Three SAP employees who participated in the SAP Social Sabbatical program report their impressions of working voluntarily with children and youth from emerging markets.

“The children in this country don’t even entertain the possibility of living a life beyond poverty. The lack of prospects pervades everything.”

SAP colleague Rebecca Hamilton knows, how painful her words are. But they describe the conditions accurately. In Manila, Rebecca was confronted with the horror of poverty. The capital of the Philippines is home to an estimated 30,000 street children – children who are exposed to mistreatment, sexual abuse, and violence. Anyone who struggles along like this, is not concerned about his own education. Even though, state support is not something to be taken for granted.

“If I had to choose one word to describe the people of the Philippines, it would be cheerfulness. But the school system there robs them of any confidence they may have in their own abilities,” Rebecca says.

The SAP Social Sabbatical

The SAP Social Sabbatical, sponsored by SAP Corporate Social Responsibility, is a unique and short period of work for promising talents at SAP, where they spend four weeks on-site at non-profit organizations (NPOs) in the education and social sector and are involved in the development of business plans and organizational structures. At the same time, this intercultural exchange and the work in international and interdisciplinary teams, hones their leadership skills, expertise, and cultural sensitivity. In February 2016, 36 SAP employees from throughout the world traveled to the emerging economies of Myanmar, Botswana, and the Philippines to help NPOs tackle acute challenges.

But there is hope: Silid Aralan’s (SAI) founder Arcie Mallari focuses on the Philippine children who get left behind by an educational system. In addition to academic learning programs for students, SAI tries to make learning fun for children and teenagers, giving them self-confidence, and empowering them to pursue their goals in life. Moreover, SAI is endeavoring to give more children and young adults access to the Internet – and therefore to education.

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Although, the NPO would benefit from any kind of support, the SAP-team devised an operational toolkit to support SAI’s national expansion. Secondly, the team designed a marketing instrument to measure the social rate of return, and a plan for SAI’s virtual infrastructure.

On the other side of the world, Michelle, who comes from Brazil, found different conditions. Botswana had been a stable democracy since the 1960s. But although start-ups are getting more support from the government and the educational system is in good shape, the country is having difficulty expanding economically. Like SAI, Stepping Stones International (SSI) is striving to ensure the welfare of Botswanan children and young adults aged between 12 and 25. SSI takes an integrated approach, including providing primary care such as food and clothing, the intellectual empowerment of young people and the strengthening of their families.

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Together with her team, Michelle was involved in verifying and developing an information and knowledge management system that aims to strengthen SSI’s position as a national role model for other NPOs. She also trained SSI’s employees in strategic implementation, so that the young people will ultimately benefit. The outlook is good for a digitized world in Botswana, particularly because NPOs like SSI contribute a lot to the country’s development. It is Michelle’s hope that the country will take advantage of the opportunity to improve the options for future generations. “Brazilian and Botswanan children are more similar than you’d think“, Michelle says. “I’d like the same things for the children of both countries. I’d like them to be able to make the most of their lives.”

SAP Hybris employee Tomas Cabezon Ortega gathered similar experiences in Myanmar. “I learned what role technology plays in the development of a country,” says Tomas. “Countries like Myanmar need technology to stabilize the young democracy and open the door to the 21st century.” The political opening of the country in 2015 flooded the country, previously known as Burma, with external influences and forced it to redefine its own identity.

“The influence of young people and the country’s faith in them is already huge today,” Tomas notices. Their pursuit of innovation, progress, and education shapes the image of society. “These young people are rushing to embrace the future and the population firmly believes that this generation has the potential to open up perspectives worth aiming for. They have the tools, but they don’t have the knowledge.”

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NPOs such as Charity Oriented Myanmar (COM) close this gap with training and educational offerings tailored to young people. “I grew up in Spain as a digital native, whereas my peers here have to work hard and put in a great deal of effort to acquire IT skills,” Tomas says. “The social development of Myanmar is comparable to that of Spain, but it’s happening 30 years later.

However, the Myanmar people are getting up to speed with the new technological and political situation much faster. What took us years is taking them months.”

Tomas and his team were tasked with creating a framework plan for COM’s current and future developments, and they devised a go-to-market strategy for a youth institute that is currently in planning and is scheduled to open 2018-2020.

As millennials, Michelle, Rebecca and Tomas belong to the first generation of digital natives that is committed to topics such as education, health, and skills transfer – things that were traditionally the responsibility of governments. According to Deloitte (The Millennial Survey) today’s youth will account f or around 75% of the world’s workforce by 2025. However, many millennials don’t yet possess the qualifications necessary for a career in the digital economy. More than 74.5 million young adults across the globe currently don’t have a secure job. SAP sees it as its duty to prepare young people for the challenges they will face in a digitized world.

Helping Others as “Self-Aid”

In addition to making a positive impact on local society, another goal of the social sabbatical is to foster the participants’ professional and personal development.

“Initially, I didn’t think I had the right abilities to help solve the tasks at hand,” Rebecca admits. “The requirements were very different than my day-to-day tasks in customer support. In particular, I can take knowledge about go-to-market strategies home with me.”

Likewise, Michelle from partner support sees the improvement in her communication skills as her biggest development. She says, “I spoke with lots of different people during this trip. I’m now more aware of what I want to say and am mindful of how I can best get my message across. Altogether, the social sabbatical was a month of self-evaluation for me. Today, I see many things more clearly.”

Tomas was the IT specialist in his group: “In product support at hybris, I spend my days solving other people’s problems, giving feedback and advice. During my sabbatical, I did the same thing, but from Yangon rather than Munich.”

For all three participants SAP Social Sabbatical was a give and take – an exchange of knowledge, skills, and emotions. Quite simply a profound experience. Rebecca sums it up: “This experience impacted me significantly – in a personal, professional, and a cultural way. For myself, it was the opportunity of a lifetime.”

Charity Oriented Myanmar (COM) is a national civic and social organization led by young people. COM aims to strengthen the social and political awareness of young adults and women to support the democratic social order and the socio-economic development of Myanmar.
Silid Aralan Inc. has the vision of becoming a nationally recognized organization with a regional presence by 2020. This NPO sees itself as a supporter of children in the learning process and pursues the goal of enabling underachieving students to enjoy and get the most out of education.
Stepping Stones International is fighting for a world where vulnerable young people between the ages of 12 and 25 can achieve their dreams.