CBO and Co-Founder of Arbusta, Juan Umaran about fighting the ‘war on talent’ in Latin America with opportunity youth. Arbusta is the latest investment of the Yunus Social Business fund in Colombia.

COULD YOU GIVE A LITTLE BIT OF BACKGROUND ABOUT YOURSELF AND ARBUSTA?

I joined the three other founders of Arbusta two years ago as a late co-founder. Arbusta was founded six years ago. But of course, this timing is approximate, because when you found a startup there are so many stops and starts, that it isn’t clear exactly when it ‘begins’.  You can never really say there is a day one!

WHAT IS THE PROBLEM THAT ARBUSTA IS TACKLING? AND HOW DO YOU DO IT?

The biggest problem in the IT industry in Latin America, and I think it's a worldwide phenomenon, is lack of human resources. There's a lack of talent in the industry, which makes it difficult for companies to complete their projects on time. The term that we normally use in the industry is ‘the war of talent’, because we are always fighting for the talent to complete our teams to be able to deliver our services or develop our product.

The four partners in Arbusta were all born in Argentina and we each have over 20 years of expertise in Latin America and in the IT worldwide industry. So we know the landscape. In Latin America, there are many people who are left behind, with no academic background or a job. This group of unemployed youth are referred to as ‘no income, no education’ or with perhaps a more positive spin ‘opportunity youth’. In Latin America, the number of  ‘opportunity youth’ stands at 22 million. It’s a problem of inequality and opportunity. On the one hand, you have the IT industry that is demanding new talent to fill open positions. And on the other hand, you have  22 million people waiting for an opportunity to work.

What we try to do at Arbusta is to develop talent to unlock the potential in this forgotten group of people. They are millennials, centennials, and most importantly: digital natives. They know how to work with mobiles, they are very familiar with technology. So our hypothesis is, if Arbusta can manage to train them, guide them in their weaknesses and strengths, we can develop their potential. Arbusta can then package those skills together as a team, and provide that service to clients. We believe in identifying the potential talent that is not yet discovered by the industry. We trust in that talent, we can manage that talent and place them in a team.

WHAT KIND OF CLIENTS YOU'RE WORKING WITH AND SERVICES ARE YOU PROVIDING FOR THEM?

We are a technology company, mainly focussed on quality assurance, in terms of digital product development, software development, mobile and usability testing. We test the quality of digital products by using standard methodologies to ensure the products behave as they were designed to. Our teams quality check that the products are performing to the expectations of the design and highlight bugs that need to be fixed by developers. It's very important that information that our clients expose to their users or buyers is accurate and relevant and we can ensure that for them.

We live in an age of digital interaction through many different means, whether it's via mobile, websites, or any other means. We work on improving the quality of the digital interaction for our clients.

WHY DO YOU EMPLOY THIS MODEL AS A SOCIAL BUSINESS?

We believe that what we are doing is unique and that the right structure for our enterprise is to make profit. Not because we are the classic businessman or woman trying to get the most out of our employees for shareholder profit. Instead we are adding talent to the market that previously nobody was paying attention to, whilst building a sustainable business. To prove ourselves truly as a business, it was essential for us to have this structure and not operate as an NGO. In a philosophical sense, it's us saying that we truly believe in this model. So we take the entrepreneurial risk of employing these youth whilst maintaining standards at the highest quality. We have a solid long term vision that we are good choice to resolve any business problem in addition to helping to improve the lives of the youth that we are hiring. The youth that we employ belong to a very underprivileged section of the society, normally they don't have a formal education, opportunities to get a quality job or earn money and they are living in over-populated neighbourhoods. We look to be price competitive for our clients but at the same time provide good salaries for our employees. So we mix social impact with the business logic.

WHY IS YUNUS SOCIAL BUSINESS A GOOD INVESTMENT PARTNER FOR ARBUSTA?

Myself and the other founders at Arbusta come very much from a social perspective. We believe that, to create real impact at scale, we need to have more people on the same page, with the same ideals, values and perspectives about how social business can help to develop a better life for people worldwide. Professor Yunus and Yunus Social Business are driving this agenda worldwide. So there are definitely shared values there between us. And that's why we believe that they are a good partner for us to have as an investor.

COULD YOU GIVE US SOME BACKGROUND ABOUT YOU AND THE REST OF THE OTHER FOUNDERS? DID YOU COME FROM THE WORLD OF BUSINESS OR NON-PROFIT?

We represent a good mix of backgrounds and we complement each other very well. I come more from the IT business ecosystem with over 20 years in the industry, for 15 of those I spent at Globant, which I saw grow from a startup to a global IT company. But also from the social entrepreneurship perspective, one of our founders, Paula was one of the Latin American directors of Ashoka, sourcing social entrepreneurs. Her experience there means she is focused on finding the right talent for the business. She has a very clear methodology on how to unlock potential from youth. Federico was one of the first people in Argentina to talk about social responsibility and enterprise. So he has very clear ideas on how to transform that sensibility into business, embodying our mindset at Arbusta. Emiliano was also very involved in social responsibility in companies in Argentina, looking at a new way of doing things to achieve impact while building a business case.

WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE? WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN 10 YEARS? OR WHAT IS THE KIND OF OVERARCHING GOAL?

Well, that's a very good question. What we want from Arbusta is to build a company that can sustain for the long term, our teams can provide a quality service for major clients, and that also the opportunity youth that we hire are able to lead Arbusta in some years from now. Currently, the management team of Directors and C-levels are not from that background. So in the long run we want to retain the talent that we hire in order to develop them to one day lead the company themselves. We want the youth we hire today to be running Arbustain ten years time.

WHAT PROBLEMS AND OPPORTUNITIES DO YOU FACE AS A SOCIAL BUSINESS? WHAT IS THE ECOSYSTEM LIKE IN COLOMBIA FOR SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURS?

I would say that both availability of talent and business opportunity are excellent in Colombia. We are working with young people who are very responsible, they want to progress in their careers and really know more about what they do. Also the IT market is very well positioned for growth. Those two elements are key for us to be in present in a country or region and so we see Colombia as a great opportunity to grow!

THANKS VERY MUCH JUAN, WE ARE LOOKING FORWARD TO WORKING WITH ARBUSTA IN THE NEXT FEW YEARS!

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