More than 1.8 billion of the world’s population is comprised of young people. And according to UNESCO, nearly 70 percent of learners’ education has been negatively impacted due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

On July 15, the United Nations celebrates World Youth Skills Day, and this year recognizes the importance of building “skills for a resilient youth in the era of COVID-19 and beyond.” The day underscores the importance of helping young people remain committed to their education.

To the dedicated women and men of SAP, it offers an opportunity to reflect on our commitment to powering opportunity through digital inclusion. Global challenges require global response, which is why the SAP Corporate Social Responsibility (SAP CSR) organization is doubling down on this mission ensuring that under-served young people, communities, and nations have access to the skills needed to succeed in today’s pandemic-stricken world.

In 2019, SAP programs reached more than 4.5 million youth and 56,000 teachers across 105 countries. Although 2020 has been impacted by illness, natural disasters, and social unrest, it is more important than ever to continue delivering on this purpose-driven promise.

How do we ensure that young people continue to have access to quality education and the skill-building opportunities necessary to prepare them for the future? How do we help young people to be more resilient in the face of disruption? How can companies like SAP continue to bring solutions to the table? These are not questions we can solve alone. We must listen and learn from the very people we are looking to serve: the world’s young people.

In 2019, SAP soft-launched a program for young leaders alongside the We Are Family Foundation, bringing innovators like Kennedy Ekezie-Joseph and James Okina into leadership positions at SAP, as strategic short- and long-term consultants for its CSR department. Their fresh perspective, global expertise, and boundless energy are transforming the future outside of SAP, while also helping the company deliver more resilient social impact programs. In addition to this, SAP provides professional expertise to these young leaders, helping them to accelerate their ventures and progress their careers as social entrepreneurs.

“The importance of the ideas and perspectives of young people cannot be overemphasized, yet we see that only a few organizations deeply reflect this belief by ensuring the participation of young people in organizational decision-making processes,” shares Ekezie-Joseph, co-founder of Africave. “Working with SAP has allowed me to directly contribute my thoughts and voice to the overall CSR strategy and program implementation. As a young entrepreneur who has previously worked as a professional at two multinationals and now leading my own organization, I have grown so much through this experience. Every day, I am being strengthened to unite the lessons I have learned from working with SAP, and I now use them to support my organization and team.”

Alexandra van der Ploeg, global head of SAP CSR is extremely excited about the future of this program and the profound impact young leaders like Ekezie and Okina bring to SAP and the communities the organization serves: “As the world continues to evolve, we believe that young leaders help us in our journey to continue to evaluate, innovate, and act in ways that help our programs run at their best. When you bring in young leaders as key decision-makers, you are affirming that youth are not the leaders of tomorrow – they are already leading today.”

SAP programs are led in part by strong young leaders working alongside seasoned CSR professionals. They teach us new things every day. On World Youth Skills Day, we want to share five key takeaways  that might inspire thinking differently about who you bring to the decision-making table:

  • There is no dearth of passion and ideas in today’s youth; the only thing lacking at times is equal opportunity and guidance. Role-modeling can have a tremendous impact on young minds. Acting as a mentor, or sharing professional skills and knowledge can be a real catalyst for sustainable change among youth.
  • Youth provide innovative and creative viewpoints, as well as constructive — sometimes even tough — feedback, to help build and evolve the CSR strategy and programs at SAP. They keep us committed to our promise to deliver triple impact, supporting our business, our community, and our program participants.
  • Young people make work fun and more interactive. In working with numerous innovative nonprofits and social enterprises, we continue to be inspired by young leaders who work at the intersection of their purpose and talent. They infuse our programs with positive energy, making work more enjoyable and fulfilling.
  • Project-based learning is the way forward to build a strong pipeline of diverse, future talent. Having students learn through projects and bringing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) topics to life through real world challenges engages them and makes it relevant.
  • Next-generation leaders make sure that we are keeping ideas fresh and forward-thinking. We are an innovation company. The cornerstone of innovation is diversity of thought and inclusion of a broad spectrum of ideas. You never know the potential of an idea until you have tested it with people who do not think like you.

Working with young people like the youth advisory team of the We Are Family Foundation has improved the efficacy of SAP CSR programs and partnerships and in turn, SAP’s ability to deliver on our purpose and promise to power opportunity for all people through digital inclusion. Imagine the potential of bringing them to the table across all lines of business.

What can you do to bring youth to the front? As Nile Rodgers, legendary musician/producer and co-founder of We Are Family Foundation recently shared as part of SAP’s COVID-19 response, “The world needs leadership, and new ideas and thinking during this unprecedented moment in time, and our global youth are at the forefront of new solutions. We Are Family Foundation is grateful for our strong partnership with SAP, which will allow us to innovate and think differently together about how we scale our reach and expand support of young leaders across the globe.”

Think about how you can incorporate some of the feedback above, or more importantly, diverse leaders that include young people, as part of your strategic programs. We invite you to get to know our partner, We Are Family Foundation and its incredible global teen leaders, as well as check out its new Youth To The Front Fund.

SAP knows that together we can help the world run better and improve people’s lives – and that young leaders are the key to making it happen.

Busang Maruping is a fellow with Global CSR Marketing and Communications at SAP.
Jennifer Beason is global program director for Accelerating Nonprofits & Social Enterprises at SAP.