Work with Meaning – Corporate Social Responsibility at SAP

Sarah Grewing 23.03.2016
The topic of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is being discussed everywhere these days. Socially responsible corporate conduct, sustainability, and social justice are all themes that have been an essential part of SAP’s corporate strategy for many years. Gabriele Hartmann, Regional Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, started with the software company in 2002 when it was just beginning to build up its Public Affairs department. “In my 14 years at SAP, I have watched the development process from the company’s initial CSR steps to its current strategic orientation,” she says.

Today, Ms. Hartmann leads SAP’s Corporate Social Responsibility activities in Middle and Eastern Europe (MEE). She spoke with careerloft about current projects, her day-to-day work at SAP and the significance of modern technology to CSR.

Ms. Hartmann, what is a typical day at work like for you?

Gabriele Hartmann, Head of CSR at SAP
Gabriele Hartmann, Regional Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at SAP

A typical day involves mainly writing emails and making phone calls. Team meetings are also a daily occurrence. That’s where we work together to come up with new project ideas and move existing projects forward. Each of us has their own area of responsibility, but we also talk about and discuss things with one another a lot, until we all feel we’ve got it right.

My tasks include handling internal inquiries from employees, managing partnerships and collaborative efforts and the strategic further development of all programs as well as project development and budget administration.

An important, and often the most painful, part of my work is saying “No.” We get so many inquiries, both internal and external, that we cannot take all of them into consideration.

What has the development of CSR at SAP been like for you in recent years?

I think that our path in this area probably resembles that of other companies and reflects the general development of the topic. In the early 2000’s, CSR was still mostly a philanthropic endeavor. There wasn’t really a firm budget. Money was often disbursed using a “watering can principle” – and as a result, the things that were funded rarely had much to do with the actual work of the company. Today, that approach is seen only where companies (usually small and mid-sized ones) are taking their first tentative steps in the area.

Most companies, including SAP, have recognized that Corporate Social Responsibility and the associated funds can only be used meaningfully if CSR is closely linked with the corporate objective or the company’s vision. I am really proud of how openly SAP’s corporate leaders took that path and that they are involved in this work in such a serious and dedicated way. And that may be one of the most important reasons why we at SAP now have this solid program, because the Executive Board of the company is convinced of CSR’s importance and gives us space to grow and develop further.

Why is the topic of Corporate Social Responsibility so important to SAP?

CSR has become an integral component of our corporate strategy. We see ourselves as a department that gives visible expression to SAP’s vision, namely to “help the world run better and improve people’s lives.” We implement this vision through our programs, which focus on providing people with abilities that help them meet the challenges of our society and the digital world of work.

And we do that with the best of what we have: Our colleagues, who can make use of their talents as coaches or mentors in our initiatives for example. We also use our technological knowledge, with which we are able to help young social start-ups in particular. And last but not least, we involve our societal ecosystem, in which we have built up very strong partnerships with non-profit organizations.

What role does modern (SAP) technology play in social projects?

In general, digital technologies play a very big role. SAP is one of the largest funders and project sponsors in the Social Entrepreneurship area. In our Startery program, there are many newly founded companies in which IT is at the heart of the business idea. Many SAP employees are involved there as mentors; they pass on their technology knowledge and skills.

Is there a project that is especially important to you (perhaps personally)?

The social entrepreneurship programs with Social Impact Start and Ashoka. But personally definitely projects that involve soccer, or sports in general: Sports as a powerful societal force and technology as a tool for really changing things – they just go together. And the projects which are enabled by our partners like streetfootballworld or the DFB Foundation Sepp Herberger are just unbelievably great. It’s fantastic that we can make a contribution there.

What projects are next in line?

We are starting on two important new projects: One of them involves bringing our flagship entrepreneurship program Startery for new social entrepreneurs into a more modular format so that even more young founders can benefit from the program and our mentors. And by the way, the call for proposals for that program opens soon.

We are also currently developing some projects that use soccer as a tool so that young people in particular can help meet the challenges of our times using IT. In Germany, the project is called APPSTOSS AWARD and will be put on for the third time at the U19 European Championship this summer in Baden and Wurttemberg. And together with streetfootballworld we are organizing hackathons with young people and our developers at SAP’s main global development sites. The next one will take place in Silicon Valley after Easter.

Which famous person would you like to dine with, and why?

Well, I am a big soccer fan myself. My favorite team is Borussia Dortmund. Since projects that combine sports, youth and technology are very important to me professionally, I would like to dine with BVB player Mats Hummels, partly so I could convince him to support our projects in the area of “Football for Social Change.”

Thank you for the interview!

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