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“You’ll never get into college.” “Admissions officers are trained to see through thousands of wannabes like you.”

These were the parting words from two of my own high school teachers upon learning I was transferring from our public school to a private one. A recent trip to the principal’s office for getting a good grade in World History that bunked up a class bell curve and caused a riot, followed by multiple campus evacuations for gun and knife threats certainly taught me a few things:

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(a) My school had issues that

(b) I couldn’t solve in a semester,

(c) especially by myself.

In spite of the naysayers, eight years and a college degree later I work for SAP’s Corporate Social Responsibility team, which fights to level the playing field for young people worldwide by supporting education and emerging entrepreneurs. One of my roles involves impact measurement to ensure accountability, efficiency, efficacy, and scalability of our programs. While dollars and software donated or hours volunteered in large numbers make for great publicity, these numbers are inputs. We need to ask ourselves what the outcomes are. How many students graduate, go to college, and get a job as a result of our efforts? By how much do the social enterprises that we work with grow?

We need to prove the theory of change that investing in the future generation brings value back to our business and ecosystem so that these efforts can be sustained – and scaled. SAP CSR isn’t philanthropy – it’s investment. We can generate value for society leveraging our core expertise, and in turn generate value for our business and customers.

What at first seemed like words of discouragement from those who were supposed to be my mentors and advocates only fueled a dream: for young people everywhere to have equal access to the resources they need to fulfill their potential. The challenge for CSR is to show that beyond fulfilling a “responsibility” or an “obligation” to society, it’s really just about straight-up, good business.

Learn more about CSR at SAP and weigh in by tweeting @apolack.

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