econnor2This post was written by guest blogger Erin Connor, Portfolio Manager for Critical Human Needs, Cisco Corporate Affairs and Cisco Foundation

Shortly after joining Cisco’s Corporate Social Responsibility team last August, I attended a new hire orientation and was introduced to Cisco’s People Deal: Connect everything, innovate everywhere, benefit everyone. It sounded great, although I admit that I wasn’t quite sure what it meant in practice. Six months later, however, I have seen exactly what our People Deal means here at Cisco, and how it is demonstrated by employees across departments and sites around the world.

The refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe marks one of the biggest and most complex humanitarian emergencies of our time. Eleven million people – half of Syria’s pre‐war population – have either died or fled their homes since the war began in 2011. While millions have been forced from their homes and displaced inside Syria, millions more are fleeing to neighboring countries. Over 3.6 million refugees have escaped to the neighboring countries of Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, while more than a million refugees crossed the Mediterranean Sea into Europe in 2015.

Benefiting Everyone

As refugees began pouring into Europe, Cisco staff across the region stepped up to help those in need. They organized clothing drives in Germany, Greece and Hungary. Cisco employees volunteered at refugee camps, passed out food in train stations, and painted classrooms for refugee children. In Norway, the Cisco team launched their own campaign, encouraging staff to donate one day’s salary to support refugee assistance efforts. They collectively raised over $14,000.

At the Cisco EMEAR Distribution Forum in Vienna in December, 18 bags of clothes were collected and over $6,200 was raised to support two Austrian charities.
At the Cisco EMEAR Distribution Forum in Vienna in December, 18 bags of clothes were collected and over $6,200 was raised to support two Austrian charities.

In response to employee requests, Cisco’s ‘Be the Bridge’ campaign expanded its scope to include over 40 organizations responding to the refugee crisis. Employees donated nearly $379,000 to organizations helping refugees and, with Cisco Foundation matching contributions, total Cisco giving has come to over $743,000.

Innovating Everywhere

Embracing our culture of innovation, Cisco employees also developed cutting-edge, technology-based solutions for some of the key challenges faced by refugees. A team in Belgium submitted a concept for the Innovate Everywhere challenge to create wearable devices to better connect refugees to emergency response and support services.

Employees in Hamburg, Germany, produced a white paper on the potential use of telemedicine for refugees. Building on key business relationships with the City of Hamburg, University Hospital Hamburg Eppendorf, and private sector partners (including Avodaq, MLOVE and SAVD Videodolmetschen), the Hamburg team envisioned a shipping container equipped with Cisco technology that can serve as a ‘Refugee First Response Center’ (RFRC).

Staffed by University Hospital doctors, the RFRC provides real-time translation services to refugees during medical consultations through the use of Cisco equipment and on-line translation services. When executive leadership in the Central Theatre saw the concept, they put their opex behind it and encouraged the team to pursue this vision. The team was able to fully realize the concept and finish the RFRC in just six weeks. This feat is especially impressive considering that the RFRC was a volunteer activity for Cisco staff, who contributed their personal time to make this a reality.


Since the RFRC’s launch in November, over 1,500 video medical consultations have been conducted in Farsi, Arabic, Tigrinya, Serbian, Albanian and Urdu. The solution has caught the attention of a family foundation based in Hamburg which has committed to funding the production of ten more units to be deployed in refugee camps across Germany.

Connecting Everything

Cisco’s Tactical Operations (TacOps) team, supported by the volunteer Disaster Response Team (DRT) from the U.K. and Ireland, have also responded to the crisis. Through two separate deployments over the course of four weeks, a group of TacOps and DRT engineers have installed Meraki-based Wi-Fi networks and device charging stations at more than 17 sites along the migration route in Southern and Central Europe.

These free Wi-Fi spots provide the opportunity for refugees to charge their phones, contact loved ones, and access information needed for their onward journey. These 17 sites have served a significant number of refugees since November, and represents the largest TacOps deployment in the team’s history in terms of geographic scale and number of users supported. TacOps is also in the process of providing Cisco equipment and guidance to enable connectivity in a refugee camp in Germany, managed by the Red Cross.

In addition to matching employee contributions, Cisco Foundation has funded all of the equipment needed for the TacOps and NetHope deployments across the migration route in Europe, as well as for the refugee camp in Germany. Building off of the connectivity established by TacOps and NetHope, Corporate Affairs provided $200,000 in grant funding to NGO partners Mercy Corps and NetHope to provide critical information services to refugees and coordination support to responding NGOs. All of the institutional support provided has leveraged the initiative and commitment demonstrated by Cisco employees who have given their time, money and talent to benefit the people impacted by this crisis.

Cisco’s CSR strategy is to enable people to innovate as technologists, think as entrepreneurs, and act as social change agents. Through our programs and partnerships, we strive to create Global Problem Solvers. Cisco employees’ response to the refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East demonstrates our own capacity to act as global problem solvers, and confirms that our People Deal is bringing tangible benefits to people all around the world.


Austin Belisle

No Longer with Cisco