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When I was growing up, I remember one of my teacher’s asking us, “What do you want to do” when you grow up? The answer for me was simple, “I want to have a job where I can make the World a Better Place”.  

Throughout my career I’ve spent many hours volunteering and giving back to the community, but nothing compares to this once-in-lifetime opportunity that’s been made possible by SAP. I’m one of 48 lucky employees that have been selected to participate in a 4 week Social Sabbatical.  2 weeks have already passed and I’m in the midst of working on a project to help out one of our non-profit partners, Junior Achievement Brazil, an Educational non-profit based in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

So what’s this blog about?  Well a number of us were asked by SAP CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) team to share about our experiences in Brazil.  Since SAP has generously sponsored these social impact projects in 4 emerging market countries (Brazil, China, India and South Africa), I feel compelled to take the time share this story with everyone. 

Every day is a new experience and there’s so much to write about.  To make it easier for our readers, I’ve decided to break up this story into series of smaller blogs.  I will start off by giving an introduction to the people I’m working with on this first blog, and then I will write another blog about our projects, culture of Brazil, Samba parades and other fun stuff.

So with that said, let’s get started…

12 SAP Employees, 28 Days and One Survivor…

I love watching Survivor, the physical challenges, the alliances, the back stabbing and then the voting off either the weakest player or the biggest threat!  Fortunately I’m not playing Survivor, Big Brother, or participating in some kind of mad reality game that’s been concocted by a TV producer.  The SAP Social Sabbatical is somewhat of a social experiment but the Wizards behind the Great Curtains have done a great job harnessing the power of Diversity.

This story begins with 48 lucky SAP employees with diverse backgrounds from all over the globe being selected and placed into one of four countries.  Our team of 12 people in Brazil is quite diverse.  We have 1 Frenchman, 1 Dutchman, 4 Canucks, 1 Aussie, 3 Americans, a Polish-man and a gentleman from Ethiopia. We are also represented by people from SAP offices based in Amsterdam, Boston, Chicago, Shanghai, Dublin (Ireland), London, Montreal, Palo Alto, and Vancouver.  Our functional areas of expertise are spread across Presales, sales, consulting, technical writing, software development, education and SAP Startups (I’m not sure how the persons in presales and sales managed to escape for 1 month, but hats off to them for using their negotiation skills!)

To give you a better idea of the different characters partaking in this Social Sabbatical, let me highlight the profiles of two of our team members.

Meet SentayehuTessema Belay.


We call him “Senta” for short.  Senta works in the SAP Shanghai office as an Industry Solution Manager for the SAP Transport and Logistics Solution, but his qualifications for this role are far from ordinary.    Senta was born in Ethiopia, studied at the University of Mumbai and received a degree in Nautical Science.  He then proceeded to work in the Shipping industry for 7 years as a Deck Officer on a transport ship and travelled to well over 30 countries.

During one of our ice-breaker sessions when we were asked the question: “What is our most important accomplishments”.

Senta’s reply: “I saved the lives of 18 crew members and millions of dollars of cargo by avoiding a collision with another ship”…

Its fair to say that Senta has “life” experience.

Meet Sarah Larson.

Simply put, Sarah is SAP’s equivalent of Super Woman.  I’ve known her for only two weeks, and I can definitely see why she’s one of our top performing Account Executives.  Smart, Sassy, and Charismatic are just some  of words I would use to describe Sarah.  Although Sarah was born in small-town Davenport, Iowa, she has grown wings and travelled all around the world, and even picked German as a second language. 

Her international experiences include spending one year abroad living and studying in Salzburg, Australia as part of high school exchange and then another year abroad as a Fulbright Scholar living and working in Berlin, Germany.  Sarah joined SAP right after finishing her Fulbright and has been with SAP for over 10 years.

Same Same but different.

When I think of the people on our Brazil team, the expression “Same Same but different”, comes to mind.  We are similar in many respects.  We all work for SAP, we all want to make a difference and we all enjoy eating copious amount of food and sampling a variety of the local beers, wines, and specialty drinks like Caipirinha’s and Cachaça’s

Not surprisingly our similarities have allowed us to bond together quite well in a short period of time. Yet what make us connect together so well is also our differences and desire to discover more about each other and the culture of Brazil.  Every person on this team has such a unique background, and it is our differences that make our conversions at breakfast, lunch and dinner so intriguing and a great learning opportunity.  This social sabbatical presents a fantastic opportunity for all of us to harness of the power of Diversity by learning from each other, learning from our Brazilian colleagues, and to take back to SAP a greater sense of intercultural awareness and sensitivity.  

Well that’s it for my first blog post.  The next blog post I will talk about the Game we are playing – SAP SimCity.