I’ve always wanted to go to India. I’m not sure why exactly, but I’ve always been drawn to it. For decades, in my mind’s eye, I’ve imagined India as a land of brilliant colors and ornate dress; deep, tropical forests; and wildly diverse, contemplative people. I’ve imagined it, too, as a place filled with wondrous plants and animals, where the scents of a rich culinary tradition fill the streets and market places, while hypnotic, purling music provides a mesmerizing background soundtrack.
When I was younger, I read a lot. You know: classics like The Jungle Book, and Around the World in 80 Days. I can’t be sure, but I think the stories of far-away, long-ago lands that we absorb as children stay with us throughout life. If you’ve always had an unexplained yearning to see a particular place, or to learn more about a specific time or era, I’m willing to bet that the seed was planted during the telling of a bedtime story when you were young. Most probably the lights would have been low; your bed would have been warm and safe. You would have listened to the dulcet tones of your mother, or your father, or perhaps a grandparent, as they told you time-honored tales that transported you to another world. This is the stuff of childhood for many of us. And it’s magical.
I’m 32 years old now, and I’ve finally made it to India. I didn’t make it here on my own. I’ve been sent here, to Mumbai, by SAP, a company that has changed my life since I joined it in 2012. It’s provided me with a great job, fantastic opportunities to learn and grow, and even a new country for me to move to (the UAE). Because of this move, I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to meet my wife. SAP has also given me – either directly or (more often) indirectly – opportunities to travel to places like Saudi Arabia, Oman, Polynesia, the Philippines and Germany. But something tells me that of all the places I’ve ever been to, Mumbai will be different. I’m here with 11 colleagues, not to attend a training course or to participate in a customer engagement activity, but to work on the ground for 30 days with some remarkable grass roots organizations. My challenge will be to help effect positive change in the lives of some of the poorest families in India. The key beneficiaries will be their children – children whose childhoods could not be more different from the one I enjoyed when I was their age. I was dreaming of an India that they would probably not recognize.
I’ll be blogging about my experiences for the next four weeks, providing more details in the days ahead. For now I’ll just sign off by confirming that when SAP says it wants to make the world run better and help improve people’s lives, it’s not just an empty corporate slogan. It’s really true. Search the web for “SAP Social Sabbatical” to see what I mean.