Oliver speaking at the Homefirst Annual Fundraiser Event “In from the Cold.”

This post was written by guest blogger Oliver Roll, SVP and Chief Culture Officer at Cisco.

For anyone who’s lived in any of the world’s large cities, the topic of homelessness never seems to be far from our minds. But today, it’s not just an issue facing cities—it crushes lives and impacts communities everywhere.

It’s personal for people at Cisco. In our local area of Santa Clara County, it’s been reported that more than 7500 people are without a home, and that the county has the third highest rate of chronic homelessness in the U.S. Those are devastating numbers.

I wanted to share a bit about how Cisco has inspired me to be personally involved. Most of us have causes that we are engaged with and feel passionately about, and together, we create ripples that help to make the world a better place.

A cold night in London

I first became involved in the issue of homelessness in the late 1990s, through a program called Byte Night, which took place in London. Organized by companies in the tech industry, Byte Night is a fundraising event where tech employees and executives “sleep rough” for one chilly autumn night each year.

In the first year, about 30 people slept in the square outside Bloomberg’s United Kingdom headquarters. Since then, it has become a national event with hundreds of participants spanning 12 locations across the U.K. I participated in Byte Night for several years. It’s a moving and powerful event, but it is just one night.

The first time I slept outside, I remember going back to my apartment. I brewed some coffee and made breakfast, the whole time thinking about how I was able to come back to my safe, warm, and comfortable home, while those sleeping rough had no easy way out. The homeless we were advocating for were still on the street—vulnerable, exposed, cold, hungry, and at risk.

Cisco supports the cause

Fast forward to today, here in San Jose. The Silicon Valley is home to some of the nation’s most prosperous communities, but we’re facing a crisis of homelessness in our area as well. Last March, Cisco’s CEO Chuck Robbins announced a significant commitment to Destination: Home, offering a five-year, $50 million contribution to help eradicate homelessness in our area.

As a company, giving something of ourselves to the communities we’re part of is core to who we are. One of our guiding principles is to Give Something of Yourself. To us, that means we show care and consideration to our customers, employees, partners, communities, and the world we all share.

Cisco’s pledge—one of the largest cash contributions to ending homelessness anywhere in the US.—was absolutely in line with our company’s principles and became a tipping point for my own ripple effect in the space.

During a lunch event to announce Cisco’s partnership with Destination: Home, I met Andrea Urton, the CEO of HomeFirst, which runs some of the largest shelters in our area and works to help people find permanent housing. She shared with me her story and experiences and what it takes to emerge from that type of a situation. After talking with her, I began serving on the board of HomeFirst to try to do even more.

From a ripple to a wave

From Chuck’s efforts to rally Cisco to address the crisis in the Bay Area, today we have a coalition of companies like Microsoft, LinkedIn, and others that are working together to help our community cope and heal.

And from my own experiences with companies such as HopeLink in Bellevue and HomeFirst in Santa Clara, I’ve been able to contribute to the work of many impactful organizations, recruiting others along the way who want to lend their own skills to make a difference.

Ultimately, it is about creating a powerful ripple effect that can galvanize people and bring them together to help solve a critical issue.

At Cisco, we’re lucky enough to work for a company that embodies our principles and supports employees in uniting with their communities to overcome the challenges we all face. We know that no organization, group, or person can do it alone, but we are all responsible for making an impact where we can.

For any issue you want to solve in the world, engaging in it creates energy toward a solution, which in turn can inspire others to get involved and bring their own energy, skills, and resources.

If you want to learn more about Cisco’s support for volunteerism and social engagement, take a look at our Corporate Social Responsibility pages. For more on how you can contribute or volunteer for HomeFirst, please email volunteer@homefirstscc.org.


Austin Belisle

No Longer with Cisco