Better Together: Volunteering Initiative Drives Social Impact at Black-owned Businesses


Black-owned businesses and social enterprises recently received welcome support when a team of local and international business and technology experts volunteered time, skills, and resources to help scale the impact they make in their communities.

Five local black-owned small businesses, NGOs and social enterprises formed part of the first South African iteration of SAP’s global Pro Bono for Economic Equity Program, a new volunteering initiative created by SAP’s CSR team with a view to fostering economic equity.

South African beneficiary organisations included:

  • Shanduka Black Umbrellas, a non-profit organisation that supports emerging 100% black-owned businesses through incubation and enterprise development;
  • Ywaste, which aims to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in South African landfills every year through improved food waste management and conversion to compost;
  • Epilepsy South Africa (Western Cape branch), a registered non-profit organisation that renders social and economic development services to people with epilepsy and other disabilities;
  • Local Village, which provides agri-preneurs across Africa with the opportunity to supply equitably sourced and sustainably grown indigenous African produce; and
  • BeSMART, which provides digital teaching and learning support for high school and university students, as well as career and development support.

Sizwe Msimango, Founder at BeSMART, said the support that his organisation received has been remarkably eye-opening. “One of the biggest things that was touched on by our mentors was legalisation of our documents so that all our business operations are in sync and there’s room for expansion. We remain in touch with our mentors providing constant feedback on our progress with our expansion processes, meeting objectives and getting this great product known and distributed all over South Africa and globally.”

Tangible support drives impact

According to South African programme volunteer Kwena Mabotja, working with the beneficiary organisations was a rewarding and enriching experience. ” Through contributing our time and skills, each volunteer provided tangible support for the growth of black-owned businesses that are the bedrock of their communities.”

Conceptualised as part of SAP’s response to the social justice movement, the program aims to leverage the skills of SAP’s talented employees to foster economic equity. Following a successful first phase of assignments in the US, the program was expanded to other markets, including South Africa.

SAP volunteers provided recommendations, deliverables and business guidance to create significant impact on the future of each business and the communities they serve.

Mabotja adds: “Program participants gained valuable insights into the circular economy that is making a positive impact on the economy, the environment and society, and delivers on SAP’s Chasing Zero aspiration that aims to create a world of zero emissions, zero waste and zero inequality.”

Volunteers part of ‘driving force for change’

Volunteers from any of SAP’s offices across Southern Europe, Middle East and Africa could choose to participate in the programme. Hamid Hassan, Head of Demand Management, CRO & Strategy Office at SAP’s EMEA South office in the UAE , wanted to be part of what he calls a driving force sweeping through the world demanding change.

“The Pro Bono for Economic Equity program was an ideal vehicle to translate my passion and commitment to making a change in the world through both economic and social impact. And to do that by addressing marginalised communities in South Africa, a country that I am so very fond of, having been a regular visitor and having done business there since 2006, was an added motivation.”

Hassan worked with Care Craft, which is part of beneficiary organisation Epilepsy South Africa. “They were very welcoming, open, collaborative and genuinely appreciative of our support. Every engagement with them resulted in powerful ideation which helped us progress our deliverables and is testament to the collective brain power to jointly address business challenges. In the end, Care Craft helped us to help them. Their tagline – Quality People, Quality Products – rings so true.”

Wendy Nefdt, Director at Care Craft, adds: “It was reassuring that consultants who come from various spaces in this world could see opportunities for Care Craft that we haven’t.”

For Hassan, the benefits of volunteering extended beyond the immediate and longer-term impact at the beneficiary organisations. “The program enriched my intercultural competence by exposing me to a social enterprise operating in an entirely new cultural domain for me. It also gave me the unique opportunity to come back inspired to influence the Diversity & Inclusion culture at SAP by furthering SAP’s agenda both in and outside of the workplace.”

Creating lasting impact

Initiatives such as the Pro Bono for Economic Equity program provide talented global professionals with an opportunity to apply specialist skills in the service of not only commercial impact but, more importantly, social impact. Beneficiary organisations in turn gain access to valuable skills and expertise that can improve the delivery of services and expand the positive impact they make in their communities, which is especially pertinent considering the economic and social impact of the pandemic.

At Black Umbrellas, for example, the program has enhanced the organisation’s virtual incubation platform by improving the value in terms of market needs and pricing for its intended target market. Through the collaboration between Black Umbrellas and the volunteers, the organisation is now in a better position to build targeted business programs and a market platform where a diverse range of suppliers can self-develop for greater commercial success.

Jerome Eckles, General Manager for Entrepreneur Development at Black Umbrellas, adds: “The team gave us not a handout but a hand up. What they’ve done is important work for us as it creates sustainability at a time when non-profit organisations are particularly challenged.”