When you think of sabbaticals, what comes to your mind? A college professor taking time off to write a book? An individual taking time to learn a job-related interest? A couple who sails around the world?
While personal sabbaticals still happen for a lucky few, the overall idea has evolved in a most refreshing way--from the concept of personal time off, to personal commitment to social responsibility.
At SAP we call it SAP Social Sabbatical, a four-week voluntary assignment for qualified top-performing employees. This past year our rigorously selected group consisted of 120 employees who went on sabbatical--a unique short-term assignment in an emerging market, where they get to work in international, cross-functional teams of three to solve real business challenges.
I believe every company should consider developing a corporate social responsibility (CSR) program of their own, in some form. I say this not only because it makes us feel good to do something that makes a difference, but because it is a win for all involved, with positive returns for your business.
Why Develop and Engage in Corporate Social Responsibility?
While the Sabbatical program is SAP’s flagship pro-bono program, we offer employees a range of other opportunities, many less investment-intensive but still impactful.
Even if you don’t have the means to do a large-scale global program like ours, the CSR concept is one you can embrace on a smaller scale. You’ll quickly find it has triple impact—great results for the client, your employees and your business.
Social sabbatical, in particular, is not about painting fences, building homes or digging wells. A social sabbatical puts a new spin on things. This is an opportunity for your employees to strengthen their leadership competencies, cross industry sector know-how and intercultural sensitivity.
Social Sabbatical in Action
I’m very proud that two of my direct reports, Diane Pereira, and Evan Welsh sought out and were selected for SAP’s Social Sabbatical program. Evan went to Belo Horizonte, Brazil, in 2012, and Diane returned this past August from Kigali, Rwanda.
For Evan, participating in SAP’s first-ever Social Sabbatical left a lasting impression that continues four years later. “I had no idea what to expect," he said. "Thirty-days later, I knew this had been a life-changing experience. The nine of us were split into three groups, each working with one of three non-profit organizations. I had the pleasure to team up with two amazing SAP colleagues whom I had never met before, but who are now friends for life.”
His team developed a communications plan, logo and website for ASMARE, a local association of “catadores” or collectors of recyclable materials. The “catadores” had a negative reputation, but were doing very good work. Evan's team’s job was to change that negative perception, with the help of their campaign.
Diane's experience was equally as powerful. She worked with the Rwanda ICT Chamber--an umbrella organization for tech companies in Rwanda. High tech is key to Rwanda’s economic development, as it is moving from a subsistence agriculture-based economy to a knowledge-based economy.
Diane said that Rwanda has a massive skills shortage, in large part because the high-tech revolution didn’t start there until 1995, after the genocide that killed nearly 1 million people. She used her thought leadership, design thinking, marketing and communications skills to help create “LIFT Rwanda,” a digital business learning hub/website for small businesses, entrepreneurs and university students.
“I got to live SAP’s mission to help the world run better and improve people’s lives," she said. "I came out of it so grounded in my own abilities. What I bring back to my job in terms of confidence, new skills and understanding of emerging markets is invaluable.” Diane added that she will always remember the appreciation her team received from her clients and the young entrepreneurs and students they met.
Triple Impact of Social Responsibility Programs
Social sabbaticals are win-win-win for all involved. For the non-profits, they get pro-bono expertise they can really use to address critical challenges. Employees gain valuable experience. As the home manager of a Sabbatical fellow, I can tell you it’s a win for you, too: Employees come back with more passion and commitment than you could ever hope for. It’s also a win for your company in terms of talent retention and recruitment, brand recognition, and insights into new markets.
In short, a social sabbatical--or any form of corporate social responsibility that you can support--can leave your employees with lasting and fulfilling sense of purpose and renewed commitment, knowing that they have helped to improve the world through their efforts, and taking pride in doing it on behalf of their company.
Ira Simon (@IraASimon) is global vice president, Partner & SME Marketing at SAP. Learn more about partnership opportunities at: http://go.sap.com/partner.html