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The SAP Social Sabbatical for local engagement

Global Pro Bono, or international skills-based volunteering, has gained popularity in recent years as global companies such as IBM, Pfizer, Medtronic, PepsiCo, and SAP deepen their strategic CSR investments and look to innovate for a greater social impact. By pairing corporate employees with nonprofits and social enterprises to solve complex challenges in underserved communities, companies are not only generating a social impact, but also investing in leadership development, employee motivation & retention, and brand reputation.

By pairing corporate employees with nonprofits and social enterprises to solve complex challenges in underserved communities, companies are not only generating a social impact, but also investing in leadership development, employee motivation & retention, and brand reputation.

While most companies implement international pro bono engagements where employees travel to underserved markets to engage with client organizations for three to four weeks, international engagements can be inaccessible to many employees. Barriers include the need to obtain managers’ approval, the challenge of leaving job and family obligations for an extended period, the associated high cost of travel, and the risk of decreased work output during the participants’ absence.

SAP Social Sabbatical for local engagement in Porto Alegre, Brazil: refining the Scope of Work to design an intranet strategy for social entrepreneurs at the Associação Cultural Vila Flores.

The German software company, SAP, decided to address these challenges head-on after three years of successfully implementing its international pro bono program, the SAP Social Sabbatical for global engagement. In 2014, it launched the Social Sabbatical for local engagement, a team-based pro bono model that engages employees with the social sector right in their own backyard. The program, which uses a hybridized approach that combines both virtual and in-person pro bono consulting, addresses complex challenges by supporting mission-driven organizations, such as nonprofits and social enterprises that focus on equipping young people with the skills they need to tackle society’s problems and thrive in a digital economy. Each cohort, consisting of approximately 12-15 employees, is assembled into teams of three to work with a social sector organization for a period of 11 days spread across six weeks. With at least one week dedicated to in-person consultation, the remaining time consists of one full day of consulting services per week, either virtual or in-person, depending on the nature of the project. SAP’s main motivations for offering such a program are:

  1. Increased flexibility: Not all employees have the personal or professional flexibility to leave their homes and jobs to travel for an overseas assignment for one month. The SAP Social Sabbatical for local engagement enables SAP employees to support nonprofits and social enterprises in their local communities while allowing them to uphold their job and family responsibilities. For these employees, the local pro bono program still provides professional and personal development opportunities while connecting them with local issues of which they might not have been previously aware. An example of the advantages of staying local is the engagement with Chester County Futures (CCF), where local SAP employees have supported underserved young people in the Philadelphia area. Two SAP teams have already provided pro bono consulting with this organization and employees continue to volunteer with CCF beyond the program duration. In fact, a Social Sabbatical for local engagement alum even sits on the board!
  1. Opportunity for scale: Whereas global pro bono programs are difficult to continue scaling due to logistical and operational constraints as well as the significant budgetary requirements, scaling local pro bono programs is simpler and less resource-intensive. For this reason, SAP has already implemented projects in ten cities in 2017 and anticipates expanding to an additional five locations in 2018. New countries under consideration include Mexico, the UK, Israel, Singapore, and the Philippines.
  1. Potential for continued support and sustainable impact: In the long run, it is easier for local SAP offices and employees to stay connected to the selected client organizations. With all stakeholders based in the same location, SAP employees can continue their collaboration post-engagement by following up on projects or assigning new colleagues to continue offering support. A recent engagement took place in Bangalore, India, where client organization Agastya Education was expecting to receive not only the architecture but also the development and implementation of a software solution from local SAP pro bono consultants. Due to time restrictions, the SAP team was unable to deliver this during the assignment; however, to meet the client’s expectations, the same consultants worked with the larger SAP Bangalore office to implement the software through another SAP CSR initiative called Code for Charity. Though it took six months to complete, the pro bono consultants persisted and delivered the solution that Agastya Education was expecting.

Launching weekend in Chicago, where SAP pro bono consultants embarked on a six-week engagement to support local nonprofits including Lumity, Chicago Urban League, and Project SYNCERE in improving their service delivery to youth from underserved areas.

Since its launch in 2014, the SAP Social Sabbatical for local engagement has fielded over 150 employees with over 40 host organizations in Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, China, India, Spain, and the United States. According to results from a survey conducted with program alumni and host organizations, 86 percent of the former group feel greater motivation to seek other ways to engage with local or international communities and 83 percent stated they now feel more motivated to perform in their work at SAP. For the host organizations, 97 percent reported that their project was relevant to the needs of their organization and 93 percent were satisfied with the quality of the assistance and technical expertise of the team. One client organization in Vancouver, Canada stated, “We really appreciate not only the amount of time and effort the consultants put in, but also the thoughts and care they managed to instill into the project to make it viable and sustainable.”

SAP has been an exemplary innovator in the local pro bono space, with a model for other companies that are exploring or piloting pro bono engagements within their communities to consider. In addition to global and local pro bono programs, SAP has expanded the Social Sabbatical portfolio by piloting regional programs as well as MBA and an SAP Social Sabbatical for executive engagement around the world. By way of these efforts, the company continues searching for innovative ways to strengthen its employees’ leadership skills while contributing to social impact among young people from underserved communities across the globe – sometimes right around the corner from their employees’ work places, sometimes in farther flung locales.

Instead of working on similar topics in silos, SAP believes that the framework of Agenda 2030 provides a unique opportunity for companies to join forces and coordinate their social investments, thus maximizing impact on local communities across the globe.

Most recently, SAP has spearheaded local pro bono engagements in partnership with other companies that have similar corporate responsibility goals. Under the banner of the IMPACT 2030 and the UN Sustainable Development Goals, four employees from SAP Madrid worked side-by-side with four Telefonica Foundation and la Caixa employees in February 2017 to solve challenges for organizations in Madrid focused on youth education and workforce development. According to Alexandra van der Ploeg, Program Director for Social Sabbatical at SAP SE, “Cross-company collaboration and multi-stakeholder partnerships represent an excellent opportunity to augment social impact in local communities and advance the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Instead of working on similar topics in silos, SAP believes that the framework of Agenda 2030 provides a unique opportunity for companies to join forces and coordinate their social investments, thus maximizing impact on local communities across the globe.”

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