The Alternative to Tyranny

Pyxera supplying us with essential stationary

Remember the time during your early driving days when you had to drive to a new place through a route you were unfamiliar with? You had to focus on your driving, the steering wheel, the manual gears, the accelerator, the brake, the road, the traffic, other vehicles, pedestrians, the road signs, the signals and on top of all these, the route. All that stress! Now park your car.. oops sorry.. park those memories for a bit — Press Memory Store.

Namaste everyone! Here I am again, to share my observations and key messages from working at a nonprofit during my Social Sabbatical in Tunis.

Love Your Methodologies

One thing that we experienced at most nonprofits was their lack of implementation of methodologies related to productivity, efficiency and communication such as agile, lean or classical project management.

At most large multinational corporations in developed countries today, we use these methodologies on a regular basis. These are imbibed into us from the day one. We take them for granted to the extent that we execute them complacently. Someone is 5 mins late for the scrum meeting, someone skips the planning meeting, someone suggests cancelling the retrospective meeting etc.

However, what happens in the lack of these methodologies is something I witnessed firsthand — chaos and stress. You don’t have a plan; you don’t have regular means of communication. The result? Just when you are focusing on one task, your colleague interrupts you at your desk, or just when you are writing that important mail, you get an instruction to make an urgent call. There is no concept of peer review and your mistakes are found out by your boss after they are communicated by an external.

Press Memory Recall — Your driving experience as a novice. Now compare it with the time now when you are an experienced driver and regularly drive to office. You don’t need to think about any of those hassles, you just need to do the minimal to drive safely on the road. It is effortless, and your brain is freed up to think about some issue, listen to the radio, or even make a handsfree call to someone. This is exactly what processes and methodologies do. They are put in place mainly to make themselves redundant — so that we don’t have to think about the mundane tasks, thus freeing our brains and time to do the stuff that really matters.

For example, in agile, you know exactly what you must do for the next 2 weeks, you have a daily scrum to report progress and roadblocks, and retrospectives to provide feedback. When someone comes up with a spontaneous task, you can add them to your backlog for the next sprint.

During our program, we took the opportunity to introduce our clients to methodologies such as Agile, Design Thinking, Brainstorming, DiSC profile etc. and tools such as Post-its, Jira and SAP Ruum. So, embrace your methodologies and follow them religiously.

Left: Myself teaching DiSC Profile using flipchart. Right: My colleague Janet discussing ideas captured using Post-Its

Have Empathy for Those You Serve

In businesses, customers pay you. Hence the famous adage Customer is the King. If they are dissatisfied with you, they could go to your competitors. Monetary metrics, the bottom line for businesses help them hide their internal weaknesses. As long as you have the right skillset, you could still get away with an attitude that you want to just do enough to keep your job and nothing more. As businesses grow, working conditions are expected to improve.

In nonprofits, you serve people, typically those who are of lesser privilege than you i.e. they don’t pay you. They do not have an alternative; you are their only hope. The bottom line for nonprofits is the direct impact on people’s lives; monetary metrics can’t bail you out. The ‘just do enough’ attitude will only result in poor service on your part. Nonprofits, by their very nature, are likely to pay you much lesser for similar jobs than businesses. The working conditions might not improve, because the donors are not donating their money for your comforts. Most nonprofits operate in startup mode forever.

The only way you can be effective is if you have passion towards the purpose of your organization and empathy for those you serve. It’s only this intrinsic motivation to serve your society that can drive you. Just having the right competencies are not enough. This makes hiring the right people even more relevant for nonprofits.

Authoritative Leadership Simply Doesn’t Work

Just like the employees should have empathy towards those they serve, the leadership at nonprofits should have empathy towards the employees. On top of the challenging work environment, if you have an authoritarian boss who does not spare time for the employees, does not coach them, listen to them, and berates them publicly for their mistakes, then you would end up with a workforce that feels completely disconnected with the management and thereby the purpose of the organization — the exact opposite of having empathy. While businesses could still get away with such a leadership style, it could be disastrous for nonprofits.

“Performing, responsible management is the alternative to tyranny and our only protection against it”, said Peter Drucker. And I could see why. All those buzzwords such as empathy, empowerment etc. that we are used to ignoring, all those processes, methodologies and tools that we complain of, all those demands for accountability and standards that we frown upon, are those very things that set the great organizations apart. Effective management of nonprofits requires experienced professionals and leaders from these organizations to contribute by applying their best practices.

It all comes together now — Goal 17 of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which asks the private, public and social sector organizations to partner on solving social problems; and SAP, our wonderful organization which contributes to this goal by lending its best talent through its Social Sabbatical program; and I, who am proud to have been a part of it.




The SAP Social Sabbatical is a portfolio of short-term volunteering assignments where SAP employees work in highly diverse teams to solve strategic challenges for NGOs in different markets across the globe.

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Sooraj Kamath

Sooraj Kamath

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