From the second my flight from Johannesburg landed in Gaborone, Botswana for the beginning of my SAP Social Sabbatical, I knew getting things done was going to be totally different from my everyday work life in Boston, Massachusetts. I blogged late last year about my participation in SAP’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities, including how the SAP Social Sabbatical program has become the prototype for a new kind of corporate volunteering. There are 12 of us in Botswana from different countries worldwide, divided into four teams working with different organizations. My team’s month-long assignment is to partner with Business Botswana, helping them develop strategies to improve productivity so they can have a positive impact on the country’s economic growth. Business Botswana advocates for the entire business community, directly working with its members to address government-related issues. Fresh from snowy Boston, I can sum up the vibe here in one word: flexibility.
That’s not to say people aren’t passionate and motivated to move forward. They are all this and more in the face of numerous, complex challenges. What’s different is how they approach challenges – even every day ones. For example, this morning we drove across the city to visit with several members of Business Botswana, working on a pretty tight schedule to conduct each important interview. When we returned to our car in the parking lot after the first meeting, we discovered we were blocked in by an illegally parked vehicle. I can say with 100 percent certainty that the typical reaction of a Boston driver in the same situation wouldn’t be to laugh. My teammate Tobias Kohler, who is based on Germany, assured me laughter wouldn’t be the immediate response in his country either. But this is precisely what my partners from Business Botswana did. They quickly climbed the stairs of the building to find the driver of the illegally parked car, smiling all the way. And, they were smiling even more when they returned after a few minutes because they’d bumped into another important member they hadn’t expected to see, and had been able to set up a meeting for the following week.
At the end of the first week of this assignment, I’m starting to think that flexibility might be contagious. My other teammate, Jerome Journot, who’s from France but now works and lives in Montreal, Canada, finally received his luggage six days after his arrival. “When you don’t have control over something and can’t change it, it’s better to make the best of the situation,” he said.
Appropriately enough, my team’s name is “The Flexible Rollers,” after the lilac-breasted roller, a beautiful bird that’s found throughout the country. We hope to catch a glimpse of this brightly colored creature during some upcoming outings. Meantime, here are a couple more of my conclusions from my experience so far:
Balance is crucial: with just three weeks to accomplish our agreed-upon statement of work, we’ll need discipline tempered with a little fun so we don’t burn out.
While technology is a critical tool, it’s the personalized contact that builds real relationships. Never under-estimate the power of a face-to-face smile.
A little flexibility goes a long way. Our partners at Business Botswana have been unfailingly flexible, making time for us at we’ve requested.
While last minute changes are admittedly not my standard way of accomplishing tasks, I’ve learned there’s also value in adjusting with equanimity to minor glitches. Averaging upwards of 40 degrees Celsius, Botswana is the ideal place to chill as long as you keep moving forward.