Is Cisco keeping up its social responsibility efforts under new CEO Chuck Robbins?

How Cisco is following former CEO John Chambers's vision for corporate social responsibility.

One of the most significant events in the technology industry in 2015 was Cisco's CEO transition from John Chambers to Chuck Robbins (disclosure: Cisco is a ZK Research client). One of the hallmarks of the Chambers-led Cisco was the company's mission to change the world. The company didn't put together its corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs for marketing purposes or to drive sales. Instead, Cisco embraced CSR and its ability to make a difference because it was the right thing to do for everyone. I highlighted one such initiative in this post regarding Cisco bringing communications to disaster relief efforts.

This was clearly a passion for John Chambers, as he travelled the globe advising international leaders on how to use technology to improve the lives of their citizens. One of the questions I had when Cisco transitioned to the Robbins era was whether the company would have the same zeal for CSR. A little over six months into his tenure, it appears that this is indeed the case.

This week, the World Economic Forum (WEF) is being held in Davos, Switzerland. Cisco has been a primary contributor to the event for years now and has used the event to discuss its ideas on how to change the world with other technology leaders and country leaders.

One of the main topics of conversation this year at WEF is how to create a generation of global problem solvers that can use technology to solve the world's greatest challenges. In a blog post, Robbins discussed the obligation that he and his peers have to improve the state of the world. His blog actually links to another post by Cisco's SVP of Corporate Affairs Tae Yoo on detailing the importance of global problem solvers.

One of the interesting facts in Robbins' post is that, according to Cisco's 2016 Annual Security Report, only 45% of businesses reported that they are confident in their ability to determine the scope of an attack and remediate the damage. In practicality, I think most companies over-estimate their security skills, and the actual number is more likely in the 25% range. To help fill the void in the security industry, Cisco announced a new $10 million Global Security Scholarship to help educate and train individuals to have the necessary skills required to combat modern security threats.

Also, Cisco has added courses to its Networking Academy to train more global problem solvers. The Networking Academy program teaches students the skills required to design, build, manage, and secure networks. The courses range from entry-level network fundamentals to high-level certified Cisco engineers. There are currently over 9,000 Cisco Academies in over 170 countries.

Since its inception, Networking Academy has had over 5.5 million students, with almost 70% obtaining a new or better job with increased responsibilities and/or higher salary. In total, 1.3 million students have been employed in the past 10 years as a result of Networking Academy. One of Chambers' beliefs is that the two great equalizers in life are the Internet and education. Obviously, Cisco did its part in making the Internet what it is today, and Networking Academies educate people all over the globe.

Networking Academy now contains a number of courses and programs to create more individuals that are looking to solve problems that can improve their lives and others. Some of the new courses include:

  • Be Your Own Boss is an 8-module course on how to run a successful business to become a “technopreneur” (technology entrepreneur). In addition to developing business plans and the basics of running a business, the course teaches how to research markets, test ideas, and develop business relationships.
  • The Entrepreneurship course is a class comprised of interactive online case studies to build financial and business skills to leverage the technology skills learned in other courses. The course actually gives practical examples of businesses to start, such as an Internet café, consulting services, and how to enable e-business and outsourcing services. Starting a business can be intimidating, so the class also focuses on building self-confidence and how to charge for expertise. Given the high unemployment rate with the younger generation ($74 million, according to the International Labor Organization), starting a company might be the shortest, most successful route to employment.
  • Introduction to the Internet of Everything is an overview of the concepts and challenges to IoE. The course covers all aspects of IoE, including the interconnection of people, process, data, and analytics that comprise IoE. In addition to technology, the class also covers how to evaluate business processes to apply to IoE, as well as security concerns.

In addition to the classes, Networking Academy has sponsored a number of IoE hackathons to stimulate ideas and allow aspiring entrepreneurs test ideas. One of the recent winners developed something called a “Handisco” stick, a smart, interactive cane that analyzes the surrounding area in real time and provides feedback to a visually impaired person vocally. The product uses GPS, GSM, Bluetooth, and an obstacle detector, so there is no requirement for the city to install beacons or other sensors. Handisco is a great example of technology being used to solve big social problems.

Earlier in my post, I referred to Yoo's post on the World Economic Forum site challenging the industry to develop more global problem solvers. Innovations like Handisco, created by individuals who want to change the world, are what will accomplish this. This has been part of Cisco's mission for decades, and Networking Academy can certainly help, but this should be the mission for the entire technology industry.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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