Cisco UK & Ireland Blog

The women making a life-changing difference to local communities

March 6, 2020


As part of Women of Impact month, we caught up with the Cisco women making a real difference in and outside the office – in this instance with a focus on ‘giving back’.

Volunteering for a charitable cause is something many of us aspire to do. But often life gets in the way.

We’ve tried to eliminate this hurdle by giving employees five days every year to dedicate to a charitable cause of their choice – what we call ‘Time2Give’. Currently, 60% of Cisco staff in the UK and Ireland are giving back in some way; in FY19 that worked out as 30,474 volunteering hours and  $466.927 in donations. We’re proud that so many of our people give up their time and donate to causes that they care about, with more people participating each year.

One of these active frontline givers is Andrea Witzke, whose volunteering has spanned all the way from local charities near the office to the plains of Africa. She co-leads the giving programme within Cisco Meraki.

Another is Carlene Coward, our champion behind volunteering across the whole of Cisco within the UK. It’s her efforts that ensure volunteering initiatives at Cisco run like clockwork and are available to everyone.

As part of Women of Impact month, we sat down with Andrea and Carlene to discuss why they’re involved with the programme, and what the impact has been in and outside the office.


So, why did you both get involved in giving back?

Andrea: Volunteering was always something I’d wanted to do but never really had the opportunity to. Life just got in the way. When I joined Cisco I saw the initiatives I could get involved with and realised this was my chance. Seeing the amazing impact of our work has motivated me to continue volunteering.

Carlene: As part of the Corporate Social Responsibility team, my main focus is to ensure we’re providing a positive impact to the world around us. This is such a fulfilling part of my role, and it’s great to have the opportunity to extend it to others like Andrea.


So Andrea, in what ways have you been giving back to communities here and overseas?

Andrea: In my time at Cisco I’ve been involved in a few volunteer projects. One of my first volunteering experiences was helping a local young offenders’ charity by fundraising for activities that would help them turn their lives around. Although volunteering was short-term, the experience has stayed with me, and the team now continues to donate on a monthly basis to fund young people through school and university.

Last year, a group of us went further afield to Malawi to fix broken and desperately needed water pumps with The One Foundation. To see the positive impact you’re making to daily lives is really humbling.

This year, we’re planning to set off to Zimbabwe to contribute to protecting elephants and rhinos.

Carlene: This project is particularly exciting because it allows Cisco employees to contribute to animal conservation up close, as well as through Cisco’s work around Connected Conservation.


That’s amazing. Have you seen these experiences impact the workplace too?

Carlene: Volunteering has been a really good team building exercise. It’s an opportunity to meet people from vastly different areas of the business. It works because they’re in a relaxed and informal environment where they can just get to know each other, no matter what role or position of seniority they’re in.

Andrea: I agree, I’ve learned so much about how other people work and where I fit within that.


How do you create volunteering opportunities for everyone?

Carlene: The majority of our volunteering is driven by our teams. Together they decide which organisation they want to support from the many that we partner with, and I work closely with them to make the day happen. We’re also approached by our charity partners to find Cisco teams to help out with a particular project. Across the UK & Ireland there are committed staff who maintain relationships with their local charities, and they bring colleagues together to offer support on a regular basis.


Andrea, you also co-lead Meraki Gives in EMEAR. What does this involve?

Andrea: In addition to the opportunities available to everyone at Cisco, within the Meraki community we also embrace values such as ‘care deeply’ and ‘everybody in’ and this also means outside work. As a co-lead for ‘Meraki Gives’ in EMEAR, we try to spread the spirit of doing volunteering work and motivating colleagues to use their time to give, from organising events to participating in activities with the bigger Cisco team.


So how do you choose the charities to give back to?

Carlene: In the UK & Ireland we’ve currently got connections with more than 160 charities. But Cisco is always open to working with new ones. A lot of our projects and charity partnerships stem from the passion of an individual employee. Everyone is encouraged to make connections within their local communities if they want to, and when people support a cause that has personal meaning there’s more value in it for them. Some of our most successful partnerships – for example with The Trussell Trust – were all started because someone was committed to the charity and the work they do. I’m always on the look-out for new organisations that not only gives opportunities for staff across the UK & Ireland to participate, but also help us to positively impact different groups.


Making a positive impact on the world around us is the most obvious advantage of giving back. In fact, Cisco have an overarching goal of positively impacting a billion people by 2025. However, what the discussion with Carlene and Andrea shows, is that the benefits are so much more than that.

As Carlene mentioned, giving back can provide team building in a less pressured and more democratised environment – where anyone can take the lead and reaffirm a new confidence which can translate back to the workplace.

This is something we have certainly seen develop within Cisco – and we’re now aiming for 80% global participation in giving back which not only aligns to our core company goals and values, but also fosters further collaboration in the workplace.

The five days Time2Give allocated to Cisco staff encourages this. And it’s also important in ensuring charity work doesn’t infringe responsibilities outside of work – such as care giving, which stats show limits female employees throughout their career.

Our culture of giving back is not only helping communities around the world but is giving women like Andrea and Carlene the opportunity to do so.


This article is the first in a series dedicated to celebrating Women of Impact. Stay tuned for more insights from the women truly making a difference in- and outside the workplace.



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