the cross :You are one of the leaders of the Tech for Good movement, “technology for good”, which brings companies from the technology and digital sectors together. What do you mean by “good” in this context?
Pierre Dubuc: This means creating a positive effect on society by limiting its negative impact as much as possible. To be clear, the ultimate goal of companies that follow our approach is not to accumulate money for the sole benefit of their shareholders.
Was this movement created against the excesses of the digital? In other words, did you want to distance yourself from what might be called “technology for evil”?
DB: Technology is a tool that can be used for good or bad. Digital companies have become dominant in our lives and this sector has developed enormously without always being able to avoid certain excesses. But it is also an industry with many young entrepreneurs – there are hardly any family businesses that are centuries old! – who want to make a positive impact on the planet and their stakeholders. It’s quite specific to Europe: we had something different to say than Chinese or American tech.
Why did you become an economist and not a non-profit organization manager?
DB: I asked myself the question! It all started when we were teenagers, my partner and I. We created a website with free online courses just to help people and with no initial commercial ambitions. We got bigger, bigger… so much so that the question arose of framing it all. After completing our engineering studies, we asked ourselves which legal form would be most suitable to continue our online educational activity: an association, a company?
We chose the company because this status allows access to more financial and human resources to raise capital and reach a certain size. And we wanted to think big, reach as many people as possible, achieve a broad impact. Associations, at least in France, are limited in their development. OpenClassrooms now has 300 employees and offices in Paris, London and New York. Between 300,000 and 400,000 people connect to our platform every month.
Can you reach this greatness without losing your soul?
DB: We found ourselves perfectly in the status of a company with a mission established by the Pacte law after creating OpenClassrooms. We adopted this status in 2018, which allows us to stay true to our original goal of making education accessible to all by giving us the tools to make it happen. It is not enough to give yourself a good reason for being. It is still necessary to implement it with virtuous methods. It is not enough to show a noble ambition: you can be a club that helps people on the street by using deplorable management methods.
How does it help you to have embraced this mission-driven corporate status?
DB: If you want to do things right, you have to think 360 degrees! Am I true to my purpose? Do I pay my employees correctly for this, do I respect gender equality, do I promote diversity? Am I respectful of my customers and suppliers? Is my carbon footprint reasonable? As a 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 status with a mission leads to the definition of its raison d’être, which is not limited to the search for profit. Above all, regular reporting on the achievement of goals is required. We need to publish an impact report that makes it possible to verify that what we say is true. So much for direction. And to achieve this, we have opted for the so-called “B Corp” certification, which means that its level is measured against around 200 criteria related to the company’s social and environmental policies! There is no perfect organization. It is important to be able to measure your impact, to recognize your strengths and weaknesses and to put yourself in a dynamic of continuous improvement.
For example, what indicators did you choose for your mission?
DB: For us, making education accessible to all means that our courses are understandable for everyone; that everyone can benefit, young, old, people with disabilities, anywhere in the world and that the financial aspect is not an obstacle. We focus our efforts on professional education with the aim of advancing people in their careers. Dropouts, job seekers and the low-skilled are our primary target groups.
We did not choose the total number of people trained annually as an indicator, which would not say much. We focus on the number of our students who have found a job thanks to our courses, changed companies, benefited from a promotion or raise, or started their own business. This year we have estimated their number at 40,000 while we train a total of 350,000 people each month. Our influence is arguably greater than that, but we only publish what we can prove.
Do you feel part of a nice club or are your methods reproducible on a large scale?
DB: The number of mission-based companies is still small but growing fast. The same applies to certified B Corp companies. I think that kind of engagement, real and verified, is bound to become structural. Everyone recognizes that there is a climate emergency; that it is important to take care of its customers and its employees, whose expectations are by no means the same as they were fifteen years ago.
After school, young engineers or business people ask their future employers about their climate and social commitment. If they don’t have one, or if those commitments are disingenuous, they go elsewhere. The legal and regulatory framework is also evolving. All French companies with more than 50 employees must now calculate their equality index. And below a certain threshold, you will be publicly singled out.
Ten years ago, only B-Corp certified companies paid attention to these types of indicators. It is the same in the environmental sector. Companies with more than 500 employees are required to publish their greenhouse gas emissions report and this threshold is expected to be gradually lowered. The entire economy will eventually be affected by these regulations, and not just a small group of fanatics! We just got a little further…
The life of a corporate leader is getting more and more complex, to hear you…
DB: Like it or not, we have to deal with today’s expectations. As a manager, the question is not whether you will follow suit, but when. Otherwise, you’ll run into a brick wall in the next five to 10 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 by sight. For my part, I believe that business leaders no longer have a choice.
1988 Born in Normandy.
1999 Meeting Mathieu Nebra, a computer and programming enthusiast like himself.
2009 Graduate engineer for information from INSA Lyon.
2013 Creation of OpenClassrooms with Mathieu Nebra.
2018 OpenClassrooms adopts the status of a company with a mission provided for in the Pacte law. In the same year, the Tech for Good movement was launched.
2021 Pierre Dubuc moves to New York to develop OpenClassrooms in the United States.