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Each year in October, SAP celebrates its “Month of Service”, which is an opportunity for SAP employees to spend a day giving back to the community. This year was special for me, as I got to spend the entire “month of service” in South Africa, as part of the Social Sabbatical program supporting SAP’s CSR portfolio, developing myself into a better leader and employee, and delivering value to an inspiring non-profit organization in South Africa.

The SAP Social Sabbatical which piloted in 2012 is a unique, short term assignment for high potential employees to work in international, cross functional teams to solve business challenges for entrepreneurs and the SME sector in emerging markets, while strengthening their leadership competencies, cross industry sector know-how and cultural awareness. In other words, it was an opportunity to help turn SAP’s vision of “helping the world run better and improving people’s lives” into a reality. I was selected to the South Africa program along with 11 other individuals representing 8 different countries.

We were divided into 4 teams, with each team working on a specific client and their unique business problems. My team’s client was Endeavor South Africa, an organization that strives to spur long-term economic development through the mentoring of local high impact entrepreneurs. We had two distinct sub-projects that the client was seeking our help with. The first one was to design an implementation & expansion strategy for a South Africa investor network. This included conducting a cost-revenue analysis, researching prospective markets and investors, and providing internal and external marketing recommendations. The team worked to evaluate the appetite for the investor network, and specifically focused on a potential expansion into the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) market. The second project was to provide a strategic recommendation to promote the value proposition of the Endeavor mentor network. Additionally, we devised methodologies to improve the overall Mentor Experience using key data metrics and recognition strategies. The two sub-projects that we worked on gave us a unique perspective on both the strategic and operational aspects of their business. Additionally, it was really inspiring to see the passion, energy & innovation that the Endeavor team brings to work on a daily basis.

In keeping with the spirit of the month of service, we had the opportunity to do two separate volunteer events, one at an orphanage in Soweto and another at a community youth center in Swaziland. Seeing the smiles on the faces of the little children as I played with them or held them in my arms was just priceless! These experiences gave me a unique perspective on life, and further reinforced the importance of the CSR program and of giving back to the community.

Picture taken at Orphanage in Soweto during our team's volunteering event - Winner of the SAP CSR 2013 Photo Contest, with the prize amount being donated back to one of the organizations we visited during our time in South Africa

It was a truly amazing experience to be working with such a diverse group of talented individuals, from various LoB’s within SAP, representing many different cultures, while being in a new country and business environment. Add in the fact that we were working on topics that are outside of our core competencies, and had to build sustainable solutions for our clients to ensure that they can actually implement these within the framework of their limited resources. In spite of the diverse nature of the team, the camaraderie was evident from day 1, and I strongly believe that the success of the projects as well as the overall experience would probably not have been possible without these strong relationships.

From a personal growth standpoint, the sabbatical provided tremendous leadership development opportunities along with strengthening my ability to adapt quickly to a challenging environment on a topic outside of my core area of expertise. The increased intercultural sensitivity and understanding of global business conduct, as well as learning to collaborate with people with different working styles was an invaluable experience. The project deliverables helped me to think in an innovative manner, and ensure that we provide solutions that are not only easy to implement & cost-effective, but also sustainable by the small client team. And finally, the experience provides a renewed appreciation for the things we take for granted in our daily lives, and highlights the work needed to make the world “run better”!  

Thank you to all those that made this lifetime opportunity happen – SAP, our CSR team, my management team, my colleagues who covered for me during my absence, my client Endeavor SA, and of course, my fellow Social Sabbatical SA mates!

Team Running Springboks - 2013 South Africa Social Sabbatical Team

Standing (L-R) Soichiro Murata (Japan), Marcelo Teixeira (Brazil), Esteban Samartin (Argentina), Hemang Desai (USA), Rohit Singh (India), Gang Zhu (China), Vivek Vadiraj (India) ; Sitting (L-R): Jennifer Larson (USA), Julie Karni (USA), Laura King (Ireland), Adel Tan (Singapore), Shahzia Banth (USA)