How a Blind Man Sees Climate Change

Inspirational leaders are usually brought in to tell sales teams the sky’s the limit so there’s no excuse for not achieving targets. Not Hein Wagner, SAP’s inspirational ambassador for sustainable business. Blind since birth, he is living proof that the mind is the only limit.

Having conquered what most seeing people fear most—total darkness—Wagner is confident you can achieve anything you set your mind to, even something monumental like turning the tide of climate change.

“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at will change,” says Wagner, who uses technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) to help him lead a full life. The seeing app on his mobile phone, for example, can describe people, text, objects, color, currency, and even the contents of a can of food if he just points the phone at it.

It might take a moment for Wagner’s words of wisdom to sink in. There is a lot around us we don’t really see, like roadside plastic waste or extreme weather events on the news, because we’ve grown accustomed. Or, we only see what we want to see, like the sleek cars on the highway rather than the hazy smog on the horizon.

These things have become a backdrop to our modern lives, and we accept them blindly. But, they are all signs of the cause and effect of climate change around us.

Purpose is the Sixth Sense

No stranger to surmounting physical adversity, Wagner has competed in the world’s most grueling marathons and triathlons, completed the Absa Cape Epic—the toughest off-road bike race on the planet—and sailed in the Cape to Rio Yacht race. Deeply inspired by nature, Wagner passionately promotes technologies for clean energy.

“The climate is everyone’s responsibility,” he asserts. “We’re more capable of change than we think we are.”

As an inspirational ambassador, Wagner’s task is to help drive SAP brand narrative and employee advocacy around changing people’s lives. Wagner started his career in South Africa as a switchboard operator, but the rapidly growing technology sector soon inspired him to enter the IT industry, where he managed teams of sighted individuals at companies like MWeb and Thawte Consulting. He knows from personal experience that technology can help the world run better and improve lives.

Missing his sense of sight, Wagner has spent a lifetime honing his other senses into a sharpened sixth sense, providing him with an intuitive awareness beyond normal perceptions. As a five-year-old, he was ‘banished’ by his parents to a boarding school for vision-impaired children to prepare him for the real world. Today, he is deeply grateful for that experience because it forced him to leave the comfort of his protected, little cave to live in a world where everyone else could see the light and bask in its glory.

When he realized the neighborhood kids were not coming over to play in his backyard because they were all out riding their new bikes, he knew he would have to join them or be left behind.

“I had to borrow my older brother’s bike because my parents were like the normal parents of all other blind kids—they didn’t think of buying me one!” says Wagner with a chuckle.

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SAP’s Unique Position

As his next challenge, Wagner has agreed to help inspire and motivate SAP’s 93,000 employees and 430,000 customers to help reverse climate change. Climate Action, one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), is fully in line with SAP’s vision and purpose.

“SAP has the right platforms and solutions to help companies run more efficiently and reduce waste and pollution,” Wagner points out when he addresses customers and employees at key events, like kickoff meetings and SAP Forums throughout the region. “The potential to make a difference is enormous!”

Wagner prides himself on inspiring people to do the impossible. He provokes with humor, “If I can see the damage of climate change, why can’t you? You really have to be blind not to see it.”

So there is no excuse for no action. SAP is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its sustainability journey and already has a comprehensive portfolio to help companies run better by becoming more intelligent. Now it’s a matter of inspiring customers, partners, and employees to do what it takes to keep the air and water clean, keep emissions down, and make responsible decisions for a sustainable future.

What You Can Do

Concepts like responsible consumption and production, sustainable cities and communities, decent work, and economic growth are all achievable with existing technology. It’s a matter of changing how we look at things and taking action.

  • If you’re a decision maker responsible for policies, budgets, or investments, make sure you collect and analyze your data, create transparent processes, and foster long-term solutions.
  • If you’re a business owner, make sure your operations are running efficiently, your business practices are ethical and compliant, and your purpose is clear.
  • If you’re a consumer, you’re in a powerful position. Your buying decisions send a strong message. Make it clear you prefer products sourced and produced in a sustainable manner and leave a low footprint.

Every company, every organization has a vision, but sometimes it takes a blind man to make us see we can make a change. True inspiration is not a one-off experience; it’s a mind-changing attitude that results in a more fulfilling life that goes way beyond meeting sales targets. It brings the lasting satisfaction of fulfilling our purpose.

Follow me on Twitter: @magyarj

Top image via Hein Wagner