SAP Skills for Africa Team: Where Are They Now?

Winning the Hasso Plattner Founders’ Award in 2016 continued their valiant journey, proving that even little teams make giant impacts on lives.

Looking back at the All-Hands Meeting January 24 in Walldorf, they were probably the last team expecting to win SAP’s most prestigious employee award. The three women and one man from SAP Africa who launched and passionately nurtured a regional jobs-creation program that fills Africa’s IT skills gap were pitted against some formidable SAP product development teams. Why in the world should company leaders choose people development over software development to receive SAP’s highest employee recognition?

But it happened. And before they knew it, Meena Confait, Tarryn Naidoo, Malese Ndhlovu, and Chris van der Merwe found themselves broadcast worldwide on center stage shaking hands with SAP CEO Bill McDermott.

Looking back, the team has some advice that might be useful for this year’s Hasso Plattner Founders’ award challenges. “Don’t think that what you are doing doesn’t have any value or is too small,” insists Meena Confait, who leads the program. “Any employee who feels that they are making a difference in some shape or form should apply.”

Still changing lives in Africa

But what’s happened to the team since lugging the heavy glass trophy home to Africa? Well, they’ve continued to roll out training and placement programs, most recently in SAP’s first francophone Africa program for Ivory Coast, Algeria, and Morocco. All 63 graduating students are now placed in gainful employment with partners and customers. Preparation is now underway for a new skills program in the East African countries of Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya that will place about 50 students in local SAP ecosystems. The last program for 2017 is pegged for Johannesburg, South Africa in Q4. It aims to place as many as 120 young people in jobs.

The team has experienced a lot of internal recognition since their coup, including an additional team award for their initiative at the regional field kick-off meeting, AFKOM. Colleagues far and wide have also sought their advice on replicating the program in other regions, most notably Turkey and Argentina.

Even organizations outside SAP have called to seek advice on setting up their own skills development programs. Meena explains broad interest this way: “The award has increased awareness of the program as not only sustainable, but also something that changes people’s lives.” “And we no longer need to explain the benefits of the program – people get it,” she adds.

Number and quality of applicants increases

“Skills for Africa” has since gained a degree of notoriety in the African markets where SAP is most active, most likely due to good media relations. The result: more and better-qualified applicants for the program. For example, the number of applicants for a recent course in Morocco grew 10-fold to 500, compared to the program in 2015. “The caliber of the students was exceptional,” says Chris van der Merwe, Senior Talent Acquisition Specialist and Talent Delivery Lead for SSFA. Chris has noticed that applicants seem more confident that the program can help them in the careers, probably due to the good publicity, and many say the award motivated them to apply.

“The exposure we have received has enabled more SAP partners and customers to become aware of the program and participate, thus providing jobs to more of Africa’s unemployed youth,” says Tarryn Naidoo, who’s been busy setting up the program in Kenya. “That alone has been the most significant benefit of winning the prestigious award.”

And has the award had a positive effect on their careers? Most of the team say they’ve been too busy to notice, but hope it will help them take the next step. Malese Ndhlovu has been appointed to the Advisory Board of the University of Mpumalanga in South Africa, something she attributes in part to the good publicity the team has gotten.

Award or no award, the strong spirit of the winning team still shines through. “We never thought that we would get to where we are now, but the passion for what we do has carried us,” says Malese. Her final advice for colleagues considering a nomination for SAP’s most prestigious employee award: “Just do it.” If they were permitted, the “Skills for Africa” team say they would apply again.