As a Credit Analyst in Cisco’s Finance organization, I’ve worked at our San Jose headquarters for 11 years. In that time, I focused on gaining experience in various functions throughout Cisco Capital (first in Operations and now in Global Credit) to provide me with a variety of perspectives. I incorporate this knowledge when facing daily corporate challenges. As part of the Credit Ops Team, I bring meaningful insights from data through analytics as well as lead or participate in end-to-end projects and initiatives. I have a love of creating wow-worthy dashboards, and recently have been interested in Robotic Process Automation and have created multiple BOTs for my organization.

Karishma stadning behind her daughter, while she holds up books that she's read

We love technology at Cisco, but what we love even more is connecting the unconnected. There’s simply no match for the human connection – and that is something that can be done in so many ways.

At the height of last year, our team realized how much we were struggling. And not just us – but our families too! That’s when my co-worker Molly Finnick saw a way to connect our children (who were away from friends at school) with other family members and members of our community who were struggling with social distancing and being away from each other. And it all started with a pen pal program!

To this day, there are some strong connections that were created from this pen pal program – like the one between Molly’s daughter Rory (10) and 95-year-old Jackie, who is the mom of one our team members or the bond between my daughter Pari (now 8) and her pen pal Rita Whitehouse, our co-worker from the Global Credit Team.

For Pari, as many young children, she expressed herself through drawings, crafts, and cards. So, this is what she would send to Rita (along with playing made-up songs on her guitar). And what Pari learned from Rita is that she is a devoted Cisco employee on the weekdays, but Rita volunteers her precious free time at Noah’s Ark Sanctuary – a beautifully wooded, 250-acre conservation home in Locust Grove, GA for more than 1,500 rescued animals from over 100 different species, including both exotic and domestic animals, as well as native wildlife.

She opened her heart to my little girl and sent Pari books on animals from the sanctuary, and so their journey began.

Amidst the chaos of last year, their friendship blossomed, and I have watched as they both brought so much joy and hope to each other. Rita’s love for the animals at the sanctuary has inspired Pari. She now follows their lives virtually and looks forward to the day she can visit them and Rita in person. Recently, Rita mentioned in a letter that, because of this past year, the non-profit has seen a decrease in their donations, and they are having to pay higher prices for food and medical supplies. When I explained this to Pari, she was heartbroken for the animals and wanted to help change their situation.

Rit's daughter's PenPal sitting in front of a bear, while working on a laptop.

Her first action was to bring me her little coin purse filled with quarters and dollar bills – she asked me to give it all to the sanctuary for food and supplies. But she didn’t stop there! She then started raising awareness and advocating for these animals to her teacher and classmates, appealing them to donate. Her compassion for these silent living beings and her willingness to make a positive change in their lives then led to a fundraiser.

Along the way, Cisco’s CEO Chuck Robbins learned of Pari & Rita’s story – and their efforts to provide support to the sanctuary. He sent encouraging words to them and helped Pari with her fundraising goal. It has since evolved into a Bright Funds donation page where for every $1 donated by a Cisco employee to Noah’s Ark Sanctuary, Cisco matches that donation!

This year has been difficult, it has had moments where I have felt insecure and disharmonious. Sometimes, I wonder how to explain it to my daughter without tainting her view of the world. But this pen pal program and seeing the impact Rita and Pari’s bond has had – not just on themselves, but now for these animals too – it has given me hope. Not all is lost, and together we can unite for a healthier, stronger, more equitable world.

Cisco brought my daughter and Rita together, it’s unlikely they would’ve crossed paths otherwise – and that should give us all hope. I am proud that Cisco encourages us to connect the unconnected, and power an inclusive future for all.


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Karishma Shah

Credit Analyst

Cisco Capital