In 2006, then-President George Bush reached out to Cisco and other major corporations. He wanted to see how the business sector could help the Middle Eastern nation recover from a conflict that had displaced one-quarter of its population and destroyed entire communities.
Cisco CEO John Chambers traveled to Lebanon, and he was moved by what he saw. Tremendous structural damage was everywhere. Businesses struggled to recover from the crisis, limiting job opportunities. Lebanon’s slow and expensive information technology infrastructure cut off its residents from the rest of the global marketplace.
Even worse, its young people – known for being smart, creative, well educated, and energetic – had lost hope for the future. They felt they had to leave Lebanon to find professional success.
From this visit, the Partnership for Lebanon was born. Cisco and four other corporations – Intel, Microsoft, GHAFARI, Inc. and Occidental Petroleum – joined forces to help Lebanon improve its networking technology infrastructure and move its people toward long-term economic growth and stability.
To achieve the goal, Cisco committed to investing US$20 million in a variety of programs. But its involvement went far beyond financial capital. The company dedicated technology networks – its own products – and assembled human networks – its employees, Lebanese government officials, business people, and staff and volunteers from nonprofit organizations – to build programs that would be meaningful and sustainable for years to come.
“We saw a country that could achieve many goals itself, but with proper assistance could achieve them at a much faster pace and rebuild the country for the future, not just rebuild back to where it was before,” John said after his visit.
Ingrid Salloum is one Partnership for Lebanon success story. She worked as an intern at Cisco headquarters in San Jose, California – one of 100 young Lebanese people to gain valuable, hands-on job skills and professional connections while working for six months at home or abroad.
“The Partnership for Lebanon and its internship program changed my life and the lives of my fellow interns forever,” Ingrid said. “It has given me hope that, moving forward, not only is there a possibility for a future in Lebanon, but that in some small way, with my acquired training and skill set, I could play a role in shaping that future.”
In the spirit of the program — to reverse “brain drain” of educated people from Lebanon – Cisco helped place interns in full-time jobs, whether with Cisco or partner companies, in Lebanon. Ninety percent of the interns found employment in their home country since completing their internships. Ingrid, for example, now works full-time as a Cisco project manager for global education, based in Beirut.
The partnership also sought to engage young Lebanese students with technology early and often. For those of us living in the United States, it’s the rule, not the exception, that public schools are equipped with Internet access. But in Lebanon, not one public school was wired before the 2006 conflict.
Through the Partnership for Lebanon, Cisco connected 52 public secondary schools, provided Flip video cameras, and trained teachers and students to use technology in the classroom.
Soon, the students were using the Internet to do basic research, making videos and uploading them for others to see, and creating presentations that teachers in other classrooms could use.
The Lebanese Ministry of Education was so impressed by the benefits of using technology in the classroom that officials committed to wiring the rest of the public schools and equipping them with broadband access.
The Partnership for Lebanon officially ended in July 2011, but its impact will continue, thanks to the human networks created over the last five years.
With a US$1 million grant from Cisco, two microfinance institutions (Al Majmoua and Ameen) have disbursed more than 720 loans of about $2,000 each to help people integrate technology into their small businesses. The loans are being repaid quickly, keeping the cash flowing so even more people can apply for loans and grow their businesses.
Those who received loans include a mechanic who bought a diagnostic computer, a photographer who bought a high-resolution printer, and a designer who hired two new employees.
In its final act with the Partnership for Lebanon, Cisco will make a US$10 million investment of venture capital in promising small- and medium-sized businesses – an infusion of cash that will create jobs in Lebanon and stimulate its economy.
We only have space in this blog post to cover a few of the dozens of programs that comprised the Partnership for Lebanon. But even these few examples illustrate how partnerships between private companies, nonprofit organizations, and public agencies – when combined with technology — can bring meaningful, long-term growth, and prosperity to people in all parts of the world.
What social issues are you passionate about? How could technology and human networks be combined to multiply the impact for people in need? Please share your ideas or examples!
Read more about the Partnership for Lebanon.