The First Cohort of Corporate Champions for Education Return from Colombia
The lowest common denominator for equal opportunity is education, and education opportunity is not equal. In countries like Colombia, entering a phase of economic stability and growth after years of war, the challenge is even more profound. While it’s true that governments need to create the right conditions, businesses also have a responsibility and are in a unique position to contribute—companies like SAP, WE Communications, and Niagara Bottling set a clear example.
One unique way of accelerating improvement in education is to improve education-focused nonprofit organizations through pro bono service. While several leading multinational companies have provided such talent over the last decade, SAP took that to a new level in 2019 by offering companies of all sizes the opportunity to place their employees through a model based on the SAP ‘Social Sabbatical’: Corporate Champions for Education. Alex van der Ploeg, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at SAP, offered that invitation at the 2018 IMPACT 2030 Summit. WE Communications and Niagara Bottling answered the call.
A year later, the first cohort of eight professionals—three from SAP, three from WE Communications, and two from Niagara Bottling—returned from a month of service in Bogotá, Colombia. The corporate professionals used their business experience and professional expertise to improve the effectiveness of three nonprofit organizations, all of whom focus on improving access to and quality of education for underserved children and youth in the country: Computadores para Educar, Co-School, and Fundación Batuta. The diversity of the team—from three companies and three continents—contributed significantly to the outcomes.
Computadores para Educar (CPE) is an information and communications technology (ICT) program launched by the government in 2000, whose mission is to provide new and refurbished computers to public schools; train educators and students to maximize the use of ICT; and properly manage and dispose e-waste products in public schools. Over the month-long project, the pro bono consultants designed a 2025 vision for the organization. In total, the three-member team provided 24 recommendations covering measurement and evaluation of success, improvements to internal communications, modernization of facilities and operations, and engagement with teachers and students. “For CPE the main benefit was having an outside look, not biased by the day-to-day life in CPE, who could objectively propose measures thinking outside of the box. The expertise of each one of the consultants enriched the final consultancy proposal,” said Catalina Reyes, Public Affairs for CPE.
Co-School is a social enterprise that prepares children, youth, and educators in Colombia to learn and develop key social and emotional skills in schools. Since its founding in 2013, Co-School accomplishes this through a philosophy which they refer to as “Edumoción” (education + emotion). This team of pro bono consultants was charged with developing a business plan, “Co-School 2025,” in order to increase the reach and impact on the national education system. Specifically, the client organization wanted to gain insights from users, identify market opportunities, develop key strategic priorities, and leverage existing and new technologies that Co-School could use with its instructors and students. Not only did the team provide new expertise, their presence offered the organization a valuable ‘pause,’ giving employees a rare opportunity to focus on long-term visioning rather than focusing exclusively on short-term deliverables. The team provided a detailed roadmap for Co-School 2025.
Fundación Batuta promotes music, culture, and arts for underserved children in Colombia. Their flagship program, “Orchestra School,” offers music classes that teach children to work, learn, and grow together, based on a set of values that include honesty, perseverance, equity, tolerance, and solidarity. Once again, the participants put their business skills to work, developing a business plan for the new Batuta music center (known as Multi-Opción) which will function as the for-profit arm of Batuta Foundation. This novel approach is expected to generate additional financial resources to help sustain the six nonprofit Batuta centers around Bogotá. “The different perspectives and points of views gave greater enrichment to the process. Each one is an expert in a different subject, which enriched the consultancy,” observed María Claudia Parias Durán, Executive President, Fundación Batuta.
The pro bono participants experienced the same richness of experience. “Although each one of us came from a different professional background, we all brought something unique to the table that impacted our host client positively. It was an incredible experience working with people who think differently, and it yielded amazing results,” said Ameera Farooqui, Account Management, WE Communications, who worked with Gus Hawkins, Oklahoma City Plant Manager, Niagara Bottling and Shreyas Parthasarathy, Software Developer, SAP on the project for Fundación Batuta.
The capacity building doesn’t end with the nonprofit organization served. Participants avail themselves of the opportunity to accelerate their own global leadership development, even as they serve their host clients, reporting an improvement in critical skills such as problem solving, adaptability, innovative thinking, teamwork and collaboration, and cultural awareness and agility. “This type of project forces you outside of your comfort zone and helps provide a global mindset that is 100 percent valuable to any company. It is an incredible experience that changed my perspective and will affect the way that I think, communicate, and show up for work. I am eternally grateful for this opportunity!” said Ameera.
This type of project forces you outside of your comfort zone and helps provide a global mindset that is 100 percent valuable to any company.
In addition to these key skills, participants gain new insights and perspectives from the community they serve. “My biggest ‘take-away’ from the project in Colombia,” added Gus, “is the work ethic and resolve to improve the future for the children of Bogotá. They are the future.”
Corporate Champions for Education is a Global Pro Bono program implemented by PYXERA Global for skilled business and operations professionals from various companies, across industries. Participants are placed as short-term (four week) consultants with nonprofit organizations in emerging markets that focus on improving education for children, youth, and/or adults to give them the skills to actively and successfully participate in the digital economy. SAP’s support means that companies of all sizes can participate in this type of global program; the cost is $16,000 per person, inclusive of travel and accommodation. The next cohort will depart for Vietnam in April, 2020. For inquiries, kindly contact PYXERA Global at [email protected].