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It was the second day of our Leaders’ Quest. We were 20 leaders from SAP Labs Palo Alto and we had spent the morning in deep, personal conversation with former convicts who are now leaders at the Gamble Institute in Oakland, California. The Gamble Institute is an organization run by parolees for parolees, and their mission is to provide services and support to improve the lives of parolees and their families.

Pastor Willie was one of the people we met. He has tears tattooed on his face, one for each person he killed in his younger days. Or Alejandra – she robbed a bank because she needed money to pay her college fees.  And then there was Yema, who was involved in drugs in the Oakland neighborhood that was her home. We sat in small groups and told stories from our lives. Stories about things we care about, our children, our communities, our world. We listened and connected. There was a soft intimacy in the room as the stories unfolded.  

It was then that I had an awakening. For months I had been grappling with the question of how to engage our employees with the topic of sustainability. At this moment, I realized something I hadn’t seen before – sustainability is too narrow a term. What we are really connecting with is a broader sense of purpose. Pastor Willie, Alejandra and Yema feel a deep connection with their work and are inspired by the impact they have on the people they serve. 

At SAP we too are inspired by the impact we have – on people, communities and organizations.  This is our awakening.  I see it in the way we interact, in the way we approach the design of new products, in the way we talk about who we are and what we do. We used to talk about “efficiency”, the “cloud”, “apps”, “technology”. Now we also talk about “purpose”, “values”, “heart”. We’ve realized that business and heart are not in opposition; instead they belong together. Our business is enhanced when we bring our hearts, our whole selves to it.

“Helping the world run better” takes on new meaning when our software helps manufacturers keep the toxins out of their toys so that our children can be safe, or when we help corporations reduce their energy consumption so they can do their part to protect the natural world. In our hearts we desire a safer, healthier, more equitable world, and this desire inspires us at SAP to create solutions that can have an even greater impact on the world.

There’s an awakening happening. Sometimes it’s barely noticeable, but when I listen, when I really pay attention, I know it’s there. It’s in the energy of the room, in the look in your eye, the question on your face. It requires courage. Courage to show up in a new way. Courage to speak a new language. Courage to bring our hearts to work. Courage to listen deeply to each other.

People ask me, “How do I find meaning?” or “How do I connect with my purpose in the world?” We listen, reflect and explore what is stirring. Together we find meaning.

What is awakening in you today? Take the time to listen.

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  1. Marilyn Pratt

    Mohamed made me aware of your blog and as I am particularly interested in sustainability topics, I’m glad he did.

    In reading your “musings” I’m reminded that Mark Finnern introduced my daughter (who just finished as second Master’s degree in Sustainability to complement the one she has in Public Administration) to Jean Russell and the term “Thrivability”.  I think some of her contents found below map very well to your POV.

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