CAF America Connections Blog

PYXERA Global: Igniting CSR Innovation with Global Pro Bono

March 5, 2015

PYXERA Global helps global companies design and implement a different kind of CSR initiative – global pro bono. Multinationals such as IBM, Google, SAP, The Dow Chemical Company, and dozens of others deploy their employees into emerging markets from one week to many months to work on pro bono assignments with influential NGOs, social enterprises, local businesses, and government agencies.

It’s a triple-win. Employees take part in an exciting leadership boot camp at a fraction of the cost of traditional leadership development approaches. Companies gain insights into new markets, and local organizations get access to professional consulting at no cost.

PYXERA Global is an implementing partner that works with companies to design and facilitate the program from start to finish. In this special two-part series, hear what global technology company, SAP has to say on the Social Sabbatical, their global pro bono program, and their work with PYXERA Global. Program Director, Alexandra van der Ploeg, talks about what it takes to put together a program and why SAP invests so much in the Social Sabbatical.

Q&A with Alexandra van der Ploeg: SAP’s Approach to Pro Bono, Part I

Technology and software solutions company SAP uses these global pro bono programs to give high-performing employees the chance to develop skills while making a positive impact in the developing world.
Alexandra van der Ploeg, Program Director at SAP answered questions about what is takes to put together a program, and why SAP invests so much in them. In Part 1, she describes SAP’s work and how it measures success. Look out for Part 2 next week.

Q: What is the social sabbatical and why did SAP become involved in such pro bono programs?
A: In 2012, SAP introduced the Social Sabbatical program as an innovative learning opportunity for SAP employees to contribute their time and talent to helping social entrepreneurs in emerging markets. Developed in partnership with PYXERA Global, the program strives to solve business challenges, specifically for the social entrepreneurship sector in emerging markets, while strengthening the participants’ leadership competencies, cross-industry know-how, and intercultural sensitivity.

Employees leave the daily routine of their jobs to spend a month with a host client. This experiential learning fosters a cultural shift toward next-generation thinking—it infuses future leaders with the type of creativity they need to problem-solve in an entrepreneurial setting.

It also fortifies the capacity of organizations in emerging markets, by introducing new skillsets and approaches to their business and operational challenges. To date, over 100 SAP employees participated in the program, working with over 30 client organizations in such diverse locations as Brazil, India, China, South Africa and Kenya. Since the social sabbatical began, it has scaled very rapidly from 29 in the beginning to 100 participants on a yearly basis, and from three to eight different countries (we currently have programs for Brazil, India, China, South Africa, Colombia, Turkey, Philippines, and Ethiopia).

In addition, we have developed a concept for a local version of the social sabbatical—the SAP Engaging for Local Impact (SAP ELI) program, where we bring local SAP employees and local organizations together to again work for a month on a clearly defined project.

We have high hopes for this new program, as it would allow significantly more SAP employees to use their skills and expertise to make a difference in their communities. Currently pilots of the SAP ELI program are taking place in the U.S. and Germany.

SAP’s vision is to simplify how organizations run. By doing this with our technology solutions, we can help the world run better and improve people’s lives. To move the needle in CSR, we are intent on creating shared value with our programs and at SAP this means that we focus on scaling social enterprises and building a skilled workforce for the technology sector.

Why this focus? From a business perspective it helps us safeguard our future business growth. And from a socio-economic perspective, the world needs to create more than 500 million new jobs by 2020 to provide opportunities for the currently unemployed as well as the future workforce. The bulk of this challenge falls on countries in emerging markets and it is exactly at this intersection of business goals and value for society that the Social Sabbatical comes into play.

The unique set up of the initiative creates triple impact, on the clients, participants and SAP, thus demonstrating true shared value.

Q: How do you measure the program’s success?

A: We measure impact through short- and long-term post assignment surveys. Feedback from all parties shows that we are meeting our goals:

  • Partner organizations: All partners reported satisfaction with the overall experience, with 80 percent indicating they were highly satisfied. These organizations said the SAP Social Sabbatical had the highest impact in the areas of knowledge transfer, strategy planning, service provision and information and communications technology (ICT). Many also indicated that their view of SAP as a company changed positively thanks to the Social Sabbatical program.
  • SAP participants: The Social Sabbatical helps develop two of SAP’s leadership competencies in particular: 77 percent of participants said the program helped with “building trust” and 70 percent said it helped with “driving one SAP”. With regards to the development of general skills, most participants identified cultural awareness (90 percent) and teamwork (85 percent) were the strongest areas of development, followed by intercultural sensitivity (79 percent). Another competency that a strong majority of participants (67 percent) felt was developed was innovative thinking, and 65 percent indicated improved communication skills.

The Social Sabbatical is also an essential instrument to develop new insights into emerging markets, increase knowledge about the needs of multiple stakeholders and bring back innovation for new business development. The post-assignment surveys have also indicated that participants return from the program refreshed, energized and fully committed to the company, and its vision and strategy. As such, the employee engagement index for Social Sabbatical participants is 14 percent higher than for the rest of the SAP Group. Today the Social Sabbatical is the most recognized CSR program within SAP and has the full support of our CEO, Bill McDermott.

This article was a featured interview on The Conference Blog’s Giving Thoughts, by Alex Parkinson, The Conference Board and Alexandra van der Ploeg, Program Director, SAP SE.

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