Technology holds great promise to improve lives – consider how every second in India, three people experience the Internet for the first time. Or how video collaboration units enable  patients at family health clinics in rural areas in Africa to connect to specialists at larger medical centers.

Yet technology can do little if a person lacks access to basic needs. We live in a world of complex global challenges that deeply impact millions around the world—water scarcity, hunger, homelessness, and unemployment, to name a few. According to the World Bank, 10 percent of the world’s population lives on less than US$1.90 a day. In addition, 2.1 billion people lack reliable access to safely-managed drinking water services, and 4.5 billion lack safely-managed sanitation services.

At Cisco, making a difference and improving lives around the world has been core to who we are for over 30 years. We have consistently leveraged our technology to solve real business and social problems, and ultimately to build bridges to new possibilities. It is this mission that has driven us to establish our Networking Academy program, which for more than 20 years has been providing IT training, preparing students around the world for entry-level jobs, career transitions, and professional certification. More than 9 million students in 180 countries have participated in Networking Academy thus far, and the number continues to grow.

We are also committed to helping locally within our own community – earlier this year, we made a five-year, $50 million commitment to Destination: Home, a San Jose-based public-private partnership focused on providing permanent housing to the chronically homeless in Santa Clara County.  We also recently announced a new $20 million TECH Fund investment with Pure Storage and LinkedIn to help build affordable homes in the greater Bay Area.

But given the incredible complexity of the issues that face us, it is clear that governments, companies, educational institutions, nonprofits, and individuals working in isolation cannot address these challenges alone. We all must work together to partner, creating local, regional, or national strategies and take advantage of the opportunities digitization can provide.

Partnering is also core to who we are at Cisco – we do it with our own customers and partners every day, helping them take advantage of the full potential of our technology and solutions. But we also do it with other organizations – schools, nonprofits, governments – that can help us leverage technology to have a positive impact on the world.

It is this commitment that has led us to build a partnership with Global Citizen, an organization focused on mobilizing 100 million socially-minded advocates who want to end extreme global poverty by 2030. Cisco and Global Citizen are united in our belief that we must all take a role in helping solve the world’s biggest problems, and that young people around the world can lead the way.

This US$250,000 cash prize was designed to recognize a young person who is making a meaningful contribution to ending global poverty.

This year’s winner, Wawira Njiru, started Food 4 Education, an organization dedicated to ensuring that schoolchildren in Kenya have access to a nutritious meal. Food 4 Education’s cost-efficient, sustainable, scalable model provides 2,000 meals a day, allowing children to stay in school and focus on their education. As a result of her efforts, school attendance has improved by 24 percent, and primary to high school transition rates have increased from 60 percent to 96 percent.

Looking ahead over the next three years, Wawira and Food 4 Education have a set a goal to serve 100,000 meals per day. I have no doubt that with Wawira’s passion and tenacity, that goal will be met.

At the Festival, I also had the pleasure to announce that we are doubling down on our investment in Networking Academy, with a commitment to educate another 10 million people in the next five years to work and thrive in the digital economy. I was joined on stage by Soso Luningo, who grew up in poverty under difficult conditions, but who was able to gain the skills she needed through Networking Academy.

Soso’s incredible story shows us that access to technology and education can have a tremendous impact. It’s also stories like these that make me excited about what we can do when we build partnerships, and help those in need. By focusing our efforts on the core issues we all share – the need for a home, food, clean water, an education, and the opportunity to make a living – we can support a digital economy in which everyone, regardless of gender, background or location, has the chance to thrive.

Cisco has consistently had a goal to make a measurable impact on people, our communities and our planet – simply put, we are focused on building bridges between hope and possibility. After spending time with Wawira and with Soso, and seeing the passion to make a difference shared by thousands of young people at the festival, I have never been more inspired or felt more optimistic about what we can – and will – achieve.



Chuck Robbins

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Cisco Systems, Inc.