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Author's profile photo Hemang Desai

Closing the gap while ‘social distancing’

‘Social distancing’ may have been the buzzwords of 2020, but if you look closer, I think a more accurate description for the past year would be that ‘social action’ was all the buzz.

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted each one of us in a variety of ways. As you and I were learning how to deal with the implications of the pandemic, the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and too many others from the Black community sparked an outcry for social justice unlike any other I have personally experienced in my lifetime.

This topic is deeply personal to me. As I think back on my life, I don’t think I’ve ever done enough to combat racism directly, because I didn’t really understand the level of discrimination or hatred that exists. A comment that continues to cross my mind is one posed by Professor Ibram Kendi where he states – ‘being not racist doesn’t cut it. He insists that we be antiracist’. I can’t help but feel that he is speaking directly to me with that statement.

With that sentiment in mind, I find myself proactively thinking and actively seeking out opportunities to eliminate racial injustice and promote equality for all. And I’m not the only one. I’m proud to see that large corporations stepped forward to accept the fact that long-standing issues of racism and marginalization of the Black community exist. Beyond the acceptance, leaders at these corporations, my own included, have pledged to take meaningful action in a variety of ways. It’s up to us to hold them accountable.

SAP’s response to the social justice movement, looks within the company, and at how we can act in the communities where we live and work to foster racial justice and equity. Powerful statements made publicly by leaders such as SAP’s CEO Christian Klein and SAP North America’s President DJ Paoni can be catalysts for real change. I feel so lucky and grateful to have the opportunity to serve my ~25,000 North American colleagues and underrepresented community members alike, in taking action on these commitments.

A key component of our plan is to identify how SAP’s experience in pro bono (skills-based) volunteering can be leveraged to provide support to Black-owned businesses and social enterprises. In collaboration with our long-time Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) partner, PYXERA Global, we created a brand-new program called “Pro Bono for Economic Equity”. The program will allow SAP employees to leverage their professional skills and expertise as pro bono volunteer consultants for Black-owned businesses and social enterprises and help them address systemic and business challenges. Loosely built on some of the tenets of our successful SAP Social Sabbatical portfolio, the Pro Bono for Economic Equity program will place teams of SAP employees with impactful businesses in major metro areas in the United States: Atlanta, Chicago, New York and my home city, Philadelphia.

Indulge me for a moment as we take a slight detour into the ‘Why’ behind the program. Beyond racial discrimination, the pandemic has disproportionately impacted people of color, including Black Americans, in a negative way. Let me give you a few examples. Are you aware of the Social Determinants of Health, that result in disproportionate health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people of color, and in particular on the Black community? I wasn’t.

Research released by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, shared that nearly 22 percent of all active businesses were forced into closure between February to April 2020. This number jumps to 41% when we look at Black-owned businesses only. Perhaps something important to note: Black-owned businesses were already more than twice as likely to be at risk of financial distress when compared with white-owned businesses, as noted by McKinsey & company. These metrics point to the fact that Black business owners have faced greater difficulties within the business landscape, including reduced access to credit and funding, weaker cash positions, lower ability to access federal funding (e.g. Paycheck Protection Program loans) and so on. These challenges were exacerbated by the pandemic-related economic impact which acted as the final blow for these business owners.

These are only a few examples of a very long list of systemic challenges and vulnerabilities that exist in our society along racial lines. When I hear challenges like these, many things come to mind, but one in particular that I’m confident can help. For the past decade, I’ve witnessed the power of pro bono volunteering in supporting the world’s most vulnerable people and the businesses that serve them. I am confident that access to professional expertise can enable businesses to not only survive, but also thrive. The ability to address a critical organizational challenge through SAP’s initiative will create stronger, more resilient Black-owned businesses in our communities, helping to take a small step towards economic equity.

If you are a Black-owned business or Black-owned social enterprise interested in the program, you can review the details and application criteria for SAP’s Pro Bono for Economic Equity program here.

 

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