ProcureTechSTARS with Antoine Heuty, Founder and CEO of Ulula, a multi-channel mobile platform for engaging stakeholders and measuring environmental, social, and governance (ESG) risks.
During the conversation, Antoine shared his thoughts on diversity, empathy, helping people flourish, human supply chains and female leaders.
1. What’s Ulula’s mission?
Ulula’s mission is to create human centred supply chains. We’re enabling organisations, usually large corporations, to meet the human rights and due diligence requirements that are popping up everywhere. We directly and anonymously connect with workers across value chains. Typically, you’d send someone on the ground to ask business partners whether they’re doing good in their supply chain, but that has important limitations to find out what is truly going on. Ulula asks the stakeholders who are directly affected across the value chain.
“This can be done in any language on any phone — simple or smart — which helps us gather feedback on a more continuous basis to get more critical data, which has been a real thorn in many organisations’ understandings of ‘what is my impact on social and human rights?”
Our unique selling proposition (USP) is that we can get better data from a larger set of workers and communities from anywhere around the world at a low cost.
2. What have been the most significant milestones in the Ulula journey so far?
The first milestone was creating Ulula in the first place nearly 10 years ago.
I wanted to create something more tangible that would create more change in the world and address some of the things that are core to me, like how do you create human development and empower people to drive that process.
The second milestone in about 2015 was where we launched our MVP in the mining sector, to create a more effective grievance mechanism for communities and workers. We got some traction, but the sector froze and commodity prices went down. That then became Ulula’s first pivot. We created a system that was more modular to engage workers and communities through surveys which we then applied to more supply chains, like in palm oil, manufacturing and garments industries etc. In 2017, we got our first funding from institutional investors which helped us grow 10x over the next couple of years.
Our third milestone, which is a critical one, has been from new regulations in different countries such as Germany and the European Union — which will impact about 50,000 companies.
“What used to be something that was nice to have for companies is now a must, which is accelerating the transformation of how you take social and human rights impact into account within your supply chain.”
3. What do you look for in the perfect customer?
We enable our customers to leverage our flexible and advanced technology to collect social, human rights and impact data; but they must establish how they want to act on the findings to effect meaningful change.
“Achieving that impact requires purpose so we enjoy working with customers that have a clear idea of why they want to collect data.”
Do you want to focus on living wage? Do you want to focus on improving how women are treated in the workplace? What do you want to eradicate?
“It’s important to give the clients a sense of starting this endeavour and understand how and why they’re going to use the data. We can help them but ultimately, they have to choose the direction and the purpose themselves.”
4. What are the foundations of a great team?
In a sector like ours, you need diversity which means 4 things.
Diversity of skills
You can’t assemble a technology and apply it to your supply chain and expect social impact with a team of engineers alone. We’ve assembled them with human rights experts, labour experts, data scientists etc through exchanges and collaboration. When creating these different skill sets, you can create a platform where you can gather data and make use of it.
Diversity of nationality
We didn’t do that by design, but we have since developed into a team of 15-20 nationalities amongst a team of 45 people. We are very diverse and I think it’s become a great asset for Ulula because we now work in over 50 countries, therefore we have to be very culturally sensitive.
Everybody working at Ulula may have different motivations, but they all adhere to our mission.
Having empathy with your colleagues and users. You tend to achieve good results when you come to understand what the end user wants, or the companies and workers you are working with. Like working with engineers who have tough deadlines, you have to have that empathy and I think these are values that we really try to nurture.
5. As we emerge from COVID what will you be doing differently?
I think we will be doing two things differently. First,
“we have learned not to take supply chains for granted. Without workers, supply chains can’t function.”
So one of the lessons is how to integrate that to support a system so you have resilience and continuity in the supply chain, because they will be vital at some point when we need supplies for the next climate disaster or health crisis that might happen.
The second thing, which is probably more mundane, is that we are now working very differently. The team covers around a dozen countries, so learning to work remotely is a source of enrichment. We can cover more ground, more time zones and serve our customers better. But it also comes with some challenges of keeping our culture and maintaining a sense of unity. It’s early days but it’s obviously a big change for us.
6. What is the vision for Ulula?
Defining Ulula’s vision is useful in the context of the progress we have collectively made over the past decade to define a number of objectives for business and human rights. That’s great progress, but I think the next five to 10 years have to be about implementation. And that’s where Ulula has a fantastic opportunity to play a key role in translating these intentions.
It’s great for us as it means millions of workers will access our system so they can log grievances and participate in surveys to share what’s really happening and how things are going in a factory, in a community and on a farm for instance.
“It also means we can connect a network of large companies who share data about their human rights or social impact, so that they can collaborate and focus not just on finding the problem, but on solving the problem together.”
Also, it means we can measure tangible improvements in outcomes and working conditions. Over the past five years, instances of forced labour and modern slavery have increased so it is urgent to right the wrongs and accelerate the pace of change.
It’s a humbling task of continuously developing our product so that it can scale and be adopted by workers and communities. You won’t get very far if you’re deploying a tool and users cannot trust that their privacy isn’t respected! They want to know their logged cases are going to provide greater access for a remedy without fear of retaliation. We also need to create datasets and analytics that companies can use to meet their objectives, for example, compliance, being net positive. It’s very tedious work day in, day out of increasing adoption and scalability, reducing friction and adopting it across supply chains.
6.1 In the US, diversity in their suppliers and workforce is significant, but not as much in Europe. What are your thoughts on how that will evolve?
“We should try to embrace and help diversity evolve, rather than resist it.”
The challenge that comes with that is typically migrant workers, whether they’re in the US or Europe or wherever, tend to be more vulnerable to abuse for a range of reasons. As the movement of people continues to be the norm, we need to make sure companies can continue to secure that workforce and provide decent job opportunities that do not involve paying significant fees to get a job that may result in debt bondage.
6.2 Does the platform have the ability to integrate other 3rd party data? Or does your data integrate into other platforms?
“The way we see ourselves is that we are one piece of a big puzzle.”
We already have partnerships with other platforms where we share our data continuously to fill the gap. We have a unique data set directly from workers that really doesn’t exist elsewhere. You can’t gain reliable and actionable insights from just analyzing Facebook or Twitter. We can reach workers and communities safely and anonymously as they often understandably prefer to keep the challenges and abuses they face private to avoid retaliation. It also offers early warning mechanisms whereby workers and community members can use these feedback channels discreetly to get access to remedy before more severe problems and crises happen. As regulators and investors increase demands for more systematic and credible social and human rights data, we will continue to integrate our datasets with other ESG platforms, sustainability rating providers and reporting platforms.
7. How are you doing good for the planet?
Social good is in Ulula’s DNA. A couple of years ago, we became a certified B corp. We try to be a place where people can flourish. As a small-sized company, we have to be humble about how we can effect change in the world. We are ‘just’ a set of tools but we have a unique set of capabilities to reach millions of people to amplify their voices in global supply chains.
“The difference makers are the people on the ground, we’re just there as an enabler.”
1. What is your favourite book or blog?
The Great Transformation by Karl Polanyi. I think it’s had the most influence on me because of the analysis of the market and its deficiencies, and its need for transformation. Even though it’s from post-WW2, its reasonings are quite contemporary.
2. Who is your favourite inspirational leader?
My favourite leaders are the unknown agents of change that try to improve their community and their workplace as a factory manager, a trade union member, a grassroot organiser.
3. What is your favourite cocktail?
4. What is your favourite piece of technology?
That’s easy: mobile phones.
5. What’s your favourite way to celebrate success?
For me, it’s having a good glass of wine.
1. Achieving impact requires purpose
2. Clients need to understand how and why they’re going to use data
3. You achieve good results when you understand what the end user wants,
4. Diversity is everything in a team – embrace it
5. Don’t take your supply chains for granted – without workers supply chains can’t operate
6. The ‘difference makers’ are the people on the ground, software solutions are just the enabler
7. Collaborate to solve problems together faster
Ulula is a multi-channel mobile platform (iOS, Android, SMS,WhatsApp voice, etc.) for engaging stakeholders and measuring environmental, social, and governance (ESG) risks. We work with energy, mining, agribusiness, and other high impact industries around the world to create shared value between companies, workers, communities, and governments.
Our industry is moving forward faster and faster, empowered by innovative, progressive digital procurement solutions created and led by inspiring teams. ProcureTechSTARS are the digital procurement company CEOs and Founders that are leading the change, they are entrepreneurs, engineers and architects collaborating to transform procurement and the enterprise. In an open conversation with these leaders, Lance Younger will be discussing the highs and lows of building the future now, the challenges they’ve faced, their perspective on accelerators and hot topics, and what keeps getting them up in the morning (and keeps them up at night).