A lot of companies have Corporate Responsibility programs, and most of them—in my experience—are more or less lip service and slip when it comes to focusing on making real, measurable change. Cisco is a massive exception in that they, from their CEO down, recognize that the future of the race depends on making the world a better place. The financial side of this is that countries that can’t even supply clean water, medicine, and/or food aren’t going to be buying a lot of tech and employees, particularly millennials, prefer to work for and buy from companies that are working to improve the world in some material way.
What Cisco often does is go in early into a developing country with problems with a partner like Mercy Corps to improve access to food, water, shelter, and help areas recover from disaster. They have made significant efforts to address homelessness in Silicon Valley and to a lesser extent is Italy.
Power in Partnerships
At a recent even, they had the project manager for Mercy Corp, Karen Smetana, on stage and she spoke to the 5-year partnership with Cisco. She highlighted there are over 64 million people displaced worldwide due to natural disasters and more than 134 million in dire need of material assistance. They have materially assisted over 1 million people to date.
Mercy Corps is one of Cisco’s g- to companies for major projects to improve the conditions in troubled areas, and their performance—according to Cisco—is unparalleled. One of the things mentioned during the session, however,r is that Cisco has a large numbers of partners like Mercy Corp and they are expanding to coordinate with their hundreds of Cisco sales partners as a massive, focused, leveraged effort to reach their goal of improving materially the lives of 1 billion—with a “B”—people that need help.
At scale, I don’t think there is any other single company that has the potential to do good that Cisco has. It is a powerful advantage, and a consideration for customers, if you are as concerned about the future of the world like I am.
They also had one of their TechOps people, Ron, on stage. This was an organization initially focused on helping the US military, but after Hurricane Katrina they shifted the effort to focus on disasters and to partner with Mercy Corps to get communication up and running and coordinate aid.
The result is a massive improvement in humanitarian response, higher safety for the aid workers, and solid progress towards overcoming whatever problem we face, be it disaster recovery, economic disaster, or any other localized problem or event. These field specialists are boots-on-the-ground, and they personally experience the risks associated with going into these areas. 300 of the folks that are on the extended team have other jobs in Cisco, but they have volunteered to step in when needed.
One interesting effort was in Venezuela which is undergoing a massive civil unrest problem, and their focus was on creating a secure way of communicating across the country. What was particularly interesting about his case was that Cisco was able to get in and help where other organizations and the US government could not. They did this by using in-country aid organizations which weren’t blocked by the local government.
The goal is to transform the way aid is delivered, improve the effectiveness of the remediation efforts surrounding the disaster, and help the geography get back on its feet.
Wrapping Up: Setting the Bar on Social Responsibility
Cisco this week reaffirmed that when it comes to Corporate Social Responsibility, they set the bar. This isn’t slide wear. Cisco employees regularly put themselves at risk, heroically leaving their families and putting themselves in harms way to help others at scale. Their TechOps effort is unique and their partnerships with other firms to directly address world problems are unprecedented in their breadth. But their greatest contribution is likely as an example for others showcasing you can both be successful and be a force for good. We all live on this planet and we all should do more to preserve it. I’m thankful that Cisco is more than doing their part. If we all want to help, we should follow the lead of the emerging power group of millennials and measure our vendors on what they do to make the world a better place.