For the past fifteen years, André Dupon has pioneered an alternative to the state-subsidized job training programs as a way to cope with France's deep-seated structural unemployment. By creating a series of hybrid value partnerships between business and social enterprises that have a strong job creation feature, André has fitted a new paradigm in the fight against unemployment and social exclusion and changed the views of business leaders looking to set up or extend business operations in France.
The New Idea
By realizing that the future of the job insertion field will belong to those who can create partnerships based on industry knowledge leadership, André has invented, experimented and scaled an innovative model to co-create large-sized social ventures with the business sector. By systematizing a new type of alliances and bringing his Groupe “Vitamine T” to a critical size, he has enabled a growing number of unemployed people to find their way back to the labor market and also demonstrated how hybrid value chains are efficient, impactful and sustainable solutions to address long-term unemployment in France. Enriching these social ventures with fast-growing ecological activities and cutting-edge technologies, such as electronic waste recycling, André has developed a successful template for the development of sustainable social enterprises.
To access new financial resources and increase the legitimacy of job insertion ventures, André attracts private companies based on their real business interests—recruitment, market penetration and CSR activities. He then offers the opportunity to invest in the co-creation of new social ventures that can produce both economic and social impact. To guarantee that the social mission comes first and ground the intention of the partnership, André implements key governance principles such as a maximum of 49 percent of the capital for private partners, no payment of capital and reinvestment of all the profits for a predetermined period of time.
With unprecedented financial and technical means to invest, innovate and scale, Vitamine T is a holding of co-led social ventures and forms the largest job insertion company in France, covering the needs of four regions in the north of France. Vitamine T has gained great recognition in France and has become an inspiring model. While spreading new businesses in Europe and China, André is now focusing on encouraging others players to put the forces of citizen organizations and private companies together and create widespread impact.
Since the seventies, France has suffered from growing unemployment and chronic social exclusion. The sources of structural unemployment have evolved. At one time, it was focused on the end of big industries (steel, automobile) and a massive delocalization process that caused regions in the North of France to be particularly affected. Increasingly, a growing and younger suburban ethnic minority is concerned. They belong to the new types of excluded populations that have emerged, from people over 50 out of jobs after the closing down of their factories to low-qualified and low-income families’ young descendents.
To help them re-integrate the labor market, job insertion enterprises have been created, largely subsidized by public funding. Although these enterprises fill a transitional period for those who do not fit the labor market’s requirements, they have never succeeded in gaining economic and social legitimacy. Indeed, among other explanations, most of them offer occupational activities instead of professional and qualifying jobs. They cannot rely on a profitable economic model and, on average, 50 percent to 80 percent of their budget comes from public funding. They are accused of “unfair competitiveness” by private players and only about a quarter of the beneficiaries are hired at the end of their insertion contract. In addition, the recent reform of public subsidies has highlighted the difficulty job insertion enterprises have in developing creative solutions to compensate a loss of public funding and keep responding to their social mission. Mostly small-sized, with fewer than 50 employees, and a local impact, these enterprises have shown little capacity to develop new resources and expand their programs, despite the growing needs.
The lack of bridges between citizen organizations, such as the job insertion companies, and the business world has been on the rise over the years. Cultural gaps, stereotypes and mistrust have always existed between these two worlds, with on the one hand, capitalist private companies focused on short-term performance and on the other hand, social organizations providing support for those who have been excluded by the market and dealing with the social consequences of excessive liberalism. Only a few players have been able to overcome this historic opposition, and most of the collaborations are linked to sponsorships and donations.
With the objective of relying on businesses with financial means and strong know-how‘s to boost the reintegration of his employees into the job market, André firstly identifies market leader companies, joins the most influential management clubs of the region and eventually invites top general managers to join his Board and get engaged in the strategic development of his social mission. Thanks to these key relationships, he then designs with them new opportunities that can both accelerate his growth and reinforce his social impact while responding to his partners’ core business stakes. Indeed, the extension of activities on “social” markets offers private companies the opportunity to reinforce their core businesses by accessing skilled human resources, cutting-edge technologies in green businesses, or market penetration in the French territory.
On that basis, 4 joint-ventures have come into being such as Janus, in 1998, a temporary work agency co-created with the global leader in that field, Adecco, which needed to respond to social clauses in its commercial offers; Envie 2è Nord, the first and biggest electronic waste recycling factory born in 2005 from the alliance with Van Gansewinkel, a Dutch recycling company that needed a national branch to penetrate the French market; or more recently, in 2010, the bakery stores “La Part du Pain” (“Piece of Bread”) with Paul, the leading network in that field, that has invested in the social venture to develop a powerful recruitment channel of trained bakers for its own franchises.
As the capital of these joint-ventures is always partly held by the business partners, André has designed a specific governance model to preserve the social mission of his holding towards job insertion: the business partner is always in a minority position and cannot have more than 49 percent of the capital, the majority stakeholder is always the holding Vitamine T. In addition, each creation is completed with a shareholder agreement that states that there cannot be a financial remuneration of the capital, and all the profits must be reinvested in the social holding.
Structuring a process of synergies to combine the added-value of social and business stakeholders, André has transformed Vitamine T into an impactful social insertion machine able to compete on the market with business players through his 14 social companies. In 15 years, he has successfully scaled the company: from 650 employees, the group now provides more than 3,000 insertion job contracts yearly; the turnover has been multiplied by 10, now reaching 50 million euros per year, and allows permanent investment in social innovation.
The joint-ventures represent half of the total workforce of the group and have the best results in terms of professional reintegration, from 65 percent to 100 percent. They generate profits that are re-invested to scale affiliated ventures, maintain and open new insertion job positions even without any public fund (public subsidies only represent 13 percent of total budget), improve individual follow-up, offer a-la-carte trainings as well as support Research & Development programs to explore new business opportunities, especially green.
André’s model is now highly attractive for public, private and social actors. While supporting the replication of his work, André keeps developing new competitive activities with leading business firms. Through his green growth department, he invests in high-value activities and creates demand for his insertion employees in the coming future. As examples, he has invested 500,000 Euros to lead the first R&D program on TV plasma screens recycling. With the support of his business partner, he creates new supply chains that reach all the way to China, and becomes a market leader in France in front of top global companies like Veolia. He is also developing the first large-scale organic catering company with Sodexo, the world leader on quality of life services.
In addition, André encourages the shift of practices of other job insertion companies and at all levels of his business partners by replicating his model all over the French territory. He engages business franchises network and transfers his know-how to local social organizations to implement hybrid value chains at regional levels. With the network of bakeries Paul, he has planned to open 100 bakery stores over the next 5 years in collaboration with local job insertion companies that he affiliates to Vitamine T; and already have the engagement of Paul to hire 100 percent of the trained bakers after their one-year insertion contract.
André always says that he has to take revenge on life. Taken from his parents when he was a baby, André was taken in charge by the regional social services and grew up in different orphanages by educators in the North of France. He worked hard at school to get out of misery and knew his first success when obtaining his baccalaureate (school leaving certificate at 17).
At a very young age, giving back became his motivation and he began to work as a youth educator and mediator in rough neighborhoods in the city of Lille. Determined to help troubled young people find their way out of poverty and delinquency, he was limited in terms of resources to support them. Thus, at the age of 25, he launched the first “Local Mission” in Lille. Co-created with public local authorities, this new space helps youngsters that have drop out schools build their future, find jobs and trainings, and deal with their housing and health issues. At the same time, he organized the first National Summit for Youth, and influenced a large set of public, citizen and private actors to build solutions together. For 15 years, he managed and developed insertion solutions for disadvantaged youth with a growing interest in job insertion mechanisms.
In 1989, he created the National Federation of Job Insertion centers for North regions, for which he is still the President, and occupied various leading positions in traditional job insertion companies.
In 1995, he became head of Vitamine T and over time created it into a hybrid business-social partnership engine. An outstanding entrepreneur, André is a risk-taker with great charisma. His amazing business intuition and ambition to push back limits and breaks all the taboos have enabled him to write a success story. Never forgetting his background, André has a great sense of empathy and remains close to his employees while mastering business language and codes. Widely recognized, he is a senior advisor for social entrepreneurship movements, business Boards and political groups.
Married and a father of 3 kids, the inexhaustible André has a deep knowledge of literature, yet is still guided by a simple Malian proverb: “Never give up, you would risk to do it two days before a miracle.”