This time of the year is perfect for reflection.

As for everyone else in this industry and vibrant company, I feel that the year went by at lightning speed.It is hard to take the time to pause,fully take in your learnings, reflect and utilize them. It’s all in the practice but what if there is no time to think about new practice? You have to make a conscious effort to truly embrace change.

Social Sabbatical is a bit different. Because it challenges you at your core, it changes you without you knowing it. Until you pause and realize it.

The question “how was it?” had never been harder to answer than when trying to describe my experience. Is “awesome, rich, unbelievable, truly amazing…” saying anything to you? It won’t do it justice.

I was one of the 12 lucky SAP employees to join a 4 weeks Social Sabbatical in Nairobi, Kenya, in April 2014. We worked in teams of 3, 4 different teams working with 4 different social enterprise or non-profit organization.

Social Sabbatical is about giving back, deepening your cultural knowledge and developing your leadership skills.

I can do all of the above without going on a Social Sabbatical.

I donate money and time to charity, I live in a foreign country and work in a global environment, I take the occasional course and stretch assignment to work on my leadership muscle. So what did SoSa really give me?

The short answer is: instant skills integration.

Combine all of these elements together: different environment, different people, different skills.

1. Different environment.

New faces, new climate, new food, new culture, new location, security considerations… a zillion questions go through your mind at the same time. That happens with every travel you might say. Where are you from? Is it always so hot here? Eating termites, did you just say? Where is the grocery store? Oh, that’s a lot of armed guards with BIG weapons at the mall…

The difference here is that you are asked to solve a critical business problem that you don’t know, with people you don’t know, in a context that you don’t know, right away. You juggle to master all of this at the same time, while wondering how you will work together (what is your background again?) and showing value as soon as possible.

In the 4 weeks, week 1 is usually dedicated to understanding the context and clarifying the scope of work, week 4 is your presentation, sometimes delivered at the beginning of the week. When you realize that you really have about 2 weeks for the meat of it… no time to hesitate on potential options and overthink how you will get it done, you “just” make it happen. When you realize you have done it at the end of the term, it is the most rewarding feeling.

2. Different people.

12 SAP employees. Representing 10 different countries/ nationalities. For those of you who have been on an Erasmus Program in Europe, you could compare the camaraderie and sense of community you develop. You are all in the same boat in a new and exciting surrounding and develop strong bonds. I have very fond memories of not only working together but also of the dinners we shared, explorations we did, from going to the grocery store to going on a safari.

We also had difficult times. Some of us experienced home sickness, others food sickness, at times there were even conflicts. That is what you would expect in such an environment and it is part of the experience.

We still keep in touch and I know that I can reach out to any of my SoSa friends without thinking. Some will continue to be lifelong connections, others lifelong friends.

Kenyans. I had never been to Kenya before and had never worked with any country in Africa. We worked closely with our social enterprise, African Management Initiative. What really stroke me from our colleagues, their partners and clients: the level of entrepreneurship, confidence, passion, will power, innovative thinking and negotiation skills. People are so talented and just make things happen.  There are no obstacles, only possibilities. Connections and face to face are so important; it gave me a revived notion of networking and relationship building.

As new faces without experience on the ground, I wondered how our presence, investigations and suggestions would be received. It turns out that once you show genuine interest, that you show value, ask the right questions… there is no questioning you! You are part of the team.

3. Different Skills.

I am part of the SAP Talent Development team in Global HR, I’m based out of Vancouver. Canada. I have a background in Maintenance Go-To-Market, in Business Analysis, Sales Operations, Project Management and Change Management.

My team mates: Gina Romeo, from Australia, was at the time Deal Support in Finance (she is now the CFO for Australia!) and Christian Viezens, from Germany based out of Palo Alto, is a developer.

What did we do for AMI? Provide a complete Business-In-A-Box for implementing a new business model. The whole package from strategy to operations, marketing, logistics, pricing, benchmarking etc. None of us had studied such a model before – let alone in a new market. You agree on what needs to be done, you split the work with your best guestimate of what you could achieve with your skills, and you get it done.

I used some methodology or skills that I had not used in years, I created and innovated in other areas, and we came up with solutions as a team in others. We also worked in between teams to bring in the skills we needed from others. Very effective collaboration, team work and execution!

So what was so different with the Social Sabbatical?

I won’t elaborate on the give back element, since I am focusing here on the interpersonal skills development. However it is worth noting: it has been 100%  the most impactful and rewarding way for me to give back.

Personal development: you stretch yourself on the fly. There is no time to think it through, you make it happen. Each journey and development is different. For me, I came back being more vocal, gained confidence in taking calculated risks, developed relationship building and let my innovative juice take the lead. Now what? I continue my journey with my stretched-developed self and can only recommend a social sabbatical experience.

I wouldn’t have expanded myself half of that with the usual classroom or project assingment, and I certainly wouldn’t have the memories of a fantastic time in the beautiful country that is Kenya.

Celine

A few of us at a press conference in the SAP Kenya office

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Last day at the Strathmore Business School

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