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Hasso Plattner Founders Award Finalist Profile: SAP Engaging for Refugees

January 4, 2017 by Devyani Bhattacharjee

SAP employees offer hope for refugees who are challenged by starting new lives in a foreign culture.

The 2015 refugee crisis displaced more than 65 million refugees from war or conflict-struck countries. One million sought refuge in Germany alone. But for European host nations, accepting refugees is just the tip of the iceberg. The integration into everyday life is the actual challenge, including adapting to a new culture and pursuing a fulfilled working life.

In 2015, SAP pledged to foster refugee integration through education & employment

At SAP, embracing differences and helping people to integrate easily is quite the standard. With several formal and informal initiatives, the multicultural workplace at SAP has assimilated all colleagues into the life-thread of corporate and societal culture. So in September 2015, when SAP Executive Board Member Stefan Ries pledged to foster refugee integration through education and employment, it was only natural for colleagues in HR to spring into action.

SAP’s “Engaging for Refugees: Integration via Employment and Education” was formed immediately after the announcement with the goal to help refugees compete in the German job market with a level of training comparable to native applicants and thereby securing financial independence through successful careers. The idea of providing internships and vocational trainings exclusively for refugees was born, opening options for long-term employment where applicable.

The cross-team initiative under the leadership of Global HR Service Delivery aimed to create paid internships for refugees in all Board Areas and dual study positions to qualify refugees with SAP work experience and/or a university degree.

Shaping the Program

Building the program was a mammoth task that required collaboration across SAP Legal, SAP HR Shared Services, the Federal Labor Office, Office of Foreign Affairs and the Baden-Württemberg Cooperative State University (DHBW) in Mannheim, and the Cooperative State University Dresden.

Turbo-boosted by the first face-to-face encounters with eager and determined refugees, the team started to collect the positions in various departments and set up the legal framework for refugee employment. In less than four weeks, 100 positions were published and only few weeks later the first contracts were signed. At the same time, 14 dual study positions were created: 12 in the DHBW in Mannheim and two in Dresden. The study program in DHBW was specially equipped with a preparatory course containing language courses and intercultural trainings amongst others.

The study program started in the third quarter of 2016 for the 14 students and is proceeding successfully. Another refugee apprenticeship was offered in Walldorf in September 2016. To date, more than 100 refugees have started their internships. Through their determination and hard work, 24 have found subsequent employments at SAP. The team has already started to create and recruit for another 100 internships and 10 more dual-study positions for 2017.

Challenges

Work with refugees often presents itself in intangible and confusing ways. It took a while for everyone to figure out the legal setup, which was often non-existent, and barriers in accepting refugees. Even the basics of the recruiting process suddenly seemed insurmountable. How do you get in contact with people who were accommodated in schools, gyms or former warehouses without access to home phones or Internet? How do you assess the skills and qualifications of people with missing or unclear education and documents? How do you communicate in foreign languages other than English, German, Spanish, or French?


The Hasso Plattner Founders’ Award is the highest employee recognition at SAP, awarded annually by the CEO to an individual or a team.

Finalist Fast Facts

  • Submission title: “Engaging for Refugees”
  • Board area: Human Resources
  • Team: Engaging for Refugees: Cross Team Initiative under the leadership of Global HR Service Delivery
  • Number of employees: 16
  • Achievement:
    • 2017 goal: 100 internships and 10 vocational training positions
    • 2016: 100 internships (74 contracts have ended and 24 are in subsequent employments), 14 vocational students,1 apprentice

Through the close collaboration of authorities, the determination of the project team, and importantly that of managers, buddies, and interviewers in the internship departments, the challenges were worked out one by one. Different state and civil authorities helped set up a legal framework, interviewers assessed skills meticulously, and managers and buddies spent time with their interns and proved to be strong pillars of support.

The Impact

The largest impact “Engaging for Refugees” has been the hope to those it supports through an introduction into the western culture as well as a training for the job market. In the words of one Syrian refugee, Tarek Sheikh Awad, at an HR People Week event: “I lost many loved ones including my father in Syria. SAP is my new family.”

Participating SAP employees were deeply moved by listening to and subsequently supporting the refugees and have expressed their admiration for SAP as an organization that promotes the virtue of compassion. Colleagues are often inspired by the unusual skills that refugees possess. For example, many refugees from Arabic countries have shown proficiency in drawing and arts, which stirred ideas on how they could impact software design and user experience. The 21 subsequent employments are a true testimony to the talent of this group. Using this experience as a stable foundation, many interns have also moved on to pursue other successful ventures outside SAP.

Today, the impact has gone beyond SAP. The program was featured in many media reports in Germany as a model for integrating refugees in the job market. Due to the experience gained, the “Engaging for Refugees” team has been asked to support other university and academic programs. Other companies have started refugee programs after learning about “Engaging for Refugees.”

The program can be best summarized by the words of a refugee intern: “This is the stepping stone for a new life, now with self-confidence and recognition by others.”

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