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Hot Topic: SAP Takes Corporate Responsibility to New Levels

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Wed Feb 11 2015

Hot Topic: SAP Takes Corporate Responsibility to New Levels
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SAP recognizes and embraces its commitment to the communities in which it operates, says Katie Morgan, SAP head of corporate social responsibility for North America. “We believe the private sector plays a vital role in creating a level playing field, driving innovation, and building an environment that enhances education and entrepreneurship to foster economic growth,” says Morgan. 

In terms of creating social impact, SAP wants to make strategic social investments that have lasting benefits for society. Five or six years ago, social programs focused on traditional volunteering. Funding was based on executive passion, as well as what employees wanted to support. “About three years ago we worked with FSG, a consulting firm which specializes in corporate social responsibility. We wanted to streamline and define a strategy that made sense for our core business. We decided that SAP North America would focus on entrepreneurship and education for ages 12 to 24,” she explains.   

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Morgan adds, “This has evolved to focus on work-force development for the 21st century. We want to make sure the future workforce has relevant technology skills. This shift involved a lot of communication to both our leaders and employees about why this strategy makes sense for our business. Our strategic investment will give people skills, such as SAP certification, as well as training around soft skills, such as how to work in a corporate environment, or how to prepare for an interview. Our funding will be shifting from STEM education and entrepreneurship to workforce development.” 

SAP’s goals are to leverage its core expertise and use its technology and talent to help find solutions to social issues. Most Fortune 500 companies use SAP software so Morgan’s challenge is to create more corporate social responsibility (CSR) opportunities in the nonprofit sector. 

“We want to make sure that if nonprofits acquire our technology, they know how to use it. To this end, we’re exploring ways to give them support during implementation. Last year we donated SAP Business One to Edesia, a nonprofit that aims to reduce the high rates of childhood malnutrition in developing countries worldwide. We work with SAP partners—for this one it was Softengine—who can donate in-kind implementation support and make sure the nonprofits know how to use the software. We want technology to be at the heart of improving how nonprofits work,” she says.    

Getting the Word Out 

Another of Morgan’s challenges is to communicate the existence of CSR volunteer opportunities as broadly as possible. CSR is popular with job applicants and valuable to employees. 

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“At this point, we have our strategy, we have great statistics, and we have a couple of huge initiatives. Right now, a big challenge is telling that story to our 15,000 plus employees in North America. Our employees are happy to be involved in our CSR programs, so we want people to know about them,” says Morgan. 

In a huge company like SAP, there are many platforms and portals for getting the word out, but the most successful method so far has been word of mouth. Morgan and her team visit offices and host round-table discussions, coffee corners, and information sessions about the CSR programs. “If employees hear about it, they want to help and it becomes their story to tell too,” she states.  

SAP has a group of volunteer ambassadors who lead the projects, get employees to volunteer, and make sure they have a fulfilling experience. According to Morgan, “Our volunteer ambassadors facilitate and lead projects on the ground. We have 250 employees who have chosen to be involved. They want to support our programs and lead their own teams and colleagues in volunteer projects. They are our storytellers.” 

“We’re also finding ways to get our volunteers more involved in decision-making around whom we fund. And we have an off-site planning meeting with some of the volunteer ambassadors to help plan our annual October month-of-service,” Morgan says. 

“One of the major benefits for volunteers is that employees, especially new hires, gain visibility. Volunteering is a powerful way people can emerge as leaders. You may not be a team manager, but if you can gather 15 people and organize a trip to a school, and those volunteers have a great experience, you become a leader. Executives and senior managers also attend volunteer projects, so employees have both visibility and networking opportunities. It’s not every day that you can work next to the president of North America SAP, but on a volunteer project you might.” 

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Transferring SAP Skills to High School Students 

Another project Morgan is passionate about is working with and mentoring high school students. “Our 15,000 North American SAP employees have a certain set of skills that are transferable. This can happen through mentoring high school students, or bringing students to meet our employees at SAP offices. Last year we had close to 40,000 hours volunteered in North America, and 33 percent of those were skill-based.” 

“One of our goals is to find ways to get our senior leaders out into the community. My team works to identify speaking opportunities, board placement opportunities, and even media interviews for senior leaders. One of our initiatives this year is to work with our senior leadership teams to prep them, find their passions, and give them platforms to reach a wide external audience,” she explains. 

Morgan adds, “In terms of lives impacted, as our strategy shifts toward a workforce development model, our programs are going deeper. Before, we may have given a grant to a nonprofit which touched 10,000 lives. Now, we may give a grant and only touch 200 lives, but we know that program has profound impact. We still measure lives impacted, but are also asking specific questions such as how many young people received specialized training; how many students are going on to declare a STEM major; and how many businesses started out of this program?” 

In 2014, SAP launched a six-year, high school SAP program. In tenth grade, students start earning community-college-level credit while still in high school. They graduate with both a high school diploma and an associate degree in fields that are relevant to the technology sector. They also go through soft skills training, including at least two years with an SAP mentor. In addition, there are opportunities for them to come to SAP offices to do job shadowing and attend SAP conferences and other events. Down the line there will be opportunities for internships within SAP or one of the network of companies that use SAP. 

 “Companies are starting to see there isn’t as much value in a four-year liberal arts degree as there is in knowing how to run systems and have hard skills. These students will be truly workforce-ready after grade 14,” says Morgan.  

In 2014, SAP opened a school called BTECH at Queensborough Community College in New York. “In other cities around the country where we have SAP employees, we are also looking to partner with public education systems and community colleges to launch similar schools. This fall we’ll be launching programs in Boston, Massachusetts and Oakland, California,” discloses Morgan. 

In addition, SAP has partnerships across the country with nonprofits in eight cities. One example is the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE). Morgan’s team works with them to embed technology into their existing entrepreneurship curriculum. “Our employee volunteers help facilitate creative uses for technology such as an electronic scoring rubric for competitions. Additionally, our employees act as coaches for students, and we shape some of their curriculum to help students learn how to create businesses.”

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