SAP Social Sabbatical is a pro-bono consulting program that enables SAP employees to share their knowledge, skills and expertise with non-profits and social enterprises (check this link for further details).
In this blogpost, I will share some highlights from my Social Sabbatical experience during a recent assignment to Hanoi.
Turn back the clock to April 14th, 2023 — group of 12 SAP colleagues (‘almost’ strangers) crisscrossed the world to embark on a journey to Hanoi, Vietnam. Our minds full of varied emotions and many questions —
- “Will we be able to fulfil expectations of SAP, our client and ourselves?”,
- “Can we seamlessly adapt to the new working environment, outside of the very familiar corporate SAP ecosystem?”, “How will the team dynamics unfold of this very diverse and multi-cultural cohort”,
- “What if I feel homesick during these 4 weeks?” etc. etc.
Fast-forward to today —
- first feedback and impressions from our host organizations have been extremely positive, motivating and fructifying,
- every one of us has the smiles of very friendly Vietnamese people etched in our memories, we are already missing the time spent together and sharing Instagram stories and WhatsApp memories from these 4 weeks,
- and most importantly we are back with our families sharing the souvenirs & beautiful stories from Vietnam.
For me (and many more of us), three crucial elements that encapsulate our Social Sabbatical (SoSa) assignment are — Learning, Impact and Contentment. SoSa experience, has genuinely been an amalgamation of making a meaningful impact, finding contentment and embracing fun while experiencing unique learnings all the way:
Each one of us are going back enriched with invaluable learnings that will stay with us for a lifetime. These span various areas, such as from the Business spectrum (e.g., problem solving methodologies, strategic frameworks, competitive analysis knowhow etc.), Digital technologies (SEO, Social media strategies, digital marketing), Soft skills & leadership development, Social skills, and many more.
What are those unique learnings from the SoSa assignment that stood out for me?
- Power of Listening and ‘un-learning’:
We were bubbling with so many ideas before arriving here, and had to hold back our thoughts until we heard our host organizations with rapt attention & open mindedness (Week 1 was primarily focused on hearing out to our client). Not only this helped us to get a better end-to-end understanding of clients’ business model, but also helped us identify topics that were not spelled out in the initial problem description. I believe this set the foundation of the next 3 weeks, and proved to be very significant for delivering impact. (#ListenAndLearn)
This was a key take away that should be taken back to our daily work routines. Going back to the foundational principles of setting aside some time for understanding the problem before arriving at solutions & ideas, will foster comprehensive problem-solving and yield better outcomes.
- Cross-cultural Team Dynamics:
How did we react when individuals from four very diverse cultures (often different continents), each used to a particular working style, came together to deliver a tangible difference in a short span of 4 weeks ?!
To be very honest, some of the well-known team formation models did not fit here — we had to navigate through varying working styles, opinions, and experiences. The key was to constantly remind ourselves about the bigger goal (making difference to our host orgs), and be agile, flexible, respectful and accommodative to different perspectives.
This experiential learning is very unique to SoSa, and I believe will undoubtedly prepare us better for future projects in our regular work environment.
The primary purpose of any Social Sabbatical assignment is to create a meaningful impact, and I’m thrilled to see the positive response received by all four sub-teams from their respective host organizations. To maximise the impact for our host organizations, it was absolutely important that all our deliverables were ‘simple’ to implement and seamlessly integrate into their ecosystem. (#KeepitSimple)
As Ms. Tam (CEO, Viewzz) shared during the closing event “SAP team was able to identify all our diseases, and provide the correct medication for these”.
The feedback we received and the stories of the impact created were truly heartening. It reinforced the power of teamwork and collective wisdom in achieving significant outcomes. This experience has reignited our passion to live SAP’s purpose of “Help the world run better and improve people’s lives”.
But how did we manage to keep our spirits high, when for some of us it was a first to leave our family & friends back home? As our mentor wisely advised during the kick-off event — “Don’t forget to also have fun and do experience your host country, you might not get this opportunity again”, we literally lived this advice and blended our SoSa experience with several fun elements:
We embarked on weekend trips to explore Vietnam’s beautiful landscapes and immerse ourselves in its rich culture. Team dinners allowed us to savor the delicious local cuisine, while karaoke nights, shopping sprees, and other activities added to the fun and bonding within our team.
As we set sail on the next phase of our Social Sabbatical journey, I would also reflect on the element of contentment felt with this experience. While I recognize that this is just the first milestone and start of many more engagements, I also feel a sense of pride and happiness when I look back at some of the wonderful things we achieved during this short stay. The passion, ‘can-do attitude’, feedbacks and smiles, were all genuine and visible to all. These outcomes not only contribute to a sense of contentment, but also makes me hungry to keep going (reminds me of ‘Ye Dil Maange More!’, a popular Indian slogan).
The Hanoi cohort leaves Vietnam with unforgettable memories, and deep sense of gratitude for being amazing hosts. Until next time, “Cảm ơn Vietnam” — we will miss you !