Cisco’s CSR Program Under CEO Chuck Robbins Is Flourishing

By Patrick Moorhead - March 9, 2016
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs are designed by companies to do a myriad of things and are shaped by what companies are trying to achieve in business. Programs can be used to attract a certain kind of employee, lower risk, improve brand profiles, keep governments off the backs of the company, and even help create new products and services. While Cisco Systems’ investment in corporate social responsibility stretches back to the company’s inception, with the instatement of new CEO Chuck Robbins in July 2015, the company isn’t pulling back at all on its ongoing commitment the public. Robbins has made the Cisco Systems CSR program a cornerstone of his tenure—carrying on the work of his predecessors while also developing new, innovative technological solutions to the critical issues affecting modern society. CEO Robbins supports CSR Put simply by Robbins himself in Cisco Systems’ 2015 CSR Report, “What is good for the world and good for business are more closely connected than ever before.” I believe this as business gets so much more interconnected, global and real-time. It’s this core understanding that I believe has placed Cisco Systems as one of the leaders and at the global forefront of corporate social responsibility. Run like a business, not a hobby Key to the program’s success is the fact that it is run like a business. Real metrics are shared publicly—objectives, time-frames, and progress reports are all readily available for the company’s stakeholders. Cisco Systems also undergoes periodic materiality assessments to prioritize their resources and investments— allocating the most towards issues where external stakeholders’ concerns align with the company’s own business opportunities. This reminds me more of how a company would work, not a CSR program. As a former large business leader myself, I would prefer a R (red)-Y (yellow)-G (green) chart with some reds, but this kind of accountability is really good. OST-1200x627 Each program and sub-program has a measurement system As a result of this process, Cisco Systems currently focuses their CSR efforts on five pillars: governance and ethics, societal applications of information and communication technology (ICT), environmental health, their own workforce (diversity, development and safety), and supply chain standards. The societal benefits of these pursuits are obvious, but they also hold intrinsic business value to Cisco Systems. Through their CSR efforts, the company says they are able to incubate new solutions and business models, attract and retain top talent, build relationships with governments, non-profits and customers, and contribute to the success of local economies. In short, everybody wins. csr-priority-1200x671 Cisco CSR Priorities (Photo credit: Cisco) Many companies pay lip service to the idea of CSR, but few are as comprehensive and in-depth as Cisco Systems’ program.  Their focus areas span across nearly all aspects of civic engagement—from access to education and healthcare, to the very front lines of disaster relief. Tactical Operations On that note, one of Cisco Systems’s most innovative and impactful CSR programs is its Tactical Operations team (TacOps for short). In the event of a natural disaster or emergency, this crack squad of ten full-time, highly trained specialists quickly deploy to ground zero—setting up mobile communication centers with the help of their two state-of-the-art Networking Emergency Relief Vehicles (NERVs) when deployed in the U.S. Each NERV is equipped with a satellite dish, Cisco Systems Unified IP Phones, Cisco Systems TelePresence solution, and other options for Internet connectivity, which enable the TacOps team to open communication and coordinate relief efforts with organizations like FEMA, the United Nations, and the Red Cross. Internationally, TacOps deploys mobile solutions, like in the Philippines. NERV2-1200x896 NERV (Photo credit: Cisco) Their efforts are especially crucial in remote, impoverished regions already deficient in networking infrastructure—such as the Philippines when Typhoon Haiyan struck in 2013. By establishing communications between first responder organizations and the rest of the globe, TacOps  played an important role in raising and expediting food, water, and medical aid to those in need. To date, the TacOp team has assisted in relief for 35 natural disasters worldwide—making a real difference in people’s lives, and demonstrating a true commitment to corporate social responsibility. Currently, TacOps is deployed supporting the refugee crisis in Europe providing WiFi Connecticut along the path to different countries. Refugees can let family member know how they are doing and receive instructions from government entities. Networking Academy On the education front, another one of Cisco Systems’s CSR flagship programs is its global Networking Academy. Partnering with schools, colleges, governments, and non-profits across the world, Cisco Systems is training approximately 1 million students every year in information and communication technology. Cisco Systems provides the curriculum, tools, assessments and more—building students technical knowledge while simultaneously cultivating the communication, problem-solving and collaboration skills necessary for them to thrive in the workforce. In turn, their partners provide the classrooms, computers, and qualified instructors. The Networking Academy currently is comprised of more than 20,000 instructors, 9,500 academies, across 170 countries—and counting. Considering the global scope of this program, it’s clear that the next generation of IT professionals worldwide will bear Cisco Systems’s imprint. The Networking Academy is a direct response to a very real demand– in today’s increasingly interconnected workforce, there are worldwide shortages in IT professionals equipped to design, install, secure and manage computer networking. With its high post-grad job placement rate, the Networking Academy is making great strides to address the problem. 80% of students in one particular academy in Cambodia found work in three months, and graduates typically end up making around 5 times the country’s national average salary. A whopping 97% of students in a secondary school graduate program in Italy (where youth unemployment is at 40%) found work within 6 months. These staggering figures are clear testament to Cisco Systems’ winning strategy. Another important aspect of the program is that, like many of Cisco Systems’ CSR efforts. Networking Academy is primarily directed at economically under-served communities. They’ve worked to integrate more women into the workforce in Jordan. They’ve trained inmates in Italy to help them prepare for a new life post-incarceration. This influx of more IT professionals in the workforce is a perfect example of Robbins’ main point– what’s good for society and individuals can also be a huge boon to business. Partnerships In addition to the two previously mentioned initiatives, Cisco Systems also has a myriad of partnerships with non-profits, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and community-based organizations that share in the company’s unique vision of bettering the world. Access to education is one of their primary causes—Cisco Systems actively seeks out partners that provide innovative, technologically based programs in STEM studies (Science, technology, engineering, and math). In addition, the company partners with many organizations focused on economic empowerment—bringing technology to disadvantaged communities, as well as providing access to information, skills, and financial resources. Critical human needs organizations also make up a significant portion of Cisco Systems’s partnerships. These include organizations focused on bringing food, water, and housing to those in need—Habitat for Humanity, Blue Planet Networking, and Feeding America, just to name a few. What is so unique to this program is the selection process. Cisco Systems chooses to help those organizations who have the plans to succeed long-term, and helps them get setup to be self-sufficient. It is more of a VC process than anything else. Ultimately, Cisco wants these partners to be on their own. I call it VC, Cisco calls it “non-profit, social innovation investment model.” Wrapping up Cisco’s CSR, in short, is impressive. It is the most comprehensive CSR programs I’ve seen, aligned and prioritized to business goals, and is run like a business with real metrics and accountability. Not everyone gets excited talking up CSR, but I have to say, talking to the TacOps team leader and talking through the passion of the partnerships, anyone could get excited. I will be drilling into TacOps, Networking Academy, and CSR partnerships.
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Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.