1 December 2015
By Kirsten Henson

A New Type of CSR

Last month I was fortunate enough to spend a week with the Rio2016 Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games as part of a long-standing relationship with the United Nations Environment Programme.
While most of my time was spent in the Rio2016 offices, my visit coincided with the launch of an incredible Cisco project in Rio’s favelas.

On reaching the edge of the favela, we entered a ‘Knowledge Square’. The Knowledge Square was packed with children, adults and technology: computers, video equipment and interactive communication facilities. Local people, trained by Cisco, staff the Knowledge Squares.

The Knowledge Square I visited is just one of 40 that the City of Rio, with the technology support of Cisco plan to open around the City. They currently have six in operation, and with 1.5million unique visitors and 200,000 regular users they obviously fulfil a community need.

While most Brazilians have a mobile phone, few in the favelas have internet access, limiting their access to jobs and information. The Knowledge Squares provide information on the Olympic and Paralympic Games in addition to other development projects across the City, and visitors are free to comment or ask questions – a major step forward for a city that has received bad publicity in the past for ignoring the rights of the favela communities. The Squares also offer access to courses in English, entrepreneurship and other subjects, and provide all important internet access.

Imagine my surprise when one young girl, noticing that I spoke English, came to me and said: “Good Morning, my name is Irene. What is yours?” Here was a young girl who has the courage, the intelligence, and now hopefully the opportunity to create a better life for herself.


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The parents of these children are equally pleased with the Knowledge Square. It keeps their children off the streets and away from the drug dealers that can ruin lives so quickly. It also provides a safe meeting place for the older community members.

As part of their Olympic sponsorship package Cisco are also offering 1000 scholarships for a training programme which usually costs R$8,000 (almost £1500). All students that complete the training programme are guaranteed a job with a starting salary twice that of the average income in the favelas.

So why are Cisco doing this? To have a glossy double page spread in their Annual Corporate Report, or to win more business? Actually, it is hard to find much information on the Cisco website about this fantastic initiative.
The Programme Director I spoke to indicated that Cisco were investing because as a business, they foresaw a huge skills gap in their business. They need more young people technology literate, pursuing courses in computer programming, digital networks and business. Cisco are investing now, to ensure a healthy business in the future.


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Digital literacy is key to the development of any country, any business, any community and any individual. The City of Rio have realised that, Cisco know their business depends on it and together they have created the opportunity for local communities to take advantage.

This is not about giving community hand-outs to appease the consciousness of the corporate giants. This is about giving communities the opportunity to improve their own circumstances, while fulfilling a core business need. In short, it is how CSR should be done.

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