The following is based on an excerpt from the 2020 CSR Impact Report, published on December 8, 2020.
An Inclusive Future is one in which everyone has a pathway to economic opportunity. To create this future, we must provide people with equitable access to the knowledge, skills, and resources needed to support themselves and their families. Empowered people and families can then fully participate in and contribute to local community growth and economic development. Digital connectivity can play a role in achieving economic self-sufficiency: countries with high levels of digital readiness also tend to have stronger economies.
One of Cisco’s social investment focus areas is economic empowerment for underserved and underrepresented populations. For more than a decade, we have been providing cash grants, donating Cisco technology, and contributing staff time and expertise to nonprofits that design and deliver technology-based solutions in three areas for thriving in a digital economy.
First, we connect people with technical and professional skills training, mentoring and coaching, and employment opportunities to help them find jobs that provide stable and sufficient income and long-term career progression. These investments help to address the uneven distribution of technology skills and employment opportunities that persists across the world.
Second, to facilitate widespread and equitable access to banking for the unbanked, we support nonprofit organizations that design and deliver digital financial products and services. These products and services facilitate economic independence and self-sufficiency, and support community-level economic growth and development.
Finally, with a belief that innovation can come from anywhere, we support entrepreneurs with access to capital, networks, and resources to launch and expand businesses that support job creation. We support small business entrepreneurs who create local jobs and drive community-level economic development, as well as high-growth-potential entrepreneurs who create jobs and economic growth on a national and/or global scale. We aim to support entrepreneurs who create jobs and contribute to economic growth, with a focus on women- and minority-led businesses, as well as businesses that have social impact.
Social investments in economic empowerment
Cisco supports technology-based programs that connect underserved people to relevant skills, meaningful employment, entrepreneurial opportunities, financial products and services, and other resources they need to thrive in the digital economy. During fiscal 2020, many of our grantee partners had to pivot to address new and emerging needs arising from COVID-19, as well as scaling up to reach additional people in need of support.
Here are a few partners that are making a difference with Cisco’s help
Victims of human trafficking often come to believe that they cannot survive without their traffickers—part of a dangerous cycle of exploitation that can be difficult to escape. Beginning with the premise that economic opportunity is the key to breaking this cycle, U.S.-based AnnieCannons trains human trafficking survivors in in-demand technology skills. Training starts in a coding boot camp, and students quickly transition to earning income by providing software services to real-world clients. AnnieCannons offers all equipment and training to students free of charge, and the leadership team handles all business development so that survivors can focus on project-based learning. They also provide a supportive and safe atmosphere where clients can recover from trauma. Cisco has donated our technology and is providing funding that directly supports development of AnnieCannons’ training program and instructional staff. With the revenue that students earn from paid client contracts, they are on track to become financially stable, providing a source of independence that helps them break the cycle of exploitation.
Entrepreneurship for All (EforAll) is a small business/nonprofit accelerator whose aim is to accelerate economic and social impact in communities across the United States through inclusive entrepreneurship. They work with aspiring, underrepresented entrepreneurs who are in the idea stage or looking to pivot and grow an existing business. EforAll offers two primary programs at no cost to aspiring entrepreneurs: pitch contests and the one-year Accelerator Program, which includes intensive business training, dedicated mentors, and access to an extended professional network.
In-person interactions have been an essential part of EforAll’s program work to help people make connections and gain confidence. During COVID-19, EforAll pivoted to deliver the program entirely online. Cisco’s previous support helped EforAll digitize its internal operations, entrepreneur outreach and support, and impact evaluation, which enabled them to quickly pivot to a fully remote environment. EforAll-supported businesses generated over US$25 million in revenue in 2019 and created 720 local jobs. Nearly 75 percent of the entrepreneurs they support are women, and 58 percent are people of color.
Opportunity International designs and delivers banking products, services, and capacity-building training to low-income people globally who lack access to financial products and services. The organization’s work helps people not only support themselves and their families, but also empowers them to contribute to their local economy and create new jobs for their neighbors. Their work enables families to send their children to school, helps entrepreneurs start and expand businesses, assists farmers in improving their crop yields and income, helps women to become financially independent, and provides a secure and accessible way for individuals and families to save money. Over the past three years Cisco and Opportunity International have worked together to create a suite of digital financial products and services, primarily for women, that have reached more than 20 million people and created 4 million jobs—exceeding our initial goal of creating 3 million jobs by 30 percent.