This blog is written by Karen Balstrup, an Administrative Assistant at Cisco Australia. Since she joined Cisco three years ago, Karen has been involved in co-ordinating Cisco teams in community activity for a local domestic violence shelter and for gathering and repurposing food supplies for the homeless. She recently joined the ONEx Communities Global Day2Give as a Local Leader as well as joining the AppD Cares ANZ Chapter.

A woman wearing glasses taking a selfie
Karen Balstrup, an Administrative Assistant at Cisco Australia

Volunteering began in my life with the local district netball club. Led by mother’s tradition of giving back to the community, our whole family assisted with the running of netball in northern Sydney, spending long nights checking scoresheets and registrations. My mother was recognised as the first Life Member of Ku-ring-gai Netball Association for her untiring services.

In my first job as a junior public relations consultant, I offered to create a logo and write and produce newsletters for the prestigious organisation, VOLUNTEERING AUSTRALIA. I notice that the logo still sits proudly on their masthead some 35 years later, as they lead the country’s largest volunteering activities. This group opened my eyes to how vast the movement is in our country.

Thereafter in my public relations career I made it a goal to encourage my international corporate clients to support volunteering. This extended from celebrity visits to hospitals, to providing my communication services pro bono to community groups.

I am a fourth-generation family member of people from Denmark and Scotland who settled here in 1864. Australia is known as “the sunburnt country…a land of droughts and flooding plains” from a famous poem “My Country” written in 1906 by Dorothea Mackellar. Our heritage as a country is to pull together during crises.

Over the last four years Australia has struggled with droughts, bushfires, and floods as well as the pandemic. Joining Cisco during these crises, I helped raise awareness to raise donations for misplaced families and collect books and supplies for flood and bushfire victims. I recall driving to a pickup point with boxes of urgently needed headache medication for the firefighters.

Two men carrying bread into a truck
Cisco Sydney collecting unsold bread from supermarkets and repacking into family packs for next day delivery to families in need at Gift of Bread in Tempe, Sydney.

The Cisco CX Centre in Sydney won a CX “Best of We” Award for travelling to a rural high school to teach the students about robotics and the role it can play in everyday farming during droughts, etc. in managing water sprinkling systems. I wrote the submission for the award, and it was an incredibly proud moment for them to win.

During the pandemic, repurposing food supplies to reach those in need became an urgent focus. Cisco teams would collect left over bread supplies from supermarkets and deliver them to a central repackaging group at a local Catholic church before distributing them to families in need the next day. Everyone in our team, including directors and engineers, spent hours packing bread products into family packs.

Most recently, the AppDynamics teams have gone to several locations to cook up meals for distribution to the homeless in Sydney, the majority being women.

I personally find the teamwork one of the best rewards. Seeing the enthusiasm of my co-workers to join the volunteering group is a wonderful feeling to experience. I love seeing the senior members working side by side with us all, peeling potatoes or using a bread slicing machine. In our new hybrid working era, it is great to be with each other achieving such great goals.

And then to stand shoulder to shoulder with my colleagues and see the results of the freshly cooked food is the icing on the cake. Towering stacks of meals. Bags of food going to those who most need it. Food that would have ended up in landfill had it not been saved by the inspiring work of the volunteering organisations in Australia. It gives me great satisfaction to see left over vegetables being made into tasty curries. My colleagues are teaching me a lot about their traditional dishes. I know that these experiences are also creating great bonds between us all.

Our collaboration will continue with these well-organised Australian charities such as Our Big Kitchen at Bondi and Gift of Bread based in Tempe in Sydney. Dignity Giving Back specialises in packing support hampers for return-to-school or other groups needing basic supplies during difficult times.

Mary’s House Services provides relief for domestic violence victims on the northside. The pink-themed, Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea raises money for Breast Cancer care and research. St Kilda Mums in Melbourne assists their local community by providing car seats and other support for new families. There are many groups that Cisco Australia teams have assisted that focus on mental health including Movember for Men’s Mental Health, R U OK and Lifeline.

During work-from-home Covid-19 lockdowns, we spent many hours online providing wildlife research on Zooniverse watching video footage from cameras to log animal movement such as elephants and gorillas. In addition, we helped identify buildings and roads from aerial maps of villages in India for an organisation called Missing Maps. This provides security for young people, especially girls walking home from school as well as for emergency assistance.

A group of people wearing hair nets in a kitchen setting
AppDynamics Australia, cooking up left-over restaurant food at Our Big Kitchen in Bondi, Sydney.

The greatest reward for us at Cisco, is the satisfaction and teamwork derived from volunteering. We are forging bonds that draw us together so we can support those that are less fortunate. A great tip to encourage team members is to visually communicate by posting photos in Webex Team Spaces. Joining the many Cisco groups that are passionate about giving-back also helps network the message and increase participation. I am so grateful that Cisco encourages volunteering. Many of my friends make the comment that companies like mine are what the world needs.



Nadine James

Global Head of Social Impact & Community Engagement

AppDynamics People & Communities