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Design thinking

How SAP brought design thinking skills to 1,000's of global learners

A global cohort boosted skills and launched real projects without access to broadband

SAP is is the world's leading enterprise resource planning software vendor. Based on Germany, they have a presence in 130 countries.


Global, distributed
Role of learner
Global community of entrepreneurs

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“We have been focused on the topic of building digital skills for a very long time. We have programs where we go into rural parts of the world to teach coding and life skills — but how could we potentially scale our offerings?”


▶️ Reached over 6,000 students who likely could not otherwise have accessed SAP programming
▶️ Supported an average of 8 out of 10 learner course rating
▶️ Partnered with EY to collectively reach over 15,000 learners with low broadband access

The challenge

SAP have long built out a company culture around design thinking — that is, a creative framework for solving problems that keeps people at the heart of its process. Part of this culture centers around supporting those who create positive economic, environmental, and social impacts. In particular, reaching learners with low access to educational resources, and helping to enable them to make a difference.

Nish Pangali, SAP’s Global CSR Program Director, explored ways to reach underserved students far before the pandemic. She and her team established programs in rural parts of the world with mobile vans, bringing coding, life skills, and design thinking workshops on-site. Nish found that while this was effective, the method was not scalable.

It was to this situation — alongside an escalating pandemic — that SAP applied their design thinking to. Their answer, make learning scalable by reaching learners precisely where they are.

How SAP used Arist to reach globally distributed audiences

SAP worked with longtime partner EY to develop a learning pathway that covered entrepreneurship — as delivered via an EY course to similar audiences — followed by design thinking. The lightweight nature of text-message-based learning enabled EY and SAP to build massive audiences with little-to-no friction. The ability to trigger courses around events, say, the completion of another course, makes intelligent content delivery (the right topic, at the right place, at the right time) even easier.

In SAP’s course they built an 8 day progression that could be completed in 5 to 10 minutes a day directly within WhatsApp. For students who wanted to go further, lessons linked out to additional information. But the main focus was on building habits with new information presented to students. In particular, the course focused on:

- Identifying unmet needs of people in their communities
- Launching ideas and projects
- And learning and iterating quickly on ideas

By delivering learning directly within an App learners already had, an immediately applicable record of design thinking ideas is now on the mobile devices of thousands of young entrepreneurs.

Learning snapshot

❓Now tell me, with that exercise, did you just design something?


🤔 I think you may have an insight after this exercise, but a key pillar of design is not just to have insight (through observation and ideation), but to implement new ideas. This is done by prototyping, testing, and iterating ideas as quickly as possible.
If you're interested in learning more about why observation and reflection is critical, no matter who you are, give this (commencement speech with over 4 million views) a listen:

Impact of Arist for global design thinking

SAP was able to multiply the number of students they reached, moved to action, and collected learning outcomes on by many fold through their engagement with Arist. Rather than mobile learning vans that could only teach to a handful of students at once, SAP’s course was able to reach over 6,000 students across North America, Latin America, and India (all during a pandemic!).

Among students, they measured their satisfaction with their learning and application of learning with an average score of 8 in 10. In the words of learners:

"I loved and enjoyed your teachings. This way is convenient. I learn this in my leisure time. It made me feel education is very accessible from anywhere"

"This approach to learning is amazing"

More than half of all students completed each exercise, which helped to support real-world projects being launched with an innovative design thinking framework.

In partnership with EY, SAP was able to reach a larger audience of over 15,000 learners who were learning entrepreneurship in tandem with design thinking. SAP’s course is still reaching under-resourced learners in a low friction way to this day.


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