According to the World Bank, there will be 150 million people in extreme poverty by 2021 as a result of COVID-19. The future looks bleak, but each one of us holds the opportunity to create positive change in the world and counteract overwhelming statistics like this one.

Thousands of SAP employees answer the call to lead with purpose through volunteerism, and this year has been no exception. Employee volunteering culminates annually in October during SAP’s Global Month of Service. This is an opportunity for employees to provide their time and expertise to nonprofits and social enterprises tackling global challenges such as inequity, climate change, and quality education.

Surprising opportunities can emerge from uncertainty. This year, the Global Month of Service transformed from more than 600 in-person volunteering events in 2019 to an entirely new virtual experience as a result of COVID-19.

Connecting Employees with Purpose

SAP’s virtual pro bono consulting pilot program began this year in partnership with Social Shifters to help meet the growing need for positive change around the world. In the program, SAP employees are connected virtually to accelerate the social impact of an enterprise by solving the organization’s business challenges. More than 50 employees volunteered virtually across borders and without the impediment of geographical distance. Jessica Bellas, an SAP Social Sabbatical alumnus, was one the first SAP employees to opt-in as a pro bono consultant.

Bellas volunteered with Reimagining Atlantic Harbours (RAH2050), a social enterprise based in Halifax, Canada, driving a grassroots, environmental awareness program that re-imagines, through science, community, and industry, how people relate to harbors and oceans.

“The connection was to navigate uncertain times and see social innovation in a different way,” explained Kelly Schnare of Reimagining Atlantic Harbours (RAH2050). “Bringing in new ideas and new ways of doing things was important during COVID-19.”

Bellas connected to RAH2050 immediately because of its environmental focus. With experience as an environmental engineer, she is not only an expert, but also has an ongoing passion for the topic in her tenure as an elected official in the Sewage and Water Department of North Carolina’s Wake County. This opportunity with RAH2050 came to her as a perfect fit.

Through volunteerism and her strong belief in pro bono consulting and its impact on nonprofits, she was re-connected to her passion of 20 years.  As a result of the website and the collaterals Bellas created for the organization, Schnare will now be able to reach new audiences and spread awareness about the need to be more mindful of our planet.

Connecting Employees with Each Other

Like Bellas, Nadine Gaertner, a software engineer in Germany, and Ofer Yehuda, an IT consultant in Israel, catapulted their skills-based volunteering journey through the SAP Social Sabbatical for global engagement. These talented SAP employees met in 2018 on their assignment in Puerto Rico, and have been friends ever since. Gaertner and Yehuda agree that now, more than ever, there is a need to bring people together to create positive impact, forge friendships, and drive change.

They volunteered to help Lucky Iron Fish, a social enterprise based in Toronto, Canada, that manufactures cooking tools which, when used, add extra iron to food and drinks for those suffering from iron deficiency. The organization also reaches out to marginalized communities across the world to provide a solution to iron deficiency, which is the greatest nutritional challenge in current times.

For Gaertner and Yehuda, volunteerism bridges gaps between people, especially in a resource-optimizing society in need of empathy and human connection. It is a mechanism through which volunteers are introduced to new ideas and are able to address complex challenges that they may have not been exposed to before. Every volunteer experience guides fresh understanding and empowers employees to make decisions based on compassion and empathy – and build new, lasting relationships. For the pair, the opportunity they had to volunteer connected them with their purpose and with each other. And, as Gaertner says, “Every friendship makes the world a bit better.”

Virtual volunteering at SAP not only links social enterprises and nonprofits to the expertise they need but also connects employees across borders in friendship and collaboration born of a shared passion. Gaertner and Yehuda’s story inspires us to believe that newer perspectives and a sense of purpose can, indeed, be exchanged even during a global crisis.

Connecting Employees with Ideas

In addition to the more than 200 virtual volunteering projects that took place during SAP’s Global Month of Service, thousands of SAP employees joined inspiring, thought-leadership conversations hosted by notable internal and external speakers. Ideas brought forward in the sessions will be carried on into the future, not only as conversations but also as calls to action. Speakers urged employees to turn their purpose into action through volunteerism and form deeper connections with each other and their societies.

As Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Professor Mohammad Yunus shared in the closing plenary, “The time to act is now – if you have an idea to change the world, go out and make it happen.” Professor Yunus went on to share a few urgent issues in need of the world’s attention, particularly climate change and extreme poverty.

Not only through SAP’s Global Month of Service but also through year-round volunteering opportunities, employees are co-creating solutions with partners like RAH2050 and Lucky Iron Fish, rising to meet Professor Yunus’ call to action. While the uncertainty of 2020 remains, SAP employees are uniting for the future and dedicating their skills to something bigger than themselves.

We thank our social partners and employee volunteers who help the world run better and improve people’s lives each day.

Shinjini Chowdhury is a communications and marketing fellow for SAP CSR.