Soccer team in a huddle

SAP Alumni Network: Ambassadors with a Sense of Duty

April 12, 2017 by Stephan Magura

At a recent SAP Alumni Network event, around 400 members of the extended SAP family were curious to find out how they can join together with the company to assume greater social responsibility.

“First, let me grab myself a drink,” whispers Ralf Meyer, as he reaches for an alcohol-free beer from the drinks cabinet, before falling back into his chair, exhausted. The roundtable discussion about the opportunities and risks for the Internet of Things (IoT) has clearly left its mark.

As co-moderator, the former SAP colleague and active SAP Alumni Network member was confronted with more intense discussions than he was expecting, while attempting to bring all the contributions together. Wanting to do something better for the world is exciting, but also demanding.

The first global SAP Alumni Network event recently brought together hundreds of members of the extended SAP family

“SAP alumni help the world run better” is the noble declaration of the first global SAP Alumni Network get-together that was organized by the event initiator Margret Klein-Magar and hosted in the Wirsol-Rhein-Neckar Arena in Sinsheim. “I have spoken with a lot of former colleagues, and they all want to give something back,” as Klein-Magar explains.

Klein-Magar put the word out, and the response was impressive: slightly gray-haired former SAP colleagues, employees who have joined from other companies, startup founders, fast-track students, former and current SAP Executive Board members, as well as some active SAP colleagues — it was a high-profile audience that came together last month in at the Hoffenheim Soccer Stadium.

Trees for a Better Climate

Felix Finkbeiner was the youngest guest by far. At the age of nine, Finkbeiner came up with an idea as part of a school project to emulate the work of Kenyan environmental activist and Nobel Peace Prize holder Wangari Maathai. Finkbeiner’s idea was to plant 1 million trees in every country on the planet in attempt to decelerate the rapid CO2 increase. A tree can absorb up to three tons of carbon dioxide during its lifetime.

From this came the spontaneous idea “Plant for the Planet,” a global movement directed at climate justice, which with the help of many supporters has since succeeded in planting over 14 billion trees.

“His insistence on always having the right numbers at hand can become irritating,” once wrote the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper about the so-called “environment nerd.” Finkbeiner held a talk at the event in Sinsheim (“I’m doing a bit of a warm-up act”), and presented a lot of interesting data before inviting SAP Alumni Network members to actively support his cause. Visitors were invited to leave their business cards at the info stand, indicating how many trees they wished to donate. One tree costs one Euro.

There are so many honorable examples, but private initiatives alone will not be enough to solve the major problems our planet is facing. Guest speaker Jason Slater travelled from Vienna to present sustainability in a global context. The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), is the specialized agency of the United Nations that promotes industrial development for poverty reduction, inclusive globalization and environmental sustainability.

Just some of the challenges to be tackled include connectivity, access to critical data, and dealing with limited resources, explained Slater. The UN has a 2030 agenda for sustainable development with 17 Global Goals at the heart that aim to transform our world. A “business as usual” approach isn’t going to cut it anymore, the UNIDO representative said.

SAP as “Enabler” and “Exampler”

The positive news: “Technology is now in a position to support our efforts,” said Slater, naming SAP and the opportunities from Big Data and Internet of Things initiatives that are leading us towards the New Industrial Revolution as excellent examples.

Only with the help of new technologies is the UN and all the stakeholders able to track their progress in achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, says Slater. Comprehensive data collection and preparation, as well as the visual depiction of information are essential components. No wonder UNIDO is working on scenarios to be depicted in SAP Digital Boardroom.

However, everyone must recognize the importance of sustainability, the UNIDO representative affirmed. If the SAP Alumni Network succeeded in addressing the right topics in the right form as part of a wider technology discussion, this could function as an even more important multiplier, Slater told SAP News.

SAP CFO Luka Mucic took the opportunity to outline how SAP has incorporated the UN’s sustainability goals into company policy, and the various ways in which they have been realized. Whether it’s a question of new solutions for the health sector, CO2 footprint, EDGE certification for gender equality at work, the SAP Integrated Report, SAP’s Month of Service, Africa Code Week, or others. There are many examples that demonstrate that SAP’s vision is not an empty promise; it’s being embraced wholeheartedly.

SAP takes responsibility, even when things get tough. The current upheavals are a threat to the democratic consensus. Millions of people feel they are losing out to globalization. Nationalism and protectionism are making a strong comeback in many countries. Discrimination of ethnic groups has once again become socially acceptable.

“Is it necessary that we discuss in the future who we offer our software to, or for what purpose the customer wishes to use it?” Mucic asked the audience.

At this point, we are also right at the start of a new industrial revolution. This raises hope, but also incites fear. While some view technologies such as robotics, machine learning, artificial intelligence and IOT as our future saviors, others are concerned they will bring about an unprecedented elimination of jobs. How can an organization offer new technological possibilities on the one hand, whilst ignoring the risk of misuse on the other? And what role should SAP, an IT company that has massively invested in these sorts of developments, play in this process

No Fear of Machines

Markus Noga, who heads up machine learning and artificial intelligence under SAP Chief Innovation Officer Jürgen Müller, named in a short video interview three examples of how new technologies can be deployed sensibly. But even Noga can’t predict what sort of dynamic these topics will stir up in the future.

Mucic is sure of one thing: Technology and software can help us to solve current problems. But this must be combined with responsible company management, where one can dedicate the necessary attention to data protection, he affirms.

Mucic’s suggestion to discuss the topics in break-out sessions was readily embraced by the participants. There were eight topics to choose from, including future of work, blockchain, machine learning, artificial intelligence, Industry 4.0, and robotics.

Ralf Meyer’s IoT group divided up into two discussion camps, he explained, having found his voice again. He was impressed by the quality of discussions, as well as the diversity and internationality of the participants.

The Synomic founder wants to promote contact between like-minded people. He supports entrepreneurs and startups in entering the world of business, and has close contact with many former SAP colleagues thanks to the SAP partner organization IA4SP.

That’s the reason Meyer made the trip to Sinsheim: “You meet so many great people here, with such knowledge and experience.”

Good that SAP can count on them.


“Giving Back” and How it Works

One of the highlights of the event was the appearance from SAP Founder Dietmar Hopp. His motto is “With ownership comes responsibility, and even more so with wealth.” Hopp explained why patrons are some of the most notable supporters of social projects.

He talked about his many initiatives in detail, all of which are managed by the Dietmar Hopp Foundation, and predominantly active in the fields of medicine, training/education, social institutions, and promoting sport. The well-being of children and young people were always key concerns for him, whether it’s childhood cancer prevention, or sporting opportunities for kids in the suburbs.

The former SAP CEO also spoke about his investment in emerging biotech companies, including Molecular Health. The Heidelberg-based company offers personalized cancer treatment and partners with the SAP program COPE.

The 76-year-old Hopp spoke with such passion and conviction about his work. So much so that no one even batted an eye that his speech ran over time. This was followed by a huge round of applause for an impressive personality, whose activities have set standards in the local region, and far beyond.

Hats off to Dietmar Hopp!


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