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Out of Africa: The Social Sabbatical Experience

June 20, 2014 by Angela Dunn 0

Four weeks in Kenya all expenses paid? Who’s to say no? Jim Tubman says he had the time of his life in Nairobi, yet it was no vacation. In fact, the idea of spending a month in Africa as part of SAP’s Social Sabbatical program made him very, very nervous.

“The day I departed,” says the senior support consultant from Dublin, “I was terrified. I knew at the time I had to push myself to do this. This was way outside of my comfort zone.”

SAP’s Social Sabbatical is a unique, short-term assignment for top talent who are assigned to solve business challenges for entrepreneurs and small businesses in emerging markets. Hand selected through an interview process, the individuals are grouped in diverse teams as business consultants to companies they have never met let alone heard of. Teams of four scatter across the globe and regroup in cities like Nairobi, Bangalore and Shanghai, in support of SAP’s Corporate Social Responsibility efforts. They are given a business issue to solve. In four weeks. With people they’ve never met before.

Working for Juhudi Kilimo, a small business that offers loans and trainings to small farms, the team’s challenge was to improve communications between the field and head office. “Juhudi is dedicated to offering microfinance loans for assets like livestock or greenhouses,” says Jim. “But their procurement system was all paper based,” he adds.

One of the team’s first achievements was making recommendations to reduce the loan application process from two weeks to three days. “Farmers are now able to repay their loans by mobile phones. Going to a bank could take a whole day and that is a day away from their farm,” says Jim.

Travelling between the farming villages and Juhudi’s main office in Nairobi, Jim noticed that the only stressed person in the office was a woman with a towering in-tray. She was responsible for procurement for head office and the entire field.

“We tried to get supply relationship management software in place, but couldn’t go as far as we wanted in four weeks. Still we managed to take away most of the paper trail – leaving them with a growth and sustainability model that will effectively automate their system. The only paperwork in their office is now from branch to head office. That’s the biggest win for us. I’m quite proud of it!”

Jim’s return brought a sense of renewal for him. On his first day back he stepped up to his manager and asked for a leadership role. “Before I would have described myself as a team player,” says Jim, “But this took that to a completely different level. It’s given me the confidence to go blind into a situation and manage it, without conflicts.”

Jim applied for the social sabbatical because he believes, “the older you get, the more important it is to do things that scare you.” He’s a changed person since taking part in the social sabbatical. “The impact this company has – I saw it in the field. No one cares if you’re nervous or have a self-confidence issue. That was releasing for me. I just focused on the job and all the worry went away. That goal, of providing something to these guys that would make them more efficient, was very real. We made a difference.”

This story originally appeared on SAP Business Trends.

Photo: Shutterstock

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