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Cisco reports it positively impacted half a billion people with CSR
While I usually write about tech, I also write about what tech companies are doing in CSR. Corporate social responsibility (CSR)—while unfortunately, the phrase has come to be a bit of a misnomer, believe it or not, there are for-profit corporations out there that take their commitment to society and their communities very seriously.
One such company is the networking, unified communications and security leader, Cisco Systems. Year-after-year, Cisco lends its influence and resources to support and provide opportunities to communities across the globe. Not only that—it practices what it preaches within its organization, with a strong emphasis on inclusivity, openness, respect and equity. Every year, Cisco releases its annual CSR report, detailing the impact of its CSR initiatives and progress towards goals (see my coverage of 2018 and 2019’s report for more). 2020, with all of its turmoil, provided an opportunity for many businesses in the tech community to step up for the common good, from aiding in Covid-19 vaccine research and relief to helping companies to modernize and secure their infrastructure for the sudden influx of remote workers, to working alongside nonprofits, and more. I’ve previously covered Cisco’s relief efforts over the last nine months, from beefing up its Webex video conferencing solution (and tailoring it specifically to support government entities), to committing cash, products and resources to aid healthcare, education and government efforts to help weather the storm. Cisco’s annual CSR Impact Report is an excellent way to recap the year and show the company’s progress on all these fronts.
One of the great things about the report is that it presents the company’s giving and community involvement in measurable terms—by the actual numbers. Not every company with a CSR program is necessarily as open and granular about the specific impact their programs are having on communities. However, measurable results are vital to ensuring a company is on the right track to meet its CSR goals, holding itself accountable and making adjustments to strategy when necessary.
I had the chance to sit down (virtually of course) with Tae Yoo, Cisco’s SVP of Corporate affairs to get the run down on the new report. If you have ever met with Tae, you will know she is a driver and I believe that while she gives a lot of kudos to her team and prior and current CEOs a lot of credit for the program’s success, she is a big part of it.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the highlights.
CSR by the numbers
On a high level, the report shared that by the company’s calculations, it has now positively impacted approximately 527M people since 2016—well on its way (52%) to its ambitious goal of positively impacting 1B people by the year 2025. A big chunk of that is achieved through Cisco’s strategic social investments and nonprofit community partners. The company’s incredibly successful Networking Academy program also plays a role; it reached 2.3M students this past year alone (and 12.6M since its inception in 1997). As you’re about to read, though, this positive impact comes in many different shapes and forms.
First up is financial contributions—Cisco opened up its pocketbooks in a big way in 2020, donating a total of $458M in cash and in-kind contributions to community impact programs across the globe (a 12% uptick from its giving in 2019). Of this $458M, $53M worth of cash and personal protective equipment (PPE) went towards supporting the most vulnerable during the pandemic. For those counting, 3.28% of FY20 EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes) which is well above the industry average of 0.47% – 1.5%. Cisco is a very “giving” company.
Additionally, Cisco employees logged a cumulative 491,000 hours of volunteer work this past year, representing a growth rate of over 9% compared to last year. The company exceeded its 2020 goal of 80% employee volunteer engagement, clocking in at 81%. To put that into perspective, 2019’s engagement was only 51%. Cisco chalked the increased engagement up to access to more digital tools and gamification. I thought this was interesting—by being forced to go digital due to the pandemic, it actually made it easier for employees to put in volunteer hours, albeit in nontraditional ways.
Making the world safer, healthier and more inclusive
In a year rocked by protests and a nationwide reckoning of the country’s racial inequalities, Cisco did not shy away from the fray. It pledged $5M to various social justice organizations, including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Color of Change and the Equal Justice Initiative. Additionally, the company created an employee giving fund to combat racism and discrimination on multiple fronts, which will dole out donations to the Anti-Defamation League, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Out & Equal, the Council on American Islamic Relations California and Public Allies, among others. That Cisco is so engaged on this front is no surprise—it has demonstrated its commitment to full-spectrum diversity and inclusion within its ranks through its “Conscious Culture” company strategy.
Often tied up in the larger social justice struggle is the topic of environmental justice. This year’s report demonstrated its continued efforts to leave the planet in a better shape than it found it. Cisco shared that it has achieved an overall 55% reduction in Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions in its operations since fiscal year 2007, when it set a goal to reduce those emissions by 60% by FY2022. That includes a 6% reduction of 2019’s levels. The company also announced that it derived 83% of its energy from renewables this past year. That number is flat from 2019’s percentage, but Cisco is already at 98% of its goal of 85% renewable energy consumption by 2022. I imagine the company will have no trouble making up that last 2% over the next two years.
These accomplishments bring us to a topic I feel is fitting to close with: for the second year running, Cisco was named the #1 Best Place to Work by the Great Place to Work Institute. 97% of Cisco employees surveyed say that Cisco is a great place to work, a 4% increase over last year’s 93% (an impressive percentage in itself). This stands in clear contrast with the average of 59% who express that level of satisfaction at a typical U.S.-based company. For that matter, 98% of those surveyed said they were proud to tell other people they work at Cisco, a 3% uptick from last year.
To me, this seems like an indicator of a universal truth that Cisco has hit upon—doing good feels good. When you work for a company that prioritizes making the world a better place, it’s a lot easier to look yourself in the mirror and go to work every dayOnce again, Cisco’s CSR Impact Report demonstrates that it is the company others should look to for guidance on a successful, impactful corporate social responsibility program.