October is just around the corner, which means SAP employees from around the world are excitedly preparing to launch another Month of Service (MoS), SAP’s longest running volunteer initiative. Thousands of employees have increasingly put their passion for service into action during Month of Service, impacting hundreds of thousands of lives in the process. It’s this widespread desire to serve and improve the lives of others that makes Month of Service a success year after year — and there are no signs it’s slowing!

We can rightfully be proud that at SAP we offer employees a wide range of volunteering opportunities that range from inclusive volunteering, like North America’s Spring into Service, to skills-based volunteering, such as SAP’s Code Weeks [Africa Code Week, Refugee Code Week, Latin Code Week] where we plan to ignite a passion for coding in over 500.000 children across the globe), to immersive pro-bono volunteering through the SAP Social Sabbatical where we have already built the capacity of >180 non-profit organizations and social enterprises globally that help young people bridge the digital divide.

All of these activities take place in October during Month of Service, but even more importantly they are also offered year-round to ensure we’re making a difference when and where it matters. To that end we’ve also launched a Global Volunteer Ambassador training program, which empowers employees to lead with purpose and offers resources and content around how to host transformative service events on behalf of SAP — all year round.

Former South African Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Nelson Mandela said: “There can be no greater gift than that of giving one’s time and energy to helping others without expecting anything in return.” Knowing what causes are important to us and donating our time, skills, and passion help create the community we want to live in and make a lasting impact while also bringing benefits to our personal growth and development.

Certainly this has been a personal experience for me. In 2010, right after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, I volunteered for a 3-month joint project between SAP and Professor Muhammad Yunus, the pioneer of microfinance, to create the infrastructure for social business in Haiti — a decision that took me way outside of my comfort zone, stretched me both professionally and personally, and completely changed my career at SAP and frankly my view on the world. Admittedly, my volunteering engagement was on the immersive side, but I learnt a few key lessons that I believe lie at the foundation of any type of volunteering engagement:

1. Follow your passion: When I decided to volunteer for the Haiti project, I got thrown into the deep end — knowing next to nothing about social business let alone the development sector — but I didn’t think twice about it. My key drivers were passion about the economic development of Haiti and the desire to add value to the project — in whichever small way — with my expertise and know-how. In the moments where I felt discouraged or frustrated, I could fall back on those drivers to stay committed and motivated.

2. Volunteering is not just about giving: When we take ourselves outside of our comfort zones — even in our own communities — we learn and challenge our perceptions and preconceived notions. We open our minds to different perspectives and begin to empathize with people from backgrounds different from our own. It’s only when we take this risk, engage without judgement, and reflect on our experiences do we begin to challenge our thinking, stretch ourselves and learn both professionally and personally. In relation to my experience in Haiti I know for a fact that I must have come across as patronizing in some situations, thinking that I knew best. But I quickly learned that the organizations and people we were working with knew exactly what they needed from us and were not shy to formulate that very strongly — basically telling us in no uncertain terms that they were the experts (rightly so, it is their country!). Today, when volunteering, I spend a significant amount of time just learning to understand the organizations and people, listening, being empathetic and building trust.

Iron Market in Port-au-Prince, October 2010

Month of Service is a unique opportunity for each employee to take pause and consider the causes that matter to them most. It’s a time to partner with colleagues and leaders at SAP, to make a direct impact on the local community, and stretch our understanding of the world we live in — beyond our comfort zone.

With the launch of Month of Service 2017 just a few days away, let’s ask ourselves: What will my impact be?

Alexandra

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