SAP CEO Bill McDermott has made clear: The new economy is here, and it’s open for business to everyone. No one can be left behind.
Regardless of where in the world you find yourself, regardless of the place where you start, opportunity can be open for all in the digital economy. But it requires skills to be successful, and while they don’t pretend to know or have all the answers, SAP’s cross-enterprise approach to building opportunity, inclusively, and sustainably is an example of an integrated strategy that benefits the business and all of its stakeholders.
While the bright side of the rapid pace of innovation in the digital economy is opportunity, the darker side is fear over the future of work. What will it look like? How can we prepare ourselves and our children?
According to The World Economic Forum, over 60 percent of children entering primary school today will eventually have jobs that do not yet exist. More than 250 million children remain out of school, but even when traditional education is available, it has not universally kept pace to prepare youth for the current or future world of work. The World Economic Forum estimates that more than half (54 percent) of all employees will require significant reskilling by 2022. The World Bank estimates that 60 percent of the world’s population remains excluded from the ever-expanding digital economy, the new economy. Such exclusion is both unjust and unsustainable. Governments need to create the right conditions, but corporations are in a unique position to contribute — and that’s where companies like SAP shine.
With more than 437,000 customers in over 180 countries, SAP is connected to 77 percent of the world’s transaction revenue, 78 percent of the world’s food, and 58 percent of United Nations member governments. With such a major role in shaping the modern economy, few organizations are better positioned to help people become — and stay — relevant in a digital world. The digital skills portfolio from SAP Corporate Social Responsibility (SAP CSR) tackles that opportunity head on.
The portfolio is developed through long-term multi-stakeholder partnerships and leverages SAP technology, talent, and ecosystem to effect systemic change in education and workforce readiness, powering opportunity for all people through digital inclusion. SAP CSR programs target underserved or marginalized people, communities, and countries with the specific goal to help people attain relevant 21st-century skills to secure decent, meaningful work, including entrepreneurial pursuits, in a digital world. A focus on inclusive, adaptive, lifelong learning spurs innovation, creates a sustainable future, and fuels economic prosperity.
The approach is integrated and fundamental to Learning for Life, SAP’s end-to-end education and workforce readiness program, an initiative that is central to SAP’s purpose. With more than 30 programs stemming from every broad area of SAP, it is a proactive, actionable plan to address automation and close the global skills gap.
SAP is leading the way through its employees, technology, and partnerships in three ways. First, a focus on youth, the future workforce, to ensure they have both the soft and hard skills needed to thrive and innovate in a digital world. Secondly, a focus on the current workforce, with an emphasis on reskilling with open, continuous education and performance management. Finally, a focus to ensure access for all: building a diverse, inclusive workforce which gives all people the opportunity to secure meaningful work. Not only are these efforts integral to the mission of SAP, they are directly aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for Quality Education (#4) and Decent Work and Economic Growth (#8).
To build this robust, effective approach, SAP engages both internal and external stakeholders. Because the objectives are so integral to its corporate mission, the company has established internal CSR governance committees to advise and support strategy for the digital skills portfolio, which inform and govern programs both globally and regionally. Committees are cross-functional and include senior leaders.
Select social sector partners — representing more than 800 regional nonprofit organizations and social enterprises — and national and regional education ministries from governments around the world bring their experience, perspectives, and core competencies in order to work with SAP and other companies like them to co-create approaches to drive targeted impact. An external sustainability advisory council comprised of senior executives from corporations and NGOs in the ecosystem, including Accenture, Siemens, Impact Associates, and Wuppertal Institute, provides ongoing feedback for initiatives like Learning for Life.
This approach to digital inclusion — collaborating across the public, private, and social sectors in more than 93 countries — has resulted in SAP CSR programs that meet the mission and demonstrate both a broad response to the problem, as well as a deep dive in select areas. Broadly, they inspire teachers, youth, and young adults through access to technology and digital education, partnering through programs including Africa Code Week, ASEAN Data Science Explorers, Latin Code Week, Let’s Talk Science Living Space, and Young ICT Explorers, among others. They also focus on very specific program for increasing employability for underserved people in specific regions or circumstances through technical certifications and boot camps like Code Unnati, Digital Skills For Today, and Early College High Schools. Both approaches generate inclusive opportunities for people, communities, and nations through meaningful experiences that grant access and inspire the pursuit for lifelong learning. With this two-pronged approach, SAP exemplifies significant activity at scale while at the same time ensuring focus on specific areas of impact, demonstrating the potential of companies to make a difference without giving in to the false trade-off of “broad or deep?”
But SAP doesn’t stop with sound strategy, access to technology, and generous financial contributions. The heart of SAP is, of course, its people. As of 2018, the global, pro bono SAP Social Sabbatical program, implemented by PYXERA Global, has placed 1,051 employees with 341 organizations in 41 countries, delivering an in-kind contribution of €15.8 million and 279,000 service hours and impacting 4.9 million lives. No ordinary volunteering, SAP professionals step out of their personal lives and day jobs to make a lasting impact through a month of service, strengthening partner organizations by delivering specific projects, providing content, and serving as living examples of career possibilities.
The results already speak for themselves. To date, the programs from this well-managed portfolio with some 800 organizations have engaged 2.8 million youth in 93 countries and trained 34,000 teachers via train-the-trainer programs on coding languages like Scratch and Snap! For example, in 2018 India’s Code Unnati and MENA’s Digital Skills For Today (DSFT) programs accelerated 50,000 people to employment through advanced education and certification courses and created 2,508 jobs. In India, 42 percent of youth participants received employment. A first for Iraq, 85 percent of DSFT program graduates found jobs within six months. In Ghana, DreamOval Foundation reported a 100 percent growth in its ICT education following an engagement with SAP Social Sabbatical, by introducing a new program, Females in Tech Initiatives (FemiTI).
Such work is never ending and the challenges are immense. Is it worth it? Ask Deepa Gujar, a Code Unnati participant who is now a full-fledged and fully competent member of the digital economy: “I didn’t receive proper education, so it was really difficult to get a decent job. I started working and was earning about Rs3,000 a month. That was hardly enough to provide for us. I didn’t know anything about computers before I took the training. I was trained in MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and its applications in daily life. I’m so grateful to Code Unnati for changing my life.”
While SAP remains committed to its own corporate programs, it also opens opportunities for companies of all sizes to contribute in this global challenge. SAP encourages corporate volunteerism broadly through IMPACT2030, and invites companies to join the Global Alliance for YOUth, a 20-company alliance collectively employing more than 1.5 million people, seeking to impact 6 million youth by 2022. In addition, it has opened up its approach for month-long pro bono service opportunities to employees of other companies through the Corporate Champions for Education. Immediate opportunities are available to companies of all sizes for the next cohort, bound for Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. For more information, visit the Corporate Champions for Education website or send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deirdre White is CEO of PYXERA Global, a signature SAP Corporate Social Responsibility partner and global leader in multi-sector partnership and pro-bono consulting.