Tae Yoo is the Senior Vice President, Corporate Affairs at Cisco. She drives Cisco’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs through public-private partnerships that use technology to create positive, sustainable change in education and workforce development. As the steward of Cisco’s CSR vision, GlobeScan co-CEO Chris Coulter spoke with Tae to gain insight on how she directs Cisco’s business, technical, and financial assets to make a positive impact for people and communities around the world.
From where you sit, what are the biggest challenges facing the world?
I think the biggest challenge is access. The upside and downside of change is so huge now, with evolving technologies and our increased ability to solve problems, the most significant challenge we face is providing access to these opportunities.
The good news is that there is much more upside now than historically. Look at what we are seeing in medicine, for example. The kinds of innovation and discoveries that are happening around medicine could have potentially huge life-saving capabilities. Making sure these capabilities are accessible to those in need across the world is a critical opportunity.
Combining opportunity with new technologies allows for the scaling of solutions like we’ve never seen before. Add to that a generation coming of age with communications embedded in everything they do, lays the groundwork for the emergence of entrepreneurs like Neopenda.
For instance, when you think about infant mortality, lack of care givers can tip the balance between life and death. Two young women out of Columbia University founded Neopenda after developing an innovation for a wearable neo-natal monitor that uses low-energy sensors to track infant vital signs. When an infant goes into distress, it alerts the nurses, and allows for rapid response to care for the baby. This is just one example of the millions of entrepreneurs innovating out there to solve important problems in the world.
It sounds like this was a very human response, rather than just a technology fix?
It is both. For these types of solutions to work and create a better world, they need human and technology interventions. For us at Cisco, we have learned that having a values-driven agenda is the first step. This combined with our IT expertise allows for even greater possibility.
Internet access has become increasingly important in today’s world because so much of our interactions now happen online. Because of that, I believe that high quality, reliable internet is a HUMAN RIGHT – just like clean water and clean air – because it serves as the pathway for people to get access to government services, health care, education, etc. That is why we see the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #9 on infrastructure and innovation as being so critical to a country’s developmental progress.
What are you most excited about?
We have set an ambitious goal to positively impact 1 billion people with digital solutions by 2025. We know that the same technology and skills that we use to solve our customers’ business problems can be used to solve some of the world’s biggest global challenges from unemployment, to poverty, to barriers to education, to climate change.
In order to reach this goal, we launched our Global Problem Solver initiative and are trying to foster an environment where everyone sees themselves as a problem solver – someone who can innovate as a technologist, think as an entrepreneur, and act as a social change agent – and harnesses the power of digital technology to do so.
When you think about natural disasters like Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, our gut instinct is to get aid on the ground. But how do you know where to go and what people need? The answer is that it is all about communications and connectivity – facilitating communications and getting first responders to the places where they need to go with the appropriate resources, that is huge.
At Cisco, we are trying to create an eco-system that nurtures global problem solvers to address many challenges. We do so in three primary ways.
The first is building the skills needed to participate in the digital economy. We have been doing this through our Networking Academy for 20 years now and have had nearly 8 million students go through it.
Second, partner with NGOs so they can provide support and solve these problems on the ground. If you think about poor communities where women and girls need to spend hours looking for water, easily locating the nearest water point opens up opportunities for them to go to school instead. Organizations like Water for People and the Akvo Flow app can help develop baseline maps of water access points.
Third, we need to think of how we encourage people to become innovators and entrepreneurs. Because you never know where the next great idea is going to come from, we support global problem solver challenges for technology solutions that solve social or environmental problems and have the potential to contribute to economic development.
What have you learned as you drive the Global Problem Solver initiative forward?
Anyone can be a global problem solver. I think what we have is a more empowered world, where individuals can help change the world. We want to make sure that this empowerment can be turned into action for good. It is a really great opportunity and a terrific moment.