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Author's profile photo Ryan van Leent

A fish out of water – my expedition into Social Enterprise – epilogue

SAP’s vision is to help the world run better and improve people’s lives.
This is our enduring cause; our higher purpose.

So says the SAP website. But I must admit that, despite the stories of SAP’s benefaction of worthy causes, I was unsure if the company I work for truly owns these ideals, or if this vision had been cooked up by savvy marketing people to sell more software. My participation in the SAP Social Sabbatical demonstrated to me that, from the top to the bottom, the people of SAP believe their work and their products have a higher purpose. And that whatever the market conditions or the current share valuation, this is an enduring cause. Seeing is believing as they say.

I knew from the start that there would be a significant cost to the business of taking 12 employees out of the field to work pro-bono for Social Enterprises in Christchurch. What I didn’t realise is that those 12 employees would be supported throughout their engagement by top SAP Executives, Corporate Responsibility professionals, and pretty much anyone else in SAP that we requested assistance from. This was not a calculated investment with a predetermined return, but rather an unqualified commitment to do whatever needed to be done to make a difference.

Over dinner one night, Stephen Moore (President and Managing Director, SAP A/NZ) and Graeme Riley (Managing Director, SAP New Zealand) ran an impromptu “test and improve” session with our group. Given how tired we all were by that point, I started out feeling that the exercise was cruel and unusual, and wondered if anyone would notice if I ducked away for some sushi and then off to bed. But hearing every member of the group passionately describe their deeply personal reasons for being there and how their experience was giving their work a greater purpose, energised me to redouble my efforts. I could see in their faces that Stephen and Graeme were wishing they could put aside their day jobs and pitch in with us (they get their chance in the Executive Sabbatical programme).

Sure, it’s great to see the share price improve, but as employees we want to know that we are working for a higher purpose. Moreover, as human beings we want to believe that our labours on Earth will having a meaningful impact on society and the environment. I am not religious, but I have always known that when my time comes I will measure the worth of my life by the positive (and negative) impacts I have had on others. Assuming a 39.2 hour working week (and these days, who works only 39.2 hours per week!), upwards of 21% of my total waking hours will be spent working. That’s a meaningful investment, for which I believe there needs to be a meaningful purpose. It’s good to know that the company I work for also has a higher purpose and an enduring cause to improve people’s lives.

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