“Many young entrepreneurs want to have a positive impact on the planet”

The cross :You are one of the leaders of the Tech for Good movement, “technology for good”, which brings together companies in the technology and digital sector. What do you mean by “good” in this regard?

Pierre Dubuc: This means having a positive effect on society by limiting its negative impacts 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 in opposition to the excesses of digital? In other words, did you want to distinguish yourself from what could be considered “technology for evil”?

DB: Technology is a tool that can be used for good or bad. Digital companies have become preponderant in our lives and this sector has developed enormously, without always being able to avoid certain abuses. But it is also a sector made up of many young entrepreneurs – there are hardly any century-old family businesses! – who want to have a positive impact for the planet and their stakeholders. It’s quite specific to Europe: we had something different to say compared to Chinese or American Tech.

Why did you become a business manager 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 have created a site of free online courses, just to help people and without any initial commercial ambition. We got bigger, bigger… so much so that the question arose of giving a framework to all this. Once our engineering studies were completed, we wondered what legal form was best suited to continue our online training activity: an association, a company?

We chose the company because this status allows access to more financial and human resources, to raise capital, to reach a certain size. And we wanted to think big, reach as many people as possible, have 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 size without losing your soul?

DB: We found ourselves perfectly in the status of company with a mission, which was established by the Pacte law after we created OpenClassrooms. We adopted this status in 2018, which allows us to remain faithful to our initial ambition – to make education accessible to all – by giving us the tools to achieve it. It is not enough to give yourself a good reason for being. It is still necessary to implement it using virtuous methods. Displaying a noble ambition is not enough: you can be an association that helps people on the street by having deplorable management methods.

How does having adopted this mission-driven company status help you?

DB: When you want to do things right, you have to think 360 degrees! Am I true to my purpose? To achieve it, do I pay my employees correctly, do I respect gender equality, do I promote diversity? Am I respectful of 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.

The status of company with a mission leads to defining its raison d’être, which is not limited to the search for profits. Above all, it requires regular reporting on the achievement of its objectives. We must publish an impact report, which makes it possible to verify that what we are saying is true. So much for the management. And for the way to do it, we chose the so-called “B Corp” certification which leads to measuring its level on about 200 criteria relating to the company’s social and environmental policy! There is no perfect organization. The important thing is to be able to measure its impact, to identify its strengths and weaknesses and to put oneself into a dynamic of continuous improvement.

For example, what indicators have you chosen regarding your mission?

DB: Making education accessible to all means for us that our courses are understandable by all; that everyone can benefit from it, young, old, people with disabilities, everywhere in the world, and that the financial aspect is not an obstacle. We focus our efforts on professional training, with the aim of helping people advance in their careers. Dropouts, job seekers and low-skilled employees are our priority audiences.

We have not chosen as an indicator the total number of people trained each year, which would not mean much. We focus on the number of our students who, thanks to our courses, have found a job or changed companies, benefited from a promotion or a salary increase or who have started their own business. This year, we estimated their number at 40,000, while we train a total of 350,000 people each month. Our impact is arguably greater than that, but we only publish what we can prove.

Do you feel like part of a nice club or are your methods replicable on a large scale?

DB: The number of mission-based companies remains low but is growing rapidly. The same is true for certified B Corp companies. I think that this type of commitment, real and verified, is bound to become structural. Everyone realizes that there is a climate emergency; that it is important to take care of its customers and its employees, whose expectations are not at all the same as fifteen years ago.

Young engineers or salespeople coming out of school ask their future employers about their climate and social commitments. If they don’t have one or if these commitments are insincere, 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. And below a certain threshold, you are publicly singled out.

Ten years ago, only B Corp certified companies paid attention to these types of indicators. It is the same in the field of the environment. Companies with more than 500 employees are required to publish their greenhouse gas emissions report and this threshold will probably be gradually reduced. The whole economy will eventually be affected by these regulations, and not just a small group of fanatics! We just got a little ahead…

The life of a business leader is becoming more and more 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 whether you will follow suit, but when. Otherwise, you will run into 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, try to navigate on sight. For my part, I believe that business leaders no longer have a choice.


organic express

1988. Born in Normandy.

1999. Meeting with Mathieu Nebra, a computer and coding enthusiast like him.

2009. Engineering degree in information from INSA Lyon.

2013. Creation of OpenClassrooms with Mathieu Nebra.

2018. OpenClassrooms adopts the status of company with a mission provided for in the Pacte law. The same year, the Tech for Good movement was launched.

2021. Pierre Dubuc moves to New York to develop OpenClassrooms in the United States.


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