John and Tashia Morgridge's upbringing in the idyllic 1950s Wisconsin suburb of Wauwatosa gave them a shared appreciation for both high-quality education and the great outdoors. Today, the chairman emeritus of Cisco Systems and the former special-education teacher and education author reflect their gratitude for that past with their philanthropy.
In 1992 the Morgridges formed the Tosa Foundation, a family foundation that was named after their shared Wisconsin high school, fulfilling their early interest in giving anonymously. The Morgridges have given back to their home state by taking the lead on a long list of large initiatives, such as a $175 million gift to create the Fund for Wisconsin Scholars, which will give college tuition grants for low-income students attending Wisconsin’s public universities. Also on the list is the Wisconsin Technology Initiative, which provides 21st-century instructional technology—using Cisco gear—to forward-thinking school districts. And beyond that, John was instrumental in creating the Discovery Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a public-private partnership for collaborative research among a range of disciplines.
For the Morgridges, who signed the Giving Pledge, dedicating a significant portion of their philanthropy to Wisconsin made sense for strategic reasons as well. "It is a place where you can get things done. It has a scale that is doable…you can meet the people that you need to meet and get the work done that you’re hoping to get done," says Tashia. John adds, "The two places we’re involved [in], we have pretty good knowledge about, and I think that gives you leverage."
That second place in which the Morgridges are involved is Silicon Valley—their adopted home. Tashia notes that their work in East Palo Alto, specifically their effort over the last two decades to improve literacy through the Reading Recovery program, has taught them a key lesson worth sharing with other philanthropists: "Philanthropy is not short term…you have to keep working at it. You can’t give up. You’ve got to keep a goal in mind."