People Behind CSR at Cisco: How Meraki's Charlie Gebhardt Engages Employees in Volunteer and Giving Efforts
Cisco Meraki is a complete cloud-managed networking solution that integrates hardware, software, and cloud services. Besides its products, another distinct aspect of the Meraki business unit is that its employees are deeply engaged in community impact and volunteerism.
Charlie Gebhardt is a program manager who guides business transformations for Cisco Meraki. I recently sat down with him to learn more about his inspiration to support communities, his involvement with the Meraki Gives leadership team, and how the Meraki team is using technology for good.
Can you tell us more about your job responsibilities at Cisco?
Charlie: I am a program manager who helps to guide business transformations for the Cisco Meraki business unit. That means I help our employees to be ready, willing, and able to embrace change. There are specific ways that those changes manifest, such as a new platform or tool that we’re using or a policy change. I work on projects that require a higher level of behavior change. For example, helping people understand how they will benefit from the change, and giving them the tools and support they need to make the transition as seamlessly and painlessly as possible.
Can you tell me more about your life before Cisco and your volunteer and nonprofit experience?
Charlie: Volunteerism is something I’ve been passionate about from an early age, and I actively volunteered in high school. But I think my giving back experience really started when it came to serving in the Peace Corps. I was inspired to join because my brother modeled giving back by also serving in Thailand.
As part of that experience, I lived in a rural village in Botswana for a little over two years. In particular, I loved lifting people up by giving them the confidence and resources to create positive change. The biggest project that I worked on during my time in the Peace Corps was a grant that we got through the U.S. embassy to build a preschool center. It was an incredibly enriching experience, and I learned a lot.
When I finished my service and returned to the Bay Area, I worked for a nonprofit for about a year in a fundraising department, which was a good way to see what it was like to support communities in a domestic context. Still, I wanted to continue growing my professional skill sets for an organization with well-defined strategic goals while impacting communities in a positive way. I feel like I got that when I joined Cisco Meraki in 2018. I have all these opportunities to improve my community while working at a job where I feel like my professional skills are growing exponentially. I’m always being stretched a little bit beyond my comfort zone and I love that.
An essential part of Cisco’s CSR efforts is to use “technology for good.” How can Cisco technology, like Meraki, be used to help others?
Charlie: 826 Valencia is a nonprofit organization in San Francisco dedicated to helping children and young adults develop writing skills. Cisco Meraki gave a product donation that enables them fully manage their network. Our technical support department was able to give them the expertise and thought partnership they needed to be able to deploy their network. Unfortunately, they had been experiencing some break-ins at their site. As a result of our donation, they gained the security they needed through our Meraki Vision cameras. These are security cameras they can rely on, and they can manage them through a platform that they’re already familiar with and that they use every day. Our donation was able to bring them secure internet access, a secure local area network, and video security to help keep them physically safe.
Can you tell me more about the Meraki Gives leadership team?
Charlie: The Meraki Gives leadership team looks at what our employee base is passionate about and creates activities to encourage them to take action.
My responsibilities include building partnerships across Cisco to support our volunteering and donating efforts, driving data and reporting on these activities, and supporting giving back events as needed.
These efforts include organizing, structuring, and encouraging employees to participate in volunteering experiences, whether virtual or in-person pre-COVID. We also encourage people to donate to organizations that they’re passionate about.
We also create flashpoint opportunities for people to get more excited about donating. One of our most successful events this past fiscal year was a large trivia contest where people had to donate to participate, then were encouraged to donate throughout the experience. We raised enough money through that event to donate 20,000 meals to local food banks in San Francisco and Chicago.
What other community impact efforts are you part of at Cisco
Charlie: I am a volunteer with the Cisco Community Impact Grant Program, through which I am an “employee champion” for 826 Valencia. I grew up in the Bay Area, and part of my passion for giving back started when I participated in 826 Valencia as a student from middle school to high school. So, I transitioned from being a beneficiary to being a volunteer throughout college, and then to being more involved as a champion for them as a Cisco employee. I got to experience the benefit directly, and now I get to enable this for others. As an employee champion, I helped them get their product donations and helped them with the process of identifying technologies that would be valuable for their programmatic work.
I also sit on the Cisco Foundation Employee Advisory Committee (EAC), which includes a rotating group of early to mid-career Cisco employees who help inform the Foundation’s strategy and policies to create an inclusive future for all.