Did you know that, in Kenya, women-owned businesses account for about half (48%) of all micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises? In contrast, Australian women make up just over a third of all business operators (34%). Although Kenya is deemed a developing country, perhaps its women could help empower their Australian counterparts. This is because cross-border business learning has long helped to empower business owners and their employees with knowledge they otherwise wouldn’t have acquired.

The SAP Social Sabbatical program enables this by giving diverse teams of employees opportunities to dedicate their skills and professional expertise to benefit social enterprises in other countries and their surrounding communities, opening participants’ minds to different cultures which, in turn, promotes diversity at home and in the workplace.

Launched in 2012, SAP Social Sabbatical has positively impacted the lives of more than six million people, with SAP employees contributing in excess of 359,000 volunteer hours to help over 450 non-profits and social enterprises across 52 countries address critical business challenges.

Women Empowering Women | SAP Social Sabbatical

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Women Empowering Women | SAP Social Sabbatical

Self-Empowerment Is the Key to Growth

“Self-empowerment is seeking the solution rather than fixating on the problem,” says Gina McNamara, regional chief financial officer for Asia Pacific & Japan at SAP. During her SAP Social Sabbatical in Kenya in 2014, she encountered a phenomenon that she hadn’t witnessed in her native Australia: women outnumbering men in their quest for professional and personal growth.

While volunteering her time and expertise at the African Management Institute (AMI), which delivers workplace learning to equip entrepreneurs and managers with the tools and training they need to succeed, she met female AMI program participants who refused to sit back and let anyone or anything stop them from being successful.

“After speaking with these women, I realized that despite, or maybe even in response to, the poverty plaguing the country they are determined to further their careers and personal development. Many said that they were doing the courses to progress themselves, their families, and their businesses,” shares McNamara.

Inspiration Has a Knock-On Effect

At the time of her sabbatical, McNamara held a position in commercial finance for SAP Australia and New Zealand. However, these women encouraged her to make a massive shift in her career trajectory. “In the Australian business world, there aren’t as many confident women as there are in Kenya. It is due to these women that I applied for the position of Chief Financial Officer for ANZ and later Regional Chief Financial Officer for Asia Pacific & Japan. They got me thinking about my career and my dream of making an impact in the boardroom and helped me find the confidence to pursue this.”

Additionally, McNamara saw how the Kenyan women she worked with wanted to improve themselves to better serve their communities. This motivated her to think about what more she could do back home. “It got me to consider the bigger picture and how we could do good things in the community and not just do business. I believe that if you do good, then the business will flourish as well.” This led to her supporting some very passionate colleagues and the Australian management team in developing the SAP Australia Reconciliation Action Plan, which aims to help support the economic prosperity of First Nations peoples.

Equipping Females of the Future

Her journey also spurred her to join the Future Female Leaders mentoring program for females working in finance both as a mentor and mentee. “The program entails mentoring multiple women across the global finance community and sponsoring their careers. I get as much out of it as the women I mentor do. We have to help each other and so I encourage my mentees to mentor other women, especially with more and more women joining SAP and the Business Women’s Network from SAP – the largest employee-driven network globally,” shares McNamara.

As for AMI, McNamara and her fellow SAP volunteers pooled their skills to support the company in developing a franchise model to deliver training to African managers and leaders, ranging from small business owners to CEOs and CFOs. Together, they developed a handbook to help the company scale and recommended various processes and procedures that could be implemented to achieve this. Now, the program is more accessible to more people, particularly women.

With AMI being co-founded by a woman, McNamara says that there is a need for greater investment in women’s entrepreneurial ideas, emotionally and financially. “Men naturally create their own networks and sponsor each other. As women, we help each other emotionally. We need to open our networks and be more focused about doing so.”

She concludes by saying, “My SAP Social Sabbatical experience enabled me to reflect on what more I could do beyond being a finance leader and, for me, that was to help other women and drive diversity and inclusion to make SAP an even better place for everybody.”

For more information about the SAP Social Sabbatical program, go to www.sap.com/socialsabbatical.

Hemang Desai is global program director of SAP Corporate Social Responsibility.