Impact Measurement Poses Challenge For Social Entrepreneurs And Impact Investors Alike

Impact Measurement Poses Challenge For Social Entrepreneurs And Impact Investors Alike

One of the greatest challenges for social entrepreneurs is how to measure and report impact. For help, I asked Thane Kreiner, PhD, executive director of the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University, a leading expert on social impact.

This week, as a guest of the University, I will be traveling with Thane to Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya, visiting some of the social entrepreneurs who have completed the Center’s Global Social Benefit Institute social entrepreneurship accelerator program.

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Santa Clara University’s Global Social Benefit Fellowship Receives Ashoka U-Cordes Innovation Award in Academic Learning

Santa Clara University’s Global Social Benefit Fellowship Receives Ashoka U-Cordes Innovation Award in Academic Learning

Santa Clara University’s GSBF is an innovative education and action research program for social entrepreneurship in which undergraduate students undertake in-depth and rigorous action research projects in developing countries, in partnership with social enterprises that have completed Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) programs.

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PACE MD Enhances Healthcare in Mexico

PACE MD Enhances Healthcare in Mexico

About 21 percent of Mexico's population lives in rural areas, according to the World Bank, yet only 2.3 percent of the country's 259,000 practicing physicians work there. That may seem like an insurmountable problem to some, but to Haywood Hall, MD, a high-school-dropout-turned-emergency-physician, it was a perfect opportunity to found PACE MD, a program that aims to enhance health care delivery in Mexico.

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Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship Celebrates its 20th Anniversary

Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship Celebrates its 20th Anniversary

Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2017, Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship is a pioneer in social entrepreneurship and impact investing. Founded as the Center for Science, Technology, and Society in 1997, Miller Center melds Silicon Valley’s spirit of innovation with Santa Clara University’s Jesuit ethos to help find sustainable solutions to global poverty.

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Saving Lives Through Innovation at Santa Clara University

By Deborah Lohse, Assistant Director for Media Relations, Santa Clara University
Originally posted on Jan. 24, 2017 on



As a Center of Distinction that promotes social entrepreneurship – using business-based techniques to develop innovative solutions that fight poverty and address social and environmental issues – Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University has been delighted to see the surge in interest in “impact investing” by the Catholic Church, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), and even Pope Francis. This type of investing considers both profit and social impact – reducing pollution, increasing employment, improving quality of life, and more – as measurements of success. 

“[Since] 2014, we've seen the first-ever Vatican conferences on impact investing, Catholic Relief Services’ first impact investment, and a growing number of Jesuit and Catholic universities inspired to teach or support social entrepreneurship,” said John Kohler, Miller Center’s director of impact capital. Kohler was among those who has spoken at both Vatican conferences, and has advised CRS and other organizations on how to invest in this innovative way.   

”There is an exciting convergence now between Catholic social ministries and the impact investing community toward using capital in new ways to solve entrenched social problems,” he added.

Miller Center, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, has provided free training and mentoring to more than 600 social enterprises around the globe, and continues to evolve. After spending time reflecting on the most pressing problems facing impoverished countries today, the center's staff have affirmed their primary goal to eradicate poverty through social entrepreneurship, and focused the center's resources on two main areas: “women rising” and climate resilience. Miller Center is now selecting social enterprises for its Global Social Benefit Institute (R) programs that are led by women (or addressing issues that affect women), or engaged in promoting resilience to the effects of climate change, particularly those addressing energy and water poverty, sustainable rural development, or health.

“These two areas of Miller Center's focus — empowering women economically and promoting climate resilience — are individually important and synergistic,” said Miller Center Executive Director Thane Kreiner, Ph.D. “Women and girls represent the majority of the world’s poor. They have fewer paths out of poverty, and are more vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change. Women’s economic empowerment, climate resilience, and poverty are tightly interwoven; helping women in a given community rise out of poverty simultaneously helps create climate resilience in that same community, and vice versa.”

Miller Center aims to align its outcomes to the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development goals, which are designed to guide humanitarian efforts “to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities, and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind.” Some of the recent social entrepreneurs who have been trained by Miller Center faculty serve as vivid examples of the urgency for these goals:

•    Pollinate Energy trains local entrepreneurs to establish micro-businesses that sell clean solar lights, water filters, and solar fans in urban slums of India. After participating in the center’s GSBI Accelerator in 2016, Pollinate Energy received a $100,000 grant from a Silicon Valley-based global venture philanthropy firm. In addition to easing women’s household tasks and replacing toxic kerosene in the home, the company provides employment, increased education for students, and greater discretionary income by eliminating fuel costs.
•    Koe Koe Tech, which provides essential health information to parents and pregnant women (in order to reduce maternal and under-5 mortality rates in Myanmar), recently received a $150,000 USAID grant.
•    Livelyhoods, which trains women and youth in Kenyan slum areas to sell environmentally beneficial products like clean cook-stoves and solar goods, recently received $100,000 from investors.

Kreiner said, “Scientific data overwhelmingly indicate that climate change driven by fossil fuel emissions is stressing our planet’s ecosystems, imperiling the lives and livelihoods of billions of people. The social enterprises Miller Center supports – and their innovations – are more important now than ever."

Redefining "Replication" For Social Enterprises

Empower Generation trains Nepalese women to sell solar lanterns in their communities. The program creates jobs and provides clean energy.

Empower Generation trains Nepalese women to sell solar lanterns in their communities. The program creates jobs and provides clean energy.

Originally posted on Business Ethics

by Thane Kreiner, Ph.D., Executive Director, and Neal Harrison, Associate Director, Replication,
Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship

Social enterprises are judged by both their social impact and their ability to thrive as financially sustainable businesses. As in the strictly for-profit business realm, it makes sense to identify what successful social enterprises are doing well and to replicate those successes.

Empower Generation trains Nepalese women to sell solar lanterns in their communities. The program creates jobs and provides clean energy.

Unfortunately many, if not most, attempts at replicating social enterprises have failed, in part due to faulty assumptions that the success of a social enterprise will emulate the success of a purely for-profit business.

So what’s the best way to replicate successful social enterprises? After 14 years of working to accelerate social enterprises through its Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) methodology and programs, Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship has gained some important insights.

The place to start is by rethinking our assumptions about what both “success” and “replication” mean with respect to social enterprises.

A worker for Onergy, a social enterprise in India, installs micro-grid solar panels on a school roof.

A worker for Onergy, a social enterprise in India, installs micro-grid solar panels on a school roof.

Characterizing Successful Social Enterprises

Too often, we measure social enterprises using the same yardsticks we use for purely profit-driven enterprises—expecting social enterprises to eventually look like an Apple or a Google.

Why is that an unreasonable assumption? As much as profit-only enterprises tout their corporate social responsibility (CSR) or corporate citizenship programs, the heart of their businesses—and how their success is ultimately measured—relates to how many products or services they sell, what profit margins they achieve, and their stock prices. In this sense, every successful traditional enterprise looks very much like every other successful enterprise: it’s all about financial returns.

For social entrepreneurs, the level of social or environmental impact they can achieve is what drives them and fuels their passions. If impact were the only goal, however, social enterprises would be indistinguishable from charitable organizations. Social enterprises differ from charitable organizations in their application of business principles, earning income to support all or parts of their operations.

Indian schoolboys stand next to Onergy's micro-grid solar panels.

Indian schoolboys stand next to Onergy's micro-grid solar panels.

Imagine a social enterprise that provides clean drinking water to a village, perhaps in Kenya or Nicaragua or India. How many villagers would the enterprise need to serve with clean water to be deemed successful? Fifty percent? Eighty percent? One hundred percent? What if it reaches 100% of the villagers but can’t generate enough revenue to become self-sustaining financially or to pay back its impact investors? Is that a successful social enterprise? What if it has a perfect balance sheet but falls far short of its impact goals?

In social enterprises, success means making meaningful progress toward specific social or environmental impact goals, while also achieving as much financial self-sufficiency as possible. But the target balance between social impact and business performance will vary depending on many factors, beginning with the problem the enterprise aspires to solve. Unlike traditional enterprises, one successful social enterprise might bear little resemblance to other successful social enterprises: the impact returns vary widely.

What Replication Means for Social Enterprises

Traditionally, replication has meant finding the optimal business and technology solution to a particular problem, then copying and disseminating it. This could include setting up franchises, opening new branches or satellite operations, establishing licensing arrangements, or forming distributorships.

Of course, depending on their impact sectors and other factors, some social enterprises are well suited to replication through means such as franchising, opening up branches, and setting up strategic partnerships in the region. For instance, a social enterprise using biodigesters to convert farming waste to energy is combining opening new branches with partnerships that lower costs to entry to replicate its business model from Mexico to countries in Central America and Africa.

This approach succeeds because the fundamentals of the social enterprise—farmers that generate organic waste and communities able to use the natural fertilizer and biogas generated by the simple, affordable biodigester—are relatively similar across diverse geographies, cultures, and environments.

In contrast, consider social enterprises in off-grid clean energy. Potential solutions include micro-grids, which work well in areas of high population density. But if the population density is too low, the transmission losses from micro-grids will supersede the ability to distribute power. For communities with lower population densities, the optimal solution might be stand-alone solar home systems.

Thus, within the category of off-grid clean energy, social enterprises with similar impact goals could have quite different technology solutions for achieving those goals. Different technology solutions often require different business model solutions: individual households can purchase stand-alone solar home systems through financing plans, whereas a micro-grid solution usually requires the social enterprise to make the capital investment. Social enterprises might also need to devise different strategies for energy storage (e.g., batteries, which require correct disposal), product distribution, pricing, and other foundational issues.

Sistema Biobolsa in Mexico uses biodigesters to convert farm waste into energy.

Sistema Biobolsa in Mexico uses biodigesters to convert farm waste into energy.

What’s emerging is the need to expand the traditional definition of “replication” when applied to most social enterprises. A more useful concept is to identify sets of best practices, along with the conditions under which the social enterprises operate, to inform the development of “playbooks” that can help up-and-coming social entrepreneurs learn from the achievements and setbacks of those who have traveled similar paths before.

These playbooks could present best practices across sectors, business models, and technologies to identify key elements needed to launch social enterprises, such as target markets, capital requirements, technology needs, distribution networks, and supply chains.

Using these playbooks, social entrepreneurs addressing particular problems could overcome obstacles more quickly and efficiently, by learning from entrepreneurs who have already tackled the same problems. As a result, playbooks could reduce the risk of failure for new social enterprises by enabling their entrepreneurs to take advantage of proven approaches to financing, pricing, marketing, and/or distributing their solutions—and to use their creative energy getting to market more quickly and efficiently.

Emphasizing best practices could also reduce the risk for capital invested in social enterprises. Impact investors could use best-practices playbooks to more quickly evaluate social enterprises in a given sector, rather than evaluating each investment opportunity anew. Investors will still need to conduct full diligence on the entrepreneurs—but the technology and business model solutions would have successful precedents.

Replicating Social Enterprise Successes

Imagine identifying common technology needs and business models among many community-scale social enterprises addressing similar problems. Instead of viewing replication as cutting and pasting business models from one locale to another, we can redefine it to include applying sets of best practices. By enabling local adaptation, involving partners to bring together the right people, and documenting the process in playbooks, we could help more social enterprises to thrive and to achieve success—whatever “success” looks like in each case.

As a bonus, these shifts in how we perceive social enterprise success and replication could help mobilize and aggregate capital, including from impact investors. This, in turn, makes possible the aggregate social enterprise scaling that’s required to trigger a meaningful reduction in global challenges such as poverty, environmental degradation, and gender inequality.

Social Entrepreneurship in Central America

Originally posted on Medium

Central America doesn’t rank as the most active geographic region for social entrepreneurship and impact investing. Yet, as the social enterprise movement becomes more mainstream, it is reaching all parts of the globe. With Central American civil wars from the 1980s having been replaced with entrenched gang violence, it is a region worth understanding and supporting.

In this conversation, Andy Lieberman, Director of New Programs at Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, shares his insights about social entrepreneurship in Central America.

How does Central America compare with other regions of the world where Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship works?

AL: For various reasons, Central America has lagged behind other developing regions of the world in both social enterprises and impact investing, but it’s an up-and-coming locale. We’re talking about seven countries with a combined population of 42 million people. Expanding to include the Caribbean, the population doubles to 84 million. India, Nigeria, and Mexico are examples of countries that each have populations far larger than all of Central America and the Caribbean, so it is not surprising that those more populated countries are further along in social entrepreneurship. Being a laggard presents some exciting opportunities for Central America to leapfrog ahead.

What are those opportunities and how could Central America leapfrog other countries?

AL: The disadvantage of more well-developed infrastructures is that they can have a kind of gravity, an inertia that makes big leaps forward more difficult. To take an often-cited example from the technology world, countries that lacked robust wired telecommunications infrastructures when cell phones became popular were able to jump directly into widespread cell phone adoption. They were able to leapfrog the more-developed United States and much of Europe in cell phone use because they didn’t have to face the “conversion baggage” of an entrenched wired telecommunications infrastructure.

Examples of this kind of leap-frogging in social enterprise include leveraging tablets, mobile data, and cloud-based services to provide better services at lower costs without the large upfront investment that used to be necessary for a technology-based enterprise.

In a similar fashion, Central America’s less-developed social entrepreneurship infrastructure leaves more room for the region to embrace approaches already proven elsewhere in the world. These proven models can be adapt to the local context, which is much faster than developing a new model from scratch.

You’re just back from the Central American edition of the Latin American Impact Investing Conference (FLII). What were your biggest takeaways from FLII?

AL: The potential and the momentum for social entrepreneurship and impact investing in Central America were undeniable. There was a consensus that the time is right for Central America to move from a reliance on development through NGOs and international donors to a new model based on social enterprises and impact investments. It was also the first conference I’ve been to where I felt old! It seemed like everyone was under 30. Not only were the energy and optimism of the young FLII attendees contagious, but also I was blown away by how smart and well prepared they were. It’s a cliché to say that young people are tech-savvy, but it is worth pointing out how seamlessly these new social entrepreneurs are integrating technology into their business models.

Tell us about some of the social enterprises that Miller Center has worked with in Central America.

AL: As the ecosystem has evolved, so have the companies we’ve worked with. In the early days of the Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI), we had the privilege of working with groups such as Byoearth, which helps women’s groups to start vermiculture (composting with earthworms) businesses. We are now seeing new social enterprises such as Solubrite bringing proven energy access technologies and business models such as pay-as-you-go solar home systems to Central America, including Nicaragua and Panama. It was also nice to see Audra Renyi of World Wide Hearing at the conference — her company distributes low-cost hearing aids, and Guatemala is one of her focus countries.

Is impact capital available to these enterprises?

AL: Impact capital is always available to good social entrepreneurs who present a truly justifiable ask. However, with a few notable exceptions such as Pomona Impact, the region lacks a strong network of impact investors. As a result, Central American social enterprises need to source most of their capital from outside the region. I was pleased to see organizations including Acumen Fund and the Inter-American Development Bank at the conference engaging with the entrepreneurs.

You lived in Guatemala for a number of years. What’s changed since you were there?

AL: When I was teaching in rural Guatemala in the ’90s, the civil war was winding down, but it was still very much a factor that impeded any kind of progress. Once the peace agreements were signed in 1996, a whole wave of international aid began that lasted about a decade. That aid created many short-term gains, such as enabling many people to get a better education, building a strong NGO sector, and creating some rural prosperity through infrastructure and income-generating projects.

However, in the early 2000’s, the world’s attention turned to other hot spots such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Darfur. Consequently, global aid organizations shifted their priorities, attention, and money to those parts of the world. When this happened, they left a gap in resources and options in Guatemala and throughout Central America. Even so, some projects were able to build in mechanisms to persist. For example, the educational technology project I ran under USAID funding in the early 2000s was able to continue its impact by converting itself into a social enterprise. It is still running with an all-Guatemalan team, but it doesn’t have the national platform it had under the USAID banner.

Who else is Miller Center partnering with in Central America?

AL: Our go-to partner for the region is Alterna Impact, a social enterprise support organization that organized the FLII conference. They are only six years old, but they have already built a huge following and are leaders in the region. Of course, we also work with the local Jesuit universities. I’ve had the chance to work with faculty and program leads in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, and they are getting into the social enterprise space and see it as a synergistic way to combine their social missions with their efforts in entrepreneurship. We also have interesting NGO partners such as ASDENIC in Nicaragua. This summer, through our Global Social Benefit Fellowship (GSBF) program, Santa Clara University students worked with ASDENIC on market analysis for social enterprises in the area of improving access to safe drinking water.

Where do you think social entrepreneurship in Central America will stand in 10 years?

AL: Progress is seldom as fast as we would like, but I expect to see a mature sector, where young people are aspiring to careers in social entrepreneurship straight out of school; where mid-career professionals are launching or mentoring social enterprises as a way to give back; where impact capital is better understood and more available; and where the ecosystem of NGOs and government agencies see social enterprises as strategic partners to help scale and sustain their programs.

California-based University Partners with USC, RAFI for Programs Supporting Micro Entrepreneurs

California-based University Partners with USC, RAFI for Programs Supporting Micro Entrepreneurs

Santa Clara University of California has collaborated with the School of Business and Economics of the University of San Carlos (USC) and the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. (RAFI) to design and implement programs that will helping sustain and improve micro-entrepreneurs in Cebu, with the purpose of alleviating poverty in the area.

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Social Entrepreneurship: A Look Back, A Look Ahead

Social Entrepreneurship: A Look Back, A Look Ahead

The cusp of the new year naturally prompts reflection about the past and speculation about the future. Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship invited some leaders in social entrepreneurship and impact investing to share their thoughts about the current state of the sector and some trends they see for 2017 and beyond.

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Impact Convening Information, Tools, Practices, and Outcomes

Originally posted on

SOCAP’s annual gathering of mission-focused investors, entrepreneurs, and social impact leaders is always a highlight for As an organization with a mission to support the diverse ecosystem of impact-focused conveners and accelerators, we recognize the transformative power that convening has to positively change the world, and SOCAP is a great example of meaningful convening.

During this past conference, we co-hosted three sessions over three days, bringing together diverse segments of the social impact community.

The week kicked off with an all-day pre-conference session in support of one of our signature programs, Accelerating the Accelerators (AtA). With our co-hosts, the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship and SOCAP, we brought together 35 accelerator program managers from 28 unique accelerators, representing 12 countries around the world to explore how to move collaboration into action. During the week we also met with leaders in the impact mapping community to share initial ideas on developing a new Mapping the Mappers initiative, an effort currently underway. We then wrapped up the week by celebrating our third birthday with our Convening the Conveners (CtC) community, a membership community of conveners who are dedicated to advancing ecosystem-wide impact through collaboration. Below are outcomes from the three sessions and information on how you can get involved.

Accelerating the Accelerators

In partnership with the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, we co-hosted the third annual Accelerating the Accelerators @SOCAP day-long workshop. A continuation of conversations from years past and similar workshops hosted by community leaders, including Ian Fisk of the Mentor Capital Network, the session served to further build the field for stronger accelerator network ties and more frequent and meaningful peer-to-peer exchanges.

The morning segment focused on gaining a better understanding of how one another’s programs work, what each program does well, and where each program could benefit from support. The afternoon segment was organized as an unconference, with participants sourcing conversation topics that were of the most interest to them, and then creating an agenda to break into small group discussions. These conversations included:

  • Sustainable business models/revenue generators for scaling accelerators
  • Supporting non-selected entrepreneurs
  • Getting entrepreneurs investment
  • Best practices in getting comparison groups
  • How do you measure the impact of your accelerator and the businesses you accelerate?
  • Curriculum best practices

The workshop concluded with the group identifying opportunities to continue exploring topics throughout the coming year through three new AtA Collective Impact Projects run by Collective Impact Projects (CIPs) are working groups that focus on a specific topic, for a defined period of time, with the objective of creating a new industry resource, solution, or tool. The new CIPs sourced from our sessions at SOCAP include one focused on impact measurement, which has a Slack group going and is open beyond those who signed up at SOCAP; another CIP centers on the support that can be given to entrepreneurs who are not accepted to an accelerator program, and will launch in January; the third CIP is focused on providing feedback for a new initiative called the Accelerator Selection Tool which will get started in Q2 of the new year.

To read more about these unconference sessions, including key takeaways from each conversation, click here. And if you’re interested in joining a Collective Impact Project, send an email to

Convening the Conveners

Convening the Conveners (CtC) is a membership program for organizations that use the powerful tool of convening to advance positive change. The program was born at SOCAP13 when Topher Wilkins, CEO of Opportunity Collaboration, organized a gathering to discuss a radical idea: that greater coordination, cooperation, and collaboration among conveners would lead to greater collective impact.

In January 2015, we formally incorporated as and we haven’t looked back since — co-hosting sessions around the globe, building out our membership website, supporting collective impact projects, and establishing a strong team to serve our members.

At SOCAP this year, we celebrated our three-year anniversary and continued the conversation of how best to convene for impact.

Mapping the Mappers

In the spirit of convening, took a popular quarterly call series called Mapping the Mappers (MtM) and hosted an in-person gathering at SOCAP16 to discuss the formalization of a program on how to generate efficiencies in social ecosystem mapping efforts.

The purpose of the gathering was to coordinate efforts, avoid the trap of re-inventing the wheel, and learn what technologies and approaches have worked well for mapping peers. One outcome of the meeting was the creation and launch of a Mapper Directory, as well as the launch of an MtM Google group, and the setup of a follow-up call in December to continue the conversation and collaboration.

If you’re interested in learning more about this and other initiatives, send us an email at And make sure to connect with us next year at SOCAP17!


A registered 501(c)(3) not-for-profit, advances industry-wide practices that foster system-level progress and drive collective impact at scale. We manage two flagship programs, Convening the Conveners and Accelerating the Accelerators, through which we offer knowledge, tools, and resources that support the growing ecosystem of impact-focused conveners and accelerators, and enable coordination, connections, and conversations that change the world.

We work with such organizations as SOCAP, Skoll World Forum, Social Venture Network, Mentor Capital Network, SRI Conference, Social Enterprise Alliance, Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, ANDE, World Affairs Council, Echoing Green, and Opportunity Collaboration.   

USAID Extension Grant Propels Carbon Roots International in its Mission to Improve Lives, Livelihoods, and the Environment in Haiti

USAID Extension Grant Propels Carbon Roots International in its Mission to Improve Lives, Livelihoods, and the Environment in Haiti

What does a $500,000 award extension made possible by the generous support of the American people through USAID mean to Carbon Roots International? More predictable and efficient production of green charcoal for cooking in Haiti, with even less environmental degradation—and acceleration of our mission to create jobs, reduce deforestation, and improve lives in Haiti.

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