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Author's profile photo Gunjan Patel

Passion and purpose power SAP India’s employee volunteering initiative

Passion and purpose power SAP India’s employee volunteering initiative

Beyond work, SAP employees find their higher purpose in serving communities & taking care of environment


When you love your work, you find the job satisfaction immense. But when your organization helps you make a difference to the planet and its people, the satisfaction is immeasurable.  As they say, purpose matters over paychecks, and that’s what drives the culture at SAP. 

At any given point, one will find SAP employees engaged in initiatives that impact millions of lives and taking care of environment. Be it running marathons for a cause, volunteering their time with non- profits that are engaged in teaching the underprivileged, or contributing to health and sanitation awareness drives, there is a culture of serving society enshrined within the organization.  This nurturing and giving culture is also what makes for a very engaged workforce at SAP.  This is the true manifestation of SAP’s enduring vision “helping the world run better and improve people’s lives”. 

How do we make the volunteering engagement compelling and meaningful? 

Volunteering – a Strategic Imperative, Building Bridges & Breaking Silos

Employee volunteering may seem like an altruistic or philanthropic activity, however, as an organization we have found this is what brings our people together and creates strong bonds, and importantly, it is a strategic imperative withing CSR and over all company’s DNA. This is demonstrated through outcome and impact we achieved through employee volunteering initiatives. 

More and more people – especially millennial – seek meaningful work and studies have shown that organizations that meet this need have found it to be a great retention tool.  Engagement is high as employees get connected with a purpose.

  1. Well defined opportunities: Our volunteering initiatives are divided mainly into 2 segments: (a) Skills based volunteering and (b) Inclusive or Traditional volunteering
    • Skills based volunteering ranges from teaching coding to Science/Math or Communication skills
    • Inclusive or traditional volunteering involves health awareness & sensitization, environment sustainability or ecology conservation, community inclusion, Sports for development, etc.
  2. Volunteers ambassadors are a great evangelizer and asset: Creating Employee Volunteer Ambassador network will help engage large no of volunteers. Tapping into Employee Network Group’s (ENG’s) interest and strengths would help drive various of initiatives.
  3. Training: Offering the course to employees towards structured way of volunteering, streamline the efficient way of driving volunteering programme for the employees
  4. Connect employees with purpose and align with UN Sustainable Development Goals.
  5. Targeted communication and celebrating employee volunteer(s) and the achievement.
  6. Develop a culture of “year long volunteering service” rather than just a focus of volunteering during one month or one week. This will provide opportunity for sustainable volunteering opportunity leading to meaningful impact. “Year long employee volunteering” is one of SAP India CSR’s guiding principles.


Leaders leading from the front 

At SAP, it is not employee or hierarchy that defines volunteering, it is the culture and DNA that signify the volunteering effort. Especially, our leaders act as role models, when they take the baton of volunteering efforts.. Be it SAP Labs India SVP and MD Sindhu Gangadharan, who was at the forefront during the month of service, leading programs on health and education, or Debashis Banerjee, VP, Head of Airba Tech India, who spearheaded the initiative aiming at #NoHunger for school children, the top management led from the front.

The employee volunteer programme may be a CSR effort but it is driven by various Lines of Business (LOBs) leading to compelling & impactful participation. For example, in last year during the month of service, leaders of 40 plus teams are involved in mobilizing and motivating their people to contribute.   

Additionally, the program has been successful as the volunteering focus areas are in synchronization with employees’ passion and interest.  Each year, a month of service is dedicated to social causes and employee network groups are formed basis the specific causes they are passionate about. There are six  broad areas where employees contribute their time and talent – education and digital literacy; health and sensitization; environment and sustainability; sports for development;  disaster rehabilitation and community inclusion.

What is in it for SAP or for Employees?

Often many external stakeholders asked me that what is the advantage of volunteering engagement for employees or for the SAP? Does the employee receive benefit in annual performance?

Fundamentally, the only advantage an employee gets is an enriching experience and a learning.

  • For employees, they can: develop leadership (esp. empathetic leadership), cross-cultural as well as entrepreneurial skills and mindset; be part of an experiential learning opportunity; have the chance to connect with other emerging leaders, which can lead to new ideas and business relationships that can last well beyond the assignment.
  • For SAP, it can: extend strategic social investments in key markets; learn more about the needs of NGOs and social entrepreneurs; support social innovation; energize employees who participated in a once in a lifetime experience and turn them into intrapreneurs; position SAP as employer of choice.

Employee volunteering engagement needs to be a corporate agenda and driven with empathy and passion through adequate engagement of leadership of the company. Further, volunteering imperatives has to be a strategic part of CSR and has been driven democratically to make it truly meaningful and impact driven.


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