A Socially Responsible Ecosystem - How SAP and Partners Work Together to Spur Social Change

A Socially Responsible Ecosystem - How SAP and Partners Work Together to Spur Social Change

by Angela Dunn


Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is evolving and strategic CSR is part of the new model: helping to advance economic and social conditions to create value for business and society. This article explores SAP’s CSR strategy with a focus on the twin pillars of education and entrepreneurship, which serve as the foundation of the company’s vision for shared value.

Thursday, October 17, 2013 - 5:25pm

CONTENT: Article

One of the leading trends in the area of corporate social responsibility (CSR) is the evolution from philanthropy and doing good to creating shared value for business and society. What is different about strategic CSR? Rather than focusing on disaster relief or volunteerism, strategic CSR produces shared value by advancing economic and social conditions. Through the evolution of its CSR strategy, SAP now focuses its efforts on enhancing education for underserved youth and supporting emerging entrepreneurs in select fast-growth and emerging markets. These twin pillars of education and entrepreneurship are the foundation of the company’s vision for shared value. Entrepreneurship is critical to the economic development of a global society; entrepreneurs grow businesses that create high-quality, sustainable jobs, which in turn improves the quality of life for many families.

Improving People's Lives: Corporate Social Responsibility at SAP

CSR initiatives take a major leap forward when global 1000 companies put their weight behind these programs. But when a company of that size leverages the weight of its entire ecosystem, the results are even more substantial. SAP’s CSR group has tapped into the power of its ecosystem to help partners expand their CSR efforts and programs, with remarkable results. Let’s look at a few examples of how SAP and its partners are working together on socially responsible programs.

Versino Gets Hooked in Haiti

For employees at Versino AG, an SAP partner with headquarters in Germany, the devastating earthquake in Haiti three years ago sparked what has become an enduring passion for helping to develop the society. The collaboration between SAP and Versino provides a model of CSR success for other companies to follow.

After the earthquake left Haiti in ruins, the CSR team at SAP immediately began planning how SAP and its partners could go beyond disaster relief and help the people of Haiti by strengthening the country’s long-term economic development. One of the team’s first steps was to partner with Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohammed Yunus to found Yunus Social Business Haiti (YSB Haiti) with the goal of establishing an infrastructure to create social businesses in Haiti. These businesses would create jobs and income opportunities while also addressing the country’s most pressing social needs.

While YSB Haiti had social goals and was set up as a social business with business processes similar to those of non-profits, the SAP CSR team understood that it needed a rock-solid infrastructure to achieve its goals. SAP sought to identify a technology partner that could customize a solution for managing YSB Haiti’s operations. That partner was Versino, a specialist in SAP Business One.

Versino was tasked with adapting SAP Business One, a solution designed specifically for small and midsize companies, to optimize the operations of YSB Haiti, which is funded through donations, loans, and the generosity of investors. As Walter Roth, Versino’s project manager for the YSB Haiti implementation, says, "We had to get creative with SAP Business One" to customize the solution to manage the social business’s income, its operations, relations with the social businesses in Haiti, and reporting to investors.

In discussions and workshops with colleagues from YSB Haiti, the Versino project team worked to develop a sustainable concept that could be put into action. "The management team had experience in this area; our job was to build out that know-how," says Roth.

According to Roth, the scope of the project was complicated by local infrastructure and technology issues. For example, limited internet connectivity and a lack of solid computer skills for the social business entrepreneurs meant the team had to think of tools and web apps that would work in this difficult environment. As a result, they focused on web apps that would function on mobile devices because they were more reliable in that area.

But while Versino’s project team focused on the technical aspects of customizing the solution for YSB Haiti, it was also getting excited about building a better society for Haiti through its work with the organization. "The spirit of the people at YSB Haiti and their engagement and passion to help others impressed us," says Roth. "They don’t just give the local community money and hope they do what is right with it. They actually work with them to develop business plans and see it through to the finish until the social business is financially self-sustainable." Versino became more and more committed to the project’s social goals. While SAP financed the project, Versino provided the data center and waived the ongoing maintenance fees.

The work in Haiti became a pilot for Versino’s SAP Business One for non-profits solution. "It was exciting to work with this team and see the meaningful benefits our efforts could produce," says Roth. "Many well-intentioned projects have died because they fail to consider which tools would be most useful and easily operated. It’s important to invest time in the planning phase."

Versino has identified the need for this sort of help in other areas and believes the customized version of SAP Business One can be used as a template and rolled out to other non-profits. Versino plans to continue its engagement with non-profits and is even considering a line of business focused on that market segment. Perhaps most importantly, through this project, the Versino team "discovered their passion for social responsibility, not just in Haiti, but overall," says Roth.

Infosys Improves Education in India

With more than 155,000 employees, SAP partner Infosys is arguably one of the most established IT companies in the world. Fitting for a company of its size, its social responsibility platform rivals that of other leaders in the industry. In 1996, the company established the Infosys Foundation with the goal of improving the health and education of people, with India as its canvas. The Foundation focuses on key areas, including health care, education, culture, destitute care, and rural development. Infosys donates up to 1% of its after-tax profits annually to efforts benefitting society.

Aruna Newton, Associate Vice President at Infosys, says, "At the grassroots level, the Foundation provides access to education in rural areas. Many schools are ill-equipped in terms of resources and staff. Studies discovered that children didn’t have access to books. So by stocking school libraries, we are making the written word available to children."

As children get older, the Infosys Foundation helps them make important choices about career options. This program takes a study-center approach, inviting educated people from urban centers to coach a group of children in math and science. "This program attracts many volunteers among Infosys employees," says Newton. Similarly, a program known as SPARK brings children to Infosys centers, where they spend a day with professionally experienced people. "This is a program aimed at raising aspirations," says Newton. "Our goal is to inspire them to want to do something similar or better."

With 900,000 engineers graduating every year in India, many need support to get their skills up to industry standards. Infosys’s internationally recognized Campus Connect program improves the employability of engineering students. According to Newton, the program is so successful that it has also been adopted by the Malaysian government to improve the IT capabilities and strengths of its students.

In total, these programs positively affect more than 250,000 children every year. Not only are these education efforts paying off in the rural villages of India, but Infosys is also feeling the impact in its own recruitment efforts. Newton says that 65% of new hires at Infosys are from second- or third-tier cities in India — the very people who may have benefitted from the Foundation’s rural development and Infosys’s education programs.

Techno Brain Teams Up with SAP in Kenya

SAP recognizes that promoting education and training is one of the best ways to improve the problem of chronic youth unemployment, an issue affecting the technology industry as a whole. The Eurozone crisis and deepening recessionary conditions have led to severe skills shortages in many industries and regions. Last year, SAP launched a program in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) to address this issue. Called Workforce of the Future, the program is aimed at developing information and communications technology (ICT) skills as well as business acumen among students from disadvantaged backgrounds in Africa. To achieve this goal, SAP collaborates with government officials, customers, and partners. One partner that responded positively was Techno Brain Ltd., a new SAP partner that focuses on training. The company trains more than 10,000 people a year in eight centers worldwide. SAP is working with Techno Brain in Africa to accelerate the Workforce of the Future initiative.

According to Manoj Shanker, Group CEO of Techno Brain, last year the company hired 100 college graduates in Africa and has recently decided to purchase 10 acres of land outside of Nairobi, Kenya, with the aim of building a Techno Brain Academy where young graduates can be trained in all functions, from technology, to HR, to sales and marketing. SAP plans to work with Techno Brain on formal African skills development programs focused on increasing the number of qualified young professionals who can contribute to the company’s expansion plans for Africa and the ecosystem.

"It’s not purely self-interest," says Shanker. "As our industry grows rapidly in new regions, the need for skilled people grows, too." There are two objectives to putting education and skills at the center of Techno Brain’s expansion plan: to build its own workforce, and to create a center of excellence for SAP skills in Africa.

Shanker knows the level of IT skills in Africa very well. Fifteen years ago, he went to Africa and built the company "from scratch," as he says. "We knew IT would be a big requirement. Although many people viewed Africa negatively because of what they heard in the media, I saw firsthand that the young people here had the same aspirations as young people anywhere. What they were lacking was a helping hand."

The Bigger Picture

From Haiti, to India, to Africa, these are only a few examples of what can happen when an entire ecosystem of companies focuses on the common goal of developing socially responsible programs (see the sidebar for additional examples). From suppliers, to partners, to customers, every member of the SAP ecosystem plays a part in driving these efforts and provides the inspiration for SAP to continue its corporate social responsibility mission.

To find out more about SAP’s CSR initiatives and learn how you can get involved, visit www.sap.com/corporate-en/sustainability/corporate-social-responsibility.epx.