Social Innovation: Good for Society and Good for Business
Organizations are increasingly paying more attention to two areas that are critical to business success and sustainability: Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and human capital development.
Sandy Walsh, Director of the Social Innovation Group in Cisco’s Asia Pacific region, shares her perspective on how taking a “shared value” approach can help to accelerate social impact while supporting business goals. The Social Innovation Group leverages Cisco’s technology and expertise to develop innovative solutions to address social challenges throughout Asia Pacific.
Q. Why is human capital development — particularly in information and communications technology (ICT) education and entrepreneurship — vital for the community development and economic growth of this region?
ICT is a growth enabler. I saw this when I first moved to Asia. However, the real challenge is to recruit talent with the relevant skills to exploit this technology. Without the human capacity to exploit the capabilities of ICT, it won’t deliver on its transformative potential for the region, whether that is in improving Industry productivity or improving the delivery of citizen services.
For developing countries with large youth populations, such as Indonesia, there are insufficient jobs in many traditional employment sectors to absorb young people coming through the education systems. Entrepreneurship has the potential to create new companies and generate more employment opportunities. Collectively, ICT and entrepreneurship can have a transformative impact particularly on the emerging countries in this region, in bolstering economic growth and supporting social development.
Q. Cisco has been running its Networking Academy program in Asia Pacific since 1998. What are the major milestones from this program that mean the most to you?
An incredible milestone is the growing number of Asian women joining the Networking Academy program. When we started this initiative, we had only a very small percentage of young girls in technology. Today, I’m really pleased that Asia Pacific is now leading the world, with women averaging 30% of our students regionally. In fact, in some countries such as Malaysia, Philippines and India, female participation is shifting towards the 40% mark. Meanwhile, Myanmar is truly in a league of its own at around 90%. We’re starting to see tremendous traction with young girls and women getting excited about what ICT can offer them as a career choice.
Three or four years ago, we recognized that there was an opportunity to expand our work beyond the traditional Networking Academy program to address big social challenges in Asia Pacific. We began to leverage our Academy program platform to go beyond human capacity building and extend our efforts to support workforce development, employment and community enablement. I’m very pleased with the increased impact we have been able to make, going beyond just running the Networking Academy to the now a much larger agenda of social innovation, encapsulating these three focus areas.
Q. How can companies benefit by having their own social responsibility program? What can they also learn from Cisco in particular?
When I first joined Cisco, businesses were largely focused on corporate philanthropy, which is essentially about writing checks for social good. Some years later Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) started to emerge, where companies became more engaged in addressing social issues by bringing their unique expertise to transform lives and give back to the community.
Fast forward to today, we are now in a new era of Corporate Shared Value (CSV), which gives equal focus to both the social and business outcomes. Social Innovation is now critical to our business strategy in the countries in this region in which we operate. Investing in building talent not only helps Cisco, our partners and customers grow their business, but it also provides employment and economic opportunity for individuals which in turn helps countries’ economic development.
As for what others could learn from Cisco: Determine where the intersection is between social challenges, your business challenges and your unique expertise as a company. By applying your expertise in this way you can sustainably multiply the impact on your business and society.
This blog was excerpted from the Cisco Asia Pacific Japan and Greater China (APJC) leadership spotlight series, where Cisco executives share their expertise and vision, as well as hot topics in APJC. Read the full Q&A with Sandy Walsh.