The following is an excerpt from the 2020 CSR Impact Report, published on December 8, 2020.

In our digital world, education and technology go hand-in-hand. Digital media, hands-on labs, and virtual tools can help enliven curricula and keep students connected. And education in digital skills can open the door to careers in technology and other fields.

As a leading technology company, Cisco is committed to offering inclusive access to digital skills training and supporting those who use technology to educate. After all, even the most transformative innovations have no value if people don’t know how to use them, or don’t have access to them.

This insight helped inspire Cisco Networking Academy, the world’s largest and longest-running corporate social responsibility education program, through which we’ve trained over 12.6 million people in digital skills over the past 23 years across 180 countries. The program covers introductory to advanced networking, network automation and programmability, cybersecurity, IoT, digital literacy, and entrepreneurship. It is a skills-to-jobs program that offers, not only courses, but also connections to top-quality employment opportunities through the Talent Bridge program. Courses are designed so that any teenager or adult with an Internet connection can participate, regardless of technical skill level or background. In this way, Cisco is helping address the global skills shortage, as well as creating opportunity for millions in today’s and tomorrow’s workforce. Globally, Networking Academy reaches a geographically diverse population of students, including 34 percent from the Americas, 29 percent from APJC, and 37 percent from EMEAR, 44 percent of which are from Africa and the Middle East.

Additional programs, grants, and donations are helping bridge the technology skills gap within the U.S. military community and develop 21st-century talent. One program helps veterans and their spouses gain tech skills and careers after their military service. We also created an animated video series for students in grades 4-8 to help them develop problem-solving skills, and make grants and donations of our technology that help improve access to quality education worldwide.

Social investments in education

Educational opportunity is a strategic social investment focus for Cisco and the Cisco Foundation. Through grants to nonprofits, we fund programs that use technology to:

  • Expand inclusive access to primary and secondary STEM education
  • Improve student attendance, behavior, and overall course outcomes
  • Increase student STEM engagement and career exploration
  • Build teacher capacity and nurture quality proven practices
  • Leverage STEM partner networks

We follow a proven strategy focused on early-phase solutions, where funding is most needed and where we can make the biggest difference. Learn more about this strategy and the many organizations that Cisco supports in the ESG Reporting Hub. Below are a few U.S.-based partners who have received our support and are now making a meaningful impact.

New Teacher Center (NTC) provides leadership development and coaching for new teachers and school leaders serving students with the highest needs, in order to combat education inequities and empower communities. Cisco supported development of NTC’s technology-driven solutions, including Classroom Connection Program, which protects teacher-student relationships from the harmful effects of stigma and bias.

With more students learning from home, it’s more crucial than ever for teachers and parents to stay connected—but this can be difficult for households that speak a language different than the one spoken at school. TalkingPoints bridges the communication gap between parents and teachers by automatically translating messages between them, allowing teachers to interact with parents and other guardians in over 100 languages. The result: improved learning outcomes for students and better teacher-parent relationships. Cisco provided cash grant support to help TalkingPoints develop its mobile platform.

CommonLit creates free curated, culturally relevant digital education resources in English and Spanish for students in grades 3–12, and has seen a massive increase in demand for its programming during the COVID-19–related school closures. In the first few weeks of the pandemic, CommonLit saw a sevenfold increase in traffic and a tenfold increase in parent sign-ups compared to prior weeks. Thanks to a grant from Cisco, students can now use CommonLit’s Annotation Tool to take notes directly on their digital reading assignments and receive feedback from teachers.

Strengthening our impact

The Cisco Networking Academy course portfolio—and associated resources for students and instructors— is always growing. In fiscal 2020, we evolved our highly regarded CCNA courses to address the growth and automation of networks. We also created a new Programmable Infrastructure pathway based on the increased importance of programming skills. In addition, we added two new training courses, CyberOps Associate and DevNet Associate, that align with certifications. To increase interest in the new cybersecurity certification and support students in their career aspirations, we engaged prospective students with events, quizzes, and a virtual career fair to showcase the field’s potential. We also introduced digital badges for students who complete courses and have passed an assessment, verifying their skills for employers. Students can now easily display these badges on social media profiles and résumés as an official indicator of their credentials.

One of Networking Academy’s priorities is to make technology a more inclusive space all around the world by empowering students from diverse backgrounds, education levels, and experiences. In the United States, diverse populations participated in the program, with 14 percent of students identifying as Black or African American, 14 percent as Hispanic or Latino, 10 percent as Asian, and 2 percent as American Indian or Alaska Native, or Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.

In terms of gender diversity, 26 percent of student participants in fiscal 2020 were female, with some regions reporting even higher representation. For example, the Middle East had 29 percent female representation, Latin America had 30 percent, and India and South Asia had 31 percent. Greater China was highest at 34 percent female participation. The Women Rock-IT program continues to motivate young people to consider STEM subjects, through inspiring broadcasts from female IT professionals and entrepreneurs. It also offers participants free course enrollment into Networking Academy. As a direct result of this program, these young people took more than 550,000 courses such as Introduction to Cybersecurity, Introduction to IoT, Programming Essentials in Python, Entrepreneurship, and Linux Essentials

In addition, we have diverse representation of learners with disabilities and reached more than 56,000 students with disabilities globally in fiscal 2020. To achieve this, academies have adapted their educational approaches in unique ways depending on the populations they serve. For example, the Royal National College for the Blind in the U.K. created a tactile network topology kit to allow students to design and “feel” network maps. AbilITy Academy, made possible through a partnership with the Institute for Career Development in New York City, helps students with disabilities develop teamwork and presentation skills, allowing them to benefit from peer-to-peer instruction. The Employers’ Federation of Ceylon Training for Persons with Disabilities, in Sri Lanka, serves students with vision, hearing, mobility, and cognitive disabilities, and makes appropriate adjustments to meet all students’ needs.

Ensuring learning never stops

As the COVID-19 crisis unfolded in 2020, we saw the shift toward digital education accelerate in real time. We saw trends we’d previously expected to take root over many years instead become reality almost overnight. With years of experience delivering online curriculum and leading-edge learning tools at global scale and meeting the diverse needs of learners worldwide, the Cisco Networking Academy team was well-positioned to respond quickly with resources for both instructors and students as they navigated their new virtual learning environments.

Cisco offered free Webex access to allow educators to go virtual quickly. We also organized webinars on best practices for remote teaching in multiple languages and time zones and provided Cisco Packet Tracer, a simulation and virtualization tool that mimics the experience of working with real equipment. In addition, we launched a campaign to attract new students to participate in our free self-enrolled courses, encouraging them to explore a new skill from home.

Supporting servicemembers and their spouses

Cisco recognizes the value that veterans bring to the workplace. For nearly 10 years, our Veterans Program has helped U.S. servicemembers and their spouses find jobs in the IT industry, and continues to help thousands of people gain skills and find jobs every year.

Our signature programs include the Veterans Talent Incubation Program (VTIP), a 20-week program through which veterans can access free Cisco Certified Network Associate training and get hired into network engineering roles at Cisco. Through CyberVetsUSA, a tech industry consortium, we help connect veterans and spouses with training, certification, and employment at a range of leading technology companies. And in fiscal 2020, Networking Academy reached an important milestone: training over 100,000 servicemembers across more than 70 military installations since inception in 1997.

Most of our veterans’ programs are available to spouses of current and former servicemembers. We have deepened our focus on military spouses in recent years, recognizing the unique barriers that they often face to finding employment, given frequent moves and often living outside an urban center. The Cisco Talent Incubation Program provides the same training as VTIP, adapted to meet the needs of military spouses and other individuals looking to reenter the workforce after an extended absence. In fiscal 2020, Cisco signed on to American Corporate Partners’ (ACP) Active Duty Spouse Mentoring Program, connecting military spouses with Cisco employees who provide career development advice, résumé and interviewing tips, and networking assistance.

Teaching kids about social entrepreneurship

With Global Problem Solvers: The Series, an animated video series, Cisco is helping students in grades 4-8 learn that being a social entrepreneur is as simple as working with others, being creative, and using technology to solve problems. Each episode tackles a different stage of social entrepreneurship, from defining a problem to marketing a product. The series, along with lesson plans for teachers, is available in English, French, Hindi, and Spanish.


Visit our Cisco ESG Reporting Hub to read the full CSR Impact Report and learn more about the progress we’re making to power a more inclusive future through CSR.


Cisco Corporate Responsibility


Jennifer Boynton

Corporate Social Responsibility Content Strategist

Corporate Affairs