Social Sabbatical Program Builds on ‘Umuganda’
For such a bustling city, the early morning hours on the last Saturday of the month in Kigali are distinctly peaceful. The daily buzz of motorbikes zipping through the winding streets ceases for a few hours, replaced by the chatter of neighbors as they work together cleaning the streets, tending the community garden, or fixing the roof of the home of a community elder who can no longer climb a ladder. This is ‘Umuganda’—one Saturday each month when leaders organize their community around tasks in service of others, and everyone pitches in.
This spirit of Umuganda—a Kinyarwanda word roughly translated as ‘coming together in common purpose to achieve an outcome’—is familiar to SAP, a global software company dedicated to helping the world run better and improving people’s lives. SAP brings that dedication to life in their products, their services, and their people, including the SAP Social Sabbatical for executive engagement, a program in which SAP executives from around the world work with social organizations on mission-critical projects that will improve and expand their support to underserved communities.
In March 2018, I found myself riding in an SUV down those famously clean streets of Kigali, accompanied by Enoch Nsubuga, the Rwanda program coordinator for SAP’s implementing partner, the DC-based nonprofit PYXERA Global. Our task was to find the right opportunities for the Social Sabbatical participants to connect and collaborate with the brightest of Kigali’s social entrepreneurs, using their expertise and experience to further strengthen their organizations, and in turn contribute even more to the community through their beneficiaries.
During one of our stops we met Rebecca Ruzibuka, Managing Director of Africa Development Consultant Ltd (ADC). With a pleasant breeze passing through the open office windows, we discussed how Rebecca’s company provides training and support to farmers’ cooperatives across the country, thereby improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers. With ADC’s support, farmers’ cooperatives access small grants from the US African Development Foundation (USADF) and use those funds to drive economic growth for their member farmers.
Like most successful entrepreneurs, Rebecca understands the needs of her clients and dreams of offering them more resources and opportunities to thrive. With her small staff, she manages to provide the essential services to her clients, but there is never enough time nor energy to focus on how ADC itself can run better, which would translate into greater impact.
Our next stop brought us to the hilltop neighborhood of Kimihururai, near craft stores and some of the city’s most popular restaurants, where the office of Resonate stands. There we met Ayla Schlosser, co-founder of Resonate, whose mission is to shrink the confidence gap that holds women back from taking advantage of economic opportunities. Ayla and her team explain that Rwanda leads East Africa in providing educational opportunities to give young women technical ‘hard’ skills, but those are insufficient for successful entrepreneurs. Confidence and ‘soft skills’ are also necessary, and many women lack them. Norette Turimuci, the Executive Director of Resonate, has seen the organization build a successful model in Rwanda, and now dreams of expanding those opportunities to surrounding East African countries.
Video describing the success of Resonate’s leadership workshops.
With the spirit of Umuganda in mind, SAP and PYXERA Global paired corporate expertise with these energetic and entrepreneurial Rwandans to work toward a common positive outcome. Thirteen SAP executives along with two executives from Nestlé and Ernst & Young (EY) had two weeks to consult with their local clients, who presented them with business challenges—not unlike the challenges they encounter in their day jobs—but with the opportunity to impact talented and promising social enterprises in a completely foreign market.
The executives hit the ground running. Two SAP executives and one from Nestlé, with a combined 40+ years of experience in sales and marketing, were paired with Resonate. They started their engagement by understanding the end customer of Resonate, women like Odette, a single mother who has the hard skills necessary to make a tradeable good, like soap, but lacked other skills needed to build a thriving soapmaking business. Women like Odette need to have confidence in themselves to stand up for what their families need and buck the expectations of women in society that hold them back. Resonate programs provide a way for them to develop that confidence.
Implementing their tools of the trade, the executives developed a Value Proposition Canvas that articulated and reflected to the leaders of Resonate their opportunity to shift from ‘business as usual’ to extending the model—and its demonstrable impact—to other countries in the region. Once Resonate leadership agreed, the executives, working under a tight two-week deadline, built comprehensive branding guidelines to ensure the Resonate brand and model remain strong and intact during its international expansion. They helped Resonate prepare to select appropriate partners in new markets while protecting their intellectual property. At the end of two weeks, Resonate was not only equipped with crucial components of their international expansion plan, but had also developed relationships and gained knowledge to unlock new opportunities for their beneficiaries, including outside their home country. The Resonate Partnerships Coordinator, Liliane Nsengiyumva, reflected on her experience, saying, “With the executives on our side, it went beyond us learning and benefiting from their expertise. We built friendships and connections that are crucial to the growth of our organization.”
With the executives on our side, it went beyond us learning and benefiting from their expertise. We built friendships and connections that are crucial to the growth of our organization.
Alongside the Resonate team, another three SAP executives partnered with Rebecca and her staff from ADC to build a new business strategy for the company. The team met with the Rwandan agricultural cooperatives to understand the role ADC plays in ensuring these farmers, their families, and their communities continue to have opportunities in an ever-changing economy. ADC sought a new path toward sustainable growth, and they needed a fresh perspective to begin. The executives brought their expertise in managing stakeholders such as government agencies and private sector customers, and they coached Rebecca to be more effective in navigating and leveraging those relationships. They developed a rigorous and repeatable process to assess stakeholders, in order to give Rebecca and her team focus. Rebecca, who works tirelessly to lead ADC, was energized by the experience. She marveled, “I now know SAP’s commitment to giving solutions to other world problems. By partnering with ADC, SAP’s support is extended to rural communities who want to improve the performance of their businesses in order to feed their children, pay school fees, medical bills, and more, for their families. The benefit the community sees does not impact SAP’s core business, but SAP’s core business has the power to positively impact the community.”
The SAP, Nestlé, and EY executives entered Rwanda aware of the country’s history—especially one of its darkest times, the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi—ready to be challenged, and eager to serve. Twenty-five years later, the country is unrecognizable from past media portrayals. Their in-country experience changed their impression of the country, and they were impressed with the resilience of the communities and the determination of individuals like Beatrice, a smallholder rice farmer, to build a brighter future. Beatrice once struggled to make ends meet, working a small plot of land to provide for her family. She is now a rice farmer and a member of a successful rice cooperative that is supported by ADC, and she earns wages that give her family the home and diversity of resources needed to live comfortably. Without ADC, there is no thriving rice cooperative, and farmers like Beatrice do not have the necessary support. Today, ADC is even better equipped to deliver impact through its work, thanks to the Social Sabbatical.
Beatrice once struggled to make ends meet, working a small plot of land to provide for her family. She is now a rice farmer and a member of a successful rice cooperative that is supported by ADC, and she earns wages that give her family the home and diversity of resources needed to live comfortably. Without ADC, there is no thriving rice cooperative, and farmers like Beatrice do not have the necessary support.
Video highlighting ADC’s support to Rwanda’s agribusiness leaders.
What the executives learned from this assignment cannot be taught in an executive leadership course. Dr. Wolfgang Fassnacht, Global Head of Talent, Leadership and Learning at SAP, who is a Social Sabbatical alumnus and has been a team mentor for the past three years says that the practical skills in problem solving, teamwork, and cultural agility that individuals gain through the Social Sabbatical are developed stronger and quicker than through any standard classroom training program. Uli Joos, Head of Global HR Services and also a Social Sabbatical alumnus, observes that he was surprised by “how such a heterogeneous team that has not met before, can act so homogeneous and have such a strong impact in such a short time, convincing the customer that we are striving for their good.”
What connects these executives, Rwandan business leaders, small-scale entrepreneurs, and community leaders, is the spirit of Umuganda, the desire to come together, with a common purpose, working to improve people’s lives.