Archana Sahay- The Force behind Cisco's CSR

How does one begin to describe Archana? When we drop by her office to meet her, she tells me she’s been there since 6 am. But there isn’t a hint of weariness, not the slightest droop in her posture. A powerhouse of energy and enthusiasm, Archana is humble and understated; she is the driving force behind networking giant Cisco System’s Corporate Social Responsibility in India.

Even as a child, Archana knew she wanted to do something different and that she had to be involved in the social sector. Keeping this in mind, she pursued sociology at Delhi University. “Post my Bachelors’ degree, there were two possible routes- Masters in Social Work, or giving the UPSC exam to become a bureaucrat. I chose the former, because I felt like it was my calling. “

Archana further went on to enroll at one of the best educational institutions in the country- Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU)- to get an M.A and an M.Phil. “My M.Phil. guide has been instrumental in my life. He used to run his own NGO, where I spent many hours doing field work. This was the time I realized that one can directly impact beneficiaries on the ground, with no bureaucracy or government in the middle as road blocks. That is the only way to reach out to people.”  

In her professional career, Archana’s path has followed quite a trajectory since then. She began by doing field work with NGO’s like Social Science Research in Delhi. Stints at fundraising organizations and big corporations followed. For the past two years, Archana has been with the global networking giant Cisco.  At Cisco, CSR initiatives draw from three pillars of focus- education, economic empowerment, and critical human needs. This three pronged approach has been successful in giving back to society. Within education, the primary emphasis is on STEM- Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

On joining Cisco, Archana spent many months scouting for organizations to partner with. “Finding the right partner is the biggest challenge in the CSR space. We need to find NGOs whose objectives align with ours. This kind of work can never be done in isolation; we need to partner with like-minded, capable organizations”, she says. The journey with Agastya started when Archana had the opportunity to meet Ramji Raghavan, Founder and Chairman of Agastya. She believes that in social organizations, the power of one individual can have a lasting impact on the entire organization. Meeting Ramji was the turning point in Cisco’s association with Agastya. “Many times, the vision and dedication of one person speaks volumes about the organization as a whole. We had a great discussion with Ramji, and one visit to the Kuppam campus was all it took for us to decide that we had found the right partner”, says Archana. Cisco has, since then, funded one Science Center in Sarjapur, and the Young Instructor Leader Program at our campus in Kuppam.

Archana firmly believes in the partnership model of the CSR space. “While corporates have the funds required, they do not usually have the expertise to go along with it. NGOs play a crucial role here as they are the thought leaders in this process, and have the best idea of the ground level situation. I always see it as a partnership model.” The power of collaborations between CSR initiatives of various corporations too, sees a future with Archana, “A collaborative model is hence very important, where different corporations can bring in different expertise. It will go hand in hand multiplying the impact we produce in society”.

With leaders like Archana at the helm of CSR spaces in India, the future for meaningful partnerships shows immense potential. Agastya has had a wonderful relationship with Archana and Cisco for two successful years now, and it is our hope that this is just the beginning of a long lasting and fruitful journey to impact young lives across the country!