Building an Inclusive Future Through Cisco Investments' Aspire Fund
By Clayton Naidoo
The following is an excerpt from the 2021 Cisco Purpose Report, published on December 13, 2021.
In the summer of 2020, in the face of growing awareness of systemic racial injustice, oppression, and inequality, Cisco reached a tipping point in our commitment to inclusion and collaboration. The moment was calling for something compelling, substantive, and impactful. It led us to establish our Social Justice Beliefs and launch 12 subsequent Actions. While our Beliefs and Actions began as a show of support and solidarity with the Black community, they provide a blueprint for how we respond to injustice and address inequity for any community. Our Actions are enterprisewide, global priorities. While we have written goals and metrics for each of our Actions, these goals may evolve as community needs change.
We created the Inclusive Future Action Office, led by a dedicated team with cross-functional business expertise, to respond to these needs and accelerate Cisco priorities. The Action Office has developed an Action Strategy for each Action, as well as assembled an Action Team and assigned one or more executive sponsors. Our Action Office will help us be relentless in our progress and support teams with the thought partnership and resources necessary to expand impact.
Accelerating fairness and equity everywhere is one of the most powerful ways that Cisco can power an inclusive future. By creating innovative models of engaging across our employees, customers, partners, suppliers, and communities and making tangible commitments to drive transformational change, we’re signaling that Cisco is part of the collective. We’re ready to take bold, brave, and deliberate action in service of our beliefs and purpose.
Please read this conversation on the progress of Social Justice Action 11, Invest in Innovation, with Shari Slate, Cisco’s Chief Inclusion and Collaboration Officer, Senior Vice President, Inclusive Future and Strategy, and Derek Idemoto, Cisco’s Senior Vice President, Corporate Development and Cisco Investments:
What has been the focus since launching the Social Justice Beliefs and Actions?
SS: We’ve focused our initial transformative actions on our AA/Black employees and communities. Our initial progress reflects the power of this focus and gives us new data to drive actionable insights. Our new Inclusive Future Action Office (IFAO) is now expanding what we’ve learned to replicate and scale across all communities. The IFAO has the expertise to drive repeatable, connected, and holistic processes that can expand to any multi-year commitment that helps us deliver on our promise to Power an Inclusive Future for All.
DI: Our Corporate Development and Cisco Investments organization invests in the next generation of enterprise technology through acquisitions and venture funding. Recognizing the expansive funding gap for diverse-led startups and venture funds, Cisco Investments is dedicated to closing this gap and has been investing in diverse-led startups and venture funds for years. To help accelerate our efforts, as part of our Social Justice Beliefs and Actions, we launched our US$50 million Aspire Fund in 2020.
What inspired the Aspire Fund?
DI: Cisco Investments is committed to building an inclusive future by investing in next-generation enterprise technologies through venture funding. We have applied the same approach to diverse-led startups and venture funds, including Black and African American leaders. A great example of who we target through our Aspire Fund is Plexo Capital, a Black-led venture capital fund that invests in both emerging early-stage venture capital fund managers and startups. Over the past year, this fund has been investing exclusively in diverse-led startups and venture funds, geared towards fostering an ecosystem of diverse entrepreneurs and founders that fit within Cisco’s investing criteria.
SS: We’re also helping these startups scale their businesses. We give them access to the broader Cisco ecosystem, including our best engineers and mentors to create go-to-market strategies to help them thrive.
What’s on the horizon for the Aspire Fund and the Social Justice Actions?
DI: Recently, we’ve announced several new investments that reinforce our dedication to making a real impact on improving diversity and inclusion, including Work-Bench Capital, Acrew Capital, L’ATTITUDE VENTURES, and Wabbi. Together, these organizations are committed to advancing diversity among women and people of color.
We are tracking well with our multi-year investment commitment and continue to pursue all opportunities to level the playing field for all underrepresented communities.
SS: Moving forward, we will continue to focus on all of our Social Justice Actions, including increasing AA/Black representation at all levels in our company, increasing our percentage spent with diverse suppliers, and expanding the number of Black-owned technology companies in our partner ecosystem. We aim to create recurring impact and drive change for generations to come.
To learn more about the progress we’re making to power a more inclusive future through CSR, visit our Cisco ESG Reporting Hub, where you can read our Cisco Purpose Report.