Cisco Foundation names chief

By Todd Cohen

DURHAM, N.C. — Peter Tavernise, a former program officer for the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem, N.C., has been named executive director of the $116 million-asset Cisco Foundation in San Jose, Calif., managing its daily operations.

Tavernise says the Cisco Foundation will continue to focus on Cisco Systems’ philanthropic priorities of boosting Web-based giving and volunteering, supporting technology use by nonprofits and encouraging volunteerism by Cisco employees.

To support all three of those priority areas, the foundation aims to provide a range of programs to help people become more self-sufficient, says Tavernise, who also was a fundraiser for Duke University in Durham, N.C., and headed philanthropy in the Southeast for San Jose-based Cisco.

Those programs include meeting basic needs such as food and shelter, supporting education in kindergarten through 12th grade and preparing individuals for jobs.

Cisco, for example, provides special support, mainly in communities where it operates, for local affiliates of the Second Harvest Food Bank and Habitat for Humanity.

It also trains students and adults through Cisco networking academies at public schools and community colleges, and supports nonprofits that provide workforce-skills training.

“We believe strongly in the power of technology both to work on how you deliver that training, as well as what folks should be trained in to be economically self-sufficient,” Tavernise says.

The foundation also is a backer of collaborative efforts such as, a philanthropy portal also supported by AOL Time Warner and Yahoo!, and NetAid, a site Cisco launched with the United Nations to build an online community around issues involving extreme poverty in poor nations.

Assistant director of corporate and foundation relations at Duke before joining the Reynolds foundation, Tavernise headed philanthropic giving in North Carolina’s Raleigh-Durham area for Cisco for four months before being laid off in April 2001.

For the past year, under a Cisco program that pays laid-off employees one-third their former pay plus full benefits for nonprofit work, Tavernise was a full-time staff member doing fundraising and strategic planning for North Carolina Public Allies, the Durham chapter of a national group that places full-time apprentices with nonprofits.

Tavernise says he aims to use his experience at Public Allies to help shape his work at the Cisco Foundation.

“Not only have I worked in other types of philanthropy, but also this year I have experienced being the customer,” he says. “I know what it’s like to be the customer, and I’m not going to lose that.”

At the Reynolds Foundation, Tavernise focused on issues involving technology, the environment and migrant workers.

After leaving the Reynolds Foundation and before joining Cisco, he was a research communications specialist for the Research Triangle Institute in Research Triangle Park, N.C., where he worked to put into place the initial grants process for the Golden Leaf Foundation, created to receive half of North Carolina’s $4.6 billion share of the settlement between 46 states and the tobacco industry.

At RTI, he also worked to strengthen the public-education campaign of the American Legacy Foundation, a national foundation created through the settlement that focuses on reducing teen tobacco use.

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