May 8, 2016

Final posting: Back home, reflecting on impressions and learnings

On May 1, Lufthansa flight 511 from Buenos Aires to Frankfurt landed on time, my husband picked me up at the airport, and an hour later, I was home. Well, physically. It seems that the soul travels a lot slower. It took me a couple of days before I really felt being home. The impressions and experiences during this Social Sabbatical were just too intense...

Before writing this article on my reflections about these four weeks in Buenos Aires, let me first share the link to our Puerta 18 video that we showed during the final presentation:

Documentary of SAP Social Sabbatical team at Puerta 18 
(Written, directed, ... by: Juan Manuel Cafferata - thank you, Juami, for this great video!)

Let me share some stray observations and impressions from the time in Buenos Aires after having a week to reflect on the whole experience:

When preparing for the Social Sabbatical, we tried to anticipate what to expect. But to be honest, the reality was then quite different. It is possible to read about an organization like Puerta 18 on their homepage and Facebook page - but to really feel the work with the kids every day is just a completely different experience!

Which brings me to one key finding about this Social Sabbatical: One central skill you have to bring for such an experience is to being able to listen and perceive! Actually, this should not be anything that blows your mind - this is true for many situations at work, as long as your work requires you to come up with ideas around a given domain.

Creation of ideas: This is something we did a lot during the Social Sabbatical. This covers the collection of information and first drafts of ideas on the one hand. Make sure to have all the necessary input, then start clustering and prioritizing. For this step, the stakeholder input is essential. From there, start discussing, and ideas will start to develop... Loosely, this adapted the essence of design thinking, even without strictly applying all terms and steps of this process.

For us, this methodology - as we applied it - provided several benefits. First, by representing our input on paper. This offered us a method to check whether we were looking at all relevant details - and we could check that the most important aspects were present together with the Puerta 18 team. Second, from defining priorities together, we got an idea on where to start. And third, by starting to discuss the connections between various aspects, we somehow automatically started to come up with ideas on how to approach possible solutions.

Which also means: Teamwork is an essential aspect! Take Rob and myself as an example: Rob is from Marketing, I am working in Development Architecture. I suppose there are few combinations of SAP colleagues whose areas are further apart than ours... - but this combination was just perfect to contribute more diverse points of views and offer different approaches to solutions. Janice brought in a third aspect, that is her experience from her work at financials.

When talking to different people, you often face the problem that they have different expectations and provide you with contradicting input. This problem is very familiar to developers... But here, we didn't face it at all. Quite the contrary: One thing we experienced was the consistency in the information we received. This helped a lot and showed us how serious the goal to work with the kids' ideas is.

Finally, we needed to be very flexible. On the one hand, there were so many things to do, people to talk to, and the team needed to be aligned at all times. We changed a lot between team time and distributed work - someone who needs a structured daily routine probably would feel uncomfortable... On the other hand, let's be honest: Argentina is not a country where people are famous for being on time. Times of appointments are rather guidelines than rules, and schedules of meeting partners are frequently subject to change.  It is impossible to fix a long-term plan and insist on pulling this through - be very open to adapt even several times per day. An opportunity to talk to someone might come in, and thus all subsequent plans will easily be invalidated. We just immersed into this rhythm and had the feeling that we had the chance to speak to all persons we wanted to address, and thus could collect input from many different angles.

Let me close this last posting of my blog with a reflection on the country itself. I was in Buenos Aires in 2001 and 2003 - just around the heavy economic crisis of 2001/2 (see this article on Wikipedia for further reading). Take a look at Koert Breebaart's blog about the economy in the country - you find the link in the column on the right! Since my last visits to the country, the economic situation was a continuous challenge for the country - and this could be seen at many places. See my article on money which is a symptom going back to these roots... Also the sidewalks on the streets with many holes and deteriorating buildings tell the tale of better times.

All in all, the choice of Argentina as a country to host a Social Sabbatical team was a good one. I hope that our client Puerta 18, as well as the other three NGOs working together with the other subteams, will be able to profit from our work, and I am looking forward to following their progress!

With these reflections, I am closing this blog. Many thanks to everyone who contributed to making this experience unique and unforgettable, as well as to all readers of this blog!

April 29, 2016

Final presentations: Puerta 18 and SAP

Be prepared for the last on-site impressions from my Social Sabbatical in Buenos Aires. Any articles after that will be retrospectives.

Yesterday on Thursday, we delivered the final presentation at Puerta 18. But before that, we had a team task to solve: Think about and organize a present for our project assistant Juami! Only a couple of days ago, he told us how he picked up his dog - it was a street dog, and he took him into his flat. Since then, Iván is part of Juami's life. So we thought about buying something for Iván. It is a wooden tray, holding to bowls for food and water. We wrote "Thank you" in several languages on it, wrapped it in Puerta 18-purple paper and then gave it to Juami. I suppose, we really were suprising him!

We literally polished the slides until the last minute - and then had to be shorter than expected, but we think, we got across the most important points. Anyway, for Puerta 18, no breaking news was given, we worked closely together and had regular reviews. We were glad to have José Cáceres, SAP CSR Director for Latin América y del Caribe, with us for the presentation, as well as Carolina Gowland from PYXERA, as well as Cecilia Quiñones from SAP.

After our presentation, the Puerta 18 kids said goodbye to us. First, we played a game - actually, it was the Argentinean version of Kunterbunt or Dobble/Spot It. They also presented some animations that they had done during the last few weeks, such as animations of super-powers - vanishing in thin air and jumping into the picture a meter away, for example. We received a special edition of a 3D-printed item - which I can't explain right now, because I am missing the English words... (I should post pictures after returning home!) 

Thank you so much, Puerta 18 to all the kids and the great staff!!!

Today, all Social Sabbatical participants came together once more at SAP - both the SAP employees and the social partners. Short panel discussions reflected on the experience, and every team was able to talk about what they had delivered. Below, you find pictures of all the teams (sorry, I do not have photos with all team members on it together for all teams!).

Juami receiving his present

Juami shooting scenes for the video - he created a pseudo documentary that was shown today at the final event at SAP. Once he uploaded it, I will share the link!

From left to right: Janice, José, Carolina and Susana during the final presentation

Puerta 18: Susana from the staff, Enrique from the kids

Team Enseñá por Argentina

Team Junior Achievement (my apologies to project assistant Lupi - I didn't get you in the picture!)

Carolina from PYXERA in the audience

Team Puerta 18 - thanks to Koert Breebaart for taking a series of pictures from our panel!

Team Socialab - photo 1

Team Socialab - photo 2

April 28, 2016

Finish: Work on our final deliverables

During our final days, my time feels very limited. This Thursday, we have to deliver our final presentation to our client Puerta 18. At the beginning of this week, we collected our workitems. We realized that we will need to also describe some aspects a bit more in detail. Hence, we decided to start a strategy document. With this, our final handover will consist of three virtual items:
  1. The wiki that I already described in an earlier posting. Our project assistant Juami has done an excellent job in translating the contents, and he also designed a great entry page.
  2. The strategy document (in Word) that we just started on Monday after a brainstorming session (photo: see below) about what should be in it. 
  3. The Powerpoint presentation in which we describe our approach, the process and what we finally created as deliverable for our client.
As this amount of work kept us quite busy, we spent two evenings in the conference room of our hotel. A nearby supermarket (almost every block has one) provided us with crackers, cheese, salami - and some wine! We made good progress, and before I call it a day now (last action: Publish this posting), I feel quite confident. We succeeded in finalizing the Powerpoint storyline and only have few tasks left, such as polishing some slides and re-check the content. Maybe we will even be able to perform a trial run of our presentation. Keep your fingers crossed!

As tomorrow evening, right after our presentation (which is at 4-6pm) a team dinner with special guest José Cáceres (Director of SAP CSR - Región Latin América y del Caribe) is planned. He will also be at Puerta 18 with us - and we will see him once more on Friday during the closing event at SAP Argentina. Our program will be done by Friday early afternoon, and we plan to celebrate the last evening as a team with a dinner. 

Maybe I will be able to write a posting about all this on Friday or on Saturday before leaving to the airport - or will do so right after I returned to my home town Nußloch, back to my husband Peter and our two cats Schrödinger and Kopernikus.

Important tools 1: Our list of workitems

Important tools 2: Our access to cheese and wine

April 24, 2016

Third weekend in Buenos Aires: Further sightseeing and asado

This will be the final article about sightseeing, one or two more about work will follow, and of course some final reflections on the Social Sabbatical.

The last weekend in Buenos Aires now comes to an end. The upcoming week will be busy with finishing the work we have started, preparing and conducting the final presentation at Puerta 18 on Thursday afternoon and participating in the closing event at SAP Argentina with panel discussions of each subteam on Friday. On Saturday, April 30, my flight to Frankfurt will bring me back home and into the office routine at Walldorf.

Let me start in reverse chronology. Today on Sunday, the central event was the asado at Carolina's place. She is our coordinator from Pyxera, guiding us through our work with the clients and providing us ever-patient with any help. Together with her family (husband, two boys, three girls), she lives roughly 40km from our place at Palermo, and to get there, she organized a van for all of us - so we had a group trip there! An asado is a barbeque event, and so we had different sorts of grilled specialities, such as "choripan" - a roll with a sausage in it -, "matambre" - the word meaning "kill hunger", the dish being deliciously seasoned pork -, a cheese that is grilled and eaten with roll, and of course beef that was perfectly prepared and just melted in the mouth! Among Los Buenos there are several team members who usually prefer vegetarian food - and I wouldn't exclude myself from this group right away - but here it was almost impossible to resist. Very delicious, great people, excellent way to spend the Sunday together in a very typical Argentine way!

Many thanks to Carolina and her family for inviting us!!

Knives to cut the meat from the asado

After the asado, it was music time! Rob brought his guitar, which in this photo was played by Juami - many more joined in to sing
Now for some more sightseeing from Saturday: Together with Los Buenos team member Mo, I went to the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (MNBA). The museum contains paintings, sculptures and more exhibits from the pre-Renaissance time up to art of the 20th century. As the weather was looking stable after we left the musem, we decided to pay the La Recoleta cemetery a visit. Although for me, it was the second time, I was excited to return there - after my first visit, I was feeling that I could have spent much more time there! And again, the atmosphere of the place just caught me - so many details to see, so many views and perspectives...

Finally, we hopped on a cab to go to "Caminito" in La Boca. This little street in La Boca is famous for its colorful houses, and you see tango dancers in the streets. It is quite a tourist hotspot, but it was just fun to walk around and take pictures. When taking a turn in the neighborhood, we managed to get some insight into the less touristy areas. Our walk ended at the famous stadium of Club Atlético Boca Juniors. The Argentines are famous for their passion about soccer! And as you can imagine, our team Los Buenos gets involved in some small talk about soccer - having members from Italy, the Netherlands and Germany in the team! (Not covered in this blog: Last Thursday, most of the subteams together with their clients participated in soccer matches in an indoor stadium - after that, we had a common dinner in a Pizza restaurant.)

First, impressions from the MNBA. To be honest, I was most fascinated by the sculptures. Maybe my perception about Buenos Aires being crazy about statues was an influence here...:

Auguste Rodin

La Recoleta cemetery: Should I ever come to Buenos Aires again, I will return to you!

Two birds

Two coffins

Too tempting - just had to take this photo!

Impressions from Caminito in La Boca:

Yeah, I can also take pictures of people... and there were plenty of them in La Boca!

At this time of the day, the weather brightened up and provided a light that made it impossible not to attempt catching it with a camera!

Perspective on the "Bombonera"
And finally some photos from our Friday evening subteam celebration - after returning from the office, our Puerta 18 subteam decided to have a glass of wine on the rooftop during sunset. Of course, I couldn't resist to take some photos:

April 22, 2016

Impressions: Money in Argentina

At work, we had another eventful day today, meeting the founder of Puerta 18, Laura Benbenaste. More about work will come next week. This posting today is dedicated to MONEY!

Argentina suffers quite a bit from inflation. When I was in the country for the first time in 2001, the Peso (ARS) rate was fixed to the US-Dollar - resulting in 1 ARS = 1 USD. I was back in the country in 2003, and during that time, you already got 4 to 5 Pesos per Dollar. As the economy was still rough, inflation stayed high - and today, you get 16 Pesos for 1 Euro, or something between 14 and 15 Pesos per US-Dollar.

Starting with the economic crisis in 2001/2, the access to cash was quite strictly limited - authorities mainly wanted to prevent that the citizens drained too much money out of the country. Somehow, the effect of restricting the amount of cash for withdrawals and making money exchange more difficult still can be experienced today.

For us as travellers, this means that you usually always run low on cash. From an ATM, you usually can only withdraw quite small amounts of Pesos, as e.g. 2000 ARS (~120 Euro). Still, it can happen that the machine runs low on cash and won't give anything to you or allow you to withdraw only 1000 ARS.

The latest peak in the inflation was as recent as December 2015. The Peso fell from 10 ARS per 1 Euro to 16 ARS per 1 Euro. The government did not react with printing any larger bills since then. Hence you always feel like in a game of Monopoly - handling large amounts of 100 ARS bills, which is the largest bill in the country. I have heard that plans exist to introduce new bills of 200, 500 and 1000 Pesos - which absolutely makes sense. However, already now, you might be frowned at when paying with a 100 ARS bill - not everyone is happy if he or she should change such a bill for you!

Why don't I pay with credit card all the time? Well, I try to! But you should always have sufficient cash - failures in the network are frequent, and every once in a while, you won't be able to pay by credit card!

As the withdrawal from ATMs usually is quite expensive - for example, HSBC charges 87 ARS for a foreign withdrawal, irrespective of the amount - you might consider exchanging money. But this, too, might result in a small adventure. First, make sure to bring your passport with the stamp from immigrations. No other ID will do as a non-Argentine resident!! Next, hope that they will accept your bills. One money exchange might refuse large bills such as 100 USD. Another might refuse those and insist on small bills. Of course, you will always have brought just the wrong type! And expect to wait very long! Our latest experience with the money exchange in the Abasto Shopping Center (close to Puerta 18) was quite strange: At least four idle persons were inside the exchange booth - and still, our colleague Janice had to wait almost 15 minutes to finally be assisted!

Even being first in the line might result in a waiting time of 15 minutes

Bills can be totally worn and ugly - or quite new.

With the bills of 100 Pesos (~6 Euro, ~7 US-Dollars) being the largest ones, you carry LOTS of bills - feels like being quite prosperous or rather playing a game of Monopoly 

April 21, 2016

Third week with Puerta 18: Meetings and Deliverables

By the number of postings from weekends - compared with posting about work - you might get the impression that this trip was mainly about leisure. It isn't! Let me talk a bit about what we did at work.

This week was quite intense concerning work. We only have one more week to go - next Thursday at this time, our final presentation to Puerta 18 already is over, and only the final meeting at SAP Argentina on Friday, April 28, is ahead of us. The time really flew by!

Here are some aspects we worked on - beware of business terms! (You have been warned!)

Our client Puerta 18 is funded to a large extent by IRSA, a real estate company. Of course, this foundation needs to agree and support the growth plans of Puerta 18. For this reason, we asked for a meeting with the head of the foundation. This Wednesday, we met Paula Solsona and presented our findings and key deliverables. Our impression was that the meeting was very pleasant, and we hope that we could bring across our ideas and thus leverage Puerta 18's growth!

One central idea that we had was to provide Puerta 18 with operational tools - on the one hand to help with the growth, on the other hand also for operational stuff. We decided to collect all our input for Puerta 18 into a Wiki. This can then be used by the Puerta 18 team, e.g. in order to enter information about activities, workshops, but also sponsor contacts and the business language for talking to sponsors, press, and more.

For this purpose, we are using a Wiki from - it is free and quite easy to use! Quite some time was spent into thinking about how to structure the Wiki - after all, a LOT of information shall be contained while still providing a good user experience.

Today, we presented our first ideas to the Puerta 18 team. A demo showed how team members could be entered into the system. Here, they can update their own profile. By using searching and tagging, lists of all team members can easily be automatically created - both for all staff and per location (which will be interesting as soon as Puerta 18 has more locations).

Fortunately, the feedback was very promising - we are eager to learn whether and how the team will use the Wiki! For now, our main portion of work will consist of filling the Wiki with life!

While some aspects such as the Vision and Mission statements are already ready for final reviews, our approach to business language still required some clarification and structuring. This is why we spent quite some time on brainstorming today. We found out that we should take a look at this from two different perspectives: 1. What can Puerta 18 offer to potential sponsors? 2. Which results would appeal potential sponsors?

Brainstorming in our team is applied as follows: We decide for a topic and goal to discuss. Then we start to collect as many aspects as possible around this topic. By clustering them, we start throwing ideas at each other. This dynamically transfers into a development of different ideas that we discuss on the spot. From there, we try to derive a structure, results, and workitems. Very frequently, we came up with ideas that neither of us would have thought about before! This is really teamwork at its best!

In our session today, we found out that the reasons for a sponsoring can vary widely - and we figured out more about Puerta 18's unique DNA. Tomorrow will surely be very busy once more with more work on this - and we will enter our results directly in the Wiki!

One more week to go - and we also have to prepare our final presentation!

Brainstorming about Business Language

April 20, 2016

Introducing: Juan Manuel - project assistant of the Puerta 18 team

This Social Sabbatical is also some sort of pilot: Based on the experience that language sometimes is a problem, Pyxera decided to try something new. Every of our four subteams here in Buenos Aires are collaborating with a project assistant. The task of a project assistant is to contribute to the team work with translations, but also by participating in the teamwork altogether.

So let me introduce our team assistant today: Juan Manuel Cafferata, 21 years old, in his third year of studying political sciences at the UBA (Universidad de Buenos Aires). He is also very active in filming and doing animation films - in our breaks he showed us quite a couple of great clips and short films! Have a look at his homepage.

For our team, he is a great help. His English is very good, so the translations go very smoothly. As both Rob and I speak some Spanish, but Juami - how he likes to be called - is a great help to keep us all on the same level of information.

Apart from the language, he has become a full member of the team, contributing ideas and collaborating on solutions by summarizing and structuring information as well as searching for solutions.

For our team, this pilot is definitely successful, and we can only strictly recommend to Pyxera to keep this idea and provide every future Social Sabbatical team with a project assistant!

Juan Manuel Cafferata - our project assistant