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Cisco Spotlight Series: Philanthropy gets plenty of bandwidth

The need for charitable giving has perhaps never been greater than in 2005, when earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes and other events took a tragic toll on millions around the world. Though the tragic events have passed, the need for giving continues in 2006 and beyond.

Fortunately, Cisco Systems Inc. is one of many companies lending a hand. spoke with Tae Yoo, the networking giant's vice president of corporate affairs, to find out about its many philanthropic efforts and to learn how networking pros everywhere can pitch in.

What is Cisco's philosophy regarding philanthropy?
Our philanthropy focuses on a high leverage on Cisco assets. That could be our financial assets, but what we're finding is what's having just as much effect is our employees' time and ability to address problems. What are the biggest challenges when it comes to organizing Cisco's charitable efforts?
People assume that you can write checks for every good organization out there, and that's really difficult. You need to focus around specific areas and figure out what market you want to be in based on our innovation, expertise and understanding of customer needs. So we focus on three areas, and those are healthcare, education and basic needs. Why those three?
Education has always been the primary focus for Cisco. We've always felt that it has the greatest social and economic impact, no matter which community or state you live in. We've done a lot of education work within Cisco with our Cisco Networking Academy Program, which is now in more than 160 countries, including some of the least-developed countries.

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But there is also the issue of enablers to education, which include basic needs and healthcare. If you don't have proper medical care, a roof over your head and know where your next meal is coming from, you can't do well in education. So it has been quite a journey to get where we are. I know Cisco made a number of efforts to help those affected by this year's Gulf Coast hurricanes. Tell me about that.
When you talk about a disaster, there's the need for immediate relief and support, and the need for long-term rebuilding and helping people get back to their daily lives. Regarding immediate relief, we deployed the Cisco Mobile Communication Kits, which are basically 69-pound, portable kits that include a Cisco router, a small satellite dish to provide communications systems for the relief workers there. We actually tested them out after the [Indian Ocean] tsunami [last year]. Save The Children and NetHope were taking the kits to Banda Aceh and testing them out to provide communications for the relief workers there. [Editor's note: Cisco expects to donate as much as $3 million toward the Gulf Coast relief efforts.] What other Gulf Coast assistance efforts has Cisco been involved with?
In addition to helping FEMA, the Red Cross and other organizations set up communications sites in the area, we also helped back here [at Cisco's San Jose headquarters]. We set up a phone bank in one of our buildings with volunteer employees. Many people were calling into the Red Cross for various reasons, asking for help and how to make donations and such, and they weren't able to handle it all. So we offloaded some of those calls here. We took in about 8,000 calls, and it was an all-volunteer effort. If you send out a call to action here at Cisco, there isn't anyone that says no. It's a great reflection of the employees we have. What are some of the international or little-known charitable efforts Cisco is involved with?
We do a lot of work with NetHope, a consortium of relief agencies we helped to form that touches children, often focusing on technology. We have some fellows and others at Cisco who, as part of their career development, will go work in the community for a few months or up to a year on a project that employs their specific skills.

Also there's the Jordan Education Initiative, where we've been working with Hewlett-Packard, IBM and other local companies to support new curriculum development in Jordan. We help teachers develop curriculums leveraging their expertise and our technology. The World Economic Forum is now getting involved with it as well, and we soon hope to launch the program in India and a couple of other countries as well. How does Cisco encourage its employees to get involved?
One of the things we did during our 20th anniversary year was kick off an initiative called 20 years of giving back. Years ago, some of Cisco's first volunteer efforts started with employees climbing a fence in East Palo Alto [Calif.] to volunteer to help kids at the nearby Costano Elementary School. In time, we adopted this school basically. So we wanted to continue to foster that culture of giving back by issuing a challenge: giving back 20 years worth of service to our community. That amounted to 176,000 hours, and by halfway though the campaign we had already exceeded that number by 25%. So it was heartening to see how important it was to the employees. What can network professionals and their organizations do if they are interested in getting involved with charitable efforts in their areas?
There's one organization called TechSoup. They basically provide technology at very low costs to non-profit organizations. We, along with Microsoft and other companies, provide our technology to TechSoup, which identifies key non-profit groups which normally would not be able to afford such technology, and then they ship it and support them, and we have a whole process that enables that to happen. And they are always looking for donations and volunteers.

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