Good for Business, Good for Society?
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Corporate social responsibility has become a buzzword as multinational companies focus not only on increasing their bottom lines, but also on issues of social importance, such as education, health and combating poverty. Cisco Systems’ CEO John Chambers is at the forefront of these efforts. Earlier this month, he was one of four recipients honored with the Inaugural Clinton Global Citizen Award.
The award was presented by President Bill Clinton as part of the Clinton Global Initiative program, a nonprofit endeavor started by Clinton in 2005 that brings together a diverse group of leaders to formulate innovative ideas for solving the world’s pressing issues. The Clinton Global Initiative meets every year in September during the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
Chambers was selected for the award for spearheading a diverse portfolio of programs, primarily focused on using technology to meet basic needs such as food, water and shelter, and enhance global education and socio-economic development. CNET News.com sat down with Chambers while he was here to receive his award. He discussed his philosophy of corporate social responsibility and how it fits into the profit-driven world of corporate America. The following article is an edited version of the interview.
What role should corporations play in making the world a better place?
Chambers: I believe that those who have been successful are obligated to give back to those who have been less successful. That’s what my family believes. That’s what I believe. That is what Silicon Valley believes. When Cisco first started, Hewlett-Packard helped us a lot. I was a little company then, and after a year and a half I finally had the courage to ask (because I was afraid that if I asked they might stop): “Why are your top executives spending time with us?” And they said, “Because it’s the right thing to do.”
Was it really just that it was the “right thing to do” or did they think it would benefit them in some way?
Chambers: They did not believe it would benefit them at all. And I asked them what I could do to give back to them. And they said, “Help the next generation.”
And that’s what I am doing. In Silicon Valley and around the world, I spend time with new start-up companies. For example, Randa Ayoubi, CEO of the educational company Rubicon in Jordan, is someone I have mentored. She developed a curriculum for math in both English and Arabic based on computer games. Children in first, second and third grade can learn math in a way that we can and ought to be following in the U.S. What was exciting is (that) her companies revenues have gone up 40-fold since we started working together. She was named Arab entrepreneur of the year in 2005.
One of the things that made me most proud is that she grew her company from a couple dozen employees to 180 employees, and she gave back to them. She said, “John, that is what I have learned from you all, that it isn’t just about the leaders or the owners doing well, but it’s about the whole company sharing in it too. And I wouldn’t have done that if hadn’t been for Cisco.” And all of a sudden you have people getting cars that never could have afforded (them) otherwise.
But this speaks to the fact that, whether on a small scale or large scale, it’s important to give back.
The Networking Academy Program program is another example. We went into Afghanistan and started with about two dozen students who had not been in school for six years. Within six months they were making identical scores to students in top U.S. schools. Women were scoring at the very high end of that, too. And it shows that if you give people a chance to participate in the economy, they can achieve regardless of gender, geographic region or age.
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