SAP Social Sabbatical, which celebrated its 10-year anniversary in 2022, welcomed back the in-person global engagement option since the start of the pandemic. In May 2022, a cohort of 11 talented SAP leaders traveled to Argentina to share their knowledge, skills, and expertise with four organizations: Nilus, Red Activos, Tekuoia, and Unplastify. They are now part of more than 450 nonprofits and social enterprises around the world supported by the program that has impacted over six million lives.

Hemang Desai, global program director of Corporate Social Responsibility at SAP, says that over the past 10 years, the benefits of the program have become clear, and he urges other companies to consider offering these types of programs to their employees. “This is because it improves various business and soft skills, builds leadership, promotes entrepreneurial thinking, and allows employees – and in turn the company – to make a difference in the lives of other people and client organizations.”

His sentiment is reflected by participants of the most recent SAP Social Sabbatical who said that, through their experience, they were able to embrace the passion and energy of social enterprises, learn how business-driven companies can create sustainable social impact, and recognize the importance of ensuring that teams are empowered, engaged, and motivated to produce successful work.

Referring to a survey conducted among previous participants over the past 10 years, Desai outlines the top five benefits of the SAP Social Sabbatical program:

1. Long-Term Career Impact

Seventy-four percent of employees reported that, as a result of the program, they have experienced a wide variety of outcomes that have benefited their careers. Among these were the ability to think differently, increased confidence, and improved networking. Additionally, nearly half attributed their career growth to program participation. “The SAP Social Sabbatical program empowered me. It made me step outside my comfort zone and helped me realize all the things I’m capable of. This program gave me the confidence to aim for more and obtain the leadership role I now have,” said a participant from Argentina.

2. Influence on Personal Life

Eighty-eight percent of participants shared that the program led to positive, long-term changes in their personal lives. The top three self-reported changes included heightened social awareness, the formation of networks across the globe, and being reminded of what is truly important. “SAP Social Sabbatical has made me a more open-minded, globally fluent person. I can safely say that my experience has made me a better person with a stronger focus on equality and opportunity for everyone,” shared a U.S. participant.

3. Acquisition of Skills and Knowledge

Teamwork and collaboration emerged as the top skills employees acquired from the program, followed by cultural awareness, adaptability, and resilience. These skills continue to be applied regularly in the participants’ personal and professional lives. For instance, 86% reported that following the program, their ability to collaborate with global and diverse colleagues improved, as did the ability of 78% to work within a team. A participant from India revealed, “The skills that we acquired through SAP Social Sabbatical have given me the confidence to take up new projects without fear, knowing that I will find a way to make the project successful. It taught me resilience and adaptability.”

4. Increased Community Engagement

Fifty-one percent of employees shared that they are now better engaged with their communities since their participation in the SAP Social Sabbatical program. When participants were asked how the program improved their engagement, two out of three participants’ top responses were that they have a strengthened intent for creating a positive impact for their communities, have increased engagement through volunteering, and have experienced greater social awareness. “I have always been one to engage in my community, but I always think of my SAP Social Sabbatical when engaging now and the cultural awareness it gave me. I engage in a more empathetic way,” noted one participant.

5. Improved Sense of Purpose

Seventy-nine percent of employees say their sense of purpose has been impacted for the better following the program. Through immersion into a new culture and working hand in hand with the community to make a real social impact, new perspective and purpose is inherent. Another participant shared, “These programs give me more purpose and make me want to drive change in my own community. I have been able to become an ambassador for other causes I feel strongly towards, such as Shatterproof and NAMI Philadelphia. These are things I likely wouldn’t have done before or may have attempted to do but not followed through all the way.”

Desai says that, ultimately, employees crave purpose, with the desire to make a difference being the primary motivator for the majority of participants to apply to the SAP Social Sabbatical program. “This need has been accelerated by the COVID-19 crisis with two-thirds of employees now reflecting on their purpose in life and how this extends to their work. In fact, 70% of employees say that their sense of purpose is defined by their work.”

He concludes by saying that the world is currently faced with a multitude of crises from climate change to mounting inequality, but that connecting employees’ skills with the needs of communities doing this work on the ground is where these big problems find solutions. “When we show business professionals the power and impact their skills can create to accelerate development in the world’s most under-resourced communities, it bridges the gap of tackling big real-world challenges and produces ripples of impact that gets us closer to a lasting, more sustainable world. SAP Social Sabbatical provides a win-win situation for all.”

Feeling inspired? For more information about the SAP Social Sabbatical program or to get involved, visit sap.com/socialsabbatical.

Julia Donovan is an SAP Global Corporate Social Responsibility Specialist.