the cross :You are one of the leaders of the Tech for Good movement, which brings together companies in the technology and digital sector, “Tech for Good”. What is “good” in this case?
Pierre Dubuc: This means having a positive effect on the society by limiting its negative influences as much as possible. To be clear, the ultimate goal of companies following our approach is not to accumulate cash for the sole benefit of their shareholders.
Is this movement created against digital encroachment? In other words, do you want to distinguish yourself from what might be considered “technology for evil”?
DB: Technology is a tool that can be used for both good and evil. Digital companies have become a staple in our lives and the sector has grown enormously, inevitably with some excess. But this is a sector made up of many young entrepreneurs – no century-old family businesses! – People who want to make a positive impact on the planet and their stakeholders. This is very specific to Europe: we have to say something different compared to Chinese or American technology.
Why did you become a business manager and not a nonprofit manager?
DB: I asked myself the question! It all started when we were teenagers, my partner and I. We have created a platform of free online courses to help people without any initial business intention. We’ve gotten bigger and bigger…so much so that the question arose of giving a structure to all of this. After completing our engineering studies, we wondered which legal form would be more appropriate to continue our online training activities: an association, a company?
We chose the company because this position allows us to access more financial and human resources, raise capital and reach a certain scale. We wanted to think big, reach as many people as possible and have a broad impact. Associations, at least in France, were limited in their development. OpenClassrooms now has 300 employees and offices in Paris, London and New York. 300,000 to 400,000 people join our platform every month.
Can you reach this level without losing your soul?
DB: After we created Open Classrooms, we are fully vested in the institution’s status with a mission established by the Backday Act. We adopted this position in 2018, allowing us to stay true to our original ambition – to make education accessible to all – by giving us the tools to achieve it. It is not enough to have a good reason for your existence. It is still necessary to implement it using virtuous methods. It’s not enough to show noble ambition: you can be an association that helps people on the street with shoddy management practices.
How does accepting this mission-oriented organizational position help you?
DB: If you want to do things right, you have to think 360 degrees! Am I true to my purpose? To achieve that, do I pay my staff fairly, respect gender equality and promote diversity? Do I respect my customers and suppliers? Is my carbon footprint reasonable? As a business leader, you can’t think of everything, so you need a framework and tools so you don’t have to worry about words.
A company’s position with a mission leads it to define its raison d’être, not limited to the pursuit of profit. Above all, regular reporting is required to achieve its objectives. We need to publish an impact statement to verify that what we say is true. So much for management. As a way to do that, we chose the “B Corp” certification, which leads to measuring the level of the company on about 200 criteria related to its social and environmental policy! There is no proper structure. The key is to be able to measure its impact, identify its strengths and weaknesses, and commit itself to the dynamics of continuous improvement.
For example, what indicators have you chosen in relation to your work?
DB: Making education accessible to all so that our courses are understood by all; Young people, old people, disabled people, everyone from anywhere in the world can benefit from it and financial aspect is not a barrier. We focus our efforts on professional training with the aim of helping people advance in their careers. Suspenders, job seekers and low-skilled workers are our priority audience.
We did not choose the total number of people trained each year as an indicator, which does not mean much. Thanks to our courses, we focus on the number of students who got a job or changed companies, benefited from a promotion or salary increase or started their own business. This year, we estimate their number to be 40,000, while we train a total of 350,000 people every month. Our impact goes beyond that, but we only publish what we can prove.
Do you feel like part of a good club or are your methods a large following?
DB: The number of work-based organizations is small but growing rapidly. This also applies to certified B Corp companies. I think this kind of commitment, real and verified, becomes structured. Everyone realizes there is a climate emergency; It is important to take care of customers and its employees whose expectations are not all that they were fifteen years ago.
Young engineers or salespeople coming out of school ask their future employers about their climate and social responsibilities. If they don’t have one or these commitments are dishonest, they go elsewhere. The legal and regulatory framework is also evolving. For example, all French companies with more than 50 employees must now calculate their gender equality index. Below a certain threshold, you are isolated in public.
Ten years ago, only B Corp certified companies paid attention to these types of indicators. The same is true in the field of environment. Companies with more than 500 employees are required to report their greenhouse gas emissions and this limit will be gradually reduced. The entire economy will eventually suffer from these regulations, not just a few fanatics! We’re a little ahead…
The life of a business leader is becoming increasingly complex, to hear you…
DB: Whether we like it or not, we have to deal with today’s expectations. As a business leader, the question is not if you will follow suit, but when. Otherwise, you’ll hit a wall in the next five to ten years: a smear campaign, the collapse of your business model, or a regulatory obligation. You can pretend to be an ostrich and try to navigate the view. For my part, I believe business leaders no longer have a choice.
1988. Born in Normandy.
1999. Meet Mathieu Nebra, a computer and coding enthusiast like him.
2009. degree in Information Engineering from INSA Lyon.
2013. Creating Open Classrooms with Matthew Nebra.
2018. OpenClassrooms adopts the position of company with a mission provided in the Pact Act. The same year, the Tech for Good movement was launched.
2021. Pierre Dubuque travels to New York to create Open Classrooms in America.