Ernie Els: Golf Pro, Philanthropist, and SAP Brand Ambassador

US Open - Ernie Els - HatWhen golf champion and SAP Brand Ambassador, Ernie Els told SAP that his son was diagnosed with Autism, SAP’s instant response was, “What can we do?”

SAP and Ernie Els have had a great relationship through the years, and Els is considered more than an ambassador, and more like family. With similar values founded in making an impact on something larger and more everlasting than being a golf champion or a global software company, both set out to do something about Autism. Through that dedication and determination, Els began building onto, and strengthening, his existing legacy and became a recognized philanthropist, and SAP was behind him all the way.

By becoming educated about Autism and the population affected (not just those diagnosed, but also the supporting family and friends), Els saw the struggles that occurred and the challenges families faced with securing the help and assistance they needed to properly treat their family members. In the U.S., the disorder affects one in every 88 children, teetering on becoming an epidemic. Els noticed and experienced the barriers, first hand, to good care, reliable information, and proper education, and set out to knock them down.

In 2009, Ernie and his wife, Liezl, established his foundation, Els for Autism, with the mission of:

“Providing funding for scientific research aimed at understanding Autism and developing knowledge-based treatments with the intention of finding a cure…and funding Centers of  Excellence.”

The Els for Autism’s first massive undertaking is the establishment of The Els Center of Excellence. The center has a strong focus on a digital e-learning platform that gives children around the world who are affected by varying degrees of Autism, access to best practices in education and therapy. The center will house the very latest in research and provide the best place for parents and supporters to find what they need.

The 26-acre facility will also have on-site education for 300 students (ages 3-21) and have medical and professional services, research, transition to adulthood, adult living, and on-site job training. The Foundation launched a capital campaign to raise $20 million to finance the facility, and the Els family has committed $6 million of their own to fund the project.

As part of the fundraising effort to create and sustain the Els Center of Excellence, the Els for Autism foundation offers an annual series of events that parallel the interests of the Els family, their beliefs, and fun ways to help other people, help those who need it.

One of the largest fundraising events is The Els for Autism Golf Challenge, presented by SAP and other major sponsors such as Callaway RBC, Wine Spectator Breitling, and Trump. The charity-driven golf tournament is the largest international golf tournament with 30 events around the country and over 1700 amateur golfers who competed, and the 2013 tournament will break into the international sphere by expanding and hosting events in Canada. Teams that raise at least $13,000 will have the honor of Ernie Els joining their team in Las Vegas for a two-day Grand Finale. Not a bad way to make a positive impact, and enjoy the sport that has helped Els build his powerful platform.

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, it is estimated that direct medical and non-medical costs for someone with Autism can range from $67,000 a year to $72,000, making it difficult for supporters to provide everything an Autistic person needs to live the best life possible. It is also a challenge for those with Autism to live a sustainable life on their own and most will face unemployment. In an effort to provide opportunities and use their special skills, SAP launched a partnership with Specialisterne, an organization dedicated to helping Autistic people find employment with a goal of creating one million jobs for Autistic people, hiring those with Autism to work as software testers.

These innovative solutions for society can really make a difference.

Ernie Els, his foundation, and SAP are on a mission to make a difference.  The Els Foundation aims to lessen this burden and give everyone the opportunity to learn, be educated, and have access to reliable information, care, and opportunities.

This past week Els returned to Muirfield for the 2013 British Open to defend his 2012 Open victory. Els shared his feelings about preparation through a post on his blog