25 Years of Creating Opportunity, One Learner at a Time


"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." -Nelson Mandela


By Francine Katsoudas, Executive Vice President and Chief People, Policy & Purpose Officer of Cisco

These words, spoken by Mandela almost 20 years ago, ring just as true today as they did then. For the past 25 years, the Cisco Networking Academy has been working to equip individuals around the world with this power, providing skills training to prepare learners to participate in the digital economy. And as we celebrate this impact today, we also recommit ourselves to this work for the years ahead.

This morning, Cisco announced a new goal for our Networking Academy—to offer digital skills training to 25 million learners over the next ten years. This goal is not only a celebration of 25 years of impact; it will help millions more around the world to gain access to in-demand jobs by empowering the workforce of the future with education and career opportunities.

When we look back at the Networking Academy’s first 25 years, we often point to the big numbers: 17.5 million global learners in 190 countries and almost 12,000 academies with courses translated into 27 languages. What gets lost in these impressive numbers are the individual stories, the lives that have been changed by the education and skills that Networking Academy provides. What we may not see in the stats are the lived experiences of those who are often left out of the digital economy and already most impacted by economic inequality—women, ethnic minorities, and people with disabilities.

Just last week, I visited a Networking Academy class in New York City, and over the past few years I have met with Networking Academy students and teachers around the world in places like Nigeria and Brazil. Seeing these students brought this amazing program to life for me once again. One of the teachers shared a story about a former student, a woman who was seeking a job after receiving her English degree in college. During an interview, an IT employer noticed she had pursued and achieved a Cisco certification through Networking Academy while she was in high school. Because of this, she was offered a different role in which she was able to put both her IT knowledge and degree in English to use by helping bridge communication between customers and coders.

This story is not an anomaly. Approximately 95% of students that have taken Cisco certification aligned courses attribute Networking Academy to obtaining a job or education opportunity.

Looking ahead, we must continue to offer access to more people in more places if we’re going to build a truly inclusive global economy. We know there is growing demand around the world for workers with skills in networking, cybersecurity, and software development, and many economies are struggling to fill these open roles. Cisco can help bridge these gaps by expanding our reach within communities around the world. We’re offering Networking Academy to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, which includes instructor training, high-quality curriculum, tools and career opportunities through our Talent Bridge program. And with the Exceptional Academy, we deliver Networking Academy courses to students with disabilities and prepare them for jobs in IT.

Cisco’s purpose is to Power an Inclusive Future for All, and part of building this future is creating access to education regardless of geography, gender, or ability. We are now living in a time when engagement in the digital economy should no longer be seen as a luxury for some but as an opportunity for everyone, everywhere. Through Networking Academy, Cisco can—and will—continue to equip learners around the world with that most powerful weapon and work to open the doors of opportunity for all.