Patriotism and Offshoring
Walking into a room of small business owners in Sydney should have felt like a great opportunity to connect and network; every one of them was a potential client for my own business. Instead, I felt a familiar twinge of anxiety that I would be judged unfavourably for my chosen line of work.
For seven years I worked for a large Australian corporation that was offshoring to both the Philippines and India, and I was instrumental in building this capability. I frequently visited my former colleagues in Sydney and sensed angst behind the scenes, as if they were pointing and staring. I was the woman taking their jobs from them. “Those redundancies last month? They’re because of her.”
A former colleague said to me when I first left for the Philippines, “I am Australian, I served my country in the military. I don’t support this direction – we are an Australian company and we should be giving jobs to Australians”. This is a sentiment I am now familiar with and I didn’t argue with him; he is, after all, entitled to his views.
Our company was heading in the direction of offshoring and I was right up front leading the charge. Even though my own views on offshoring were not fully formed, I was comforted with the knowledge that I worked for a responsible, ethical employer and we would operate with utmost respect for the local culture while scrupulously recruiting only the very best staff.
Just a few weeks after my colleague shared his view, I was en route to my first overseas posting. I had travelled extensively before I relocated to the Philippines, but settling into a place is different. Renting an apartment, opening bank accounts, arranging an internet connection – all these activities require an interaction with the local culture at a commercial and bureaucratic level that doesn’t come with tourism.
Effectively Giving Back
Then there’s the exposure to poverty. During my time living and working in the Philippines and India, I was exposed to a level of poverty I had never before encountered, which was distressing, but presented opportunities. It can be difficult to effectively “give back” in developed countries such as Australia; we are so far removed from the harsh day-to-day realities of poverty.
In overpopulated, developing nations, there are orphanages where children live and grow up from babyhood. There are small children wandering the streets at night and women begging with babies at their breast. My attitude to charity and poverty was formed with the constant exposure to these sad realities and also by how easy it was to get involved and contribute to the solution.
With this exposure and global perspective comes a dispassionate view on patriotism. Are my fellow Australians more worthy of jobs than those in developing nations? Should I behave as Australian first, and a global citizen second?
I feel no guilt for the business I have built because it does in fact support the Australian economy. I am providing services to start-ups, small and medium-sized businesses, all struggling to compete with rising costs in a global marketplace. By making low-cost services accessible in a manner that is respectful and supportive of the local environment, I am helping these small businesses to survive and thrive. My company operates with clear values and professionalism and my Filipino staff receive the same excellent benefits – relative to their environment – as those in similar roles in Western nations.
So walking into a room full of Australian strangers was difficult. I don’t enjoy conflict and I would struggle to hold my own if I was confronted about the unemployment that has touched your life; your husband displaced by an Indian programmer. Your well-educated children who can only find work in the local bookstore. I am not the cause of these problems, offshoring is a global business practice that can no more be stopped than the ATMs that were going to destroy banking careers and the self-service supermarket checkouts that displaced thousands of junior workers. Robotics will replace factory workers. This is the march of progress and it is unstoppable.
Which jobs won’t go offshore? Positions requiring a deep and robust understanding of the culture and business etiquette in your country. Integration roles, where those individuals with an interest in the global marketplace act as conduits and ‘culture translators’ between your culture and the offshore centres.
The Role of Technology
In the same way the introduction of technology displaced manual workers but created a massive number of jobs in the technology sector itself, offshoring has a re-framing aspect. Sure, many Australians who used to work in call centres may have been displaced when this work moved offshore, but there will always be companies prepared to pay more for a “100% Australian Help Desk,” just as some individuals are prepared to pay more for personalised banking services.
Online shopping generated an increased need for shipping and supply chain management. Maybe there will be less of some types of work in the local market as this moves offshore, but there will be more opportunities for people adept at cross-cultural communication and possessing global sensitivities.
Despite my initial discomfort arriving in a room full of strangers, I am proud to be running an ethical, values-driven offshoring business that provides employment in a developing nation, where my charity dollar and my employment dollar have a real and visible impact on individuals and the local economy.
I am also proud of the progressive, small businesses from Australia and around the world that have chosen to work with me to actively grow their businesses. I provide them with low-cost but high-quality services and am comfortable with my position in the global community.