What gave you the idea for this?” was the question that came from the four-person panel of judges.
Standing alone in front of a 100-person crowd, the teenager, who could not have been older than 16, responded, without hesitating, “I personally deal with homelessness, and so, what has helped me be in class and be attentive is meditation and yoga…I’m not always thinking what’s my next meal, where am I going to get these clothes, how am I going to survive in the streets, I’m thinking about what’s in front of me…”
That moving response was only one of many to emanate from the SAP Social Innovation Series’ Minneapolis event. Students also noted how “50 percent of our students are homeless;” that lunch is, for many students, the only meal they’ll have during the day; and that “last year, someone brought a gun to our school…and I don’t want anyone else to go through what I went through.”
The Social Innovation Series is a six-city series designed to harness the entrepreneurial creativity and talent of today’s students to solve health and wellness problems in their local communities, and possibly beyond. Think of it like a Shark Tank or a Y Combinator for students. Students come to the event with an original idea, work with SAP mentors to cultivate it, pitch it to a panel of judges, and, possibly, receive funding to bring it to life.
The event is not a simulation or exercise in entrepreneurism; the stakes are real for these students. Up to $1,000 for each idea, in each city, is available. What’s more, one student from the series will win the grand prize: $10,000, the title of SAP Teen Innovator and an all-expenses-paid trip to the Super Bowl.
So far, the series has stopped in three cities: Minneapolis, Dallas and Chicago. Up next are Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Phoenix.
What we saw in Minneapolis, I think, was slightly unexpected—but unexpected in a wholly positive way. It showed that, one, not only are SAP and GENYOUth, our partner on this project, having a true, positive impact on these students’ lives, it also shows these students’ courageousness and how motivated they are to effect real, meaningful change.
This is, in essence, the whole idea of the program: Teaching and instilling the entrepreneurial mindset in students—the mindset that they, in fact, do not have to sit idly by when they recognize a problem—and that they can change the lives of their fellow students in their schools and communities.
The series aligns perfectly with our corporate social responsibility strategy—empowering today’s youth with the skills they need to thrive in the 21st century—and it has proved an immense benefit to our employee volunteers, who serve as mentors and judges. As one of our Dallas judges, Doug Scott, SAP’s Vice President of Sales, US Southwest Region, put it, “I have a waiting list to volunteer for this event because our employees love to work in this environment. It’s a way for them to give back, to see their volunteer efforts produce an immediate return. This is one of those opportunities where our employees walk away and say, ‘Wow, I probably got more out of that than the person I was mentoring.’”
Students, SAP employees, the community—this series truly serves as a win-win-win. In terms of helping the world run better and improving people’s lives, I can think of no better example.