Since the SAP Social Sabbatical Program was introduced in July of 2012, SAP has sent 12 of its most talented employees to help small business and entrepreneurs in developing countries.  In October a new batch of employees from around the world went to China, India, Brazil, and South Africa to work with a wide range of startups and nonprofits.

Upon their return, SAP employees found that the experience was just as rewarding for them as it was for the entrepreneurs they were helping.  Along with generating equal opportunities in developing countries, the SAP Social Sabbatical Program allows SAP employees to refine their leadership skills in a cross-cultural environment.  Additionally, SAP participants are able to increase their knowledge of the industry and the various sectors within SAP in a communal effort to build new networks around the globe.

Brijesh Patel, who has been at SAP for eight years, traveled to India to help develop a Bangalore-based organization called Head Held High. Despite the rapid growth of jobs in BRICK countries, the majority of people living in Bangalore don’t have the skills necessary for open positions.  Head Held High aims to give motivated people the opportunity learn the skills needed for the knowledge workforce. From basic English to computer skills, the six month training course broadens horizons of those limited by location or social standing. Patel, who has worked in management, sales, and mobile platforms at SAP, paired up with HHH to pinpoint problems in the organization’s visibility, processes, and ability to track progress.  He helped introduce simple, yet effective tools, such as a corporate dashboard for employees to easily read up on company updates and statistics. Additionally, as a fairly young organization, HHH has had a constant stream of new employees who, though enthusiastic, were not fully informed about their role within the organization. Road maps similar to SAP’s Success Maps were implemented to more seamlessly promote the message of HHH.

Sarah Lottman, a development consultant for SAP, spent her social sabbatical working with Agastya, an organization dedicated to bringing hands-on science education to underprivileged students in India.  Agastya utilizes low-cost science models to teach principles; an innovative method which Sarah says enables students to be “engaged, interested and actively participating.” Although Agastya is a rapidly growing organization, its rural location makes it difficult to gain recognition. Lottman and her team interviewed various stakeholders in the business to create a knowledge map and communication forums using SAP Jam and Google.

While primarily targeting nonprofit organizations, the social sabbatical program also helps city institutions. MaryKay Gruenberg, who has been at SAP for almost three years as a technical writer, offered her expertise as a part of Team Guaiba in Porto Alegre, Brazil. She worked with the City Hall of Porto Alegre to re-evaluate the communications system and develop an implementation roadmap. However, the goal of the social sabbatical is not simply to lend a helping hand, but rather to offer organizations the tools and training needed to run more efficiently after the volunteers have returned home. Gruenberg found that the social sabbatical gives high-potential workers in developing countries skills they would not otherwise be able to afford or access. At the same time, Gruenberg points out, SAP employees also get a unique opportunity to “gain invaluable leadership experience” and learn about global networking. It’s a win-win situation: helping the world, and SAP, run better.

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