Cisco employee helping children in Lebanon
Cisco employee, Maha Akkari, drawing with a child at a distribution event

Like many, I have searched for the meaning of life and the secret to happiness. As I grew to know myself, I discovered that helping others brings deep peace and joy to my soul. I started engaging in giving back activities at an early age, and I always made sure to lend a hand to anyone who needs it.

Volunteering has become a huge part of my life and has shaped me personally and professionally. A workplace’s volunteering culture has always been my number one factor when evaluating different job offers–and for that, I could not have made a better decision than to join Cisco. I feel blessed to have landed a job at a company that fosters a Conscious Culture and puts its technology and resources to work in service of an inclusive future, where technology gives everyone the tools to thrive.

March 2021 marks my sixth year at Cisco, and I cannot be happier and prouder of all the different community initiatives I participated in throughout those years. It brings a big smile to my heart when I think of the positive impact we have made on people.

Today, I want to share with you one of my most favorite and recent Cisco community initiatives. It is the story of a 1,000-pair shoe donation that evolved into a nationwide 52,000-pair shoe distribution – in only a year!

It began in 2019, when my colleague, Karim Kattouf, said, “I need shoes for vulnerable kids in Lebanon.” He was introduced to Soles4Souls, a nonprofit that collects new shoes and clothing to distribute to those in need worldwide. Soles4Soles is one of thousands of nonprofits that is approved for Cisco Foundation matching gifts that employees can support. Karim and I began working with the Soles4Souls team on a shoe donation project in early January 2020. We shipped and distributed 1,000 pairs of shoes to local orphanages in Lebanon in dire need of support. As Mother Theresa once said, It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.” We organized fun events for the kids, at which we distributed the shoes and played with them, sang, and danced. As you can see in this video, the kids’ smiles are highly contagious:

When the devastating Beirut Port explosion happened in August 2020, killing hundreds, injuring thousands, and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless, our friends at Soles4Souls reached out to check on us and see how they could help. They communicated they were happy to donate 52,000 pairs of shoes, in partnership with Sketchers, to families impacted by the explosion. However, they wanted Cisco employees to help work out all the details to make it happen. Karim and I, along with some other Cisco employees, contacted various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to decide which would have the responsibility of distributing the shoes.

In October, we partnered with Ahla Fawda, an NGO in Lebanon that supports families across Lebanon and had stepped up to fix homes and offer food to the Beirut explosion victims. The Cisco team was responsible for setting up regular meetings between all stakeholders and made sure all parties were in sync. We worked along with Ahla Fawda on a plan to distribute the shoes to kids in Lebanon, focusing on the area of the explosion. We also worked alongside them on solving any issues they might face, and organizing some of the distribution events. Many of the employees who participated took advantage of Cisco’s generous Time2Give program, which provides up to five days of paid time off per year for employees to volunteer.

Cisco employee with a young child
Cisco employee, Karim Kattouf, with a young child who received a pair of shoes

Ahla Fawda started the shoe distribution in early December 2020. While Karim and I couldn’t be there for every distribution event, we still managed to help plan, organize, and participate in a few of them. Being on the ground with the kids, giving them their shoes, and seeing that priceless smile on their faces is something I would never want to miss. It is just so heartwarming and fills my heart with so much love.

I couldn’t agree more with how Tiffany Turner, Director of Outreach at Soles4Souls, summarized our joint effort. She shared, “It’s just a testament to the power of collaboration and partnerships—when you walk alongside organizations and assess their needs, and find out how you can best serve them, and just continue to nurture those relationships.”

Through the Cisco Foundation matching gifts program, which contributes $10 for each hour volunteered with an approved nonprofit, I generated a $500 donation to Soles4Souls, in addition to the time I spent working on the project. Not only that, I made a measurable impact by contributing to their mission of making a difference by providing relief to people living in poverty.


Maha Akkari

Network Consultant Engineer

Customer Success