SAP Invests in Employee Volunteerism in Emerging Markets

Many companies struggle to get their employees engaged, even in programs as straightforward as volunteering. Some organizations have a policy of allowing employees time off to give back to their communities. These policies strike a good balance of employee engagement and corporate volunteerism. Some (Cisco, Gap and Target, to name a few) pay employees for time taken to volunteer in such programs.

Still other companies like Samsung go a step further, allowing the families of their employees to join in as volunteers for their programs. Some companies commit to an NGOs and make it mandatory for their employees to spend some time volunteering two or three times a year.

Software company SAP has taken a different approach.

The company is working on a different model which involves a ‘paid social sabbatical.’ This program allows selected employees to take take time off and collaborate with NGOs in emerging markets like India, Brazil, and South Africa on a longer-term basis. Fastcoexist reports that this unique employee volunteer program was developed in partnership with CDC Development Solutions.

CDC explains that the program is targeted at ‘high-potential’ employees who are interested in developing their leadership skills and learning more about doing business in emerging markets. These roles are one part volunteer, one part career development as the employees who are chosen to participate as they are in a unique position to knowledge-share between the NGOs, CDC and SAP itself.

Head of CSR at SAP, Brittany Lothe explains: “When we look at the development of CSR programs, we look at four components: how can we leverage employee core expertise, how can we engage multiple stakeholders, what’s the societal impact, and what’s the impact back to our business. These were all incorporated in the planning and development phase of the program.”

The pilot program sent nine employees, selected through an application process, to Brazil. There, they worked in teams with members of three NGOs. One team focused on developing a communications plan for a garbage collectors union.

In October, the company plans to expand the program to India and South Africa.

Corporate volunteerism in emerging markets provide a strong opportunity for employee engagement and development. These programs present employees with new challenges in new environments, thereby perhaps even making them better at their work within the company. Sending employees abroad to volunteer also provides a unique opportunity for companies to scope out emerging markets.

Akhila is the Founding Director of GreenDen Consultancy which is dedicated to offering business analysis, reporting and marketing solutions powered by sustainability and social responsibility. Based in the US, Europe, and India, the GreenDen's consultants share the best practices and innovation from around the globe to achieve real results. She has previously written about CSR and ethical consumption for Justmeans and hopes to put a fresh spin on things for this column. As an IEMA certified CSR practitioner, she hopes to highlight a new way of doing business. She believes that consumers have the immense power to change 'business as usual' through their choices. She is a Graduate in Molecular Biology from the University of Glasgow, UK and in Environmental Management and Law. In her free-time she is a voracious reader and enjoys photography, yoga, travelling and the great outdoors. She can be contacted via Twitter @aksvi and also