Cisco Makes $150 million Commitment to help HBCUs Strategically Recover and Flourish

Cisco’s purpose is to power an inclusive future for all. This means building a workforce that is reflective of the world we live in, helping to connect the unconnected, and answering the call to those in need.

With our purpose as our backdrop, Cisco committed to being a part of the reckoning on racial injustice that affected us profoundly. Last September, we unveiled our Social Justice Beliefs and Our Commitment to Action. It was a critical milestone for us as a company and a first step in our journey to combat deeply rooted racial inequities. It was specifically developed to drive change within ourselves, our communities, our customers, and our partners. And it demands bold and deliberate action.

As part of this commitment, we are partnering with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to develop long-term, sustainable strategies focused on delivering student and university success.

Today, I’m proud to announce our next step towards spurring the recovery, resiliency, and legacy of HBCUs in perpetuity. In partnership with the Student Freedom Initiative, and Computex Technology Solutions, we’re scaling and accelerating our impact through a $150 million commitment.

This commitment will help to:

  1. Support STEM students Student Freedom Initiative is establishing an “Access to Education” endowment and Cisco is honored to be the first corporate donor with the hope of inspiring others to join. Starting with a $50 million anchor investment, we will help the endowment reach its goal of $450 million. When funded, this endowment will support 4,500 students in perpetuity. A self-sustaining model to provide access to funding to students for generations. The endowment will be available to students in Fall 2021 at nine HBCUs: Claflin, Clark Atlanta, Florida A&M, Hampton, Morehouse, Prairie View, Tougaloo, Tuskegee, and Xavier of Louisiana.
  2. Build technology excellence In partnership with Computex Technology Solutions, Cisco is committed to modernizing the technology capabilities and supporting needed compliance efforts at all HBCUs. Cisco is providing $100 million in hardware, software and services, while Computex Technology Solutions is donating installation services. Together, we will help HBCUs achieve compliance in their IT infrastructure to standards set by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), as well as improvements in product design and architecture, while maintaining Title IV funding.
  3. Promote success, before and beyond graduation Cisco Networking Academy, industry-standard IT education program, will be available to all HBCUs with increased student recruitment opportunities and free instructor training to accelerate the impact. The first-ever HBCU Startup Prize within the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge will award cash prizes to early-stage technology entrepreneurs solving the world’s most pressing social and environmental problems. Additionally, Cisco will partner with SkillsCommons and MERLOT to introduce HBCUs to license-free content for online course delivery and Internet2 to provide increased access to research and potential investment opportunities.
  4. Inform and engage Cisco’s HBCU Advisory Board will bring together leaders in Cisco to share best practices and engage other partners, employees, and community stakeholders. To expand our own awareness, we will communicate companywide engagement and investment progress for HBCUs.

Heart, empathy, and action

This is why I came to Cisco. To work for a company — and leader in Chuck Robbins — that takes our commitment to heart and follows it up with concrete action. Curiosity, proximity, and empathy, one of Cisco’s core beliefs, structured the strategy for action. In January 2020, Chuck invited a group of African American/Black employees to our executive leadership team for an honest conversation about race. By getting proximate to our talent, we understood what they needed to be success and how we, as leaders, could help. This conversation evolved into a 100-day sprint to turn what we heard into action — all of which led to our Social Justice Actions and Framework.

Our purpose is at the heart of everything we do. By “all,” we mean everyone — all communities of color, races and ethnicities, gender identities, social classes, faiths, nationalities, relationships, ages, and family statuses. Together, our purpose and beliefs reflect the very essence of who we are as a company. It is through our shared empathy that this action was constructed. This action is intentionally bold and deliberate because we understood through our employees where and how we needed to meet the moment for the African American/Black community and HBCUs.

Moreover, this is not a “one-and-done” effort. Through the HBCU investments made today, we are giving the African American/Black community the tools to be resilient and successful long-term. With the benefits created by these investment funds, students can be successful for many years to come. It’s a gesture that reinforces our ongoing commitment to this community — to be seen, heard, valued, and invested in as we work to help build a more inclusive society and future for all.

But we can’t do this alone. We want to leverage the power of the entire Cisco ecosystem — our people, partners, customers, and investor communities — to join us in taking action, because we know that our collective impact will be much greater than Cisco’s alone. You and your organization can support access to education for HBCU students by joining SFI’s endowment.

The past year has challenged us all. But it also forced us to take a hard look in the mirror at the deep inequities that divided us, as well as the opportunities to help our nation (and world) heal and recover. From this crisis, there is real opportunity to be the change and our announcement today outlines Cisco’s commitment to being that change.

As we all reflect on the tragedies that this past year brought us, let us start planning for the triumphs we instead want to be celebrating in the years to come. We will continue to listen, lead with empathy, and stay proximate. And we will continue to empower change and take action to make a lasting impact on lives today and for generations to come.


Read more about Maria Martinez, Cisco Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer


Maria Martinez

Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer

Cisco Systems