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This past Friday, I had the wonderful opportunity to be a part of the inaugural “Impactathon Series,” the first event of a global initiative that SAP is jointly piloting with Net Impact, a global nonprofit of 50,000 students worldwide, to help empower students to tackle the most pressing social issues in their societies.  In total, SAP will work with Net Impact and pilot potentially 14 events around the world using “Impactathons” that combine principles of design-thinking and hackathons to inspire students and SAP employees to develop innovative, creative, real-life solutions. 

The goal for our Impactathon was simple and clear: 

    “How might we design new models that leverage the power
of business and education to help young people develop the skills they need to
transform their lives, their communities, and the world?”

This first event took place at the SAP South San Francisco office on June 20th from 12:00 pm until 10:00 pm.  As I arrived on campus, about 5 minutes to noon, I could feel a buzz of excitement in the air.  I registered and walked towards my team (Team #6), and noticed there was a good number of SAP employees (both from the CSR group and other volunteers, such as myself), a group of Net Impact employees to moderate and oversee the program, undergraduate and graduate students from various Bay Area schools, and most importantly, representatives from key local, regional, and global educational nonprofit organizations representing the toughest challenges in education through the eyes of one young adult each organization helps to support. 

The stories of these young adults and the struggles they faced were the most inspiring part of the day. These young adults, all four of them, were so very close to continuing their education and pursuing their dreams, but “only if…” they had more clarity of the future, a role model or mentor to inspire their next step, more time, and most importantly – someone to inspire their career and educational goals. And the stories of these four young adults set the tone for our Impactathon experience for the next 10 hours.

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MARIELENA: THE INSPIRATION

We were struck by the statistics outlining the challenge we were tackling. We learned that nearly 60 percent of CEO’s worldwide report:

  

  1. A shortage in skilled labor
  2. That they believed building a qualified workforce fell to the responsibility of the government and schools, which are struggling in unprecedented ways to fulfill these needs. 

Given this gap, these young adults face numerous challenges in developing the skills they need to be successful in the future. The lack of “skill development” or “skill gap” comes in various forms and is influenced by each individual student’s personal background, experiences, and situation.  Understanding and helping these students gain the skills they need can make a positive impact at their individual level, the overall community, and in the business world.  During the Impactathon, we were joined by four organizations, who work meticulously in helping young adults solve these very issues.  They shared stories of four students and the challenges the organization faced in helping them.

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The story of Marielena, a high school sophomore from East Palo Alto, particularly resonated with our team.  Her story was one of many young adults, having big dreams but varied performance, facing peer distraction and parental pressure leading her to inconsistently focus on pursuing her goals.  Marielena’s story inspired our team to develop a solution to help young adults like her see their way through.

 

THE TEAM: #FOGGYBOTTOMS …because every Bay Arean loves our “fog”

We split off into teams of four (one SAP employee and three students).  I was part of team #6, with Emily (SFSU), Andrew (UC Berkeley), and Paul (St. Mary’s), and we quickly kicked it off with introductions, commonalities, and what we were hoping to achieve during the day’s session.  The four of us immediately had chemistry, and I was pleasantly surprised at not only the group’s passion for social issues within their communities, but also the competitiveness and drive to create the most compelling solutions for these children.  This group truly looked out-of-the-box and reminisced about their own experiences as younger students, the challenges and opportunities they see within the local community, and how to use trends and tactics like social media, gamification, and emerging technology to develop a solution for these non-profits to engage better with the young adults they help.

 

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What was amazing about this Impactathon was the process the teams went through to develop their solutions.  Starting off, each team was given a “Challenge Brief,” which gave a background of the overall social issue this Impactathon was hoping to solve. 

  

Our team’s challenge: Education-Helping young people get the critical skills they need will make the positive impact on both the individual level and the workforce as a whole. 

   

After reviewing and understanding the Challenge Brief, we had some time as a team to reflect on how the challenge affects the young-adults’ personas we studied. We then moved into the “Design-Thinking” process, which guided us through the process of Inspiration, Ideation, and Prototyping.  A few hours later (after some fuzzy pipe cleaner-mustache role-play and Play-Doh wars), our team was ready to prototype a solution that we felt could realistically help these young adults.

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THE PROTOTYPE: P-HARMONY

As our team went through the design-thinking process, we all seemed to align on a few points:

  

  1. The SF Bay Area is home to one of the most vibrant technological regions and has companies (and employees) that are very willing to invest in youth, given the right opportunity
  2. The SF Bay Area is home to some very successful celebrities that could identify with today’s youth
  3. Youth identify with technology, social media, and gamification

  

These points would eventually lead us to conceptualize a solution that we could make for the young adults to use, and thus, we created “p-harmony.”   This two-way communication platform would enable students and mentors to connect with each other using all the facets young adults value in communication today: technologically savvy (available on multiple channels i.e. web, app, or mobile web), mirror a similar interactive experience as their favorite social media avenues (i.e. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.), allow tools that will give young adults choices to choose the career and long-term goals they want to pursue, and give them access to mentors that fit this category, whether locally, nationally or globally.   And this is what we envisioned p-harmony to do.

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AND FOR THE WIN…

As the evening drew to a close, so did our project and prototypes. But not the energy in the room – it quickly converted from anticipation to excitement. And I have to admit, as soon as we gathered and settled as one large group, a juxtaposition of emotions ran through me for our own prototype: Were we detailed enough? Was our solution realistic? Did we capture the essence of the challenge? And most importantly, did we propose the right solution to take these young adults one step closer to making their dreams real? I wonder …. 

As the first few prototypes were presented, I noticed an ongoing underlying theme that correlated with the buzz and excitement of the event. No doubt, everyone in this room was dedicated to helping, building, and creating a meaningful solution for these young adults, which each team did.  But what was great to observe as a participant of the event was how passionately each team showcased the vast opportunities their proposed solution could potentially create. And by that I mean what this clearly demonstrated was each proposed solution was not only addressing the challenge at hand; they were also enabling long-term positive impact in a community, by trying to bring the community together.  Each prototype clearly established that the success of solution was in the hands of the community working together. 

And for me, seeing this in action was the most valuable part of the Impactathon.

  

So as we presented our prototype “p-harmony,” I realized we too had aligned our passion with the others in the room, to take a challenge and not only solve a particular problem, but also help ultimately transform a community.  Our prototype was presented to the group through a skit where we demonstrated key capabilities, innovative features, and most importantly how it would engage the wider community to participate in helping struggling young adults.  As the last team presented their prototype, we anxiously awaited for the judges to convene and announce the winner. It would be a tough choice because every prototype clearly solved the challenge, included innovative solutions and incorporated community involvement.  And to our surprise, our team #foggybottoms took the awards home for the most innovative solution. What a great ending to a great day.

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So, where does this take us next?  Participating in the Impactathon as a member of my community and having the privilege to work for a company like SAP allows these types of events to inspire and create solutions for the community.   For example, SAP is building a STEM talent pipeline with new high school model focused on technology. By partnering directly with the education system from the beginning, SAP has a unique connection to a previously untapped pool of talent. Not only SAP, but more and more companies are starting to form partnerships with educational entities to align on common goals. An example of this type of collaboration model is one Starbucks announced earlier this month.  The Company has forged a partnership with Arizona State University offering their fulltime employees a full college education through their online programs. And it is towards these initiatives where I believe my team (#6), the Impactathon, and SAP strive to go … to help create shared value (Shared-Value is creating Social and Business Value at the same time) in our communities.

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