Skip to Content
Author's profile photo Former Member

Companies building new leaders – One emerging market at a time

Everyone knows our world has become increasingly global, but what does that really mean and more specifically, how does that translate into our work-lives?  Throughout my career as a marketer, I’ve pondered this very notion. Questioning, researching, and experiencing and I think I was finally able to answer this question for myself … through my experience on my Sabbatical. 


Yep, you’ve read correctly.  A Sabbatical – not only do they exist, but they are becoming more and more popular in workplaces to help retain and develop a company’s top-talent. The term sabbatical is actually derived from the biblical “Sabbath” which served as an ancient human need to build periods of rest and rejuvenation into a lifetime. A sabbatical in today’s working environment is the act of taking an extended leave from work to pursue a long-term activity. And, the SAP Social Sabbatical (the program I was part of) is the opportunity to work on a short term project with an international and highly diverse team in an emerging market.

The genesis of the SAP Social Sabbatical is to create a unique personal development opportunity by building capacity and solving business challenges for organizations, strengthening the local entrepreneurial infrastructure or helping develop entrepreneurs in emerging markets. The unique “out of the box” experience strengthens employee leadership competencies, cross-industry sector know-how, and intercultural sensitivity.  In today’s globally diverse workplace, the most successful leaders are global citizens who understand and effectively collaborate with people from a wide range of backgrounds and perspectives, and the Social Sabbatical helps hone and further the very skills global leaders need. 

“Global pro-bono programs like the SAP Social Sabbatical are unique in that they achieve triple impact (company, participants and client organizations). The strength of the SAP Social Sabbatical is derived from the shared value approach we take to it. By aligning our program to SAP’s business strategy and focusing on strengthening entrepreneurship, we achieve value for society and also for our business, thus elevating our CSR efforts.”  -Alexandra van der Ploeg, Corporate Social Responsibility, SAP

And as more and more companies start to look for innovative ways to attract, retain and develop their talent, sabbaticals are also incorporated into employee development programs.  Sabbaticals enable a unique opportunity to develop skill-sets that otherwise cannot be developed in a class-room or on-the-job types of scenarios.  These initiatives create challenging environments for employees to collaborate together on projects that are out of the realm of their day-to-day jobs, paired with other top-talents across disciplines, age and cultural backgrounds.  What this allows is for employees to really step out of their comfort level and search deep to develop skills they need to get the job done …. And let’s not forget, in an emerging market within a completely new industry.  Also, considering more than half of our workforce will be Millennials in the next-ten years, sabbaticals offer an attractive development opportunity to attract and retain the most talented in
this new generation. 


As I continue to hone my own experience, there is no doubt sabbaticals offer a great Incentive to attract, retain and develop employees. I would argue the benefits from a sabbatical experience are infinite and ongoing and no list can really capture all benefits and value to both employers and employees, but here is a starting point, from my perspective:

Benefits to Companies

  • Professional Employee Skillset Development (Leadership, Communication, Collaboration, Problem-Solving, etc.)
  • Employee Retention
  • Employee Satisfaction
  • Alignment with the companies larger CSR Strategy

Benefits to Employees

  • Professional and personal growth
  • Intercultural sensitivity
  • Opportunity to work in an emerging market
  • Opportunity to work for a non-profit
  • Opportunity to experience social work in an emerging economy
  • Opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives
  • Expand and grow personal and professional network

At SAP, where I took my Social Sabbatical, the 19-day program took 12 of the company’s top-talent employees into an emerging market to work on short-term projects for small non-profit organizations. My social sabbatical ran from October 7 – November 7, in Johannesburg, South Africa, with 12 individuals from a mix of backgrounds, age, talent and geographies.  From this group of 12, I was sub-teamed with two other individuals, from India and Brazil with backgrounds in engineering and support. 


Our mission was to work for enke: Make your Mark (enke), a youth development organization that inspires and supports young South Africans who are taking action on the most urgent social issues. Participants through enke’s program develop as socially conscious global citizens and initiate their own community-based development projects, creating change on the issues they care about most.  enke programs help foster and build leadership skills within South African youth, giving them the foundation and aspirations to start thinking about entrepreneurship in their future.  After five successful years in creating and building the core of enke and their programs, Pip Wheaton (CEO and Co-Founder of enke) was at the cusp of implementing a growth and expansion strategy within, and beyond South Africa. For enke to successfully implement and scale for the next five-years, enke needed to have a clear view of their data and create robust reporting analysis to make decisions.  The SAP Social Sabbatical team enabled solutions to help enke better manage their processes around data-management and analysis preparing the organization to move towards their growth strategy.


Along with our five-days of working at enke, the wider team of 12 participants invested our weekends to do service activities at children’s centers and orphanages in both South Africa and Swaziland.  And this very experience, a mix of developing a sustainable technology-based solution for enke, and the hand-on experiences at the children centers and orphanages, have helped me define and understand what it takes to navigate and work efficiently in a global environment, and why it is important in today’s workforce. In this series of blogs, I will explore and further define my learnings of working in an emerging market, working in a diverse team abroad, working within a new industry (Non-Profit Organization), and how volunteering at the orphanages have influenced and developed my skillsets to become a better global citizen.  My Sabbatical provided me a unique once in a lifetime opportunity to help solve business challenges for a startup non-profit  in an emerging market, by honing in on my leadership skills, deepening my cultural knowledge and connecting with other talented and passionate people from around the world. This has changed me in ways I am aware of today…and in ways I will continue to discover every day. 

Have you experienced something similar?  Does your company offer similar development programs? Would love to connect and share experiences. 

t: @shahziabk



Assigned Tags

      Be the first to leave a comment
      You must be Logged on to comment or reply to a post.