When you hit a significant anniversary, you can’t help but to reflect on where you’ve been, appreciate the present, and look forward to where you’re heading. As Cisco celebrates its 35th anniversary, I find myself doing just that.
My first role at the company (about 30 years ago) was co-founding the Business Development organization. Even in its early days, Cisco was fully committed to solving problems, connecting people, and delivering positive outcomes – starting in our own backyard. I remember employees at our first office in East Palo Alto hopping a fence to take IT equipment to a neighboring school in need. What started back then as a desire to give back to the local community would ultimately become a deep, lasting commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR) – one that is integrated into Cisco’s business strategy and core to our purpose, culture, and how we invest.
While working in Business Development to build partnerships with other technology companies, it became quite clear there was a high demand for Cisco networking expertise in our customer base and partner channel, but a lack of supply. Acquiring talent got competitive. So much so, once an employee at a partner organization obtained a Cisco certification, another partner would swoop in to recruit him/her away. To help increase the supply of talent, we established our signature CSR program, Cisco Networking Academy, in 1997. Initially, the program was offered in six U.S. states. Over 20 years later, we’re helping to fuel a more inclusive future for all by partnering with educators, governments, and employers to bring education for in-demand job paths in areas such as networking, cybersecurity, and IoT to nearly 11 million cumulative students (2.1 million students in FY19).
Once settled into my role of stewarding CSR across the business and as our programs began to grow, we asked ourselves an important question: How will we know if our programs are scaling to deliver value, and resulting in deep, inclusive impact around the world? In order to ignite our collective passion and innovation around this, we needed an audacious goal – one that matched the need. So, in 2016, we decided we couldn’t settle for anything less than positively impacting one billion people through our signature programs and social impact grants by 2025. At the end of FY19, we’re excited to share that we have positively impacted a cumulative 469 million people worldwide, putting us at 47% of our goal.
A significant way we’re making progress against this goal is through our early-stage investments in nonprofit organizations using technology-based solutions to serve underrepresented and vulnerable populations. Opportunity International, for example, is a nonprofit partner that has made significant impact in creating jobs and empowering women, farmers, and rural youth via financial products and training. The organization’s goal was to reach 20 million people and create 3 million jobs by 2020 and is thrilled to have reached that goal a year early. Cisco’s investments in nonprofits enable them to improve how they operate, reach underserved communities, and help the communities they live in to thrive.
Cisco is also investing in a new generation of social entrepreneurs that share our commitment to leveraging technology to solve economic, social, and environmental problems. Since 2016, we have invested more than $1 million to support young entrepreneurs through innovation challenges, such as our Global Problem Solver Challenge, that recognizes students using technology to address these problems. Our 2019 Grand Prize Winner, Oorja, is developing pay-as-you go solar-powered water pumps to help smallholder farmers in India reduce their expenses and increase their incomes. We also partnered with Global Citizen last year to establish the Global Citizen Prize: Cisco Youth Leadership Award, honoring individuals between ages 18-30 who have made a significant contribution towards ending poverty. The award includes a $250,000 prize. With visibility, funding, and encouragement, we are helping future leaders realize their mission to drive positive impact and playing a role in increasing access to new and innovative technology solutions that improve people’s lives.
In addition to our social impact work, we also have a company-wide focus on advancing environmentally sustainable growth. Cisco has set environmental goals since 2006 and continues to set goals aligned with our most material issues: energy and GHG emissions as well as product and packaging materials. In FY19, we reduced our total Scope 1 and 2 GHG emissions worldwide by 48% (FY07 baseline) and are 80% of the way to achieving our FY22 goal (reduction of 60%). We’re also working to reduce our use of plastic in the designs of our products and packaging. In FY19, we avoided the use of 456 metric tonnes of virgin plastic, laying a foundation for us to achieve our goal of reducing virgin plastic use by 20% by FY25. Our overall intent – to operate a sustainable business that respects the environment.
Some may wonder what’s changed the most in the CSR field over the last 20+ years. We’ve seen that social responsibility is no longer a “nice to do”. It is something our stakeholders are requiring of us. Gone are the days where companies are expected to focus solely on delivering profits for shareholders – being purpose driven is becoming just as important (and can even fuel profits). Investors are becoming more cognizant of this and the long-term benefits of implementing social change into the core business model.
We also know that employees want to work for – and customers want to do business with – a company that is having a positive social impact. According to the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2017, millennials, who make up half the work force, expect a lot from corporate responsibility and are becoming increasingly sensitive to how organizations address issues such as income inequality, hunger, and the environment. Similarly, Cone Communications found that US consumers are more likely to have a positive image of a company (92%) when the company tries to drive social change. Here at Cisco, we see the increased interest from our own customers with inquiries about CSR on the rise, particularly around environmental impact.
This all bodes well for Cisco since making a positive impact on people, society, and the planet has long been a priority for us. Yet, there is still much work to do and goals for us to achieve. As our world becomes increasingly interconnected, we will face both existing and new societal and environmental challenges that no single entity can solve alone. Businesses, governments, and communities will need to work even more closely together to create new paths of opportunity for an inclusive future. What’s particularly exciting is that this provides business with an opportunity – and responsibility – to play a significant role in the coming years. Businesses have access to valuable resources – like technology, expertise, and ecosystems – that when coupled with compassion, can drive meaningful innovation, greater scale, and sizable impact. It is up to us, collectively, and Cisco embraces the opportunity to work with our partners to continue to deliver positive outcomes in the years ahead.