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Earlier on this year we received an invitation to join a new Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program in Ireland, chosen with a few other locations worldwide to pilot the local version of the global SAP Social Sabbatical program: SAP Engaging for Local Impact.

I was drawn to this call straight away, first because for the past 6 years I’ve been very much involved in other SAP Ireland CSR programs supporting my local non-profit organizations, such as submitting STEM related projects for funding to the SAP Ireland Foundation Grant Cycle or leading Community Involvement Forum volunteering events; second because I like a good challenge and helping a established non-profit organization with non-SAP related challenges looked like would definitely get me out of my comfort zone!

The ELI program at a glance:

  • 6 weeks / 11 days commitment
  • high-impact volunteering offering
  • cross-functional teams
  • solve concrete business challenges for non-profit organizations in local market

I was lucky to be one of the 12 colleagues selected from both Dublin and Galway offices to join. In April, we were introduced to our team and our non-profit client.

Together with three other colleagues (David Lacey, Sean Kelly and Taha Zahoor), I was asked to develop a business plan to support the sustainability and expansion across Ireland of their Early Education flagship program called “Parent Child Home Program (PCHP)” currently hosted by the National College of Ireland (NCI) in the Dublin inner-city area.

Straight away I thought, what did I get myself into?… not sure what project I was expecting but, really? how am I going to fulfil the brief?, I don’t know anything about early education or community services and we are supposed to advise them on strategic planning...well, I did want a challenge after all… so I pulled myself together, did some deep breathing and tried to take one step at the time.

I had also never met the other team members, we all came from different teams in Dublin: sales, order management, CoE and Enterprise Support. We got to know each other during the weekend workshop and quickly became each other’s support in this journey.

The project scoping day with the client came. We learned about the organization and what makes the program unique, decorated the walls with requirements, SWOT analysis, timelines, key deliverables and more. It was intense to say the least and the client expectations were very high.

Then it was time for the week embedded in the client organization. For the first part of the week we met with a lot of people from all parts of the organization that played a role in the delivery of the program. Because of all these conversations touching all levels of the organization, we gained a huge knowledge of the current situation, challenges, gaps as well as opportunities in a very short period.

Then all the pieces started to fit together and we could see how our proposal would work, not without some push back from the client, they wanted to reach as many families as possible but not with a “one size fits all” franchise model. By mid-week we had a breakthrough after a long brainstorming session and found a scenario-based expansion model that the client believed could actually implement.

This was exciting and definitely an “a-ha moment”, from then on we worked out the detail, developed the business plan and the rest is history 🙂

Photo: SAP & NCI teams

We went back onsite after 3 weeks of hard work consolidating the details to present our results. We presented the business plan proposal to the operations team first and then to the strategy team, including NCI board members. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, we got such a high, it is hard to describe. We were told our expansion proposal would be included in their annual strategy plan and hopefully implemented starting next year. They have also already started using our tools and manuals to select and setup site partners as well as developing their MIS and IT roadmap.

This has been an amazing experience for me. I also know I will remain involved with this non-profit organization, I feel deeply connected with them after this journey and will definitely continue to be involved with their cause.

Here is a short video from the Early Learning Initiative Director, Dr. Josephine Bleach, talking about their experience:  NCI Early Learning Initiative Project Video

All the best, María