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"Compared to this, a normal holiday is boring"

Dr. Jan Teichmann on a humanitarian mission to Pretoria

Melanie Pölking 23.09.2014
What does an SAP High Potential do? He goes to South Africa to help others less fortunate! Dr. Jan Teichmann is a development architect for SAP. In this position, he is a very busy man. Meetings with the development department and with customers, conferences, telephone calls at 9 o’clock in the evening – in his job, long working days are not uncommon. Although he believes they are no reason to neglect his social responsibilities.
Dank SAP ins Social Sabbatical
Jan Teichmann legte ein Social Sabbatical ein

When Jan Teichmann heard about the Social Sabbatical, it made him sit up and take notice: “I read about this on our intranet. I knew straight away: I would really like to do that.” The physics graduate has been working at SAP for the past 18 years. Currently on SAP HANA, a high performance in-memory data and application platform with numerous functional features, for example prognoses or text analysis. In 2012, Jan Teichmann joins the High Potentials as the result of an internal selection procedure, thereby becoming a potential candidate for a Social Sabbatical. The software company grants certain employees a four-week sabbatical to engage in a social project. During that time, they become involved in a humanitarian mission abroad where they apply their expertise to a completely new environment. All for a good cause, of course.

Helping people help themselves

“You were able to state three mission destinations of your choice in descending order,” Jan Teichmann recalls. He decided on South Africa and was allocated to PEN, a church-run charity with 150 employees in Pretoria. PEN is dedicated to helping the poor. Collecting donations, working with homeless people, establishing housing schemes for teenagers, getting people jobs that will enable them to stand on their own two feet in the long term. To achieve this, PEN rents out offices to South African microenterprises – at a third of the going market rate. “However, 27 of the 30 microenterprises were in arrears with the rent,” Jan Teichmann says. “Almost all of them were struggling to make their business survive. That is exactly where we came in.” Together with three colleagues who had also been flown in to help, as he had been, he tried to find a solution. “Our focus was clear: business development.”

Mission impossible

Once the initial euphoria about this new meaningful task had worn off somewhat, another feeling spread amongst the helpful High Potentials – Jan Teichmann remembers: “The Big Question everyone asks themselves straight away is: ‘Oh dear. What can I of all people do to help these people?’ All of us were afraid of failure. You are not really sure whether you can actually make a difference.” The team gradually familiarized themselves with the situation and local conditions, spoke to the micro-entrepreneurs on numerous occasions, drove the PEN project managers and others involved in similar projects mad with their sheer endless questions, and slowly collected all the information they needed. “At some point, we realized what should be done. We were then able to advise PEN and to present our improvement suggestions,” Jan Teichmann says. The team divided the suggestions into four categories: strategy, marketing, finances and training. Besides first measures, such as the decorating of shop windows and the printing of business cars, they also focused on new participation criteria and the project’s strategic direction. Jan Teichmann: “Suggestions from all four categories were directly and actively implemented.”  

Social Sabbatical in Südafrika
Jan Teichmann mit seinem Team in Südafrika

Broadening the own horizon

Jan Teichmann, who is also involved in church-run youth projects at home, found his stay enriching. “To be able to help is very important to me. As far as the Social Sabbatical is concerned, I thought the combination of spending some time abroad and at the same time doing something meaningful was perfect. Compared to this, a normal holiday is boring.” Broadening the own horizon, understanding how things work in emerging countries, which products are welcome and which ones are not, adjusting to the technologies available and meeting new people and getting to know their culture – he says that all these are the enjoyable side effects of a Social Sabbatical. “For me, personally, it was just the right thing as PEN is a church-run organization.” I was able to identify 100 percent with its goals. Probably for that reason alone, I would consider another Social Sabbatical any time.”