We recently announced the launch of our fifth annual Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge, with prize money totaling $1 million USD. The Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge is a competition that awards cash prizes to early-stage technology entrepreneurs solving the world’s social and environmental problems. This year, we are also offering a Digital Inclusivity Prize.

The $50,000 USD Digital Inclusivity Prize will be awarded to a startup using technology that closes the ever-widening digital divide. This award is being offered by Cisco’s Emerging Technologies and Incubation (ET&I) Group in the spirit of our new purpose to Power an Inclusive Future for All. The ET&I Group’s vision is to advance the next bold bets and moonshots for Cisco by sourcing, generating, partnering, and incubating new ventures, which can fuel Cisco’s growth for many years to come.

The partnership between the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge and ET&I is symbolic of our commitment and investment in the corporate social responsibility space.

The winning solution will focus on closing the digital divide by addressing accessibility, affordability, or digital literacy to build a more inclusive digital world.

The winner of the Digital Inclusivity Prize will also be offered the chance to present their solution and receive feedback from the Emerging Technologies and Incubation team. This exclusive opportunity will include up to five hours of technical mentorship in an area of the winner’s choice, plus a session with our engineering team or an engineering luminary at Cisco to help expand the solution’s technical scope.

What is digital inclusivity and why is it an important issue?

Digital Inclusivity is about addressing inequalities through technology. Nearly half of the world’s population, or 3.7 billion people, do not have access to the internet. It is a massive challenge, and it’s been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has widened the digital divide even further. We see an enormous gap with some people not having connectivity or access to digital capabilities. Lacking internet connectivity is detrimental to so many facets of society, like education, work, e-commerce, finance, and more.

While Cisco is fortunate to have remote working capabilities, not all of our customers and partners have made the transition. Some families may not have computers at home, so not having access to devices and hardware is another problem. The opportunities become limited without proper internet connectivity.

This daunting challenge, however, offers many potential solutions for this prize, including the connectivity problem itself, addressing the issue of affordability, or internet access in rural communities. The possibilities of solutions are endless. There could be solutions around particular audiences who might have access and usage challenges, like the visually impaired, hearing impaired, or people who require assistive technology. There are no boundaries to what we can achieve by stretching our imagination and thinking bolder.

The Inspiration Behind the Prize

Digital inclusivity is important to us as a company, from our executives to our employees. Lack of connectivity is not an issue that only affects developing nations, but also developed nations like the United States, as well. This has been highlighted even more this year as adults and children are trying to virtually access work, school, and healthcare.

The two pillars that constrain the possibility of ubiquitous internet connectivity are affordability and accessibility. From a technology innovation point of view, we can focus on accessibility, and then work from the business side with a wide array of partners and organizations to help bridge the gap of affordability and scale.

As a networking giant, Cisco has developed research like the Digital Readiness Index (DRI), which holistically measures countries’ level of digital readiness. The Index provides guidance on how countries can improve their overall readiness to foster an inclusive digital economy. Cisco’s intent is to help bridge countries into the next generation.

Additionally, we look to the United Nations (UN’s) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a frame of reference for viewing how these technologies are being used and delving into the core of the problem with digital inclusivity. Are you providing quality education opportunities through technology? Are you providing better health care and wellbeing? Are you creating the digital infrastructure for sustainable cities and communities? Are you reducing inequalities for those who are disadvantaged, disabled, or disenfranchised? You can look at all of those different pieces and say that your solution addresses the problems created by the digital divide.

Technical Mentorship Opportunity

Within Cisco’s Emerging Technologies and Incubation Group, we have distinguished engineers and brilliant individuals at the top of their fields. The winner of the Digital Inclusivity Prize will outline what they want to learn, along with where they would like to grow. Whether it is team development, skill set development, or something specific to the solution, we can help refine it or give advice on how to scale it or point them in the right direction. Lastly, if the ET&I Group decides to offer an incubation opportunity, there may be an opportunity for the winner to become an Entrepreneur in Residence, which has the potential to commercialize the idea.

The Emerging Technologies and Incubation Group can also advise from an engineering or technical perspective or a business and strategy perspective.  We have a lot of experience in scaling across industries and scaling across public and private sectors.

Finally, when it comes to this prize, we think it is essential to fall in love with the problem that you are solving, not the solution that you’re building. Be open for refinement, iteration, and strategic pivots.

Interested? Apply to win!

If you have an innovative solution that you think could win the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge 2021 Digital Inclusivity Prize, please visit our website to register and learn more about the application process. The application deadline is January 29, 2021, at 5 p.m. PT.


Learn More and apply - Cisco Innovation Challenge


Sanjeev Mervana

Vice President of Product Management

Emerging Technologies & Incubation