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03 Sep. 2014 | Comments (0)

Last month, we posted Part 1 of a Q&A with Alexandra van der Ploeg from SAP, looking at the company's approach to pro-bono. In Part 2 of the piece, Alexandra discusses some of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into developing SAP's Social Sabbatical program.

Q: What are the attributes of a high-performing employee that will make them a candidate for the Social Sabbatical program, and how do you select them?

A: High-performing employees are selected through our people management processes and yearly review, but in addition we look for someone who is motivated, committed, adaptable, and has great problem-solving skills. The ideal candidate understands the triple bottom-line impact of the program and is driven to use their professional skills and competencies to achieve sustainable impact for the organizations with which we work.

Another factor is diversity. We have learned that we can maximize the participants’ experience by putting highly diverse teams together, so while it is not a primary factor, diversity plays a role in selecting the candidates.

Our selection process works as follows:

  • We invite the target group to apply to the program. In addition to the usual data points we ask from them, they must write two essays outlining their motivation and what they hope to learn from participating in the Social Sabbatical. These essays form the heart of the application.
  • After screening all applications (we receive about 360 applications for each program cycle), we conduct interviews with a shortlist of candidates and our selection committee decides to whom we will make an offer. This entire process takes about three months.

Q: What are the key relationships that must be developed internally to bring these programs to fruition?

A: One of our key relationships is with our human resources department, specifically the groups that work on talent development. As leadership skills are such a large component of the program, it is essential that we align and collaborate very closely with the teams, so that we can ensure our program leads to sustainable and long-term leadership development of our key talents.

One other key relationship is with the local SAP offices in countries in which the Social Sabbaticals are taking place. We are very closely aligned with regional CSR staff and SAP executives, which means we benefit from local expertise and build longer-term relationships with client organizations, thus maximizing social impact. For the local SAP office, the Social Sabbatical offers a great opportunity to demonstrate SAP’s passion for social responsibility in their market.

Q: Please describe what you look for in a nonprofit partner, and explain the process of engaging them.

A: The key is that the client organizations fit with our focus areas, as part of the SAP CSR strategy. We look for partners that strengthen the ecosystem around workforce development (and these can be NGOs, academic, private sector and governmental organizations), or emerging social entrepreneurs that have a proven concept, potential to scale and innovative business model that addresses a societal need.

It is also very important that there is buy-in at different levels of the organization to host a Social Sabbatical team, and that they are able to develop a clear work scopefor the program participants, based on the needs of the organization.

In terms of how we engage with them, this is really where the relationship with the local SAP office comes into play, but even more importantly, the partnership we have built with PYXERA Global. We work closely with these partners to identify and select the right organizations and PYXERA Global mainly drives the process of scoping the projects.

Once the Social Sabbatical teams are on assignment, they take on primary responsibility for the relationship. Ultimately, they drive the partnership. Most of our participants feel so passionately about the organizations they work with that they start to identify very closely with them. This usually goes beyond the actual assignment, as all participants have indicated that they stay in touch with their client organizations and work on follow-up activities, such as coaching sessions for CEOs of nonprofit organizations, and developing a reward system for entrepreneurship mentors. The local SAP office also builds on the relationship established through the Social Sabbatical once the teams leave.

SAP will be co-hosting an interactive, one-day workshop in Berlin on the power of global pro-bono volunteering on 25 September 2014. Click here to see an agenda.

  • About the Author:Alex Parkinson

    Alex Parkinson

    Alex Parkinson is Principal of Parky Communications, a communications agency specializing in sustainability and CSR reporting and communications. He serves as the Co-Leader of The Conference Board Cor…

    Full Bio | More from Alex Parkinson

  • About the Author:Alexandra van der Ploeg

    Alexandra  van der Ploeg

    Alexandra van der Ploeg has been with SAP since 1999. She started with SAP Switzerland in charge of management development and over the course of the next ten years held various managerial positions i…

    Full Bio | More from Alexandra van der Ploeg


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