Today’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes require more than just a few hours of volunteering time each month to alleviate the globe’s most unrelenting problems. That is why more and more forward thinking companies are taking cognisance of a relatively new and evolving approach: the Corporate Social Sabbatical.
The three-way win (NGO, employee and employer) initiative became popular in the US in 2008 with more than 8 000 employees sent to 80 countries on global pro-bono programmes, according to the PYXERA Global pro-bono survey of multinational corporations. Nine years later, the volunteering programme continues to grow in popularity: 34 of the “100 Best Workplaces in Europe” provide paid social sabbaticals, while 23% of U.S. companies and 24.8% of Japanese companies offer similar programmes.
The corporate social sabbatical involves a group of employees with a diverse skillset who work together to solve problems in a setting that is outside of their comfort zones. This strengthens communities by solving strategic challenges for NGOs in different markets across the globe, while molding the volunteers as future company leaders.
Software giant SAP, during a recent sabbatical programme in Cape Town, matched 12 high-potential employees from all corners of the globe with four local NGOs in the ICT education sector – Silulo Technologies, Cape Town Science Centre, Cape Innovation and Technology Initiative (CiTi) and TSiBA Education – to apply their skills for the greater good. Staff members were invited to travel abroad and apply themselves to a project for a one-month period while peace-of-mind was provided with their full monthly salary and benefits maintained during the programme.
Sabrina Storck, an SAP programme manager based in Germany, enrolled for the social sabbatical in 2016. “It’s very popular where I work and is only open to a limited number of top talented employees,” she says. After an extensive interview and selection process, she was told that she would be part of the group that would visit South Africa.
“From day one the programme required our undivided attention and therefore work tasks outside of the sabbatical are completely prohibited during the visit, allowing us to focus and apply ourselves 120%.”
Storck’s team of three colleagues were assigned to Silulo Technologies, an ICT training centre and internet café in Cape Town that provides access to technology to underprivileged communities. “Silulo does not only shape the landscape of tech access in townships, it functions as an entry point to the workspace for local community members.”
Luvuyo Rani, founder of Silulo Technologies, explains that the project scope was twofold. “Firstly, Sabrina and her team were asked to simplify the operational processes since Silulo has grown exponentially without focus on standardization. Secondly, the team was briefed to stimulate growth by developing a concept for market expansion through a franchise. Silulo aims to have 100 stores across South Africa by 2020, and with SAP’s support, a feasibility study to help us understand how to get there would be most beneficial – supporting us with sustainable and realistic goals for future growth.”
Storck continues to say that her sabbatical experience at Silulo can be summarised into one word: teamwork.
“The crew had never worked with each other and now we had to collaborate and deliver results in a foreign country within short timeframes. Everyone brought different skills and gave us full access to their knowledge to solve problems. We often shared and discussed opinions in the evening to come to a valuable project result,” says Storck. “My four-week journey involved lots of interviews, design thinking workshops, building recommendations and most of all, getting the NGO’s buy-in as part of an intervention workshop.”
“The corporate social sabbatical is unlike any business trip or consulting project. I soon learned that the standard corporate mindset does not help solve the challenge NGOs and social enterprises currently face. That was the true challenge.”
She says that embracing diversity, being adaptable and flexible to different environments, added with a touch of creativity and new ways of thinking, is what she learnt during her visit in South Africa.
“If you are willing to share your knowledge and expertise, and allow yourself to embrace a different culture that is out of your comfort zone – you will achieve great results across your own personal journey, for the company and for the NGO.”