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Our Global Communities

Social Investment Strategy

Our approach is to fund early-stage technology solutions that have measurable outcomes and that can scale and be replicated.

These investments help enable nonprofit partners to design and deliver technology-based solutions to improve how they operate and reach underserved communities. They also support conditions for the communities our partners work in to thrive.

Cisco invests in early-stage solutions within our four social investment focus areas of crisis response, access to education, economic empowerment, and climate impact and regeneration. This is the stage where funding is most needed and where we can make the biggest difference. Being a technology company, we understand the power of technology to reach as many people as possible, and we strive to reach the most vulnerable to ensure everyone has equitable access to client-centric, effective solutions. Cash funding, donations of Cisco technology, and our staff time and expertise help our nonprofit partners apply technology to:

  • Create innovative solutions targeting individual and community needs
  • Implement proof-of-concept pilots to validate viability of solutions
  • Improve the delivery, quality, efficiency, and effectiveness of their products and services
  • Scale to reach more people
  • Replicate to multiple sectors and geographies globally
  • Validate social impact
  • Make progress toward financial sustainability
  • Use data for better decision-making

We also provide our nonprofit partners with ongoing consulting services, advisory support, and technical expertise in areas including:

  • Business planning and strategy development
  • Organizational leadership capacity
  • Financial sustainability planning
  • Impact evaluation and reporting
  • Governance and operational structure

It is important to confirm that the solutions we invest in make a difference. We work closely with the nonprofits we fund to measure their effectiveness and impact. This measurement also provides partners with insights on how to improve their services, and assists them in raising funds from other sources. We measure both breadth (number of people reached) and depth (the impact their programs are making). Depth is measured with a standard set of metrics for each of our four investment focus areas, as well as custom metrics specific to our partners’ social objectives.

We also strive to ensure that solutions serve communities that need it most. Nonprofit grantees must demonstrate that at least 65 percent of their programs’ participants are from economically underserved population groups, which could include low-income individuals, underrepresented minorities and/or vulnerable populations (such as women and girls, youth, racial/ethnic minorities, and refugees or internally displaced persons). Grantees also provide quarterly and annual reports to share overall progress against grant activities and deliverables, as well as outcomes and impact; for example, improved water quality, student outcomes, jobs created.

Our four social investment
focus areas are:

  1. Crisis response
  2. Access to education
  3. Economic empowerment
  4. Climate impact
    and regeneration

Social investment strategy

Stage 1: Blueprint

(Solution design

Stage 2: Validate

(Initial deployment,
test solution)

Stage 3: Scale

(Expand and enhance)

Stage 4: Transition

sustainability, exit)

Investment criteria
  • Technology-based
  • Replicable to multiple geographies
  • Scalable to reach more people inclusively
  • Path to financial sustainability
  • Target audience must be >65% economically underserved
  • Measurable social outcomes
  • Investment portfolios: crisis response, access to education, economic empowerment, climate impact and regeneration


Cisco made a commitment to positively impact 1 billion people by 2025 through our social impact grants and signature programs. As of fiscal 2021 we are over halfway to our goal. Between fiscal 2016 and fiscal 2021, 716 million people have been positively impacted.

In January 2022, we completed an external limited assurance review of our progress toward this goal from fiscal 2016 through fiscal 2021. To learn more about what is included in our fiscal 2016 to fiscal 2021 limited assurance of 716 million people positively impacted, please see the criteria document and the independent limited assurance report. To access the assurance report, download the PDF and open in Adobe® Acrobat® Reader to click-to-accept terms to access the full document.

Supporting social entrepreneurs

Beyond grants to nonprofits, Cisco has launched several entrepreneurship awards programs that have become an important part of our strategy. These competitions enable entrepreneurs and changemakers to share their ideas on a global scale and, through our funding, advance their ideas to deliver results and impact. Learn more about competition winners