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When we embarked on the SAP Social Sabbatical program for South Africa many people asked questions like “what kind of job will you do there?” and “what is it that they need from SAP?” or even “have you got the right skill set to help those guys?”. Not really sure of what the correct answer would be I still replied reassuringly that a professional development solution company had planned the whole project and we would eventually find out.

Of course, the entire setup of the program was promising loads of new experiences, challenges and also fun. Firstly, the foreign culture in this emerging, somewhat exotic country with a mixture of Afrikaans and Black African as well as Indian heritage bathed us in cold and hot waters of fear and excitement. Secondly, those initial questions went straight into heart of what modern “real” adventures are made of. Would we be smart enough to defy the adverseness of this unusual business background? Because, in addition, we knew that we would be assigned to non-profit, small business organizations operating in survival mode which are not the standard type of SAP customers we normally deal with. And finally, we would be placed in a country where many people like to spend their vacation – with lots of opportunities for touristic sightseeing. All in all, a terrific mixture of what makes up a good closing of a year of change for many of us. So, it seemed OK to take on the job.

I want to skip so many stories which are worth telling and already have been covered by other blogs – at least some of them.

After having given the final presentation to the leadership of our organization today: What is the impact we made?

This is one of the best questions to pose: Everybody we will meet in the next few weeks will expect us to give an answer to it, be it positive or negative. The organizations in our Pretoria project are eagerly interested in it. And finally, the SAP Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program as well as the SAP management want to see whether SAP’s investment bears good fruit.

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To give an answer to this question – presumably preliminary, but the best one I can give at the end of this assignment, but still before any of the recommendations is implemented – I must say: Measuring impact of a social, highly cause-driven, not profit-driven organization is a big task on its own. And it was part of our job to provide good measures for this. Those measures are coming down to numbers we all know very well: how many employments have been created, how many financially sustainable businesses have been founded, how many women entrepreneurs have got their opportunity? And then we added a whole set of other Key Performance Indicators which describe if a growing company is doing well or not, ranging from basic business training, financial viability, marketing effectiveness to organizational growth enablement. This type of discussion then is not so unknown to us…

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But the question on impact was not only about measures of the social enterprise itself but on the impact of our assignment. What was our impression how much our recommendations really help PEN-Tekanô, a business development program that specializes in developing enterprises specifically for the Bottom of the Pyramid (BOP) tier in the economy in the inner-city of Pretoria?

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Firstly, our thorough discovery and analysis of their situation today was a good start. When simply presenting what we had learned from their business owners and PEN’s staff, we earned feedback like “we wouldn’t have been able to do such an assessment within 2 years’ time – this is excellent”.

Secondly, not only the big topics, but also many small remarks, hints and ideas gave them a lot of food for thought and seemed to convince them.

Thirdly, we knew that we had effectively communicated when managers in the meeting came across with “ah, now I understand what you are aiming at: what you propose is much more than what we are doing today, it’s like incubating a small grain until it gets mature for the free market and then let it go” – even before we had started talking about the big term “incubator model”. And then: “oh, I would like to be part of this” by a women who had not been involved in enterprise development before – that really blew me away: What a wonderful reaction to a proposal that all of us find challenging – and even hard for some of the stakeholders.

The best reaction yet was still to come at the end, the statement given by the CEO: “We were somewhat frustrated with all the effort we invest and the little results we see. I already thought about shutting down the whole initiative. But you showed us: enterprise development is a difficult task and others aren’t doing better than we do either. And yes, we can get to the next level and it is worth it!”

So far, we couldn’t have done a better job!

Will they implement everything we have put on their table? No.
Will they ultimately become profitable and take their business owners to the next level? Yes, definitely. Not all of them, but the ones who have got a real chance.
Will PEN become an even more socially impactful enterprise in the center of Pretoria, serving the “underserved” people by following some of our lines of thought? Yes, I believe so.

We are still waiting for some more well reflected feedback– after some time to think – and, of course, for some good results after having implemented this. But the ship has left its harbor – and it will not return empty.
We know, we did a job that was worth it.

Still being very much impressed by the work PEN is doing, now we are discussing a more personal but even more challenging question: Would we be willing to quit our jobs and take up a “calling” in one of our NGOs – may be not tomorrow, but in 10 years from now when kids are grown up?

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