Social Impact Heroes: How Tae Yoo SVP at Cisco has helped to coordinate, deliver and distribute resources to areas devastated by natural disaster

Yitzi Weiner
May 27 · 11 min read

Behind each natural disaster or crisis are some incredible humanitarian organizations that have jumped in to fill the void left when other institutions are stretched too thin to meet all the needs that arise. For these organizations, coordinating with one another can accelerate the relief and recovery efforts, and speed delivery of food, supplies, medical care, and other support to people impacted by the disaster. They rely on technology as a critical enabler to help get the job done as efficiently as possible and to help the most people. One of these organizations is NetHope, a consortium of nearly 60 leading, global nonprofit members who collaborate across geographies and missions to solve some of the world’s greatest development, humanitarian, and conservation challenges. NetHope members deliver more than 60 percent of all annual international, non-governmental aid. From education, health, emergency response, and refugee assistance, NetHope projects are the on-the-ground reflection of how their members and partners work collaboratively to address the needs of the vulnerable and the underserved — sharing what works and what doesn’t so that everyone benefits. Save the Children and Cisco partnered to help create NetHope in 2001. Since then, we have supported the organization with equipment, employee time, and expertise. Over the past few years, we’ve joined together to support, among others, the fires in California, Oregon and Arizona in 2018, the hurricanes in Puerto Ricco, the Caribbean and Southeast United States in 2017, and the refugee crisis in Northern Uganda in 2017–2018. Two people who have significantly impacted this cause are Edward Granger-Happ, of Save the Children, and Lauren Woodman, CEO of NetHope. Ed brought his keen vision of how international nonprofits could solve the connection problem better, faster, and cheaper if done together and when partnering with corporate sponsors as a group. Lauren brought her passion and leadership experience across technology, development and policy. Both individuals share a strong common vision and have been key to our ability to make a difference in the areas of humanitarian response and disaster relief.


As a part of my series about companies and organizations making a social impact I had the pleasure of interviewing Tae Yoo. Tae is the Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs at Cisco, responsible for guiding the company’s social investments and stewarding CSR and sustainability across the business to positively impact people, society, and the planet. Under her leadership, Corporate Affairs strives to inspire, connect, and invest in global problem solvers to nurture innovative solutions and catalyze an entrepreneurial ecosystem that supports progress and inclusive growth. Corporate Affairs also invests in developing digital skills so everyone can participate in the digital economy and become a global problem solver.


Thank you so much for doing this with us Tae! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

While I’m currently known as a steward of our corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts, my history with Cisco goes back much further to my first role in business development. Working at one of the world’s leading technology companies, you learn intensely not just about the business, but about the world. You see first-hand how people consume and deliver information, how they use data to make critical decisions. You are exposed to the power of teams that bring together people of diverse cultures, ethnicities, religions, experiences. You also see the impact a company can make when it thoughtfully invests in the communities it operates in.

My business experience coalesced into a moment where technology enabled me to join global problem solvers across our company and direct my skills to address social issues, issues of education, helping to end poverty, and addressing environmental concerns. I was able to champion a triple bottom line approach to our business — a framework with three parts: social, environmental and financial. In this moment, I knew this path within Corporate Affairs was the path I was meant to take.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading CSR for your company?

For over twenty years, our flagship CSR program, Cisco Networking Academy, has been working toward a single goal: fostering the technical and entrepreneurial skills that people, educators, and companies need to change the world for the better. Since its inception, we’ve been able to reach over 9.26 million people in 180 countries and since 2005, we’ve been able to help 1.6 million get jobs.

When you work on a program for so long, you often get hyper-focused on metrics and data. However, the real power behind the program is brought to light when you have the chance to meet the people who have been impacted. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet many inspiring Networking Academy students over the years who are doing some amazing things with the skills they’ve developed through the program. In fact, when attending the World Economic Forum (WEF) a few years ago, I was introduced to a Minister of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) of a country in Africa, who shared with me that he came out of the Networking Academy program. He was one of the first students to take Networking Academy courses and to be trained in IT in his country. This is just one of many incredible impact stories I could share!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Where do I start? I’ve made so many. However, one mistake I remember making early on in my career (which I didn’t think was funny at the time) was when attending the World Economic Forum in Davos. WEF can be very exciting and stimulating — with so many hot topics and thought leaders to keep up with. One afternoon, I took a seat next to a woman at lunch whom I did not know and asked her what she did. She smiled and politely told me about her work and I shared a bit about mine in return. I didn’t realize then that I’d be seeing her again…when she was being introduced during the formal program as a Nobel Laureate! What I learned from that experience is how to be gracious and humble. When I reflect on our first meeting and asked her about what she did, she didn’t make it about her or mention her esteemed status as Nobel Laureate. Instead, she emphasized her work, her mission, and the impact she wants her work to have on the world.

Can you describe how your organization is making a significant social impact?

For over 30 years, making an impact has been core to our culture. CSR is embedded into our business strategy and functions across Cisco. It is core to our purpose, our culture and how we invest our resources. However, social responsibility is no longer a competitive differentiator, it is something that our stakeholders are requiring of us — whether that be investors, customers, employees. They all care about these issues and recognize that we have an opportunity and a responsibility to build these into our business, create value for ourselves and the world.

At Cisco, we are on a mission to accelerate global problem solving through our technology and expertise to positively impact people, society, and the planet. Our work in CSR is focused on the issues most relevant to our business and where we can have the biggest impact:

  • For People, this means empowering our people and teams to thrive in a digital workforce
  • For Society, this means building digital skills and fostering entrepreneurship to enable everyone to have a better life
  • For the Planet, this means advancing environmentally sustainable growth in a digital economy

Our efforts across these three pillars are tied to strategic, long-term goals, such as positively impacting 1 billion people by 2025, and reducing our Scope 1 and Scope 2 GHG emissions worldwide by 60% by 2022, to name a couple. As of FY18, we’re proud to report that we’ve positively impacted 445 million people (since 2016) through our social impact grants and signature CSR programs and have further reduced Scope 1 and 2 GHG emissions worldwide to -45% absolute (FY07 baseline) — even as our business has grown. We still have plenty of work to do, but we are well on our way!

Wow! Can you tell me a story about a particular CSR focus area of yours as well as an individual who has impacted this cause?

Cisco works through our nonprofit partners to create technology-based solutions that will help improve lives around the globe. In addition to focusing in the areas of economic empowerment and education, we also focus on critical human needs and disaster relief.

Behind each natural disaster or crisis are some incredible humanitarian organizations that have jumped in to fill the void left when other institutions are stretched too thin to meet all the needs that arise. For these organizations, coordinating with one another can accelerate the relief and recovery efforts, and speed delivery of food, supplies, medical care, and other support to people impacted by the disaster. They rely on technology as a critical enabler to help get the job done as efficiently as possible and to help the most people.

One of these organizations is NetHope, a consortium of nearly 60 leading, global nonprofit members who collaborate across geographies and missions to solve some of the world’s greatest development, humanitarian, and conservation challenges. NetHope members deliver more than 60 percent of all annual international, non-governmental aid. From education, health, emergency response, and refugee assistance, NetHope projects are the on-the-ground reflection of how their members and partners work collaboratively to address the needs of the vulnerable and the underserved — sharing what works and what doesn’t so that everyone benefits.

Save the Children and Cisco partnered to help create NetHope in 2001. Since then, we have supported the organization with equipment, employee time, and expertise. Over the past few years, we’ve joined together to support, among others, the fires in California, Oregon and Arizona in 2018, the hurricanes in Puerto Ricco, the Caribbean and Southeast United States in 2017, and the refugee crisis in Northern Uganda in 2017–2018.

Two people who have significantly impacted this cause are Edward Granger-Happ, of Save the Children, and Lauren Woodman, CEO of NetHope. Ed brought his keen vision of how international nonprofits could solve the connection problem better, faster, and cheaper if done together and when partnering with corporate sponsors as a group. Lauren brought her passion and leadership experience across technology, development and policy. Both individuals share a strong common vision and have been key to our ability to make a difference in the areas of humanitarian response and disaster relief.

Are there things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

To truly make progress on the world’s largest societal issues, such as community health, economic development, and education and skills development, governments, companies, and nonprofits must work together. No one stakeholder can solve these problems on their own. At Cisco, we’ve seen how leveraging innovative public-private partnerships (PPPs) can achieve large-scale impact such as Cisco Networking Academy. The program is based on partnerships with over 11,400 schools, community colleges, universities, governments, NGOs, and other organizations, which implement the program across 180 countries.

However, scalable frameworks must extend beyond education initiatives if we’re to help better society at large; it’s important that all stakeholders work closely together to address other social and environmental challenges.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leaders come in all dimensions — some leaders are leaders based on their job titles and some leaders are leaders because they have a strong vision of where they want to go. The leaders with the most longevity are those with a strong vision and who can inspire people to join them while being humble at the same time. Humility in leadership becomes very important, so that focus is not on any one person, it’s on the mission. Strong leaders lead in service to others (i.e. servant leadership) and are focused on accomplishing outcomes and creating scalable, repeatable pathways.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

When you’re happy with the trajectory you’re on, it’s hard to have regrets. However, there are some good lessons I’ve learned along the way:

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I’d like to inspire a movement where individuals are encouraged to travel the world as a part of their learning and education. Traveling changes the way you think about the world by allowing you to experience other ways of living. Travel allows us to do away with ignorance and prejudice and find common ground with people who might at first appear to be very different from us. When we explore other countries, we find that we have more things in common than differences…everyone wants to make sure their families are safe, their children have futures, they’re able to take care of their parents, and that they can live in a thriving community. Through travel, you realize the kindness of strangers. Studying countries and cultures from afar can be informative, but travel allows you to authentically appreciate them and can open your mind to the world’s endless possibilities.

A second movement I’d like to inspire relates human connection. Appreciating and participating in the incredible technological advancements being made today is important. At the same time, so is appreciating and participating in human contact. I would like to inspire a movement where everyone takes the time to truly get to know other people, in a meaningful (not digital) way. We hear, see and read a lot of things today, but there is no replacement for authentic human connection. If we had a movement to truly get to know someone, in a more intimate way, I think we’d become better listeners and through that, perhaps, be better equipped to help solve some of our challenges…together.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

This may sound a bit outdated, but time and time again, I still find myself using, “Be careful what you wish you for.” How many times have we been very specific about what we hope to achieve and when we get it, we haven’t fully appreciated the consequences it can have? Now, I tend to be very cognizant of the ripple effects of what I do.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

Although you won’t be able to tag her, I would have loved to have tea with Mother Teresa. Considered one of the 20th Century’s greatest humanitarians (and a hero of mine), the level of selflessness she attained has inspired me both personally and professionally. I’d love to hear more about what formed her as a child and have the chance to ask her to share some of her most memorable stories from years of missionary work.

I also think it would be fun to have lunch with Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group. He and I share some similar perspectives on combining passion and work as well as on hiring, including hiring on character, and not just the resume. As a businessman and entrepreneur, I’d especially love to get his thoughts on ways the private sector can amplify its efforts to support young entrepreneurs around the globe to harness the power of technology to help solve some of the world’s greatest challenges.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find me (Tae-Yoo) on LinkedIn. You can also follow Cisco CSR on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Yitzi Weiner

Written by

A “Positive” Influencer, Founder & Editor of Authority Magazine, CEO of Thought Leader Incubator

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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