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World Day of Social Justice: Cisco Networking Academy Builds a More Inclusive Future for Workforce Development

By Katherine Carvalho

Published 03-04-22

Submitted by Cisco Systems, Inc.

At Cisco, our purpose is to Power an Inclusive Future for All. While technology drives overall economic expansion, digital connectivity more specifically determines access to economic and social opportunity. Connectivity is critical to creating a society and economy in which every person can participate and thrive.

In addressing these issues, Cisco Networking Academy aligns with the aspirations of the United Nations World Day of Social Justice, celebrated annually on February 20, “to overcome the digital divide, provide decent work opportunities, and protect labor and human rights in the modern era of digital technologies.”

Education for all

Networking Academy is the world’s largest and longest-running CSR education program, and in a quarter of a century, has impacted the lives of over 15 million learners around the globe, providing opportunities at the cutting edge of IT for people from all backgrounds.

And we’re only getting started: Three million of those students were enrolled last year alone, and we’ve doubled the number of cumulative students participating in the program in the past six years.

With our extensive ecosystem of education, government, and not-for-profit partners, Cisco Networking Academy enables people with skills that are — and will be — increasingly required in the workforce of the future. We are driven by an inclusive mission that seeks new ways to nurture opportunity for under-resourced and under-represented people all around the world.

U.S. Networking Academy widens their reach

Along with other initiatives in the U.S., Networking Academy’s work with the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) is helping harness the power of technology to drive more inclusivity and opportunity for underserved populations and communities by bridging remote digital divides through technology and education. AIHEC provides leadership and influences public policy on American Indian and Alaska Native higher education issues through advocacy, research, and programmatic initiatives. AIHEC serves more than 27,000 students in 37 Tribal Colleges and Universities across 16 states, serving students from more than 250 federally recognized Indian tribes and 30 states.

As part of our Social Justice Beliefs and Actions announcement in 2020, Cisco committed to the strategic recovery, sustainability and legacy of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), post-COVID and beyond. A core part of this strategy is leveraging the 20-year Networking Academy collaboration with HCBUs to provide students with marketable job skills in tech. At the end of July 2021, the Cisco Networking Academy had 790 student participants in 18 HBCUs across the U.S., and with a dedicated program manager in place we expect more impact from our ongoing efforts to combat deeply rooted racial inequities in the future.

And in partnership with exceptional individuals like Judge Aliyah Sabree in Detroit, Cisco employees have established the Second Chance Justice Reform Initiative, which helps get young offenders out of the criminal justice system and into the Networking Academy Program. “With time on the bench I have come to understand root causes of many crimes committed, and that we needed a different approach to sentencing,” says Judge Sabree. Along with mentorship by Cisco employees the initiative has seen a 100 percent of participants graduate and clear their cases and gain marketable IT skills through the Networking Academy Program in the process. “There are so many young people in Detroit who need just one legitimate second chance, like this program, to succeed,” she says.

Inclusive growth continues in Latin America

There’s more to the story than North America, of course. As a global program, Networking Academy reaches learners everywhere.

In Mexico, América Digital supercharged a partnership with the Mexican government to address job losses stemming from the pandemic, particularly among women. As a result of the initiative, 50,000 students have registered to-date, and the target is ‘infinite,’ or as many participants as possible. To that end, a workshop titled “Yo creo en ella” (I believe in her) was broadcast via Webex and on social media, encouraging more inclusive student participation across Mexico.

Also in Mexico, the International Youth Foundation identified a lack of vocational orientation towards IT/networking opportunities; outdated curriculum in this area; and teachers without the updated skills and knowledge to guide learners. It also saw the opportunity for Cisco Networking Academy to address these shortcomings. Through 157 instructors on 55 Colegio Nacional de Educacion Profesional technical vocational campuses in nine states, 15,000 students participated, and the job attainment rate for graduates is higher than 70 percent, with many earning salaries higher than the average family income for Mexico.

… And across the globe

In India, NIIT Foundation, an education NGO, has a mandate to reach the unreached, uncared for, and unattended, to ensure inclusive development. Along with a range of initiatives to reach differently abled students, the LGBTQ+ community and prison inmates, NIIT Foundation even went so far as to develop ATM-like “Hole-in-the-Wall Learning Stations,” which provide internet access for learners.

In Kenya, Sight Savers is working to improve access to employment opportunities for people with diverse abilities. Bridge Academy is a consortium of partners offering skills development to underrepresented populations and a wide variety of people challenged by visual and hearing impairments, and physical limitations. Graduates are matched with jobs with support from Safaricom.

In The Netherlands, Fast Lane / SLBdiensten ASC-ITC is running an internship program that places Networking Academy students with Cisco Channel Partners. In its first year of a three-year program, 20 students were successfully placed due to this strong partner ecosystem and participating schools, with students finding a path towards a future in IT. One of their non-profit academies, The IMC Weekend School, organizes activities, classes, and connects students to workforce development programs that sit outside the formal education system in under-served neighborhoods. Their mission is to prepare young people to make choices for their future based on their own talents and interests, aiming that no matter what school level or social background these young people are from, that they broaden their horizons, increase their self-confidence and strengthen their connection with the community.

And in Sri Lanka, the Commercial Bank of Ceylon is partnering with Cisco to build ITC skills for school children and youths. The initial project was for underprivileged school children, but with learning disruptions because of the pandemic, the program was opened up to all, and reached 1,500 students with limited internet access.

These are just a few examples of the extraordinary efforts our partners put in to leverage the Cisco Networking Academy to help bridge the digital divide by teaching job-ready IT skills to learners across the globe.

Whether we are addressing the needs of underserved communities in U.S. cities, or villages in rural India with barely any internet access, Networking Academy helps bridge the digital divide, providing learners with an internationally-recognized pathway to jobs of the future.

Networking Academy recognizes the extraordinary efforts of our partners to provide inclusive IT education, with Golden Bridge and Be the Bridge Awards.

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