The past decade has brought a number of unique challenges, such as natural disasters due to intensifying climate change, economic downturns and market swings, an education crisis, and most recently a global pandemic that impacted so many facets of modern life. However, these difficulties give rise to opportunities, and the development of social businesses leads to the creation of scalable solutions for these challenges. We grew more connected than ever through technological advances in the digital world and harnessed the power of engaging people and their business skills. Pro bono consulting is one way to jump-start solutions for our communities, build long-term sustainable impact, and put our purpose into action by accelerating social businesses.

Ten years ago, SAP launched the award-winning SAP Social Sabbatical program, developed in partnership with our nonprofit implementation partner PYXERA Global. The program has grown from 30 SAP employees working with nonprofits and social enterprises in 2012 to over 1,400 today. Within that time, we have worked with over 475 clients in 52 countries around the world. In reflecting and celebrating the past decade, we took this year to tell the stories of employees and our partners, highlighting the social impact and business value resulting from the program. As we look to the next decade of impact, we want to build upon our success and continue engaging with innovative social businesses through pro bono consulting, enabling them to deepen their societal impact.

Reflecting On 2022

The disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic greatly impacted the global SAP Social Sabbatical program, putting it on pause. As we started our 10th anniversary celebration in 2022, we were highly motivated to resume in-person engagement because of the ripples of impact it creates but were unsure of when it would be feasible to do so. As we continued preparing for the restart, we focused on sharing inspiring stories of impact from the program. Finally, after thoughtful consideration and preparation, we were able to return to in-person global engagement, setting the standard for other companies in their global pro bono programs.

Our first global cohort of 11 SAP employees traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina, in May 2022, where they worked with four clients, Nilus, Red Activos, Tekuoia, and Unplastify. In total, they volunteered 3,718 hours and positively impacted more than 10,771 lives.

This cohort was a huge highlight of the year, as most of our participants waited over two years to embark on their SAP Social Sabbatical, so the level of excitement was very high. After connecting virtually during COVID-19, I think we all missed human connection, so bonds were formed quickly.

Alexandru Ionita, program manager at SAP Canada who was part of the Argentinean cohort, echoed these sentiments. “The program was very valuable, especially after the pandemic. Connecting with host clients and impacting their organizations and their own clients in a positive way was energizing.”

Eszter Balázs, integrated communications specialist at SAP Hungary, said taking part in the program was a dream come true, especially considering that, after COVID-19, she wasn’t sure whether she would be able to experience an in-person SAP Social Sabbatical. “In four weeks, the teams – consisting of people with different skills and backgrounds – could identify and help host organizations with their various, and sometimes invisible, challenges. The leaders of our host organization mentioned that they never found enough time and expertise to identify solutions for the areas that were troubling them. The program was truly amazing!”

Building the Story of Impact

Over the past 10 years, we’ve seen countless stories from stakeholders that the SAP Social Sabbatical program builds long-term, sustainable impact for our nonprofit and social enterprise clients, their beneficiaries, SAP participants, and the company overall. While these anecdotal stories are inspiring, we now have data to confirm the impact on a broad scale. We partnered with impact measurement social enterprise 60 Decibels and developed a long-term impact study with input from employees, partners, and beneficiaries.

Participants noted that problem-solving was a skill highly relevant to their roles as pro bono consultants. As one participant stated, “SAP Social Sabbatical helped me to learn a lot about myself and find purpose in applying my skill to help others. This helps me to improve my leadership skills to make SAP even more successful.” Through this collaboration, we see in-depth skill growth, leadership development, and cultural dexterity.

Our study confirms this, with 86% of employees reporting their ability to collaborate with global and diverse colleagues was improved by their participation in the SAP Social Sabbatical program, with other skills gained such as increased confidence and problem-solving.

One element that the study highlighted is the fact that the program impact goes beyond the host client and allows them to take their services to the next level for their community members. This data insight is unique to SAP Social Sabbatical and provides affirmation that the pro bono work is creating strong beneficiary impact. Per the study, 85% of partners report a positive impact of the program on their ability to serve their beneficiaries better, and 77% of those beneficiaries of SAP Social Sabbatical client partners report improvements in their quality of life.

Sharad Bansal, co-founder and CEO at SRJNA, one of the host organizations from Jaipur, India, shared, “The SAP team worked on multiple areas like the customer support process, organization structure, and how to scale our programs for 500 schools. The team has enabled us to go to 2,000 schools with their inputs and will help us create impact in over 1 million students across schools and India and beyond.”

2023 Signifies a New Chapter for Affecting Change

The restart in Argentina was the foundation of bringing the SAP Social Sabbatical program back to scale. In addition to the May cohort, we completed two more engagements in October 2022, one in Bangkok, Thailand, and another in Kigali, Rwanda.

Looking forward to 2023, we are excited to have planned eight assignments for the global engagement option of SAP Social Sabbatical. We have successfully completed a full application and selection process for our cohort of 96 SAP employees who will take part in the program. We will also be restarting the executive engagement program of SAP Social Sabbatical, with participation from nearly 30 executives, including those from select SAP customers and partners.

Moreover, inspired by the SAP Social Sabbatical program, we continue to build out our virtual pro bono initiatives. We are expanding our impact by supporting a vast number of social enterprises through the Transform Support Hub and bringing year-round virtual pro bono consulting to SAP employees via the Acceleration Collective.

We are excited about these developments because they will enable us to build upon the tremendous impact that the program has had over the past decade. This is a new beginning.

Julia Donovan is global CSR specialist for SAP Corporate Social Responsibility.
Hemang Desai is global program director of SAP Corporate Social Responsibility.