To young people worldwide, on International Youth Day, I offer my gratitude to you on behalf of our 103,000 colleagues at SAP.
To the doers, the dreamers, and those like Teevyah and Veenadhari who are transforming food systems, we honor you. To all The Possibilists who dare businesses to do things differently, we hear you. We see you. You are not just the future of business; you are shaping the business of future!
For every Greta, Malala, or Simone making global headlines, there are thousands of young changemakers like you, Avina, Ryan, and Anina, who are making a world of difference in communities and countries alike. The successes and struggles documented in The Possibilists, a recent report by an alliance of 16 of the world’s leading youth social innovation networks, is a reminder to all of us that you can’t be stopped. And if we can unite business, government, and the social sector around your work, we will succeed in accelerating (your) solutions to the world’s most challenging problems.
While traditional business has much to learn from social innovators, we also have a lot to offer you.
1. Accessing Networks: Build Bridges, Not Silos
Many of the solutions the world needs already exist, but gaining access to the right people and organizations to share those solutions with is not as easy. More than 94% of Possibilists shared that they lack the personal or business access needed to move their organization forward. And yet, combined with financial and mental hardships, they forge on with their work because they are intrinsically motivated to do the right thing for the world. So how can corporations create space for leaders like you to bring game changing ideas to the table? It might be easier than you think.
In 2020, SAP formally launched “Youth To The Table” in partnership with We Are Family Foundation, giving skilled experts like Riddhima Yadav, a young climate and sustainability finance expert, a seat at c-suite level decision making tables at SAP. Riddhima joined SAP’s External Sustainability Advisory Council this year, joining the ranks of tenured sustainability leaders. Together, the council members provide formal outside-in guidance on SAP’s sustainability journey. Like many of The Possibilists, Riddhima formed her first organization as a teenager. Although still “early” in her career, she is an outstanding representative for both her field of expertise and her generation.
A program like Youth To The Table should not only exist within one company, and perhaps we can help change that. I challenge you to approach the business leaders and companies operating in your field of interest or expertise. Reach out to their sustainability or corporate social responsibility leaders on social media as a place to start. If that doesn’t work, connect with intermediaries like ChangemakerXChange or We Are Family Foundation, which have formal youth-to-corporate programs. This is an opportunity for all of us if we focus more on building bridges, and a little less on our erecting own silos.
2. Accelerating Business: Keep the Promise
Once you know who is (or could be) in your extended network, be sure you know how you can partner with them. During the presentation of The Possibilists results, we heard innovators request support like, “We need help. We’re looking for an expert who can help us do the work.” Rest assured, there is help out there.
Helping businesses run better is what we do, but SAP is not alone in that work when it comes to supporting the work of social entrepreneurs. Unilever, EY, and Ikea are a few awesome corporations that come to mind. We all have programs that will provide you with skilled business experts or financial support, usually in partnership with social sector organizations like MovingWorlds, Acumen, PYXERA Global, and Yunus Social Business. We are constantly innovating together through initiatives like the COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs to help improve the way we connect you with valuable resources.
So you’re probably asking yourself, “Why would companies share their resources with you?” It’s a win-win for us, too. As employees connect with topics that matter to them, they also flex their leadership skills, build empathy and cross-cultural understanding, and gain exposure to ‘what’s next’ from leaders like you.
If you are looking for skilled support, know that you don’t have to go it alone. SAP and MovingWorlds are inviting social innovators ages 18 to 30 to join the Acceleration Collective, a new pro bono consulting experience launching in September. Beyond pro bono consulting, the Acceleration Collective includes access to certified business coaching, and bridges access to other SAP partners’ service offerings like Acumen Academy. Unilever and EY, with the support of the COVID Response Alliance, are also offering resources through their market-leading program TRANSFORM.
Keeping the promise to organizations of all kinds is just another day at the office for many of us. Do your research to see who is willing to help. (Hint: we are!) If you are not sure where to begin, join Social Shifters and SAP at Social Enterprise World Forum’s Youth Forum on September 27.
3. Recognizing Your Value: Tell It Like It is
It is true that with age comes wisdom, but age is not synonymous with the value you bring forward as a leader. Innovation starts with all of us! Last year, I was working on a speaker series, and I approached a young social entrepreneur to speak at the event on SAP’s behalf. Her response was one you should take note of. “I’d gladly speak to your audience, but preparing and speaking for you comes at an opportunity cost for my organization. Will you compensate me for my time?” I was momentarily speechless. She further explained to me, “The moderator is likely getting paid, along with the caterer and the venue. They are all providing a service to you, and so am I.” This young person was respectfully challenging my originally unpaid request. She was right to do so — and you are too!
My ask was not one of ill intention, rather ignorance, though it’s still no excuse. Throughout a decade working in marketing for SAP, I often asked business leaders to speak on our company’s behalf. The difference? They were all being paid by their organization for their time. Young innovators can be exploited and showcased on both virtual and physical stages globally, but you can change that.
If you are being asked for something, know your worth and how to leverage it. Be bold and ask for the support you need in return. It may not always be financial compensation, rather it might be access to people or networks or could also include personal skill-building or revenue generation opportunities for your organization.
Lastly, I want to revisit a topic I touched on briefly above. The Possibilists shared that many of you sacrifice your mental and financial well-being in the pursuit of a better world. While I’m grateful for your efforts, I’m also here to remind you that you will never be able to successfully deliver on your goals if you don’t also prioritize your own well-being. Breathe, find a coach, join a peer support group, pay yourself: whatever it is, invest in your own well-being. You are worth it!
Am I asking you to start your own youth movement within the corporate world? No. Am I trying to do that? Perhaps. Do I expect that every organization has the same support structure as SAP to embrace young leaders like you? Probably not. But I hope I’m giving you the courage to connect, learn, and lead with people and organizations like mine.
- Reach out and connect with those who can help you. I promise there are more of us who want to help!
- Learn from the experts and teach them a few things along the way. We don’t know it all, I assure you.
- Speak up! Keep leading the way doing exactly what you are doing. You are creating the change we all need to see in the world, and I can’t wait to see more of you in board rooms around the world.
Thank you for all that you do to keep moving us forward. We owe you one.
Jennifer Beason is global program director of Social Entrepreneurship for Corporate Social Responsibility at SAP.