Creating social impact and making the world run better | What we achieved in the SAP Social Sabbatical: Post-match analysis

As I have done for all my blog posts in the SAP Social Sabbatical Series, I will try to link this blog post also to a facet of the game of cricket. After a cricket match concludes and after the excitement level has come down, usually there is a post-match analysis by experts. As the name suggests, the intention is to analyze and find out what went right and what went wrong during the game and what the result means to both the teams. Did the match experience help in hardening the skills of certain players, did it help to unearth new talent…were any new records set, etc. Not just the analysis by experts, for any good team the game is not over till they have sat together as a team with the coach and analyzed their performance with an eye to draw lessons from it so that they can improve on their performance as a team in the next game!


Our one month SAP Social Sabbatical in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam concluded in the end of April. I want to share my experience and learnings from the Social Sabbatical by answering a few questions that the readers may have in their mind.

What is SAP Social Sabbatical and why?

SAP Social Sabbatical is one of the offerings from SAP Corporate Social Responsibility (SAP CSR). SAP believes in making the world run better and improving people’s lives. To contribute to SAP’s vision, SAP CSR strives to equip the world’s youth with skills they need to tackle society’s problems and thrive in the digital economy. This is achieved by building the capacity of innovative social enterprises that put young people on the path to successful careers. It also strives to build a skilled workforce for the IT sector with training and workforce development programs. This is achieved by harnessing the core assets at SAP: Talent, Technology and Partnerships. The SAP Social Sabbatical is a portfolio of pro-bono volunteering programs where SAP employees are placed in highly diverse teams to dedicate their skills, expertise and knowhow in a unique, short-term assignment with two primary objectives: to solve concrete business challenges for the education and social entrepreneurship sector in different markets, AND to strengthen the employees’ leadership competencies, cross industry sector know-how and strengthen intercultural sensitivity. The employees participating in SAP Social Sabbatical are carefully selected based on performance, potential and interviews.

Why do corporates volunteer?

From a data set of the 272 of the largest companies in the world including 67 Fortune 100 corporations, in 2015, 85% of the companies reported having at least one domestic employee volunteer program. 56% of those companies provided paid-release time volunteer programs in 2015 and 54% of the companies provided pro-bono service programs in 2015. Employee volunteering is surely becoming the norm in the corporate world.

Companies exist to maximize profit for their shareholders. So, why do they get into volunteering programs? Experience shows that such programs help the companies to enhance employee engagement, attract the best talent, improve retention of talent, help building critical skills, drives leadership development and above all creates a positive employee sentiment. The Corporate Executive Board (CEB) in its study found that for every employee who participates in volunteer program, more than $2400 of value is generated by improving employee engagement. This includes decreased turnover costs and improved employee performance.

Perceived social impact — the degree to which employees feel that their actions benefit other people — is one relational mechanism that may mediate the effects of task significance on job performance. Perceived social worth — the degree to which employees feel that their contributions are valued by other people — is a second relational mechanism that may mediate the effects of task significance on job performance. <Source: “The Significance of Task Significance: Job Performance Effects, Relational Mechanisms, and Boundary Conditions” by Adam M. Grant, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill>

What are the types of corporate volunteering?

Volunteering can be either traditional / transactional volunteering or transformative volunteering. Traditional / transactional volunteering involves freely providing a service to respond to a crisis, address a community need or solve a problem. On the other hand, transformative volunteering, in addition to providing a service, develops and strengthens empathy through experience.

What does corporate volunteering by SAP address?

SAP strives to drive transformative volunteering with its employees. The guiding principle for choosing the right volunteering opportunities are The Sustainable Development Goals, 2015–2030 published by the United Nations Organization.

What is pro-bono consulting and Global Engagement?

Pro Bono Publico or in short pro bono is a Latin phrase for professional work undertaken voluntarily and without payment. Unlike traditional volunteerism, it is a service that uses the specific skills of the professionals to provide services to those who are unable to afford them. Purposeful global engagement strives to take international development to the level of purposeful public-private partnerships. SAP Social Sabbatical is an example of pro bono purposeful global engagement.

SAP partners with Pyxera Global, an internationally known organization facilitating Corporate Volunteering and Pro Bono initiatives. Pyxera works in partnership with SAP CSR to choose the right clients whose visions are on similar lines to SAP’s and who would stand to gain from such a pro bono initiative. Pyxera also takes the responsibility to prepare the Social Sabbatical teams to handle the challenges on the ground. We had weekly preparatory calls with Pyxera Global starting six weeks before the commencement of our Social Sabbatical.

Why did I decide to apply for the SAP Social Sabbatical?

I was motivated after attending the info session on SAP Social Sabbatical in May, 2016. And I must say it was purely an intrinsic motivation than an extrinsic one. I felt this as a great opportunity to apply existing skills to solve a real life societal problem at a different setting and culture. This experience I thought will really help in sharpening my leadership skills further and make me better in dealing with challenges. I must thank my previous manager who provided the necessary approval for me to apply, and my present manager who agreed to let me go on the Social sabbatical in spite of I undergoing a transition at work. I would also like to thank my family for having the confidence to manage things on their own for a month so that I can go on the Social Sabbatical :-) .

What was our SAP Social Sabbatical Team like and what were the kind of projects we worked on?

Our SAP Social Sabbatical team comprised of 12 SAP employees. To give an idea of the diversity in our team — 12 of us represented 10 different nationalities and the team together spoke 10 different languages. Professionally, we had diverse skills, levels of experience and roles. From a senior lawyer to a senior developer, from a consulting expert to a HR Business Partner, from a Head of Consulting business in a Market Unit to a Sales Manager, from a Partner business executive to a Chief Product Owner to a Finance & Controlling Executive….our team seemed to represent entire SAP in a nutshell :-). We are so diverse in this group and that’s why we are so unique as a group! :-)

Team Mekong

Why the name Team Mekong?

We wanted the name to be Vietnamese, something that people of Vietnam can relate to as well as people from outside can identify it with Vietnam. Mekong is the most important river in the South East Asia region. It has been a lifeline for the country since ages. The Mekong delta, adjacent to Ho Chi Minh City, is known for its fertility and is of great economic importance. The flora and fauna surrounding the river adds to nature’s diversity. The contribution of a river to the development of civilization is well known and it never stops …and over the years, new ways of harnessing the strength of the river come up for the advantage of human kind. We as a team look at Mekong as inspiration and wanted to imbibe the strength and continuous flowing nature of the river to make a positive impact in the lives of people in Vietnam.

The 12 member team was distributed into 4 sub-teams of 3 each to work with each client. The 4 clients chosen were: Saigon Children’s Charity, Teach for Vietnam, G.A.P Institute and Xanh Shop. The NGOs were as diverse as catering to children’s education, developing a teaching ecosystem for better education of children, career development of young adults, and providing impetus to natural farming.

I was part of 3-member group to work with the client G.A.P Institute. My team mates for the G.A.P Institute project were Evangelia Tsipas (Evi), HR Business Partner for SAP Fieldglass based in Chicago, United States of America and Nadine Elsham, Sales Manager at SAP UK based in London.

Evi, Nadine and Arindam — Team SAP — G.A.P

What is G.A.P Institute and what was our project about?

G.A.P, stands for Globally Acknowledged Professionals, is a mission based and purpose driven organization aiming to be a one-stop career development hub for Vietnam’s youth. It tries to address the gap between the level of education in Vietnam’s universities and the level of skills and competency needed for an international professional in the industry. G.A.P started with 120 students in 2016. It strives to provide scholarships to needy students and provides for 1 free student for each 2 paid students. It offers courses related to professional English writing, Global skillsets, Career Readiness and Career Mentoring. Mr. Hieu Le is the Chief Executive Officer and Mr. Hong Anh is the Chief Academic Officer at G.A.P Institute.

They wanted us to work together with them to simplify their important processes and enable the employees to be ready to take G.A.P on an accelerated growth path. G.A.P Institute is a Social Enterprise. Social Enterprises tackle social problems or rather grave issues plaguing the society. It applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in human and environment well-being — this may include maximizing social impact along with profits for external stakeholders. They strive to improve communities, people’s lives and environment. They are not same as charitable organizations. They make their money by selling their goods and services in the open market, but they reinvest their profits back into the business or local community. And so, when they profit, the society profits.

How did we execute the project with G.A.P institute?

Before we left for Vietnam, we had calls with the CEO of G.A.P Institute to understand the SoW better. The entire project followed a phased approach: Discover - Explore - Realize - Operate. Once in Vietnam and after the project kick-off we spoke with the founders and all employees and shadowed them in important meetings to get to the depth of the problem at hand. We followed Design Thinking principles to first diverge the problem space and then converge to understand the real problem keeping in mind a persona.

We ended up with too many action items to be met over one month. We sat with the CEO and the Chief Academic Officer of G.A.P Institute to plot the action items on a Potential Impact vs. Effort matrix and then decided to concentrate on those action items which would generate higher potential impact and at the same time which could be accomplished in one month. This helped us to refine the SoW and also to seamlessly move to the Explore phase of the project. There were 8 concrete deliverables defined as part of the SoW. From making the values of the organization stronger and easily understandable to creation of an elevator pitch and a success story, from simplifying the communication framework to simplifying the sales process by eliminating and reducing waste, from strengthening the marketing and sales collateral to defining ways for better management of data across the student life-cycle — our work was cut out to enable the organization to be more professional and customer-centric so that it achieves its long term goal to be the one-stop career development hub for Vietnam’s youth. We did not want to invent our own solutions. We rather wanted to work together with the G.A.P team enabling them on tools and techniques for problem solving and enabling them to find the solutions. Our intention was to ensure that they can analyze problems and find solutions in future themselves and can take G.A.P Institute on a journey of continuous improvement in a sustainable way. We had a series of design thinking workshops to find the solutions to the problems at hand. As in the solution space of design thinking, we ensured that the solutions found met the criteria of human desirability, technical feasibility and economic viability.

Glimpses from the Design Thinking workshops

Evi, Nadine and I had to do a lot of background work and preparation to deliver the sessions and conduct the workshops in a meaningful manner contextualizing the customer scenarios. We did a lot of exercise ourselves using post-its and whiteboards and worked methodically to ensure successful delivery as defined in the agreed SoW.

Evi, Nadine and Arindam at work

What was the outcome?

We have been able to deliver on all SoW items as per plan in the Realize phase of the project. The results have been handed over to the G.A.P team and they will be able to implement and operationalize the recommendations that have been generated as part of solutioning. Here is a summary of what has been achieved.

· Values have been made more understandable, elevator pitch was created and a success story was prepared

· Founders and employees have undergone personality assessment and now have better idea of each other’s’ personality types and hence can collaborate better

· Founders and Managers have attended a session with the SAP team to understand the different phases of employee life cycle better, which will help them to manage more effectively, attract talent and retain employees

· The communication framework in use in the organization has been simplified

· Relevant collateral for marketing and sales have been created

· Strategy for offering more relevant courses to existing students and alumni have been devised

· Steps have been discussed for better management of data throughout the student life cycle in future

· The Sales process has been simplified by the G.A.P team as part of a Value vs. Waste analysis workshop

A roadmap has been defined with tangible short term, mid term and long term action items which if implemented will set G.A.P Institute on the right path to attain their long term objective. Some of the quick wins have been already achieved during the project duration itself.

What’s next?

We intend to stay connected with the G.A.P team and will be interested to know their progress with the action items. From what we have experienced during the project, I think G.A.P has a fantastic team all of whom are highly motivated and passionate about the cause that G.A.P tries to address. So, we are confident that the team will be able to achieve what they have set out to achieve. Our best wishes are always with them, and it will make us prouder to hear about the continuous success of G.A.P Institute.

How was the overall experience of the SAP Social Sabbatical?

The SAP Social Sabbatical was an amazing experience for me as it provided new challenges to deal with, it provided an opportunity to hone new skills, it provided an opportunity to experience a new country and new culture and it provided an opportunity to be friends with 11 other colleagues from SAP whom I never knew before. In addition to the project we worked on, to be part of this great team of 12 people was itself an awesome experience and we shared great moments together throughout this one month which will remain forever in memory. The time spent as a project team working on the G.A.P Institute project and the fact that Evi, Nadine and I formed a great team added positively to the overall experience. The fact that the 3 of us brought diverse and complementary skills to the table made our team stronger and really helped us to look at the customer’s business with a 360 degree view. Our daily discussions and debriefs, the slogging to meet deadlines, hopping from one coffee shop to another, one restaurant to another…to find a right place for creative discussions , the time spent with other Team Mekong members at our hotel Somerset in Ho Chi Minh City after our daily work with the customer, the time spent in socializing at the Lapiscine restaurant of the hotel.. all contributed towards dealing with the challenge with calmness as a team.

Here are snippets of some other valuable experience that we had during our stay in Vietnam.

Visit to Hear Us Now class: Evi, Nadine and I had the privilege to visit one of the Hear Us Now classes and see for ourselves how English is taught to hearing impaired students using slides, videos and sign language. Hear Us Now is also a brain child of Mr. Hieu, the CEO of G.A.P Institute. It was heartening to see that G.A.P Institute encourages its employees to contribute 10% of their time every month to social causes outside work. Hope an institute like Hear Us Now which is trying its best to cater to the needs of the population with disabilities (which is significantly high in Vietnam due to the ill effects of the war), can get some funding from corporates to expand its operations.

Mr Hieu teaching English in a Hear Us Now class for hearing impaired students

Here is a video of Mr. Hieu talking about Hear Us Now:

Panel discussion at Vietnam Talent Hub: Evi and I joined a panel discussion as panelists on the topic of Work life balance for young professionals and the role of technology in work life balance. Talent Hub operates under the aegis of UNESCO and is a platform for the top talents drawn from the Universities in Vietnam. For our panel discussion, there were 70 top talents in the audience and it was a pleasure to answer some very interesting questions posed by the top talents.

Evi and I at the Saigon Innovation Hub for the panel discussion for Talent Hub

Session on Gross National Happiness: Some of us from Team Mekong attended a session on Gross National Happiness from Dr. Tho Ha Vinh, Program Director — Gross National Happiness Centre Bhutan. Dr. Tho threw light upon the 9 elements and 4 pillars of GNH and made a case for why economic growth should be a means to an end and not an end itself. The end should be to make people happy. We understood the difference between GNH and GDP and why companies these days are tending to measure their performance as per the triple bottom-line — financial, social and environmental.

Team Mekong members at the GNH event

Visit to the AO Show at the Saigon Opera House: The AO Show, on similar lines to the Cirque du Soleil, with a rare mix of bamboo cirque, contemporary dance, acrobatics, humor and live music provided a glimpse of Vietnam’s contrasting portrait — a peaceful country life as against the hum and din of urban life.

Team Mekong members at the Saigon Opera House to view the AO Show

Visit to the War Remnants Museum and the Cu Chi Tunnels: Some of us from Team Mekong visited the War remnants museum in Ho Chi Minh City and the Cu Chi tunnels on the outskirts of the city. The museum reminded us of the horrors of war and the pains the country had undergone. Some of the memories e.g. the Napalm Bomb attack, the effect of Agent orange almost brought tears to my eyes. The visit to the Cu Chi tunnels helped us understand the different techniques of guerrilla warfare in vogue during the war. It also helped us understand what the life of soldier on either side had been during that time.

Visit to the War Remnants Museum and the Cu Chi Tunnels

Visit to Noir Restaurant — dining in the dark: This was a unique experience where our Team Mekong dined in the dark and got a feeling of what our visually impaired brothers and sisters have to go through day in and day out.

Team Mekong members at the Noir restaurant — dining in the dark

Visit to Hoi An: Most of Team Mekong members also spent a weekend in the picturesque central coastal town of Hoi An. The magnificent An Bang beach at Hoi An and the ancient town with beautiful temples and brightly lit lanterns in the night provided us a surreal experience.

Impressions from our visit to Hoi An

Besides, countless number of team lunches and team dinners at different restaurants across the city provided great opportunities to socialize and the team lunch and dinners with the G.A.P team including the team outing at a resort — all that made our overall experience very special.

Team events with customer team

What are the learnings from the Social Sabbatical experience?

Our experience during the SAP Social Sabbatical taught us the value of listening and looking at any problem through the eyes of the customer than anything else. The value of team work and the fact that there is a situational element to solutions proposed are some of the highlights of our learnings from the Social Sabbatical.

What is my biggest takeaway?

The biggest takeaway for me from the SAP Social Sabbatical is that it helped in different aspects of leadership development. Here are the different aspects of leadership that it touched:

Empathy: The experience of interacting with people from a different culture and adapting to new challenges enhanced my ability to empathize. And, I think, when people have more empathy they are more believable and approachable.

Expanded perspective: The experiential knowledge coupled with a practice of sense making and the creation of significance or meaning has exposed me to an expanded perspective which will help to be more resilient in future.

Expanded network: This was an opportunity to establish network with the customer and his team and more importantly with the other 11 participants of the Social Sabbatical. And, networking is an important aspect of leadership development.

Increased Influence: The experience in a different domain and successful use of existing skills in a different setting adds to confidence and hence will increase influence in any future work.

Opportunity for learning and skill development: This was an opportunity to hone new skills and practice new skills without the fear of failure. It also provided opportunities to hone skills in project management, customer expectation management and public speaking.

I would also like to make a special note of the affection showed by the G.A.P team and recognition of our effort which makes the experience even more fulfilling.

One of the best moments of the entire month was to listen to Mr Hieu, the CEO of G.A.P Institute at the closing ceremony of the Social Sabbatical, where he quoted Yoko Ono:

“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality!”

— that’s what SAP-G.A.P team together tried to achieve over the last one month.

April 2017 has to rank one of the best months that I ever spent in my life. With the richness of experience gained and amount of fun we had in the process, I think it’s not an exaggeration to say this. Only time will tell if this experience is going to be a life changing one, but for sure it has sharpened focus, strengthened self-belief and provided with a new perspective of looking at things!

Here is a link to the press coverage about our SAP Social Sabbatical:

For more details about my experience during the SAP Social Sabbatical, you can refer to the following blog posts:

In the land of the blue dragon — From Namaste to Xin Chao!

Pitch Inspection and Pitch report — a Sunday filled with team building exercise, self awareness and…

The Toss and the opening spell — SAP Social Sabbatical Kick-off @ Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Power-play -1: A smart and agile Discovery phase!

Fielding Restrictions are off!

Drinks break / Tea break / Lunch break / Retired Hurt and our pavilion!

The Middle Overs are here! — Team G.A.P on an “Explore” and “Realize” ride with Design Thinking!

It’s the business end of the game! — Our SAP Social Sabbatical enters the last week!

The slog overs!

Post-match presentation!