Francine Katsoudas is the Executive Vice President and Chief People, Policy, and Purpose Officer at Cisco. In this role, Katsoudas oversees critical functions that instill Cisco’s conscious culture, contribute to the company’s overall performance, and advance Cisco’s purpose to power an inclusive future for all.
As head of the people, policy, and purpose at Cisco, Katsoudas leads an ecosystem of people and communities, corporate affairs, workplace resources, government affairs, and country digital acceleration. This strategic alignment of functions and expertise ensures holistic care for the well-being of Cisco’s people, establishes Cisco as a trusted and valued partner to governments and global leaders, and extends Cisco’s reach to positively impact communities everywhere in alignment with the company’s purpose.
A 25-year veteran of Cisco, Katsoudas has extensive experience leading organisational transformations, driving large scale growth, cultivating successful leaders and teams, and constructing an employee-first culture. Prior to her current role, she served as HR business partner to the Engineering leadership team, and held positions in the Service Provider, HR Operations, Customer Service, Acquisition Integration and Services groups
Daily News Egypt interviewed Katsoudas and discussed with her the company’s expansion in Egypt and Middle East, and its role in digitalisation.
When did Cisco start its operations in the Middle East? How do you evaluate the company’s expansion in the Middle East, particularly in Egypt?
We have been working in the Middle East region for more than 25 years. We are proud of the fact that during this time, Cisco has become a key contributor to the region’s digitization journey. Working with our extensive local partner ecosystem, we provide technology for the foundational broadband infrastructure and support customers with solutions spanning our networking, security, collaboration, and optimised applications portfolio. At the same time, we have a big focus on developing talents and skills with initiatives such as Cisco Networking Academy.
At Cisco, we also actively support local digitization agendas through the Cisco Country Digital Acceleration (CDA) programme. Egypt is one of approximately 44 countries globally where we launched this programme based on a long-term collaboration with national leadership, industry, and academia.
What is the company’s role in Egypt’s digitisation process?
We are working very closely with the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology (MCIT) to define the key pillars of the CDA programme aligning with Egypt’s Vision 2030. In doing so, we are building on our people, our technology, and our partner ecosystem to make the biggest impact. The pillars we are focusing on include talent and skills, SME development, smart cities, government digitisation, and digital inclusion.
Since the inception of the programme in Egypt in 2018, we have completed a dozen digitisation projects. All of them are unique in the sense that they aim to solve specific challenges using the latest technologies and business solutions.
We also believe that the true potential of technology can only be unlocked when it is combined with knowledge transfer and talent development. In a rapidly digitising world, there is an enormous need for IT skills, which is why we have a major focus on the Cisco Networking Academy programme that we launched in Egypt as early as 2001. Since then, we have trained more than 230,000 students, with a female participation rate of 30%. As part of our education efforts, an initiative that is very dear to me is the digital training of 700 people with disabilities, in collaboration with MCIT and the National Academy of Information Technology for Persons with Disabilities.
Can you tell us about Cisco’s latest projects or innovations, particularly in Egypt? Which solutions have you implemented that do particularly well?
Let me share with you some examples that showcase how we can use state of the art technology to address important needs in society. Under the scope of our CDA programme in Egypt, we built a telehealth project, contributed to a smart campus for a leading public university, and initiated collaboration between three ministries to help enable remote court hearings. In addition, we worked with the Egyptian government to equip 20 vans with technologies to deliver citizen services in rural areas.
How do you see the ICT sector in the Middle East and Egypt? What do you expect for its future?
With a young population and a strong vision for digitisation, Middle East countries have a unique opportunity to build sustainable, knowledge-based economies. However, there are a few pre-conditions to be able to seize the full potential, especially universal internet connectivity, accessibility of cloud services, and – as we discussed – a healthy talent pool of skilled IT professionals.
In Egypt, the combination of a young population and a solid ICT 2030 strategy, as part of the 2030 Vision, means the country has the potential to become a talent hub for digitisation and innovation. We are looking forward to continuing our work with Egypt’s government and supporting the development of a highly secure ICT infrastructure, fostering digital skills and inclusion, and helping achieve the transition to a digital economy as a result.
Several technology companies are cooperating with the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology to provide training and workshops. Does Cisco plan to launch such activities in Egypt?
At Cisco, we have a strong belief that technology is truly powerful when combined with education. This belief has led to the creation of Cisco Networking Academy quarter of a century ago.
In Egypt, we have a strong cooperation between Cisco Networking Academy and various government organisations, including the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology as our main partner. Through a variety of programs, we offer free courses and certifications related to critical areas in the digital age, such as networking, IoT, and cybersecurity.
Can you tell us about Cisco’s significant achievements during the COVID-19 pandemic?
For us, the pandemic meant we needed to focus on the wellbeing, health, and safety of our own employees, whilst doing everything to help our customers continue their business – and doing it fast. As one of the first steps, we made our Collaboration platform Webex alongside several other solutions, including IT security, available for customers globally free of charge to support their shift to remote work.
The pandemic exposed a huge gap between those who have access to broadband internet and those who do not. It has become clearer than ever that an equal access to connectivity is essential for education, public health, productivity, and economic development. With our Cisco CDA programme, we were able to mobilize and execute more than 70 projects within the span of a few months, helping countries deal with issues around remote education, tele-consultations and field hospitals, connectivity for rural areas, secure collaboration for government organisations, and much more. In Egypt, in particular, our CDA team deployed 40 telehealth clinics to enable remote consultation and deliver vital healthcare services to remote and isolated patients. We also helped the Ministry of Higher Education put in place an e-learning platform for universities and enabled 5,000 secondary school teachers to run online education via the Cisco Webex platform.
Moving through subsequent phases of the pandemic, we have witnessed the initiation or acceleration in areas like hybrid work and prevalence of cloud – areas where Cisco is focusing a lot of its innovation.