Social sabbatical Beijing: Make the world a better place to live in

As our dear mentors warned us at the beginning of our Social Sabbatical time in Beijing, we were getting more and more tired as the time was passing by. Combining hard work for our NGOs and Beijing’s every day rushed life, we were getting less and less sleep for the sake of bringing more and more impact and experiencing more and more of a city that cannot be experienced in a month’s time.

What happens when you use all of your energy one day and have time to renew only half of it during the night? The following day you still need 100 percent so you go -50. If you continue with that for every day at some point you just realize maths and physics have nothing to do here. It is about what motivates you to squeeze yourself and how you feel after that. So in our case, we were starting to notice the difference we make, starting to realize the harder we work the bigger results we have. Time was just slipping away making us nervous about meeting the deadlines.

Work/life balance

As our work/life balance was taking a new meaning, I had to define it for myself.
Long hours of commuting to and from office in Beijing, unpredictable lunchtimes between 3 and 90 minutes, minds engaged with thousand problems to solve all the time, short meetings during evening hours, time for family in friends at home (it is never enough!), time to eat the next full of new flavors Chinese cuisine, time to get lost in a new district or a hutong, time to catch a taxi (it could take up to 37 minutes according to our official records), time for reflections and a beer.

Having in mind you are there in a team of complete strangers that are to become your friends (you may feel them like a family, realize it when you have to say goodbye) after being together nonstop for a month. So how can I tell apart work from personal life when the people I interact with are always the same? I cannot. For me, it is always the people that are important and it is people who can make it a good or bad experience. And I would rather not sleep but make the most of my experience with SAP bests and such a noble goal.

Conclusion: Success and happiness are not a result of better differentiating personal from work life. Then here comes the next question – can we stop following the ‘improve the balance of personal and work-life’ and go to ‘be happy with having them both as a single concept‘?

China Youth Development Foundation

The SAP Social Sabbatical program is a unique, short-term assignment for SAP’s key talents who work in highly diverse, international teams to solve business challenges for the education and entrepreneurial sector in emerging markets, while strengthening their leadership competencies, cross-industry sector know-how, and intercultural sensitivity. Our goal is to apply workplace expertise to solve business challenges and build capacity for three of the most significant NGOs in China.

My team of four was honored to work with thе China Youth Development Foundation.


The China Youth Development Foundation (CYDF), founded in March 1989, is a national public foundation in China. CYDF seeks support and assistance from both domestic and foreign organizations and individuals concerned about the well-being of Chinese youth and children. The foundation promotes education, science and technology, culture, physical education, health, social welfare, and environmental protection to China’s youth and children. It also works to enhance and foster relationships among young people all over the world.

CYDF is committed to empowering young people and to improving the environment for their growth. It provides a range of aid and services, empowering youth and fostering development in rural areas. Since its establishment, CYDF has partnered with more than 38 foundations at both provincial and municipal levels, and it has also worked alongside companies and other international organizations to foster youth development. The foundation has won an array of awards, including the National Hero Group for Earthquake Relief award, the Excellent Non-Governmental Organization award, the China Poverty Elimination award, the China Charity award, and more.


CYDF projects

CYDF has several major projects housed under its flagship program, Project Hope. Project Hope provides financial support for students and teacher training, and supports college students, vocational school students, and other underprivileged youth from rural and urban areas. It also has an international division, Project Hope for Africa, which provides funds for primary schools in Tanzania, Kenya, Burundi, and Rwanda. Project Hope is the largest project of CYDF, and it has made a significant contribution to the improvement of school conditions and the educational environment of rural schools.

In 2004, the 100 anniversary of the birth of Deng Xiaoping, the Deng family donated Deng Xiaoping’s library (approximately RMB 1,400,000) to establish the Chinese Youth Science and Technology Innovation Award Foundation. The China Youth Science and Technology Innovation Award Foundation seeks to honor the legacy of Deng Xiaoping by connecting global innovation and talent among the world’s youth.

Since 2014, the China Youth Science and Technology Innovation Award Foundation is referred as the Xiaoping Award Foundation, and is placed under the control of the CYDF. This new initiative seeks to not only connect innovative youth globally, but also seeks to cultivate young talent by popularizing science and technology through a new innovate platform.

The Xiaoping Award will honor global talent, award prizes, provide seed funding to young entrepreneurs and innovators, and empower young talent to innovate and solve societal issues and challenges.


Our contribution

The objective of our consulting assignment at CYDF was to contribute to building a business plan and creating processes to develop and professionalize the Xiaoping Award Foundation. With the project being a new initiative of CYDF, coupled with the high aspirations around the development of this new project, CYDF hopes to improve global branding, develop an outreach campaign, design programmatic tools for the program’s implementation and management, and design a roadmap for the rollout of this project.

So after four weeks of hard work and collaboration with CYDF, potential target audiences of the Xiaoping Award, colleagues from SAP and friends we produced a huge amount of deliverables organized around the following topics: award definition, award process, communications, website, human resources. The Xiaoping Award definition includes recommendations how to make the award unique and differential, its mission and vision, creation of special awards, the award definition thoroughly described. Refined processes of the award ensure its success from operational perspective. Key processes we proposed optimizations for are award application, selection, judge acquisition, award ceremony, evaluation of the project.

Communications ensure the message is sent and we want to send it to the whole world so we developed a communications strategy, go global plan, naming and logo suggestions, accompanied by useful tools like social media toolkit and roadshow templates. The website is the face of the project so we paid special attention to recommend and describe functionality for it, to make sure it will be ready for the international environment and to provide online communication templates. Another crucial for the success of the project area is the human resources. We analyzed the organizational structure, developed responsibility map and SWOT analysis to propose job profiles for the staff needed and volunteer acquisition tactics.


Angels are watching over us

The first thing that came to my mind when I heard about Social Sabbatical was that I could bring value to society when kicked out of my comfort zone for a month. First thing when I got to the location – Beijing, China – magnitude, millions of people, millions of social problems to solve?

How can a handful of SAP talents create some change in enormous China? My team of four had the privilege to work with the China Youth Development Foundation – the biggest Chinese NGO bringing young people a better life.

So you would ask what the challenge to work with a world-known well-established foundation with a good reputation and super successful projects is?

First, they need the new project to become at least as successful and famous as their name building project Hope. So how do you compete with the winner for so many years? Second, they need to go global and become internationally recognized as unique and differential.

The challenges

Big challenges but trivial problems, let’s assume. So if you had the time to research, plan and implement, it is easy to make the difference.

But how do you make a difference when you lack many people, lack time, lack deep domain background, lack so many things you usually have and but haven’t realized so far?

Here comes the golden mix of being good at what you know you can do and being better at what you know you cannot do.

Because out of the box thinking doesn’t mean you have to lose what you already have to be able to find better solutions.

The secret of the out of the box magic is to be able to enter any other box without really leaving your box.

So we started building the perfect team. Where would you even start? How are you going to ensure this is the best approach? What if you see it’s not at the end of your time there?

How often can we afford to start a team from scratch? How often can we apply startup spirit?

Dream big

Let me be honest – four people no matter how talented they are, cannot fix several problems in China for a month, they cannot even fix one problem to affect the magnitude of China.
Even being helped by their friends and colleagues. Here comes the power of dreams. Big things start with bigger dreams.
We didn’t want to be the one-month then leave visionaries who came with great ideas to be buried after they leave. So our goals were to educate the real doers, the people responsible for our ideas, knowledge, and plan and to make sure we can support them after we leave.

We were just giving our best without trying to control the output and the decisions that are to be taken.
We did our best to send our message to any level of the organization to be sure our advice is propagated. That is our sustainability plan.

Social Sabbatical is not just a one-month once-in-a-lifetime experience. You cannot be making the world run better for just one month or just once in your life.
Once you start it, you do it for good.

Here come the angels. They make sure we help to make one’s dream come true.
Hopefully, they watch over us and witness tremendous successes.

Dear angels screenshot from Beijing
The screen of recognition

Post sabbatical thoughts

After every up, there will be a down. That is not a part of a poem, poems are idealistic. That is the reality. Social Sabbatical is a cool once-in-a-lifetime experience but it ends in exactly four weeks. I was blessed to spend two more weeks in the country of my assignment but this was just to postpone the post sabbatical depression. So while my friends from sabbatical were already struggling with getting back in track with real-life home, I was just struggling with getting Chinese people to understand my pro-Chinese. Yes, I realized it’s harder to ask a billion people to speak some English. My Chinese vacation was coming to an end and I was wondering how I could minimize the depression of going back to the standard way of living and working.

So after my last Tsingtao at the Beijing airport and having a seat next to a loudly snoring Chinese individual, I decided that I could start my post-depression elimination strategy. It would include doing something really cool every day, something meaningful and bringing value to me or to the people around me, why not making the world run better? I had this Sunday to go home and deal with Pandora box – my luggage for the last month and half. I had to do some cleanup and preparation for the following exciting first working week. So basically day one from my strategy would be to survive Monday, known as the black Monday. The initial splash into working reality…

The end of a dream….or the beginning of a new one?