Cisco’s Big Bet on a Big Idea
This blog originally appeared on The Huffington Post
Two years ago, I stood on stage in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, with a quote on the screen behind me. It read, “All it takes is one big idea to change the world.”
I was speaking at the Franklin Project’s Summit where General Stan McChrystal called upon 350 leaders in the private sector, higher education, technology, government, the military, faith communities, philanthropy, and nonprofits to come together to make a year of full-time service — a service year — a common expectation and opportunity for young Americans of all backgrounds.
The Franklin Project envisioned a day when all young people had an opportunity to spend a paid year serving in a community, developing essential skills and addressing the nation’s biggest challenges. The Summit at Gettysburg was our chance to put the idealism of the entire service year community into action.
While the idea of service is not a new one — service is integrated in our culture from the military to our local communities — it is not yet ubiquitous.
Similarly, the concept of a service year — a full-time, paid position where young people can develop skills and build change from the ground up — is also not new. Programs like AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps, City Year, Teach for America and YouthBuild have been around for decades harnessing the energy of young people to address and impact pressing challenges in our local communities. Not only have they had impact in their respective communities, these service corps members have also grown into the leaders our country needs.
Despite this widespread ethic of service and the existence of thousands of programs, nearly seventy percent of young people are unaware that service year opportunities exist. Meanwhile, research from the Case Foundation shows that ninety percent of millennials think young people like them can have an impact and make our country a better place to live.
How do we take those critical programs to scale while also harnessing the idealism of the next generation of young people who want to make an impact?
When our team at Cisco initially sat down to explore the barriers to taking service years to scale, being a technology company it was no surprise that technological barriers were top of mind. That’s why we committed our support and expertise behind the Service Year Exchange — the first-ever service year marketplace.
On stage that day in Gettysburg, I was honored on behalf of Cisco to make a commitment in the form of a $3 million matching challenge grant to help answer that question and support the organizations that were working every day to make this vision a reality.
Over the past two years, Cisco has continued to support the development of the technology platform, which enables young people who want to serve to search for service year opportunities based on their interests, while also allowing organizations to certify service year positions, recruit service year corps members, and thereby power their organizations.
The Service Year Exchange technology highlights the tens of thousands of service year opportunities — from AmeriCorps to YouthBuild to privately funded service year opportunities. And it continues to grow every day, with a bold goal of hosting 100,000 service year opportunities by 2019 — growing the field from the currently available 65,000 opportunities.
We are proud to see our commitment to this platform come to life this week with the official launch of Service Year Alliance — an organization merged from the Franklin Project, the Service Year Exchange, and ServiceNation.
I have seen first-hand this movement adapt and grow over twenty years from a handful of pioneer programs to a robust network of innovative organizations. Today, for the first time, they can be connected to learn and grow together with support from Service Year Alliance, truly representing a new day for the service year community and America.
Service Year Alliance and the Service Year Exchange have set the stage for a scalable marketplace that can evolve over the coming months and years. By advocating for federal funding, developing new programs, incorporating service years in higher education, and partnering with companies to support corps members throughout their year of service — Service Year Alliance is putting the bold idealism of the service year community into action.
At Cisco, we believe everyone has the potential to become a global problem solver. We strive to inspire, connect, and invest in opportunities that accelerate global problem solving by empowering people everywhere to work toward eradicating poverty, unemployment, climate change, and hunger. Everyone has a role to play, especially young people who are equipped to harness the power of the digital revolution to not only solve problems in their communities, but also to grow as leaders and innovators.
We are honored to have been an early supporter of Service Year Alliance and the Service Year Exchange and are proud to support a new challenge grant that will help enable Service Year Alliance to realize our shared vision — every year, one million young Americans engaged in a service year, solving important problems while transforming their own lives.
A big idea is great, but putting that big idea into action has the power to change the world.