My Social Sabbatical Experience in South Africa
Now that I’m back in my “normal” job for the past month (Senior Information Developer with the Design and Frontline Apps team in Dublin), I’m able to really reflect on my experiences in South Africa. The Social Sabbatical was an incredible growth and learning experience, which provided an opportunity to make a difference to people who really need it. I was fortunate enough to be selected to take part in this programme and dedicate a month of my time to working on a Corporate Social Responsibility project in Johannesburg, South Africa.
I was joined in this experience by 11 colleagues from SAP, from 8 different countries, none of whom I had met before, but we all quickly got to know one another as we prepared to spend a full month of our time together. The 12 of us were split into 4 teams to work on different projects in the area of Social Entrepreneurship.
I was assigned to work on a project with the Center for Social Entrepreneurship and Social Economy (CSESE), which is a non-profit organization based in the University of Johannesburg. The CSESE provides incubation for social entrepreneurs to build and grow their business through mentoring and training programmes. The center wanted to expand their reach and move into an online incubation system to help even more social entrepreneurs become successful.
Together with my colleagues, Gang Zhu from Shanghai, China and Esteban Samartin from Buenos Aires, Argentina, I was tasked with developing an online
social incubator for the center and helping them build a sustainable plan for the marketing and growth of the incubator. The task was a daunting one, especially with only four weeks to complete it.
In our first week, we conducted interviews with entrepreneurs and mentors to find out their needs for the incubator. We were given the opportunity to visit four social entrepreneurs onsite and see the amazing work they do for their communities, including Gerry from the Alexandra Disability Movement. After contracting polio as a teenager, he made the decision to help people with disabilities to have a better life. He provides jobs for people delivering for local supermarkets and also created a residential center for children with disabilities whose parents are unable to take care of them. It was really moving to see the work that was done there and it also inspired our team to provide a tool that would really help people like Gerry to grow their business and provide crucial services in the community.
We worked together with staff and students in the University to build the online social incubator according to all the requirements we had gathered. When we made our final presentations in the CSESE office and also in SAP, Johannesburg, the positive feedback received made the (very) late nights and hard work totally worth it.
Since I’ve been back in Ireland, I’ve been in touch with the CSESE team to provide training for the incubator and they are moving forward with the sustainable plan we put in place for them.
As well as the project, our team of 12 SAP colleagues were able to see and experience different aspects of South Africa. We visited an orphanage and youth
center in Soweto, we took a cable car up Table Mountain in Cape Town, and we saw elephants crossing the road on safari. As a group, we visited a children’s home in Swaziland, which was an eye-opening experience as it’s a country with a staggeringly high rate of HIV and AIDS.
There are too many experiences and learnings to include all of them in this blog, but I can definitely say hands down, this was the most life-changing experience I’ve had in my working career. From a professional point of view, the learnings I can bring back to my daily work are invaluable. I developed my technical skills in helping to build the website. We had to work around challenges to come up with innovative solutions for an easy-to-us and sustainable incubator. It pushed me outside my comfort zone, liaising with the client and fielding the numerous requirements that we had to prioritize and implement. From a personal point of view, it’s made me more aware of the challenges some people face in their lives and how I’d like to do more to give back where I can.
Thank you to SAP, the CSR team, my manager for her support, and the running springboks for making this an amazing experience!