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#Social Sabbatical Belo Horizonte, Brazil: What a Remarkable Couple of Weeks!

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

 Maya Angelou

Two weeks ago, I began my travels to Belo Horizonte, Brazil for a #SocialSabbatical with about a dozen fellow SAP employees as well as Kelly Wilson who represented EY.   We converged on Brazil from across the globe for a unique opportunity that had me excited about the experience that was ahead but also a bit nervous about the unknown nature of the engagement.   As I leave Brazil, I can easily say I could never have predicted how this trip would impact my perspective on so many levels.

SAP has a tremendous corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy and this engagement is just one of many across the globe where we look to engage communities with resources, technology and employees at a local level.   In this instance, our mission was to engage non-for-profit (NPO) organizations located in the Belo Horizonte, Brazil area, learn their business and advise them on improving their strategies.

My fellow SAPer Oliver Conze and I were assigned to work with Fa.vela which is a NPO focusing on providing entrepreneurial and digital skill development to vulnerable communities in the favelas by members of the favelas.   They have only been in existence for four years but have already had a major impact helping young entrepreneurs learn the necessary skills to start their own business and preparing others in developing their employment skills to bring much needed economic activity into the favelas.

Almost immediately, my perceptions of life in and around the favelas was shattered as we accompanied our co-founders, Tatiana and Joao, into the Morro do Papagaio favela.   As we ascended the steps of the entrance, the colors of the favela were very vivid.   Brazilian street art was new to me but is a prominent element to life in Belo Horizonte whether as murals painted on high rise buildings, images on the soccer stadium walls or, as in this case, a brightly colored stairway foyer welcoming us into the favela.

As we walked to the main street of the favela, there was a level of activity and a sense of community that was completely unexpected.    People walking the streets were happy to see one another just like any other community across the world.   The conditions are difficult, and the poverty is evident, but I witnessed people who clearly felt a sense of pride and belonging to their favela community.   One of my lasting images was of a woman who was sweeping her front porch.   The porch was narrow and butted up against a line of debris that resulted from a recent demolition of houses to make room for a road.   She quietly and calmly moved a large piece of wood that was her front door to the side and spent several minutes clearing any dust and dirt from her porch.   It was at that moment that I began to fully comprehend our founder’s mantra of “By favela, for favela”.   My perception was that the residents wanted to get out of the favelas when, conversely, the goal is to develop businesses by the favela in order to create economic opportunity for the favela.   

As the days progressed, our knowledge about their business improved and we witnessed first-hand how this small but dedicated team worked so hard, with limited resources, to change the lives of those around them.   We accompanied the Fa.vela team on meetings with advisors, clients and prospects to provide recommendations on new services but also to hear first hand about the impact they have on their communities.    The energy continued to grow throughout the final week as we identified what we all believed where important synergies and opportunities to grow their business and, more importantly, scale their ability to impact the lives of vulnerable communities inside of the favelas.   Our team was excited about the progress and we look forward to continuing our engagement going forward.

Lastly, as I get ready to board the plane to leave Brazil, I have a sense of irony around the experience.    I thought the intent of the #SocialSabbatical was for SAP executives to engage NPOs and help them to think differently about their business opportunities.    As I reflect back on the two weeks, I think the NPOs and, in our case, Fa.vela are the ones who taught us how to see things differently.   How to be more creative, to use less and impact more and to remember that one of the biggest impacts you can have on someone is to change the way they feel.   For that, I want to thank the members of Belo Horizonte community, SAP’s CSR partner Pxyera and Joao, Tatiana and the team at Fa.vela for their friendship, compassion and patience over the last two weeks.   This has been an incredible experience that will stay with me for a life time.

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