We have created a new blog series that will focus on the people behind Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) at Cisco. Each blog in this series will highlight a different Cisco employee who works closely with CSR initiatives across the company.
Hoa Tran manages Cisco’s San Francisco Bay Area Community Impact Grants (CIG) program, and Habitat for Humanity Build Grants program, and other employee-engaged initiatives from the Cisco Foundation and the Public Benefit Investment (PBI) Team. Community Impact Grants support programs that offer innovative approaches to address critical social challenges and serve communities within a 50-mile radius of Cisco’s San Jose, California, headquarters. The Habitat for Humanity Build Grants program supports Habitat for Humanity affiliates around the globe by providing build and partner grants, in addition to matching employee contributions of both time and money.
Hoa remembers taking a course on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in graduate school in the early 2000s when CSR was mainly just in theory and not as much in practice. Now, social investments have become a must-have for companies, as the corporate sector plays a more critical role in creating positive outcomes on a global scale. Hoa has always admired how Cisco was well ahead in its time with the creation of the Cisco Foundation in 1997 and the founding of the Cisco Networking Academy that same year.
I sat down with Hoa to learn more about how her work on social investment programs represent essential elements in Cisco’s purpose to power, an inclusive future for all where everyone can thrive.
Can you tell me more about yourself and your job responsibilities at Cisco?
Hoa: I have always wanted to work in the nonprofit sector, doing good for the community and helping others. This desire to help others came from my experience as an immigrant from Vietnam. I started my career in social work because I wanted to help immigrant families acculturate to their new country of resettlement. I started my job out in the trenches with social service agencies as a counselor, working with low-income families in East San Jose.
I knew about Cisco for many years from working at other community foundations. I was excited when I was introduced to Cisco because where I worked, we always showed Cisco as an exemplary example of corporate giving. Even now, being at Cisco for nearly seven years, I have to say I’m proud of what Cisco has been doing. My job responsibilities include managing our CIG program and Habitat for Humanity Build Grants programs and support the administration of the Cisco Foundation and South Africa Charitable Trust. We recently added on a couple of pilot programs where employees can gather knowledge and resources for their community impact journey through board service or skills-based volunteering.
Can you tell me more about the San Francisco Bay Area Community Impact Grants (CIG) Program?
Hoa: To better inform us, we initially requested an independent research and landscape analysis of community needs and CSR trends in our region. We incorporated best practices in corporate giving and grantmaking to address an acute need in the San Francisco Bay Area – a poor achievement gap among students of color. We developed the CIG Program to equip elementary grade level students with foundational skills in literacy and numeracy.
Aside from cash grants, we engage dedicated employee volunteers to review the grant applications, conduct site visits with the organization meeting its leadership and see the program in action; and as a committee, recommend to Cisco Foundation Trustees who will receive the grant. It is a really great opportunity for employees to get more involved.
We want the nonprofits that receive our grant funding to succeed. So, we support them for the long-term to strengthen their program effectiveness and reach, helping them achieve their mission to close the achievement gap for students. For example, grantees can participate in a collaborative Community of Practice, where they share experiences and learning opportunities among funders, schools, and afterschool providers in the region.
The Habitat for Humanity Build Grants program is another unique social investment program at Cisco. Cisco employees have been volunteering with Habitat for Humanity since the 1990s, giving their time to help construct affordable homes for low-income families. Grant funds from Cisco help offset a portion of the total building cost of a home. As restrictions are lifted by local jurisdictions, many Cisco Habitat Champions have been actively coordinating and rallying Cisco team members to build projects in small groups to support families in need of a place called home. Cisco employee champions are the backbone of this program. The affiliates call our champions “warriors.”
Can you share the impact Cisco has had so far through our Community Impact Grants and Habitat for Humanity Build Grants programs?
Hoa: One example of a success story is about a student enrolled in CIG partner Reading Partners during the 2019-2020 school year. When the site coordinator first received enrollment referrals from the teachers, Victor was a “high priority” student due to his gap in reading skills. His teacher explained that Victor had only been in the United States for about a year, and his English was limited. Since he was a fourth-grader who was two years behind grade level, the site coordinator prioritized his enrollment and acted as his tutor for the rest of the year. They worked tirelessly, as a pair, on his literacy skills to get him on track to grade level. After months of hard work, Victor was unrecognizable. He was confident, had many new friends, and even smiled and waved every time he saw his site coordinator on campus! Victor moved from a 2nd grade reading level to a 3rd grade reading level – a huge leap in proficiency.
During the 2019-2020 school year, the inaugural group of CIG grantee partners positively impacted the learning progress of more than 2,900 students, provided professional development for 200 instructors, and trained more than 1,500 volunteer tutors and mentors. The current group of 12 CIG grantees anticipate serving over 5,500 students this current school year. However, program impact and reach have been greatly affected by the pandemic, curbing access to education and widening the learning gap for the students.
Since the inception of the program, we provided an estimated $17 million in financial support to more than 108 U.S.-based affiliates of Habitat for Humanity and 55 affiliates throughout the rest of the world. In FY20, Cisco employees volunteered a total of 10,573 hours to 47 Habitat for Humanity affiliates worldwide. Cisco Foundation matched the volunteer hours, donating a total of $105,725 to these same affiliates. During the pandemic, many Habitat affiliates were adversely impacted by restrictions for in-person activities.
Can you explain how social investments align with Cisco’s mission to build an inclusive future?
Hoa: Whether through the CIG program or Habitat for Humanity Build Grants program, we focus on local impact, aiming to provide equitable access to education for students and safe and affordable homes for low-income families. We developed CIG to ensure that students are equipped with the skills in reading, writing, and basic math during the elementary school years so that they can actively participate in STEM activities as they continue their schooling to graduate from high school. The 2017 Smarter Balance Test results show that two-thirds of students of color (i.e., African American, Hispanics/Latinos, and Pacific Islanders) are not meeting grade-level proficiency. By partnering with organizations serving students from Title-1 public schools and low-income families, and supporting the students early on in their educational journey, we can help close the achievement gap and provide a pathway out of poverty for themselves and their families by positively impacting their education and economic outcome. The Habitat for Humanity Build Grants program supports low-income families to achieve their American dream of homeownership, providing a safe space for their children to grow.
All this was made possible due to a commitment from Cisco, the Cisco Foundation, Cisco employee volunteers, and the community to provide a brighter future for children.