SAP Alumni Network: Coaching the Socially Disadvantaged

Formerly a member of the managing board of SAP Österreich, Gerhard Lechner now runs a socially-focused enterprise where managers act as coaches for people with financial difficulties.

What’s the next step after you’ve accomplished all your professional goals? For SAP Alumni Gerhard Lechner, an employee until 2007, the answer to this question was clear: give back to society. The concept for his socially-focused enterprise socialmentoring came about after he learned about the scale of poverty. Even in a well-developed country like Austria, 15 percent of people live on the poverty line, most of whom are single mothers.

SAP Alumni Network
What do people do after leaving SAP? All kinds of different things. They found their own tech startups, engage as social entrepreneurs, and work as consultants. Or they even go on to tackle something completely different, like designing comfortable high heels (yes, that’s right – comfortable high heels).

Managers as Coaches

“Coaching can offer help to a lot of people. But when I work as a coach, I can only help a limited number of people. I realized I had to scale better,” explains Gerhard, whose SAP background is evident.

His business concept revolves around the idea that managers act as multipliers. The participants take part in a social responsibility leadership training offered by socialmentoring and act as coaches for people with financial difficulties. The managers complete their initial training and receive continuous supervision while supervising their mentees.

The aim of the coaching is to help people to lead dignified, independent lives. For some people that means finding a job that better fits their strengths and life situation, for others it’s about resolving personal situations or working on their skills and self-confidence. Helping people to help themselves is the common denominator.

Everyone Benefits

What makes the concept particularly brilliant is that everyone benefits. Managers are able to expand their social and leadership competencies and apply their expertise in real-life situations. Operating outside their own business and with the support of socialmentoring, managers have the opportunity to try out relevant skills.

“socialmentoring gives managers the chance to put what they’ve learnt in theory into practice with the help of a safety net, supervision, and coaching,” explains Renate Weichselbraun from ANECON, who participated as a manager in the pilot phase.

Sabine Bertassi, a single mother to two children, managed to find a new job after taking part in the program. Her mentor, Susanne Lontzen, works as communications director at Coca Cola Hellenic. She encouraged Sabine to finish her studies, arranged a mock interview for her in her own company, and provided her with valuable feedback and individual coaching. Today, Sabine works as a training manager at Vienna International Hotelmanagement AG and is delighted with her new position.

The companies that send their managers and cover the costs for the program also reap the benefits. In addition to offering their managers first-hand, sustainable trainings, companies are able to demonstrate their engagement within the field of social responsibility.

The Right Choice

And how does it feel for Gerhard? “It was the right choice for me,” he says. “I believe the work I do has a lot of purpose.” Gerhard is thankful for the opportunities he has had in life, and is now able to help people who didn’t have the same chances.

socialmentoring launched its first successful pilot phase in 2014 and is currently running a new phase with eight tandems, each with one manager and one mentor. Gerhard’s focus is currently Vienna: “Here I have my economic network, and my connections with various aid organizations.”

Reflecting on his time at SAP, he says: “I gained a lot of experience at SAP that helps me in my current work. Without this experience, I wouldn’t have had the necessary skills. Consulting, project management, and personnel management – it all plays an important part.”