SAP’s Social Sabbatical: Not a One Way Street

Messy-Bessy-products-in-the-shop-248x176Krie Reyes Lopez, the founder of the social enterprise Messy Bessy, based in the Philippines, worked in the corporate world for eight years. There she discovered her passion: social development. However, she got tired of passively relying on donations so she quit her job and started working in a home for abused girls. After seeing what these girls went through, she conceived a plan to rehabilitate them and Messy Bessy was born.

Messy Bessy is not your average company. On the surface, it sounds normal: they produce and sell cleaning products. Yet the thinking behind the company goes a lot deeper. First, all the products they make are green, natural, and sustainable. Second, and most impressively, they offer opportunities to teenagers and young adults who have missed out on education due to heartbreaking circumstances that were out of their control, such as human trafficking, homelessness, or poverty. Their lack of education leaves them with bleak prospects for the future. This is where Messy Bessy steps in. It offers them a new chance in life, by providing work experience alongside an education so they can receive a high school certificate and scholarships to go to college.

How Is This Connected to SAP?

Messy Bessy is one of four projects in the Philippines that were supported by SAP’s social sabbatical program. A team of three SAP employees from across the world – Dirk-Jan Slingenberg from the Netherlands, Vince Lu from China, and Sindhu Srinivas from India – came together for one month to work with Messy Bessy and tackle a challenge in the supply chain. Their assignment included mapping processes, finding areas that needed improvement, and making recommendations about how to make these changes.

Dirk-Jan’s interest was sparked after receiving an invitation to apply for the social sabbatical program. Although the idea was new to him, having heard inspiring stories from his own father about his time volunteering his dentistry skills in Kenya, he was intrigued. His motivation to take part was twofold: it obviously offered him an exciting chance to experience something new, but on the other hand it was an opportunity to help people and share his expertise – a win-win situation.

Teaching and Learning

The program begins by sharing knowledge to improve business. According to Krie, the team not only met, but exceeded expectations and the recommendations that the team made are currently being implemented. These include linking the production planning to the sales forecast, converting monthly forecasts into weekly production plans, and providing KPIs to measure the process.

“The changes will have tremendous reach within the company, affecting everything from internal systems to sales,” Krie tells us, happy that the teams are still in touch with one another.

The expertise of social sabbatical team came at an important time for Messy Bessy. The company grew by 50 percent last year but was having problems with its supply chain. This kept them from replenishing stock in time, which stifled sales. The recommendations from SAP will help solve this problem and allow Messy Bessy to concentrate on their next goal: proactively advocating this type of program to bigger businesses.

“What we are doing now is working on the replicability of our program. Even though we are small, 80 percent of our workforce consists of young adults. That’s radical. But our model works,” says Krie.


How Does Messy Bessy Instill Motivation and Discipline in These Young People?

“It’s simple,” Krie explains. “Our approach is like a school. We track their work, their academics, their soft skills, even their personal savings to make sure they are really prepared for life after us. We take a really holistic approach to monitoring them.”

Sometimes they have to be strict with the students, “its tough love,” says Krie, who fulfils both a professional and a parental role for these young people. The reason why is simple: After their students receive their college degrees, Messy Bessy wants them to be able to move on from company and work in a job of their choice where “they are not being coddled”. For this, they have to be prepared.

Learning Is Not a One Way Street

The social sabbatical program opens one’s eyes to new things and Dirk-Jan viewed the trip as a two-way learning experience. It gave him a deeper understanding of the dynamics in an emerging market. Being on the ground in the Philippines for a month provided him with more insights than he’d ever seen on shorter business trips to India and South East Asia.

It gave also an insight into how social enterprises operate. Messy Bessy conducts business in the same way that all successful companies do – they need to make a profit, they need to work with high quality people and they expect a level of discipline from their employees. Before he arrived in the Philippines, he anticipated a lot of poverty, but only when he experienced it firsthand did he realize how much more complex it really is. In many cases, the people running these enterprises come from good backgrounds. Just like Krie, they start these enterprises in an effort to contribute to social developments and “to give something back.”

This desire to “give back” was shared by everyone involved in the social sabbatical program. All the volunteers had invested a month of their time and were open to the new experience. This open attitude applied to everything, ranging from working with a diverse group of volunteers, coming from 10 different countries and different lines of business, to exploring the Philippines and trying traditional cuisine. Giant tuna eggs and balut – a half hatched duck egg, which is boiled and eaten in its shell – stick out as some of the wackier new experiences. Working with a social enterprise, interacting with foreign cultures, exploring new places and most of all seeing the very real impact that Messy Bessy has on lives and the role that SAP played in that: All these varied and new experiences really stick in Dirk-Jan’s memory and made the experience so worthwhile

SAP introduced the social sabbatical program in 2012 as an innovative opportunity for SAP employees to contribute their time and talent to helping social entrepreneurs in emerging markets. The program strives to solve business challenges, specifically for the social entrepreneurship sector in emerging markets, while strengthening the participants’ leadership competencies, cross-industry know-how, and intercultural sensitivity. Other social sabbatical program projects in the Philippines include:

  • Rags2Riches Inc. is committed to improving the quality of life of Filipino community artisans. The team had to improve and strengthen its international business plans, and develop a roadmap for the implementation of its international growth strategy.
  • Hapinoy supports women micro entrepreneurs who own and run sari-sari stores. The team had to map out key processes within Hapinoy’s Mobile Financial Services operations, and recommend operations management tool/system.
  • Solar Energy Foundation is focused on “Empowering communities through solar energy”. The worked on program management training & standardization of tools/operation to achieve success replication of L4E program.

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