In times of crisis, we at Cisco come together and question how we can help those most in need. This unifying motion in our culture reflects the generous spirit of our people and a set of reflexes we have developed over time by conscious attention and intention to make a positive impact in the world.
As a company, we’ve been focused on navigating the complex and rapidly escalating war in Ukraine, while determining the most impactful ways to care for our people on the ground and those affected by the violence. A challenge for all purpose-driven companies is trying to anticipate crises before they occur, rather than responding after the fact. Our efforts to support our people in Ukraine and get them to safety began weeks before Russian troops arrived in the country, as did our response to cyberattacks in the region through our Talos team. These efforts have accelerated as we leverage our technology, compassionate people, and extensive partner ecosystem to respond to the needs of the Ukrainian people at this crucial time.
At Cisco we also know that our purpose doesn’t sit separate from our business, but alongside it. We hold ourselves accountable to our purpose and take action accordingly. This belief helped guide our decision to stop all business operations, including sales and services, in Russia and Belarus. We vehemently condemn Russia’s unprovoked attacks, and act in solidarity and support of the Ukrainian government and all those impacted by this war.
While we know it was the right decision, that doesn’t mean it was easy. We are constantly weighing the implications for our employees, customers, and partner organizations serving critical human needs––schools, hospitals, humanitarian agencies—and working to care for them as we navigate layers of complexity. But through it all, our purpose has directed our actions, our efforts, and our learnings.
Let Our Purpose—And People—Be Our Guide
Allowing our purpose to guide us has taught us valuable lessons about how we can respond in a time of crisis. We’ve learned that we must make every effort to care for our people and their families through steadfast and decisive leadership, and unequivocally standing up for what’s right. We’ve also learned from our people that we can’t avoid the tough conversations—we must embrace them. The skills we’ve built as a result have allowed us to understand and consider multiple points of view, competing priorities, and consider them all in our evolving responses.
Four weeks ago, Russia invaded Ukraine. Days later, we held an all hands meeting with our employees in the region to hear their concerns and fears. We began addressing the immediate needs of our people while still determining the larger plan of action and response. One week later, we called a special all company meeting to share our position, support, and initial steps. Last week, I traveled to Poland with members of our Cisco leadership team to meet with our employees in Krakow and Warsaw, including many Ukrainian employees who fled from their home countries. I also visited the Ukrainian border, where thousands of people arrive every day, having left their homes and often their family members in search of safety.
The conversations I and others had with our people, and the realities I witnessed at the border, were heartbreaking and humbling. I heard the pain, fear, and anger in the voices of our employees—for themselves, their loved ones, and their countries. I watched as women crossed the border pushing strollers full of children and the only belongings they had left. I saw first-hand the piles of clothes, supplies, and cots waiting to be distributed, and the tireless commitment of relief agencies working to attend to the immediate needs of the people.
Sometimes there are things we need to see and learn, and our employees are often our best teachers. Through our conversations with our people over the past few weeks, an important and often overlooked way that we can care for people has become clear—the words we use.
Recognize that Words are Powerful
Words frame and characterize our experiences, for ourselves and those we connect with. The words we use collectively become our narratives, and our narratives are among the most powerful forces in our societies. A powerful way anyone can support the people of Ukraine and those impacted by this war is through conscious attention to the way we frame these events.
Using words like “situation” or “tragedy” to describe the events in Ukraine dilutes the injustice and violence being perpetrated against the Ukrainian people. Our words need to capture and reflect the realities of the violence in Ukraine if we are to put the needs of people first. There is not a “situation” in Ukraine; there is a war. It is not merely a “tragedy,” it is an unprovoked act of violence. It is unjustified and unwarranted.
The need to be conscious of our words was something that became clear as we responded to social justice issues in the United States over the past few years, and we learned through that journey as well. We learned that there is a difference between “killing” and “murder,” and the difference in using one word or the other has an impact on how we demonstrate our care for our people. And that remains true today.
Unprecedented moments in history still require learning new reflexes, and then flexing those new muscles through action. Central in what we’ve learned is that we must respond with strategic and thoughtful urgency in order to support our most vulnerable, enable communities, and promote safety and resiliency.
Support the Most Vulnerable
We have seen an incredible outpouring of support for our Ukrainian employees and all communities impacted by the war. This includes providing direct support for employees and families at risk, including assisting many with relocation and localization in Poland, and staying in contact with those who remain in Ukraine.
But we have also witnessed instances of Ukrainian refugees experiencing bias in social class, race, and religion as they seek refuge in neighboring countries. We have simultaneously seen citizens of Russia being mistreated for the decisions of their nation state—not decisions of their own making. Centering the needs of people means that we must be thoughtful in separating the person from the decisions of those in power.
These understandings have directed our actions. We are matching employee donations to U.S.-based and international Humanitarian Assistance Funds, which have collectively raised close to $2 million with donations from almost 9,000 employees over the past few weeks. Alongside our strategic partners the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and NetHope, we will be deploying Cisco equipment and providing secure connectivity to humanitarian response agencies and displaced communities outside of Ukraine. We are working closely with our nonprofit partners providing direct responses, and will continue to support their efforts to address immediate needs as the conflict continues.
Enable Communities on the Ground
We know that crisis creates a ripple effect. There are communities at the center of the crisis and there are repercussions of the crisis for surrounding communities. The best guidance will come from the lived experiences of those closest to the crisis, not by imposing assumptions about commonality and a universal experience which may misdirect our support.
With this in mind, we are allocating $1 million in Cisco Foundation grant funding to support regional and country-level nonprofit organizations selected by our local teams. Cisco Crisis Response (CCR) and Community Impact teams are identifying safe and appropriate volunteer opportunities for employees in the Eurozone and impacted countries. Our employees in the region and around the world are utilizing our company’s Time2Give program, which allocates 80 hours per year of paid time to volunteer and help others in need and times of challenge. We’ve provided employees who are hosting displaced people an additional 80 hours this year to try and support their generosity.
Promote Safety and Resiliency
We are working to address the immediate needs of people, while simultaneously investing in the infrastructure and programs that will create the opportunity for long-term success. Our Country Digital Acceleration team, which partners with governments on such infrastructure projects, is activated and exploring ways we can help the region in the recovery.
As we look ahead, we will invest in long-term resiliency and safety initiatives to support education, training and economic empowerment programs, and additional infrastructure and programs for all Ukrainians, including those displaced by war. We will leverage our powerful partnerships with organizations such as Save the Children and Techfugees, and our existing programs such as NetAcad to address acute and emerging needs.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve heard the same question asked from employees around the world: “How can I help?”
I too asked that question of our non-profit partners we met with in Poland, the organizations closest to response efforts and to understanding first-hand the needs of people fleeing their homelands. And the answer to that question – support our efforts financially.
While that may seem like a small and impersonal way to respond, it truly is the most immediate and effective way for all of us to get involved. Organizations like UN Refugee Agency, Americares, NetHope, Mercy Corps, and World Central Kitchen are positioned to respond directly to people’s needs, while also providing them agency to make choices about their next steps. Their expertise and proximity to the crisis makes them the best equipped to allocate resources in the most impactful way possible, and I encourage you to support them in doing so.
We at Cisco have the capacity, collective will, and a unique, intentional approach to crises to mobilize and affect lasting positive impact in Ukraine and for impacted communities. While we are constantly learning and evolving, we will always be committed to showing up with intention and action in service of doing what we believe is right and just. Please join us in supporting the people of Ukraine and all those impacted by this war.