It was late Monday afternoon of my last week as part of SAP’s Social Sabbatical Initiative South Africa 2013. Rohit Singh, Marcelo Teixeira, and I had just walked out our final project meeting. We’d officially handed off a series of completed projects to Pip, Rufaro and King, the team at enke, the nonprofit we’d worked with. It was the one of the most fulfilling moments of my four weeks in the country, the culmination of working with a stellar team (both on the SAP and enke side) for three weeks and delivering a series of projects that would enable enke’s expansion and growth strategy in the years to come.

We’d come a long way in three weeks, which included rigorous brainstorm sessions, a thorough review of enke’s overall business operations, strategic recommendations and finally, developing solutions. As we walked out of the meeting, I knew our time was complete and we’d met our goals.

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(Project Handover. L->R enke team: Pip Wheaton, CEO + Co-Founder and Rufaro Mudimu, CPO and SAP South Africa Social Sabbatical 2013 enke team: Rohit Singh, Shahzia Banth, Marcelo Teixeira)

The same Monday afternoon, I received an invitation for a radio interview opportunity with The Bruce Whitfield Money Show on 702, one of South Africa’s most popular business radio shows. I was happy to volunteer and share my experience.

Bruce wanted to understand SAP’s Social Sabbatical program, including SAP’s vision and goals, how our team made a difference for the enke project, and why CEOs should consider implementing their own social sabbatical programs. As part of the interview, I was able to explain how the program is enabling and broadening social entrepreneurship within South Africa by solving key business issues for local nonprofit organizations (NPOs). You can listen to a recording of the interview here: The Bruce Whitfield Money Show – Social Sabbatical

The interview caused me to reexamine my own understanding of the genesis and goals of SAP’s Social Sabbatical initiative (part of the company’s corporate social responsibility branch).  As the conclusion of our Social Sabbatical program neared, I’ve realized the success of the program is really  in two key ways, both equally important.

One, the program has the ability to make a real social impact for the participating NPOs: enke: Make Your Mark, The Awethu Project, Endeavor, and the Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Social Economy program at the University of Johannesburg. Our Social Sabbatical projects with these NPO’s lasted four weeks, but SAP will continue to work closely with each on an on-going basis.  In four short weeks, my team delivered complex solutions ranging from developing and consolidating central databases for on-going analysis, growth/expansion strategies to other regions/continents, thorough review and recommendations of operational efficiencies, and strategy and development for a social incubator website. The breadth and depth of each solution exceeded the expectations of not only the SAP teams, but more important, the local NPOs showing meaningful business impact.

Two, spending time on a small team in a foreign country working to help solve business challenges for small/medium-sized entrepreneurs is a great way to develop leadership skills for SAP employees. I believe this program created a challenging environment for us to strengthen our leadership competencies, develop intercultural-business-sensitivities, understand global business conduct, develop cross-industry experience and forge life-long friendships. All of which have been valuable lessons in my personal and professional growth.

Strengthening the SAP Social Sabbatical initiative are the ties it has with local SAP teams. SAP South Africa will be working closely with the four participating NPOs throughout the year to support the work we did.

So, as I jump back into the marketing trenches here at SAP, 10,000 miles away from South Africa and enke, back to my real-job, my real-world, I will forever be grateful to SAP for such a profound opportunity. It has changed me in some ways I know, and others that I know I’ll continue to discover as I further immerse myself back into life at home. Thank you SAP CSR for an opportunity of a lifetime and letting me experience how SAP is making the world a better place, one NPO at a time.

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Reflections  (Rohit Singh, Marcelo Teixeira, Shahzia Banth in Braamfontain, Johannesburg, Guateng, South Africa)

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