Each year the Schwab Foundation presents Social Entrepreneur of the Year awards to people who apply innovative, practical approaches to resolving social and environmental challenges.

Three of the 24 awardees announced on February 15 lead nonprofit organizations that Cisco partners with to promote education and economic empowerment around the world.

These visionary leaders have leveraged our support to continue investing in innovative solutions that create opportunities for underserved populations. In fact, their organizations are so effective that Cisco has approached them to support several of our own Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs.

The 3 Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneurs of the Year we are proud to support are:

Janet Longmore, founder and president and CEO of Digital Opportunity Trust. Janet has dedicated her career to helping youth, particularly young women, in less fortunate societies improve their lives. Cisco has partnered with Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT) for more than 10 years, beginning with early support of its education and economic empowerment initiatives. Based on the solid results and impact of those programs, Cisco extended its support to DOT to partner on large-scale Cisco initiatives.

For example, after Hurricane Katrina destroyed communities in Mississippi and Louisiana in 2005, DOT joined Cisco’s 21st Century Schools Initiative, a 4-year US$80 million investment to improve student engagement and performance by equipping classrooms with technology tools and helping educators integrate those tools into the curriculum. DOT trained and placed more than 100 interns in schools to troubleshoot technical issues and assist 3500 teachers in adopting the new Internet-driven tools.

As part of Cisco's 21st Century Schools Initiative, DOT interns helped educators integrate technology into classroom instruction.
As part of Cisco’s 21st Century Schools Initiative, DOT interns helped educators integrate technology into classroom instruction.

DOT’s involvement was critical: The interns helped teachers become comfortable with the new technologies, tools that in turn helped 60,000 students develop critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and collaborations skills. As a result of the initiative, drop-out rates declined by 50 percent in Hattiesburg, Mississippi from 2006 to 2009, and student behavior incidents declined by 64 percent in Harrison County, Mississippi from 2008 to 2009. DOT has supported similar Cisco efforts to technology-enable schools in Lebanon, China, and Mexico. Read more about the 21st Century Schools Initiative.

Kristin Peterson, co-founder and CEO of Inveneo. Inveneo designs and delivers affordable information and communications technology (ICT) solutions and training for organizations that serve people in underserved areas of the developing world. Inveneo’s solutions are specially designed to overcome challenging circumstances, such as hot and dry weather or low electrical power. They help community organizations reduce costs, build capacity, and connect residents to life-changing information and resources that can improve their quality of life and open doors to better healthcare, education, and economic opportunities.

Cisco was an early investor in Inveneo solutions and initiatives. Building on the organization’s solid track record of on-the-ground implementation success and impact, Cisco approached Inveneo to be a key partner in our Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) commitment to promote economic development and reduce poverty sub-Saharan Africa through access to technology and information.

More than 190,000 people in Africa have obtained valuable online resources and learned basic ICT skills at Community Knowledge Centers developed by Inveneo, Cisco, and other organizations.

Cisco and Inveneo established community knowledge centers (CKCs) that provide technology access, plus locally relevant information on agriculture, health, education, jobs, and finances. Some CKCs provide information about basic healthcare or agriculture, while others offer career development resources, financial consultation, or English language courses. For example, at the Sekenani CKC outside the Masai Mara game reserve in Kenya, wardens received training in Microsoft Excel, which helped them pass a test and earn pay raises. More than 190,000 people have obtained valuable online resources and learned basic ICT skills at CKCs in Africa. Read more about Cisco’s partnership with Inveneo.

Chuck Slaughter, founder and president of Living Goods. Living Goods empowers micro-entrepreneurs to earn a living, while helping families improve their health and well being. Networks of independent, mainly female, micro-entrepreneurs — or agents — go door-to-door selling affordable and effective products that can lead to better health: fortified foods, insecticide-treated bed nets, de-worming pills, malaria treatment, water filters, and soap, for example. Most Living Goods products are priced below retail, making them more affordable for their low-income customers. Their model is a win-win, in that it provides a source of income and livelihood for the entrepreneur agents, as well as improving health outcomes for individuals and their families.

In 2012, Cisco made an initial investment in Living Goods to develop and implement a mobile technology platform that their agents can use to report sales, manage inventory, and send automated healthcare reminders to customers, further multiplying the impact of its product line. Read more about Cisco’s support of Living Goods.

It’s so rewarding to know that organizations we partner with, thanks to their strong leadership, are now recognized by the Schwab Foundation as global role models for improving health, education, and creating economic opportunities for vulnerable and underserved people and communities around the world.

Read more about Cisco’s current nonprofit partners at csr.cisco.com


Charu Adesnik

Executive Director, Cisco Foundation; Director, Social Innovation Investments