Passion with a Purpose
With an engineering professor for a father and a "tech geek" for an older brother, it may not surprise you that Mexico City-based Rebeca de la Vega works at a technology company. "All our lives, my father told us to become engineers," Rebeca, one of three siblings, says with a chuckle.
Today, as Cisco's Corporate Social Responsibility manager in her native Mexico, Rebeca leads the company's efforts to foster IT education and improve people's access to the Internet throughout the country. But for a long time, no one—especially Rebeca—could've guessed she would end up in technology.
While her brother didn't exactly take their father's advice about engineering, he did become a scientist. Rebeca, however, was intent on heading in a different direction altogether.
"I wanted to taste the world!" says Rebeca, and that's exactly what she did.
Rebeca embarked on a two-decade-long journey to discover her passions. She studied communications, and then earned an MBA at Tecnológico de Monterrey. During her graduate studies, she found one of her true callings while working as a teaching assistant.
"I realized my heart was in education," she recalls, a field shared by Rebeca's sister and her father.
She worked at a newspaper, an advertising agency, and the Mexican government, gaining real-world experience to draw on as an educator. "I couldn't be the best teacher if I didn't go out into the marketplace first," Rebeca explains.
Then, as sometimes happens, life presented an opportunity that helped all the pieces to fall into place for Rebeca. She reconnected with a colleague from her student days at Tecnológico de Monterrey, Verónica Tostado, who had since joined Cisco.
"Verónica was so enthusiastic about Cisco," says Rebeca. "I couldn't resist." In 2006, she accepted a job helping to grow the Cisco Networking Academy program in Mexico.
Rebecca's passion for communications and education, combined with her roots in technology, made her an ideal fit for the job. She flourished, and her responsibilities grew. The chance to make a profound difference in the lives of others—to connect the unconnected—gave Rebeca a sense of purpose that fuels her to this day.
Through the Networking Academy program, for example, Rebeca and her team partner with public and private schools, businesses, and non-profits throughout Mexico. Together they deliver IT training courses designed for students of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds. Cisco as a whole supports 9,000 academies in 170 countries. Since 1997 we have helped more than 5.5 million people globally build IT and career skills. In Mexico alone, the program has trained more than 265,000 students to date.
Other examples of her team's work include Cisco's Community Knowledge Centers, which provide network connectivity to remote, resource-poor communities–and a partnership with USAID, the non-profit World Learning, and local high schools to help reduce violence and crime in Mexican border cities.
"Rebeca is incredibly creative in her approach," says Cisco Senior Manager Cristina McGlew Castro, citing yet another Cisco Mexico CSR project to make her point. "She helped establish the Centros de Integración Juvenil (CIJ), rehabilitation centers for recovering addicts and their families that use Networking Academy curriculum as part of the therapeutic process. It's really unique."
“Had it not been for Rebeca's determination…the lives of more than 200 students would have never been changed,”- Norma Carrillo
Collaboration and critical thinking—skills that are becoming more important in the workplace—are embedded into the CIJ curriculum. "They're stronger working together," remarks Rebeca, who says that family members are also part of the treatment. It's not uncommon to see three generations in one classroom, with technology as the common thread uniting them.
"Had it not been for Rebeca's determination to support the initiative, the lives of more than 200 students would have never been changed," says Norma Carrillo, Executive Director of América Digital, one of Cisco's most important partners in supporting the Networking Academy program throughout Mexico.
Ultimately, CIJ will help many more; its blend of therapy, training, and family support has been so successful in helping individuals gain a new lease on life that plans are underway to establish 20 more centers throughout the country.
Rebeca's positive influence isn't limited to the beneficiaries of Cisco's CSR efforts. "Rebeca taught me everything I know," says Luly Ozuna, who now manages the CIJ program for Cisco. "She's the kind of leader who encourages us to achieve the goals we've set, and provides all of the necessary support to help us get there."
“I can see how we are able to make a difference that doesn't just benefit an individual or community once, but can positively impact them multiple times.”- Rebeca de la Vega
Whether empowering the citizens of Mexico to get better connected or her colleagues at Cisco to achieve success, Rebeca's passion to make a difference is undeniable.
"There's still a lot to be done in Mexico," Rebeca says. "But I can see how we are able to make a difference that doesn't just benefit an individual or community once, but can positively impact them multiple times. I love my job and I love this country!"
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