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Employment Today, HR Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Employment Today Magazine

Making an impact

Staff from SAP and DB Breweries recently put their business skills to work on a social sabbatical aimed at preparing three social enterprises for transformation. It proved transformative for all involved, says Suranee Perera.

Eight staff from SAP New Zealand and Australia and DB Breweries found out firsthand how challenging, and rewarding, it can be to work in the social enterprise sector. They spent two weeks putting their business skills to work to help three social enterprises dedicated to making an impact in their communities—Fresh Desk, Lifewise and Rākau Tautoko—to tackle big-picture strategic issues in order to better deliver on their commitment to improving people’s lives.

The Social Sabbatical is a volunteering programme in which SAP employees bring their skills in strategic planning, marketing, finance and organisational development to help the social enterprises solve strategic challenges and plan, develop and implement priority programmes. It’s run in conjunction with Ākina Foundation, which identifies organisationally mature social enterprises and prepares them to take maximum advantage of the opportunity.

“SAP’s vision is to help the world run better and improve people’s lives,” says Stephen Moore, executive director, SAP ANZ. “We recognise that social enterprises are all about improving people’s lives, and they understand how to do that better than we do. Partnering with them through purpose-led programmes such as the Social Sabbatical allows us to bring our greatest asset—the skills and expertise of our people—to help deliver more and better services to the communities in which we operate.”

“We became involved because the programme aligned with our focus on creating shared value within our communities and providing our people with development opportunities,” says DB Breweries corporate affairs director, Amber McEwen. “It was a truly impactful and, in some cases, emotional journey for our people. They were inspired by the enthusiasm and passion of the people they worked with.”

All the social enterprises, and all the social sabbatical participants, acknowledged the significant and transformative value they had realised through what can best be described as a series of intensive cultural exchanges.


Urban Hikoi, a programme set up by Lifewise, offers an immersive guided tour through Auckland’s inner city as seen through the eyes of the homeless. It aims to build capability amongst homeless people by providing a skills pathway into work for tour facilitators.

A team of three spent time with Lifewise aiming to help generate employment opportunities and income for those with lived experience of homelessness and to reduce the stigma and exclusion of the homeless community by growing the empathy, understanding and potential support of tour participants.

“While we’re a well-established organisation, we’re early stage in developing a business based on the social enterprise model. We needed to understand what we had to put in place and to develop something that would work for everyone,” said Justine McFarlane, programme lead at Lifewise.

The original brief was to develop a clear, easy-to-understand business plan for Urban Hikoi, providing a strategy for growing the pilot concept into a sustainable, self-managing and valuable social enterprise.

The Social Sabbatical team produced a 7000-word report detailing the business model, market research, target markets, competitors, marketing channels, buyer journey, pricing and product. They documented functions, roles, capacity planning and take-home pay estimates.

“They helped us understand the cost structure and showed us where it might fit in market,” said Justine. “By listening to and recording what we said along the way, they made it more concrete. We can take that and use it as the basis for making grant applications. And because it’s on paper we can share it with whānau and management to determine our next steps, and who wants to get involved.”

The Social Sabbatical team noticed clear differences in approach between the way they and Lifewise worked in terms of meeting culture, documentation, decision making, reporting and measuring.

Justine likens the interaction to the intersection of world views: “People bring different skills understandings and expertise. Because we all think differently you have to take time to explain things. But by taking that time and listening respectfully to all the different voices we were able to clarify and better articulate our thinking. We don’t get enough opportunities to do that.”


Fresh Desk is a Wellington cleaning company dedicated to paying its people a living wage and it is now looking to expand into the Auckland market.

“Our vision is to pay our people equally, pay them what they’re worth and continue to invest in them,” says co-founder Caroline de Castro. “We believe that cleaning is a valuable profession, worthy of respect and one that helps people thrive in a more equal world. We are industry leaders and have a replicable business model in urban centres around New Zealand.

“We value respectful relationships, especially with people at the margins of the workforce. We want to create a world in which there are no more working poor. We show this with fair pay and professional development; we encourage all our cleaners to get NZQA accredited cleaning qualifications. This leads to improved morale, health and happiness. And it helps them form respectful and engaged relationships with clients.”

Fresh Desk’s challenge is to win enough business to deliver on that vision in a market where the lowest cost bid usually wins. Their experience has been that organisations which are themselves committed to paying a living wage will look to work with like-minded companies. That’s how they won their cornerstone Auckland client, Oxfam.

A team of three people from SAP and DB worked with Fresh Desk. Their brief was to help Fresh Desk respond more effectively to RFPs. “We realised that the strength of Fresh Desk was in its relationships and the way it treated people,” says SAP’s Michelle Sutton. “Rather than focusing on the mechanics of procurement, we worked on ways of identifying organisations that would respond to those values and communicating them powerfully and credibly.”

“Originally we thought it would be about getting better at procurement and responding to RFPs,” says Caroline, “but we discovered that it was really about learning a new language—the language spoken by corporates—and gaining the confidence to use it.


Rākau Tautoko is a collective of skilled community development practitioners working in Auckland to develop and support communities. It supports a number of community-led development and empowerment initiatives including community research projects, creating hot desk spaces, working on the codesign of an exemplary early learning hub, managing programmes to support youth at risk, and coordinating healthy wellbeing initiatives. The collective also offers facilitation, training, professional development and cross-cultural engagement services.

“We’re really responsive to the community, and we have to change and adapt according to what it needs. That makes us unique and effective for the community,” says founder and lead practitioner, Tara Moala. “But things can be chaotic. We weren’t pulling together very well, and I was doing too much admin.”

Ameet Balasubramanian and Russell Martin, both from SAP Australia, worked with Tara to help streamline processes, facilitate delegation and improve communication and project management throughout the collective.

They worked together to develop a business model canvas and to identify organisational pain points and potential solutions. Rākau Tautoko practitioners are sophisticated users of a wide variety of digital tools. The problem was channel replication and low integration in a highly decentralised and very fluid environment, with multiple practitioners trying to collaborate on a wide range of projects at any given time. The challenge was to help integrate digital tools and allow them to be used consistently by all practitioners and across all projects.

They recognised that a lean combination of tools—RUUM (a light project management workspace incorporating task management, timelines, file storage and team collaboration) with Google Docs and Xero—would allow them to address the bulk of the pain points. These included business development, responding to RFPs, contracts, project budgeting, project management, delegation, accountability, providing impact data, project reporting, billing and payment to practitioners.

“RUUM has templates that we can use every time we create a project,” says Tara. “It allows us to work with all the people we need to work with. We don’t need massive meetings, lots of phone calls or long email threads and updates to get things done. It brings everyone together with all the information. All the questions. All the answers. And we can all do it in our own time. Collaboration is now much, much easier.”

SURANEE PERERA is head of employee communications, SAP Australia & New Zealand.

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