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Last month, Cisco announced we exceeded our ten-year goal to positively impact one billion lives – more than one year early. The 1.1 billion lives we’ve changed for the better represent approximately one-eighth of the world’s population.

The announcement was just the first step in our commitment to share the stories within our journey to one billion lives, and to share our approach and learnings to empower organizations of any size in driving real change and lasting social impact in communities around the world.


See how we met our One Billion Lives goal video (1:24)

Cisco Executive Vice President and Chief People, Policy, and Purpose Officer Fran Katsoudas illuminates this guiding principle in Cisco’s FY23 Purpose Report. “When we defined our Purpose, to Power an Inclusive Future for All, we operationalized the work of our teams to co-innovate with partners leveraging connectivity; address the digital skills gap; drive sustainability, inclusivity, and social justice; and support new ideas with partnerships and impact grants.”

To achieve our goal to positively impact one billion lives, Cisco forged over 100 partnerships and invested in hundreds of initiatives in nearly two hundred countries, in every region of the world. We put people at the center of our work and focused on positive impact in the areas of crisis response, learning and digital skills, and economic empowerment.

We also created what we call “the Blueprint for One Billion” to align our partnerships and our initiatives with the guiding principles that intersect our business, technology, and innovation together with our Purpose, and allow us to focus where we could have the deepest impact.

We believe that our guiding principles can be applied to organizations of any size to drive increased and lasting social impact.


The Blueprint for One Billion: Aligning purpose and partnership to drive impact

Start with “why”

Cisco volunteers
A group of Cisco volunteers holds up bags of freshly harvested produce

Start with defining your “why.” For each company, this is going to look a little different­––and that’s a good thing. Root your “why” in the products and services for which your company has expertise­, and in the areas of Purpose that are passions for your people.

Cisco products and services power the Internet, including networking, security, collaboration, cloud management, and more. So, our “why” was deeply rooted in connecting the world and finding an answer to a seemingly simple question, “how many lives could we change?” It was rooted in finding out what was possible if we pushed ourselves and our company in new ways, leveraging our core business of connection and innovation, and investing in partnerships and innovative solutions.

We were driven to connect longstanding challenges with new possibilities to overcome and to deepen our understanding of how to create lasting change. Along this journey, we articulated our company’s Purpose, to Power an Inclusive Future for All.


Clearly define your intended impacts

There are many ways to define impact, so it’s important to get clear about how your company will define and measure it.

We worked with our nonprofit partners to develop a shared definition of positive impact. Together, we agreed that positive impact occurs when an individual has gained access to a critical resource, learned something, or participated in a meaningful way.

For example, for job seekers, positive impact is achieved by completing a training program and obtaining a job that provides stable and sufficient income. For students, it’s gaining knowledge and demonstrating proficiency in the subject matter. And for a community in need of water, it’s having a reliable, affordable source of clean drinking water that is available to all people within the community.


Build a rigorous tracking methodology

Tracking and validating impact is a complex but crucial process. This is critical for transparency and accurate reporting, and determining whether you are having the desired impact.

Our methodology focused on finding a balance between rigor to ensure consistency and accuracy and meeting the needs of our nonprofit grant partners.

In addition to validating positive impact, our methodology ensures each person counted is unique, and that they are only counted once over time. For example, some people may benefit from multiple programs within a year or may benefit from the same program over multiple years – they are only counted once within the timeframe of our One Billion Lives goal.

Woman in field with harvest
A smallholder farmer shows her abundant harvest (PC: myAgro)

We recognized that we could not always accurately quantify the impact of some categories within our Social Impact investments. To address this, we did not include some of our social impact grants where the nonprofit partner did not have a way to count unique individuals positively impacted. This was the case, for example, with some of our nonprofit partners who address food insecurity – as they do not track unique individuals who receive support.

Cisco engaged PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to conduct an independent limited assurance of our progress toward our goal and our accompanying methodology and validation processes between FY16-FY22, ensuring our path to one billion was sound. We applied the same approach and methodology in FY23.

 

Invest in potential

With an audacious goal, clear definitions of impact, and a rigorous methodology in place, we turned our attention to executing against our investment model.

Cisco focuses on getting in early – providing critical seed funding to promising nonprofits to ideate, create, and test tech-enabled solutions. While investing in proven solutions responds to immediate needs, identifying and investing in new and innovative solutions can help scale and amplify your impact over time.

Our strategy of investing in tech-enabled solutions stems from who we are. As a technology company, we believe in the power of technology to connect the unconnected, and also to have impact at scale.

We support our nonprofit partners beyond cash grant funding. We donate our technology to enable our partners to deliver their offerings more securely and effectively and connect them to subject matter experts across the company, and to key organizations, partners, and funders. We do this to ensure that our partners can have sustained impact well beyond the lifecycle of our engagement with them.

Our Social Impact Grant partners get the time, space, funding, and flexibility to test their solutions. As those solutions are validated, we provide continued support to help our partners replicate those solutions to new geographies and scale to reach more people. Cisco gains a better understanding of the challenge they are solving and what it takes to drive true impact. We all grow from innovating – together.

Two adults walking with small child
Two workers from a relief organization help a young child in Jordan (photo credit: Mercy Corps)


What’s
next?

Today, we are sharing with you our Blueprint to One Billion. As we contemplate our next inspired goal, we’re committed to sharing more about what we’ve learned in positively impacting one billion lives and to understanding more about the challenges faced by communities around the world. We will share stories of our partners, the work they do, the solutions we have funded, and the lives that have been impacted as a result.

  • Explore the inspiring stories within our goal to positively impact One Billion Lives
  • Go deeper in understanding all that Cisco is doing to bring the power of purpose to life within Cisco’s FY23 Purpose Report
  • Hear from Brian Tippens and Guy Diedrich how we’re continuing to expand our approach to positive impact in The next one billion lives


Authors

Charu Adesnik

Executive Director, Cisco Foundation; Director, Social Innovation Investments