Four Years of Global Impact Weeks, and Growing

Imke Vierjahn
Jul 5, 2019 · 7 min read

by Selina Grade, Imke Vierjahn

Impact Week is a non-profit program which unites people from a variety of countries to develop sustainable business models using Design Thinking. The organization is rapidly growing around the globe, from one location in 2015 to eight in 2019. This growth can both be challenging and inspiring. Here are some insights into the experiences SAP colleagues made while volunteering for Impact Week in 2018, and a first glimpse at the program for 2019.

SAP Team at Impact Week 2018 in Guwahati, Assam, India, from left to right: Michael Koegel, Muktha Hiremath, Lena Voegele, Anirban Dey

Impact Week in its fourth year, and growing

2018 marked the 4th year of the social initiative Impact Week. Some SAP employees were part of the journey from the beginning. In short, the Impact Week aims at fostering innovation, entrepreneurship and intercultural exchange at schools and universities in emerging economies. To achieve a sustainable outcome, the team undergoes two core building blocks:

  • A three-day “Train the Trainer” block to train local professors, teachers and employees from NGOs or governmental organizations to become Design Thinking coaches.
  • A four-day “Impact Week” conducted by the newly skilled junior coaches to train local students on community challenges. The covered topics are always aligned with the local partner spanning from healthcare, education and tourism to agriculture business, rural economy, and environment.

A growing network of SAP volunteers

Together with other SAP colleagues and Impact Week volunteers, Michael Koegel, Design Strategist at SAP AppHaus Heidelberg, dedicated a lot of his time to fostering innovation, entrepreneurship, and intercultural exchange at schools and universities. In 2018, he travelled to the State of Assam, India. As one of the first volunteering coaches, Michael describes the recruiting process: “While in 2017 the SAP team consisted of colleagues who lived in Germany, we were able to involve further Design Thinking coaches from SAP Labs Bangalore, in 2018. It just took an e-mail or two to identify them within the SAP Design Thinking community. Three of us taught Design Thinking as senior coaches, each of us with a different focus. Muktha Hiremath coached the rural economy track, Anirban Dey the healthcare track, and I took over topics related to tourism. The remaining tracks for environment, economy and agriculture were coached by non-SAP coaches coming from Spain, India and Germany. Moreover, Lena Voegele from SAP IT acted as overall content lead after being a senior coach in Colombia last year.”

“I was a late entrant as a senior coach, and I was a little anxious and unsure about the Impact Week and my participation. But I was blown away, at the end of the Impact Week by the sheer energy and enthusiasm of every individual participating in the Impact Week.” Muktha Hiremath, SAP SE, UX Designer

Last year Colombia. This year India.

When Michael compares his impressions from Impact Week 2017 in Colombia to last year’s in India, he notes how diverse the experience can be: “One of the main differences was the location we lived in and worked together. While in Bogotá, Colombia, in 2017, the Impact Week volunteers and participants stayed in a four-star hotel next to Universidad Tadeo’s city campus, the workshops in 2018 took place in Guwahati, a bustling city of about a million people in the state of Assam, India. The Indian Institute of Entrepreneurship hosted the almost 100 students, and a team of 24 coaches and professors from India and abroad. The guesthouse was at a 45 minutes’ drive distance to the city center and was completely booked up so that some teams had to work in hallways and staircases.”

Traditional Indian henna painting

As a result, the team decided to spend more evenings in and enjoyed spontaneous warm-up battles, henna paintings and spent time on reflecting and preparing their team coaching. Some of the volunteers also spent evenings meeting the families of local professors. Overall, this intense exchange brought the Impact Week team closer together and contributed to a great atmosphere.

“An experience and learning worth sharing and taking forward. Being a part of a different flavor of Design Thinking (outside regular organizational practices) when catering to the social causes in and around North Eastern India. Looking forward to much more participations and experiences”. Anirban Dey, SAP SE, UX Design Specialist

How to grow the network and find inspiring individuals
One of the major learnings over the last years has been that it is important to both have a network and to work on its extension. Almost all Impact Week locations were identified and established by local contacts.

Elrhino paper

The Impact Week in Guwahati, for example, wouldn’t have happened without Nisha Bora, a local entrepreneur, who runs the social and sustainable company Elrhino that produces paper based on elephant and rhino dung. With her business idea she changed the villagers` perception to recognize the animals as a source of income instead of a threat. During an event of the Happy Startup School which Michael and Nisha attended, the Impact Week veteran pitched the concept of the initiative to the young entrepreneur. Nisha immediately caught on and helped setting up the local connections. During their work in India the volunteers had a wonderful BBQ at her parent’s place with the whole team and were able to visit some other local entrepreneurs over the weekend.

Growth sometimes comes with challenges

Some of the challenges Impact Week activists are facing deal with the fast growth of the Impact Week community. From one location in 2015/2016 the project locations grew to six in 2017, and eight in 2019. So far, the location teams run almost independently and as everyone participates voluntarily while having a demanding daily job, there was never enough time to create the structure needed for further growth. That’s one of the topics Impact Week tries to tackle in 2019. As an interesting example, Lufthansa engages in this global network to bring employees from different companies and countries in the Lufthansa Group together to work for Impact Week projects. As Michael puts it: “My hope is that we can also drive this topic further inside SAP and involve more of our customers. First steps in the right direction are made. As an example, our SAP AppHaus colleague in Seoul, Christopher Han was just invited as keynote speaker to the global Lufthansa Technic Design Thinking Camp in Hongkong.”

Sustainability efforts

Lastly, making the Impact Week more sustainable has always been a core goal. With the help of Nisha, the initiative could already source a lot of the materials locally in India and moved from lanyards to locally produced natural fiber threads. Moreover, they were able to avoid the plastic sachets by just using more sturdy paper for the name-tags. The T-shirts and tote-bags the teams use are also local products. However, paper is still a scarce resource in many countries and importing, consuming and discarding so many expensive post-it notes during the sessions is a topic to be solved from a sustainability angle. Do you have an idea how to solve this or any of the other Impact Week challenges?

Dr. Sriparna B. Baruah, Indian Institute of Entrepreneurship (on the left), and Sina M. Petersen, Space and Lemon GmbH

The work of Impact Week would not be possible without sponsors. Companies like SAP and Lufthansa support this initiative, together with many local sponsors, such as the Indian Institute of Entrepreneurship and Oil India who sponsored the Impact Week 2019 in India. What’s more, SAP donates employees’ time, and supports with materials like the Leporello flyer that is used in the Design Thinking trainings. If you are interested and/or would like to get involved in the Impact Week please check the program for 2019 on the Impact Week website, reach out to Michael Koegel, and also follow Impact Week on social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram).

The Impact Week movement — how it all started

“We foster entrepreneurship and intercultural exchange through Design Thinking.”

In 2015, the Impact Week was started as a private initiative by several Design Thinking enthusiasts with the mission to foster innovation, entrepreneurship and intercultural exchange at schools and universities in emerging countries. The Impact Week consists of two core building blocks such as “Train the Trainer” to train local professors, teachers and employees from NGOs or governmental organizations to become Design Thinking coaches and a four-day “Impact Week” which is conducted by the new junior coaches who train small groups of local students on community challenges. Besides that, the participants use the stay to not only explore the country, but also to get to know the local people and their daily challenges better.

Seeing that more and more experts from all over the world joined the initiative during two very successful Impact Weeks in Kenya, the program was scaled to Colombia, Rwanda, Nigeria and again Kenya in 2017.

Interesting links

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