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Author's profile photo Robin Meyerhoff

Social business takes root in Eastern Europe

SAP is throwing its support behind social entrepreneurship through events and programs in Bulgaria and Russia.

Social entrepreneurship – addressing social problems using business techniques – has gone mainstream and is here to stay. Explanations for its surge in popularity vary. Some think it is due to lower costs of entry to starting a business. Others say it is a response to the global economic crisis and new questions about the mores of “business as usual.”

But most agree it is because of young people. Study after study show that millennials want to make a social impact, and believe that business should be involved in social issues. Some estimates suggest that as many as 90 percent of millennials want to use their skills for good. One thing is sure: millennials now make up the largest segment of the labor force and the workforce is expected to keep getting younger in most parts of the world.

Recognizing the changing demographics and interests of workers, SAP has been a big proponent of social entrepreneurship around the world. Since 2011, the company has helped launch over 186 social businesses in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Last year, SAP extended its support from Central to Eastern Europe with two recent events designed to promote social entrepreneurship in across region.

Natalia Parmenova, the Chief Operating Office of SAP for the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), says, “Social entrepreneurship has just started to develop in Russia in the last decade. That’s why the support of international business leaders is all the more important for it to grow here.”projects overview.jpg

SAP CIS recently held its first social entrepreneurship contest, called SAP UP, to foster social startups and engage young people in Russia. SAP solicited submissions from the government sector, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), social start-ups, universities and businesses.

Almost 250 applications were submitted by people and organizations across Russia. At the end of November, a panel of judges including SAP representatives, Russian business leaders, government, and non-profit organizations selected winners, most of whom were under 35. The grand-prize winner received 450,000 rubles. They and other winners will also visit the Social Impact Lab in Berlin (dedicated to helping social businesses connect and grow) and be introduced to local non-profit organizations for increased support.

Top honors went to the “Inclusive Kindergarten” project developed by Nadezhda Samoilova, a young woman who is creating a network of private kindergartens for special needs children. These kindergartens are unique in the area because they provide a private education for differently abled children – and personalized rehabilitation programs for each child.


Overview of projects at SAPUP

Other winners include “My First Book,” the first organization to print braille books for blind people beyond the Ural mountain range: “Motor Skills,” a group that produces affordable and functional artificial hands and arms. “Charity Shop” collects used clothing, provides wearable clothes to families in need and recycles the rest. Finally, a program which helps youth in rural areas successfully engage in the goose breeding business.

Continues Parmenova, “SAP continuously implements innovative corporate social responsibility programs and the UP contest is the latest example. By involving representatives of Russian business, public, educational and social sectors, SAP has helped promote a community of like-minded people and organizations, which actively contribute to the solution of social problems in our area and leverage social investments across the country.”

Similarly, SAP convened a Startery summit for social startups in Sofia, Bulgaria. Startery, co-founded by SAP, offers workshops and mentoring to new social businesses. During this event, over 25 startups from Central and Eastern Europe came together to network and use design thinking to turn their ideas into sustainable business models.

Over the four days, participants defined target markets and customers, and built a business prototype. They learned business skills like how to present, create consensus and cultivate support amongst key stakeholders. On the final day, each entrepreneur presented his or her plan for two minutes. The jury selected 10 finalists, of which three were the winners. Jury members included representatives from SAP, the Bulgarian government, Social Impact organization, universities, venture capital and journalists.

The three winners include ‘I donate my birthday,’ a Romanian crowdfunding platform that encourages people to donate to charitable groups in lieu of birthday gifts: ‘Post-Apocalyptic Quest’, from Slovenia that will help people to turn empty, abandoned, mostly industrial spaces into games fields. And ‘Listen up’, a start-up in Bulgaria that plans to establish a national center to provide sign language and text-interpretation services for people with hearing impairments.

Simon Kaluza, the managing director for SAP Central and Eastern Europe, hosted the event. According to Kaluza, “At SAP, we help business run better and improve people’s lives. We’re happy to welcome these young women and men who are changing their local communities and the world. We can learn so much from each other and help support each other through projects like Startery.“

Given the groundswell of interest in SAP’s programs, social business seems to be having its moment in Eastern Europe. Among corporations, SAP is leading the way to help carve out infrastructure and support systems those organizations. For socially-engaged, young Europeans, SAP is a willing partner that can help provide the skills and network to succeed.


Startery introductory video “Helping Social Entrepreneurs Launch their Businesses

SAPUP website

Social Impact non-profit organization

Profiles of the 186 social start-ups in Germany, Austria and Switzerland

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