Since it was founded in 1984, Cisco Systems’ mission has been to use technology to change the way we work, live, learn and play. The company’s network, data center, collaboration and security products have allowed organizations to completely reimagine the way they operate. However, 2020 was a year like no other in our lifetime, and the world was looking for someone to step up and help us navigate these challenging times. One company that did, was Cisco, which shifted its mission statement from the previously mentioned tag line to “Powering an Inclusive Future.”
Cisco embraces a broader societal mandate
It’s important to understand what Cisco means when it talks about an inclusive future. In this case, it’s a world where everyone has equal opportunity. Cisco’s previous “Work, Live, Learn and Play” mission did have an element of inclusiveness to it, because the democratization of the internet brought new opportunities to people. For example, for the first time ever, the internet let women in countries where they could not work be employed in other countries. Its new mission takes this concept of inclusiveness and makes it core to everything the company does.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been a core component of how Cisco operates for decades but the pandemic brought change. When COVID-19 turned the world upside down, Cisco was better positioned than most to continue supporting customers, partners, and employees as they transitioned to remote environments. During this time of crisis, the leading IT and networking vendor launched several free offers and trials for its Webex and security technologies; allocated $2.5 billion in financing to help keep businesses running through its Business Resiliency Program; and prioritized delivering critical infrastructure to first responders and healthcare customers. Cisco also donated $53 million in cash and personal protective equipment (PPE) to support the most vulnerable. This included $10 million to Destination: Home to support residents of Santa Clara County in California who lost income from COVID-19.
Social justice is front and center at Cisco
Despite a shift in priorities last year, Cisco stayed committed to CSR and stepped it up in the area of social justice. As a matter of fact, social justice is front and center with Cisco leadership, all the way up to Chairman and CEO Chuck Robbins. The company regularly conducts honest “check-ins” with its employees and is vocal about fighting systemic racism. Cisco’s social actions align with the United Nations’ Global Compact principles, which the vendor signed in 2001 and supports today.
These actions are outlined in the 2020 Corporate Social Responsibility Impact Report, encompassing everything from Cisco’s diversity programs to community outreach to protecting the environment. There’s too much to cover from the 150-page report in one post, but the company is making strides in driving inclusiveness.
Here are five key highlights of how it is enabling an inclusive future.
1. Impacting the Community as a Company:
Cisco developed an integrated digital platform called the Community Impact Portal, which houses programs employees can join to make a positive impact on communities. The programs include digital advocacy for causes employees care about, donating, volunteering, taking action to help the environment, and more. The Community Impact Portal relies on digitization, data analytics, and the principles of behavioral science to drive participation. There is a feature personalized to each employee that shows whether they took action.
Additionally, employees earn participation percentages for their team and Cisco as a whole. Those who haven’t participated in a cause get “nudged.” At the end of the year, for example, a Community Impact chatbot in Webex Teams personally reminds employees to join a program. According to Cisco, more than 63,000 employees took action in the last fiscal year, including generating more than $33 million through donations and Cisco Foundation matching gifts and contributing 491,000 volunteer hours across global programs.
2. Supporting Diverse Employees and Suppliers:
Cisco partners with more than 20 diversity and inclusion-focused organizations to attract, hire, and provide development programs for diverse talent. Cisco continues to host development programs virtually during COVID-19 by supplying the technology necessary for individuals to participate in these events.
Cisco also has a supplier diversity program that offers opportunities to companies owned by individuals from disadvantaged categories, including small businesses, women-owned businesses, minority-owned businesses, veteran-owned businesses, and historically underutilized businesses. Cisco introduced procurement tools and processes that make diverse suppliers easy to find. For example, Cisco partnered with its catalog supplier to add a feature that highlights products sold by small or diverse-owned businesses in search results to increase their visibility.
3. Investing in Education and Digital Skills:
Cisco Networking Academy is one of the largest and longest-running global corporate social responsibility programs. The skills-to-jobs program provides inclusive access to digital skills and training in areas like advanced networking, network automation and programmability, cybersecurity and Internet of Things (IoT), among others. In fiscal year 2020, 2.3 million participated in Networking Academy, bringing the total to 12.6 million students worldwide since the program’s inception in 1997.
Cisco also encourages existing employees to expand their skills through Degreed, the vendor’s continual learning platform that combines internal resources with external materials such as TED Talks and LinkedIn Learning courses. The platform utilizes machine learning (ML) to serve up personalized content recommendations to Cisco employees, half of whom have become active users since 2018.
4. Partnering with Social Change Agents:
One of Cisco’s long-term goals is to help vulnerable groups, such as people facing homelessness or displacement, through the use of technology. Technology for Impact is one example. The five-year, $10 million initiative is designed to help Mercy Corps test and invest in advanced technologies in humanitarian settings. This includes virtual reality (VR) therapies for posttraumatic stress disorder and digital platforms that give refugees access to information and support services.
Cisco’s Tactical Operations (TacOps) is another initiative that restores mission-critical communications in disaster-stricken areas where first responders and people need support. The TacOps team is supported by employee volunteers who deploy and maintain crisis communication networks. According to the UN, the demand for these services is growing as more people face displacement due to conflict, natural disasters and other factors.
5. Enabling Progress and Digital Acceleration:
Cisco has been busy building solutions such as Silicon One, which reinvents network design and lays the groundwork for systems of the future. But the ultimate goal is to ensure that all global citizens are part of the digital revolution.
For this reason, Cisco launched long-term Country Digital Acceleration (CDA) programs with government and industry leaders to modernize infrastructure, foster innovation and education and create new jobs. A CDA program involves reviewing a country’s national digital agenda and meetings with the heads of state. Cisco then comes up with a budget and multiyear plan that is tailored to local needs, such as public Wi-Fi, cybersecurity, healthcare, education, utilities and transportation.
Zeus Kerravala is an eWEEK regular contributor and the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. He spent 10 years at Yankee Group and prior to that held a number of corporate IT positions. Kerravala is considered one of the top 10 IT analysts in the world by Apollo Research, which evaluated 3,960 technology analysts and their individual press coverage metrics.