The Domestic Turn: Business Process Outsourcing and the Growing Automation of Kenyan Organisations (now in print)

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I’m happy to announce a new paper to come out of our previous project studying Development and Broadband Internet Access in East Africa. The project looked at the role that changing connectivity in East Africa was having on three sectors of the economy: tea, tourism, and business process outsourcing (BPO).

This paper, written with Laura Mann, focuses entirely on the BPO sector in Nairobi. There were high hopes that better connectivity would allow Kenyan firms to attract BPO business from around the world. However, the paper demonstrates that something significantly different has happened. Firms increasingly see Kenya as a market rather than as a base from which to build a globally competitive BPO sector. This work will thus inform much of what we do as we begin fieldwork in the GEONET project.

Mann, L and Graham, M. 2016 The Domestic Turn: Business Process Outsourcing and the Growing Automation of Kenyan Organisations. Journal of Development Studies 52:4, 530-548, DOI: 10.1080/00220388.2015.1126251. (pre-publication version here)

Abstract

After observing the growth of the Indian and Filipino Business Processing Outsourcing sectors, Kenyan policy-makers and managers made substantial investments in international internet infrastructure and BPO marketing campaigns. While observers continue to discuss the sector in terms of its international work opportunities, in recent years the sector has increasingly focused on contracts sourced from Kenyan and other East African clients. The government has also refocused efforts on attracting international BPO companies. This domestic turn signals both the difficulties of gaining access to overseas work due to the power of incumbents and the increasing use of the internet and ICT-enabled automation within Kenyan organizations. In effect, better connectivity has enabled a two-way globalisation of services: Kenyan BPO companies have been able to access some international work opportunities but the connectivity has also contributed to the inflow of international service companies and business practices into Kenya. The conclusion examines what these shifts might entail for the sector and its workers in future.

Cross-posted from Geonet: Investigating the Changing Connectivities and Potentials of Sub-Saharan Africa’s Knowledge Economy

Mark Graham

Mark Graham is the Professor of Internet Geography at the OII, a Faculty Fellow at the Alan Turing Institute, a Research Fellow at Green Templeton College, and an Associate in the University of Oxford’s School of Geography and the Environment. He leads a range of research projects spanning topics between digital labour, the gig economy, internet geographies, and ICTs and development.