Empowering Underserved Youth

Telenor and Cisco are helping young people build digital skills, prepare for their future


A leading telecommunications company with 212 million subscribers across the Nordic countries and Asia, Telenor has teamed up with Cisco to uplift society, reduce inequality, and promote digital inclusion.

Industry: Service provider
Location: Oslo, Norway
Size: 16,000
Website: telenor.com



  • Confront the digital divide in South and Southeast Asia
  • Improve the digital skills and industry readiness of Bangladeshi university students
  • Increase the cybersecurity awareness and digital resilience of Thai youth


  • Established a digital skills academy in Bangladesh and a safe internet camp in Thailand
  • Enrolled roughly 16,000 Bangladeshi university students
  • Identified and educated nearly 200 high-potential youth leaders in Thailand

Confronting a growing divide

With many already on the wrong side of the digital divide, young people in South and Southeast Asia were disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The pandemic exposed digital inequalities and expanded the gaps related to digital access, skills, and inclusion—especially in the developing parts of the world," says Zainab Hussain Siddiqui, vice president and head of sustainability at Telenor. "Millions of young people missed out on education and economic opportunities and were pushed further behind."

This didn't sit well with Telenor, which has a longstanding track record of using technology to uplift society, reduce inequality, and promote digital inclusion. With the digital divide growing in the markets it serves, Telenor refocused its efforts on three critical needs of young people:

  • Basic digital skills that extend beyond connectivity, social media, gaming, and content consumption—skills that help them advance their education, apply for work, and remain productive in their personal and professional lives
  • Exposure to advanced technology concepts, like coding, Internet of Things (IoT), and cybersecurity, that are becoming more ingrained in society and industry
  • Improved awareness and understanding of how to be safe when navigating online opportunities and interactions

Telenor is confronting these gaps and priorities head-on. And they are working with like-minded partners that can help maximize the reach and impact of their efforts.

"We have a longstanding commercial partnership with Cisco, and it became clear we have the same goals when it comes to youth empowerment, digital skills, and safe connectivity," Siddiqui says. "It was a no-brainer to expand our relationship and address these huge challenges together."

As part of a joint purpose agreement, Telenor and Cisco launched pilot programs in Bangladesh and Thailand to help confront and narrow the digital divide.

We are working with Cisco to confront inequalities, build digital skills, and prepare young people for their future. It's a shared value concept. When society does better, businesses do better, too.

Zainab Hussain Siddiqui, Vice President and Head of Sustainability

Technology academy in Bangladesh

Grameenphone, a Telenor subsidiary and the largest mobile operator in Bangladesh, launched the GP Explorer program in 2021 to increase the digital skills and industry readiness of Bangladeshi university students. With the help of Cisco, the goals, reach, and curriculum of the program—which was relaunched as GP Academy—were all expanded.

"University curriculums don't evolve as quickly as technology and business," says Teodora Mitrovska-Forbord, director of sustainability at Telenor. "GP Academy was designed to help bridge the gaps between academic and professional worlds, helping equip Bangladeshi students with the skills they'll need to make the leap into the workforce."

The program included introductory and graduate-level courses on programming, IoT, and cybersecurity, developed by Cisco Networking Academy. Cisco subject matter experts taught the advanced courses.

The program also offered Cisco-led mentorship opportunities for women enrolled in Bangladesh universities. "Gender equality and inclusion continue to be a problem in South Asia," Mitrovska-Forbord says. "We believe GP Academy had a positive impact on the 16,000 university students who enrolled."

Safe internet camp in Thailand

Although young people in Thailand are generally more connected and digitally active than their peers in other Asian markets, Telenor's customer data and surveys have revealed they are often unaware of the risks and potential pitfalls that can come with online interactions. 

"The situation in Thailand is different from Bangladesh, where children often lack connectivity and the most basic digital skills," Mitrovska-Forbord explains. "Thai youth are much more digitally advanced and they're frequently online, but they're not always cognizant of the inherent risks." 

To increase cybersecurity awareness and digital resilience, Telenor and Cisco worked together to enhance and scale a Young Safe Internet Leaders Cyber Camp that was originally launched in 2020 by dtac, a former Telenor subsidiary. The two companies upgraded the format, participation platforms, and content of the program, which took place in a metaverse-like venue. The 3D virtual environment was connected to chat and videoconferencing tools, with its content and e-learning platform provided by Cisco Networking Academy.

"The camp included short, interactive programs that stimulated ideas and engagement," Mitrovska-Forbord says. "We hosted a learning boot camp, idea incubator, and even competitions that helped increase awareness of cybersecurity and online safety."

Some 200 high-potential Thai students between 15 and 18 years old were selected for the Young Safe Internet Leaders Cyber Camp, all of whom completed the full slate of programming.

Moving forward

With the pilot programs in Bangladesh and Thailand completed, Telenor and Cisco plan to launch similar initiatives in other markets in the near future.

"We're evaluating the impact and learnings from these pilot programs and intend to scale up," Mitrovska-Forbord says.

"We are working with Cisco to confront inequalities, build digital skills, and prepare young people for their future," Siddiqui concludes. "It's a shared value concept. When society does better, businesses do better, too."