What has kept me at SAP is the people here. No one can do a job by themselves, and CSR is a great example of that.
When he talks about CSR and the part it plays in his life, Chikara Sasamoto’s soft voice gets even quieter, yet it becomes very much more intense.
"Do you know there are about 600 children’s homes in Japan?" He pauses to let the enormity of that stat sink in.
"There are more than 27,000 children in those homes, from the age of one upwards. They are there for a variety of reasons, but about 60 percent of the kids are there because of some form of child abuse. They have to leave the homes when they are 18 (although this can be extended until 20) and very few of them have the skills – or the mentors, or any sort of support system – to assist them in the massive transition from living in these homes to finding their own accommodation. They now have to find somewhere to work in order to sustain themselves, yet few of them have the basic knowledge of how to dress or interact at an interview."
His abiding affinity for their situation comes from the case of a particular boy whose mother died when he was only a year and a half old, and who therefore has no memories of her at all. The lad was just 12 when his father died and he was confronted not just with the loss of a second parent and being orphaned before he reached his teens, but the added prospect of being sent to one of the many children’s homes.
"This kid had no family. No siblings. No blood relatives to take care of him. The only person he had in his life was the family’s maid. They had no common DNA, no family connection at all. But the maid said she would raise him. Think about what a momentous decision that would have been, not just for her, but for both of them. He’s now a man, married, with two children, and he’s never forgotten her extraordinary decision. She’s still alive. She’s 98 now, and she lives three hours away from where he and his family live. But he still goes to visit her as often as possible.
"He refers to her as his mother and when people realize how old she is, they say, ‘Oh, your mother must have had you fairly late in life’. He just smiles and says yes. Because it’s true, in a strange kind of way.
"Because child abuse is still one of the top reasons why kids are in these homes, it has a flow-on effect. When we were conducting CSR activities in the homes several years ago, I was informed by the non-profit organization (NPO) not to ask any child why he or she happened to be wearing long sleeves in summer, as many of them have tried committing suicide by cutting their wrists. It was something that struck a chord with me, especially because I know someone who tried to kill himself during his junior high school days.
"In this context, I would like to spread a simple but heartfelt message. Be appreciative of all things, and never take anything for granted. Even being part of a two-parent family is something that should never be taken for granted. About 20 years ago, I almost lost my hearing, due to high-stress levels and it made me look at things in a totally new light. We should be appreciative of everything.
"SAP is the ninth company I’ve worked for and this is my longest tenure at any company. This is my 11th year here. I guess the value I see at SAP is that we’re able to work globally with various people and to think globally as well. I’ve worked for a global company in the past, but SAP doesn’t just stop at having a value and a brand name, we go further and improve people’s lives. My current role as CSR lead for Japan obviously was not the first role I did here. My background is software sales and was initially hired as a senior AE.
"I firmly believe that SAP has more talented people that I’ve seen before. Everyone has that one goal that everyone’s working for and it’s good to work in an environment like this. There are challenges like any other company, but challenges are good. You get to grow and you get to learn and to me SAP is one of the great companies because you get to experience that.
"I still work as part of the President’s office here and I’ve worked for four presidents in the past. I guess the momentum that kept me going was that I got to work with senior executives. I mean, how often would you get the chance to work directly with such people like this and absorb their intellectual value? That’s an enrichment process in itself. The opportunity to meet with and interact with the top senior management of a global company like SAP is very rewarding. I still belong to the President’s office, but I look after CSR.
"From a CSR perspective, we’re trying to use our technology and talent as much as possible. But as everyone knows, we don’t sell off-the-shelf software packages nor do we have a cookie-cutter approach. I found a way to use ERPsim, which uses S/4HANA and Fiori as one of the tools for CSR and it has proven to be very successful in that respect. ERPsim is based on Fiori as a front end and while it’s not designed or meant to be used for CSR, it allows junior high school, high school, and university students to get exposed to a true business solution that everybody else is using around the world. It’s not the only program I use, because we have others as well.
"What has kept me at SAP is the people here. No one can do a job by themselves, and CSR is a great example of that. Taking ownership of CSR is challenging. It’s very challenging. It keeps changing, it’s nebulous. It changes shape all the time and sometimes it doesn’t even have a shape, so then you have to create that shape in a really meaningful way.
"Providing quality education to youths in Japan is my critical mission. I need to be thinking every day about what events I can plan in terms of a cohesive overall strategy. I need to look at what we can work on as an outcome, and that’s all about purpose and why SAP is involved in that particular program. It’s also about maximizing that outcome. There are more than 600 NPOs in Japan, but the reality is that we can’t do everything for everyone. There are a lot of people in need. People look at Japan and see it as a happy, safe country, with advanced technology, but it was still such a shock to me when I found out how many kids are in children’s homes in this country. It was shocking.
"Being global doesn’t always mean being bilingual, but in my case it’s certainly helped. My dad was American and my mother was Japanese. I was born and raised in Tokyo but I went through an international school from kindergarten. My dad was an ex-US Marine, so we used to live on the military base when I was a kid. And because of this, even though I was in Japan, I was actually using dollars more than yen, simply because that was the currency used on the military base in Japan. Everything I needed was there on the base. I didn’t need to go to the cinema outside, I didn’t need to go to a bookshop outside, I didn’t need to go to the doctor outside. My whole ecosystem growing up in Japan was essentially American and I guess that would be pretty unique.
"So I have this western culture and I graduated from university in the US. Being global wasn’t new to me because of this, but I can understand the nuances of cultural differences.
"Family for me is very deep, for a variety of reasons. My family is very important to me because they are the only thing I have in my life. I used to work crazy hours some years ago, and I thought, wait a minute, I’ve got to slow down. I would come home past 10:30 at night from work, quickly eat, go to sleep and get up early and go back to work. It was shocking to me that one Sunday night my daughter said to me, of course in Japanese, ‘I’ll see you next Saturday, daddy,’ because of my hectic schedule. That was the moment it actually hit me, so I put on my brakes.
"There are a lot of companies in the world, be they in Tokyo or Osaka or Singapore or anywhere. But there’s only one family. And I can’t be hopping around on family matters. That realization gave me relief. I said, well, if something happens, at least I can find another job, but I ain’t going to find another family."