Turning Challenges into Opportunities: SAP’s Flagship Social Intrapreneurship Initiative in Times of Change

In today’s experience economy it is not only about customer experience. Employee experience is a critical factor that determines a company’s long-term success. Without the right people with the right mindset and skills, no organization can thrive, especially not in times like these.

Unleashing the creativity and potential of every employee

At SAP, there are several programs that develop talent, while bringing SAP’s purpose to life and creating social impact. One of those programs is the SAP Social Sabbatical Program, an award-winning CSR portfolio. Another example is SAP One Billion Lives, SAP’s flagship social intrapreneurship initiative that drives innovation and gives employees the permission, time, technology, and mentorship to turn their passion for making a difference into sustainable, income generating ventures. Founded by Adaire Fox-Martin, Executive Board Member, SAP SE Customer Success, the 1BLives initiative is SAP’s social innovation platform that aspires to help improve the lives of one billion people.

From social entrepreneurs scaling their ventures, to large corporates re-examining their supply chains, through to governmental bodies looking to support wider social change – by finding challenges and potential solutions SAP supports the winning ideas of their employees with investment funds of those who seek to make a positive difference in the world. SAP One Billion Lives is about unleashing the creativity of every employee to generate social impact around the UN Sustainable Development Goals. To put the previous outcomes into perspective: Until now, One Billion Lives has improved the protection of over 23 million people from natural disasters, improved the results of cancer treatments for over 60 percent of the cancer population in India and is gearing to eliminate child labor in cobalt mines. Life changing, isn’t it?

Times of change present limitless opportunities

The SAP One Billion Lives Initiative is open to employees across the globe and organized by global teams in collaboration with regional program managers. Each year regional teams plan and execute ideation workshops across their respective regions where colleagues meet and jointly ideate. The planning for the 2020 edition of the program was ongoing when suddenly the world changed due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The new reality forced the organizing teams to shift this program to a virtual format. What seemed to be a challenge back then turned into an opportunity of a lifetime.

Undoubtedly, there are many benefits of meeting face-to-face but so there are of virtual collaboration. SAP’s EMEA South region spans from the South of Europe, over the entire African continent to the Middle East, making it the most diverse region in all of SAP. Some colleagues work in cross-regional roles and teams, others don’t. By turning SAP’s flagship social intrapreneurship initiative into a virtual one, SAP’s EMEA South region provided its over 5.000 employees the unique opportunity to collaborate and co-create for social impact – together with peers, who they have never met before. A sense of community across the program participants was created: colleagues wished each other happy Easter, happy orthodox Easter and Ramadan Kareem. Participants learned new local expressions and most importantly they learned a lot from each other.

When looking at the success of innovation in teams and organizations, diversity is a key differentiator and a catalyst for innovative outcomes. Hence, in addition to the unique value for individuals the new format also led to a higher innovation outcome. The result: within just a few weeks the teams of dedicated colleagues have crafted innovative solutions for social challenges, operating at startup speed in addition to their day-to-day jobs. Diversity matters: to make a positive difference for individuals and for one billion people out there.

“The situation around the pandemic made us pause and remember what we had already known but not taken into consideration in the context of One Billion Lives: there is a direct link between innovation and diversity,“ said Marita Mitschein, Senior Vice President – Digital Skills, SAP Southern Europe, Africa and Middle East, and Managing Director of the SAP Training and Development Institute. “The new normal forced us to adjust what has always been working well. And those changes impacted the experience of the One Billion Lives program in a positive way.”