I recently had the opportunity to interview Katie Morgan, SAP‘s Head of Corporate Social Responsibility in North America.
Why do you mentor? From the corporate perspective please provide three reasons to mentor that impact you internally, and externally.
1. Mentoring is one of the most effective ways to positively impact a student. Our employees are talented, knowledgeable, experienced, and incredibly interested in giving back to the next generation. From the CSR side, SAP views its employees as one of its greatest resources. To be able to connect our employees with students is a way not only to foster a more open, productive conversation, but it also helps to build a relationship between the student and the employee.
2. What’s more, it also strengthens our employees’ ties to the local community. It is our employees who drive a core focus of our CSR program, which is volunteering. Mentoring allows us to strengthen the ties of our employee base and the local community, and expose our employees to new opportunities. It also presents the opportunity for our employees to give back via skills-based volunteerism. While our CSR efforts are focused on volunteering more broadly, we try to encourage skills-based volunteering when possible.
3. As we look to diversify our technology workforce – both at SAP and across the tech sector, it’s vital that students from higher need backgrounds make connections with successful individuals from industry. Networking and personal referrals are one of the best ways to secure jobs, so this gives students access to a new type of network they may not have had access to before.
Please share some history of how mentoring began with your company. Who was involved? Why? And how has it changed over time?
For years, we’ve had different types of mentoring – mostly informal and driven by employees with local community organizations. In 2014 we launched our first national virtual mentoring program, with BTECH high school in Queens. From there we’ve seen other programs grow, both virtually and in person with varying commitments required from the mentor. And we’re continuously experimenting with ways to provide a path for our employee base to engage in long term, meaningful relationships with students.
Can you describe your Corporate Social Responsibility (“CSR”) and its relationship organizationally? How many operate the program? How many employees participate (and number of hours)? Can you share your financial commitment?
a. The mission of SAP CSR is to equip the world’s youth with the skills they need to tackle society’s challenges and thrive in the digital economy.
b. CSR at SAP operates with a level of independence which we view as necessary to achieve our mission. That said, our mission is aligned with the business, in that it is in SAP’s interest to ensure that enough students are prepared for the digital economy. Things like, for instance, artificial intelligence and virtual reality are no longer concepts; they exist today and are being adopted by organizations in all industries. The reality is that technology is only becoming more embedded in our daily lives, both at home and in the workplace, so for up and coming students, they must be technology-fluent.
c. Two fulltime employees operate the North America CSR program. We also have contractors who support in various capacities. But the strength of our CSR programs is our employee involvement. Last year almost 11,000 employees volunteered 42,000 hours across North America. In our signature volunteer initiative, Month of Service, we had more than 8,000 employees participate in 370+ projects, volunteering more than 28,000 hours. We depend heavily on our employee Volunteer Ambassadors to do the on-the- ground organizing of employees, we have a network of well over 300 who are active.
Can you share one example of a project that has impacted an SAP mentor and a mentee?
a. In partnership with national health and wellness nonprofit GENYOUth, SAP hosts a Social Innovation Series—officially called the SAP Social Innovation Series. The series occurs in six cities across the US; 2016 marked the initiative’s second year.
b. The series has middle- and high-school aged students, operating individually or in teams, develop and pitch—“Shark Tank-style” to a panel of judges—their creative, entrepreneurial ideas to improve health and wellness in their schools and/or communities. From each city, 1 to 2 finalists are selected—10 in all—to receive $1,000 to build out their idea. They are also entered into a national voting competition. In 2016, the winner received $10,000 to execute their idea, as well as a trip to the Super Bowl.
c. Before the students pitch their ideas to the panel, they spend time building out their ideas and refining their pitches. They spend hours with their mentors, brainstorming ideas then flushing out their ideas, and finally practicing their pitches. At the end of the day you see that mentors and students have a unique bond.
One SAP mentor said, regarding his mentoring experience with SAP’s Social Innovation Series’ “Through mentoring, I got to see firsthand how one student was able to transform her idea into this glistening, successful project. I also watched her confidence build throughout the day as she practiced her pitch and became more passionate about her idea. Once she realized that she could actually be the person who would lead this, she really came alive.”
A 14-year old mentee agreed, “Working with an SAP mentor taught me a lot and allowed me to see the problem I was trying to solve in a new way.”
d. This video highlights the experience of two SAP employees from Dallas who served as mentors last year. They remain heavily involved and committed to mentoring students when the opportunities arise.
We also work with the ADCAP platform to engage students with mentors virtually after the events are done.
Please share your wish list for Educators to better prepare students for the work force.
a. There’s no doubt that many educators—given the task at hand—do a fantastic job preparing students for the workforce. That said, if there was one thing I would wish to see from educators, it would be to focus less on preparing students for college and more on preparing them for careers.
b. Our education system often prizes conformity and chastises educational diversity. I think it’s important to not stigmatize learning and talent differences. When a student thinks, or learns differently, he or she shouldn’t be made to believe that they are not smart. In an ideal world, thinking differently and creatively and taking risks would be prized as much as conformity. We see this in programs that are infusing design or entrepreneurship- students are more likely to take risks and think differently. In essence, students should feel encouraged by school; they would embrace their talents and learning styles, which would hopefully foster a lifelong passion for learning, and would be the best preparation for entering the workforce. This is easier said than done, of course. But in terms of a wish list, that would be it.
c. Being more practical, a foundational understanding of technology is necessary today. This is true if one wants to work in the tech industry or not. Even “non-technology” companies, like Nike, Hershey and MOD Pizza are becoming technology companies. The line is being blurred. We’re seeing it across all industries, where businesses adopt technology and build or rebuild their business. Think retail and the growing pressure to adopt ecommerce, or car manufacturers and how they’re racing to build self-driving cars. We want ALL students to be excited about this transformation and feel like they can help to drive change.
Do you feel your mentors are adequately prepared for their mentoring roles?
a. This depends on the depth of the commitment and where it is taking place. Virtual mentoring programs need a different kind of training than, say, in person does for longer engagements. Overall mentors are adequately prepared.
b. For first-time mentors, training, especially around cultural sensitives, is essential. If they’re mentoring students from completely different backgrounds they may not know what is appropriate to that student and their culture. This is especially true for multiple engagement mentoring. We work with our non-profit partners to give our employees a glimpse into lives of the students they’re working with prior to meeting them.
What is your five year plan for mentoring? Will it continue, change…?
a. Yes, our mentoring program will continue and even increase.
b. SAP runs many mentoring initiatives that will see our employees become more deeply involved in mentoring. My goal would be to have a mentoring portfolio, where employees could choose what suits them the best, from virtual, to one or two engagements, to connecting them to organizations which facilitate long term commitments.
c. Right now we have:
i. Multiple, in-person commitment:
SAP North America’s Early College High School Program is a good example. In four cities across North America—New York, Vancouver, Boston and Oakland—SAP has partnered with local government and nonprofit organizations to set up early college high school programs. These programs will see students enter high school and, in five or in six years, graduate with a post-secondary college degree—in many cases an associate’s degree and in many instances in technical field, like science or information technology. Mentoring is 10 modules, developed to match learning outcomes , and every 3rd module SAP employees come into the classroom in person.
We have seen over the years hyper-local programs successfully engage employees through these multiple commitments, from Sequoia High School in Redwood City, to Citizen Schools in Boston
ii. One-time, in person:
We have many partners (Junior Achievement, Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, GENYOUth – which hosts Day Long Design Challenges, where employees mentor a student or team throughout the day). This is our most common opportunity.
As an add-on to the GENYOUth ADCAP program, a mentoring program takes place on the platform- this is entirely virtual and is project based, where students ask questions about their projects/programs on the platform itself and assigned employees respond. (www.adcapyouth.org)
In 2017 we will also open ”icouldbe” again as a national virtual option for employees who wish to participate. (icouldbe : http://icouldbe.org/ is a virtual mentoring platform, their mission is to provide at-risk middle and high school students with an online community of professional mentors, empowering teens to stay in school, plan for future careers, and achieve in life. )
Interview by Patty Alper
Author, Teach to Work: How a Mentor, a Mentee, and a Project Can Close the Skills Gap in America