Cisco employees share many similar qualities, but one that we all have is a road that led us to working for this wonderful company. Some have known and aspired to work for Cisco their entire life, while others (like myself) discovered Cisco during graduate school, and still there are some who never quite knew who Cisco was until applying and accepting their offer.

Once the dream to work for Cisco was born, I knew I wouldn’t stop until I saw it through and a few years later, after a lot of hard work – it happened, and I walked proudly into building 11 in our Research Triangle Park offices in Raleigh, NC. There were moments where this dream felt impossible as English was my third language, and I had no related work experience.

How would I become a leader in IT?

My determination, mixed with Cisco’s continued support – pushed me forward and I guess you could say that there were many surprises along the way. Notably, for me, was Cisco’s dedication to giving back. I was stunned by how our culture encourages every employee to give back, and how engrained this is in to our DNA.

Two years into my time at Cisco, I was inspired to start a non-profit that would embed my personal story of surviving the Rwanda Genocide (which was mostly unknown at the time to my co-workers) into my professional circle. The story that defined my childhood and shaped the adult I have become, became public as I relinquished my hold on keeping these worlds separate, and Rising Above the Storms was born to aid at-risk youth & orphans in underprivileged parts of the world.

What followed was a bit of new territory for me with two Cisco features as my post “Finding Hope Amid Great Loss” came out shortly thereafter and highlighted the loss I endured at the age of 13 during the Rwandan Genocide. It also went into how I supported my younger siblings, won a full scholarship to schools in Rwanda and the United States, and landed a dream job at Cisco. My post “7 Ways to Rise Above the Storm and Inspire Others” on Life at Cisco used my own words to map out my journey in both an internal and external format.

While I had initially found strength in knowing that I had successfully separated my personal and professional lives, these posts opened my mind immensely as I discovered the real strength lied in blending these worlds and inviting co-workers to get to know the real me.

Since then, (it’s hard to think that we’re closing in on three years now!) Cisco employees have continued to positively impact my life, as I was recently nominated for The Be the Bridge initiative where Cisco highlighted employees who were going above and beyond for their communities. The list of nominees was very long, which is another testament to how Cisco and its employees are dedicated to changing the world through our technology. But I was humbled to be selected as one of the 10 Be the Bridge Award Winners!

From there, our leaders encouraged employees to vote one more time from these 10 candidates as one would be the recipient of the Cisco Community Hero for 2018. I was so overwhelmed when my name was called to receive this honor, and it will forever be one of the greatest moments in my life.

In addition to a donation to Rising Above the Storms, Cisco also went on to highlight my personal story and nonprofit work in Rwanda by traveling to film the neighborhood I grew up in and where our kids in the program now live.

I am supported, loved, and encouraged at Cisco – and the experiences I have had as an individual add to the strength I bring to my day-to-day tasks and our innovative teams.

Based on my experience, I have found four ways Cisco employees gave back to me and instinctively knew they could help show their support:

1. We Encourage and Empathize: After sharing my story, I received many notes and emails from people who expressed their sympathy toward what I had gone through. They didn’t try to say they understood, they simply wanted me to know that they were sorry for what I had endured and that they were there for me now. It was powerful and moving, and still to this day means more to me than they will ever know.

Reaching out to someone after they have shared a piece of themselves so openly is a quick, painless, and extremely thoughtful way to share you care!

2. We Inspire: While I am by no means implying that I am inspiration, it has been so touching to receive notes of how my journey deeply changed someone’s view on life. I love to hear when parents plan to share my story with their young children to encourage them to make the world a better place, and while I often feel bad that they will have to hear such a heavy, sad story at all – I remember that I was just in the 7th grade myself when this happened.

I am also encouraged by the fact that these young kids are our future! I hope they grow up to make a difference in the world around them, and if my story aids in any part of that – I am proud to play a small role.

3. We Give Our Time: For Rising Above the Storms, most of our past and current volunteers have become Cisco employees in various roles throughout the company! It is so touching when someone reads or hears my story and is moved to help me and our cause.

Cisco employees are notorious in answering the rallying cry to help and because of this, it pushes me to keep doing what I do. I also don’t feel alone because of their support

4.We Give Financially: As a public charity, my nonprofit heavily relies on donations, and in the summer of 2016 became part of the Cisco Matching Gifts Program. Since then, donations from Cisco employees account for about 60 – 75% of our annual funds! I am forever humbled by the generosity of Cisco employees and Cisco as a company to support us in this way, as it (mixed with people who give of their time and talents) helps us to achieve even greater things for orphans in underdeveloped parts of the world.

One of the greatest take-aways for me, however, has been that you don’t have to really go through what someone else has experienced to attempt to understand how they may be feeling. I personally think it is quite easy to take a moment, put yourself in their shoes, and ask what you would do (or want others to do for you) if given the same situation?

Once you think that way, I believe your view changes and can possibly lead to you impacting someone’s life without even knowing it! Cisco employees seem to have this superpower, and it makes me so very proud that I get to be amongst their greatness.


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Alphonsine Anderson

Technical Solutions Architect