Top 5 Things You’ll Learn At a GSBI Accelerator Program

Originally posted on Your Mark On The World

By Cassandra Staff

Entrepreneurship is challenging! Being an entrepreneur means being tested and pushed beyond reason. This is especially true for social entrepreneurs—those offering market-based solutions to the poor that address a social need, such as selling affordable, safe drinking water.

Social entrepreneurs must navigate the already turbulent startup waters with the added challenges of operating in widely uncharted territory. They likely work in an environment with little infrastructure (physical or economic) while traversing a young, confusing ecosystem. Plus, they must build their team, develop their business strategy, seek funding, and keep a laser focus on the social impact they intend to achieve.

The Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) programs at Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship exist for one reason: to help social entrepreneurs help more people by filling resource and information voids and providing in-depth mentorship. The GSBI offers business model-focused programs tuned to social businesses at their particular stage of development. The best part is that each program participant is paired with at least one Silicon Valley business executive mentor throughout the entire 6- or 10-month duration of the programs.

I talk to social entrepreneurs often, and my favorite question is, “How can GSBI help me?” Let me count the ways!


GSBI mentors are successful business leaders with decades of experience and connections who volunteer to work intensively with social entrepreneurs.

Mentors are selected carefully. Besides strong business acumen and operational experience, mentors need the interpersonal skills to interact and empathize with someone from a different culture, who is often struggling with minimal resources and funding.

GSBI mentors become “trusted advisors” who—through their education, background, and experience—know the fundamentals of business planning and the challenges of executing on those plans. And because Miller Center is part of Santa Clara University, mentors share SCU’s mission to create a more just and sustainable world. While not necessarily experienced in Base of the Pyramid (BOP) markets, mentors must have experience in international business environments, able to work in a variety of cultural, legal, and market environments.

The primary role of the mentor is not to provide answers or act in a consulting capacity, but to support the entrepreneur in asking the right questions and using a variety of resources to find the right answers.

Sustainable Growth & Scalability

The GSBI believes that helping organizations achieve sustainable growth and scale nvolves four crucial factors: the impact model, business model, operations, and financing, or investment readiness:

1. Impact Model

The impact model has to be clear, showing value to beneficiaries, how that value is measured, and the ability to convey these details to impact investors.

GSBI programs work toward five milestones demonstrating the strength of an organization’s impact model:

  1. Clear mission statement
  2. Problem statement based on the beneficiaries’ input
  3. Validated products or services that are compelling to the poor
  4. Formalized metrics that prove impact
  5. Documented impact metrics demonstrating superiority to alternatives

2. Business Model

A social enterprise’s business model and its associated metrics must show how the business model works, in detail. Throughout a GSBI program, entrepreneurs are encouraged and supported to better articulate their business models. They identify:

  1. Clear target market
  2. Unit economics with margin per product/service
  3. Value chain, including customer ROI
  4. Customer acquisition methods and market development plans
  5. Partner relations

The overlap between impact and business models is the most critical piece: When a business grows, it helps more people. With increased impact comes more revenue. The overlap area essentially defines the value proposition. When the business and impact models are complementary and integrated, the business can grow economically while scaling its positive impact on the poor.

3. Scalable Operations

Scaling means creating efficiencies to achieve the profit margins and cash flow necessary to fund growth Scalable operations require building:

  1. Management team
  2. Operational budget plans able to compare to actual results (e.g., KPIs)
  3. Process manuals for quality control and repeatability
  4. Strategic initiatives for multi-year, sustainable growth
  5. Integrated KPI/strategic initiatives with financial metrics

4. Investment Readiness

Investment readiness includes a broad set of elements related to the financial components of the business, including:

  1. Audited financial results
  2. Multi-year financial projection for baseline business and strategic initiatives
  3. Breakeven analysis, profit, and cash flow
  4. Justifiable ask
  5. Complete due diligence folder

The “justifiable ask” that we help entrepreneurs formulate includes:

  1. How much funding is needed
  2. What form of capital is being sought (debt, equity, grants, etc.)
  3. The use of the funds and how it’s tied to the strategic initiatives and expansion plans
  4. The ROI for the investor, either as social impact, financial returns, or a combination

In the end, Miller Center GSBI alumni can articulate a great impact model, a solid business model, efficient operations, and a clear financial ask.

If this sounds valuable to you, apply to our programs at We have a rolling application, and applications received before October 21 will be considered for GSBI Accelerator and GSBI Online programs starting in January 2017.

Beyond Imagination: GE, Miller Center Helping Keep Moms, Children Healthy

Photo Courtesy of GE healthymagination

Photo Courtesy of GE healthymagination

Originally published on Next Billion Oct. 4, 2016

By Marie Haller

It’s hard for those of us who grew up in relative comfort here in the United States to imagine the childhood of Kajira Mugambi, born in a Kenyan village. Some days, when there wasn’t food to eat, he drank a lot of water. It filled his empty stomach, but it also flooded his body with water-borne pathogens. Inevitably, he became sick.

Kajira remembers, barely able to put one foot in front of the other, walking with his mother five miles to the nearest medical clinic. Years later, after Kajira earned a degree from UCLA’s School of Law and became a member of the faculty, he never stopped thinking about the lives of the mothers and children in his village. He returned to found Village HopeCorps International, a public-health microenterprise that serves communities in rural Kenya.

The problem that Village HopeCorps International is trying to solve is similar to the problems addressed by all the social enterprises that gathered this summer in Nairobi for a three-day workshop – actually a kickoff event for a pilot called healthymagination Mother and Child. The pilot accelerates much-needed medical innovations in nine countries across sub-Saharan Africa. It is a partnership between Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, where I work, and GE, the multinational corporation. GE is investing $20 million in the joint venture.

The 17 members of the healthymagination Mother and Child Program cohort are from Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Nigeria, Zambia and Uganda. All, like Kajira, are leading social enterprises that address the region’s discouraging rate of child deaths from preventable causes.

Although their enterprises are viable and already making a difference, the entrepreneurs joined the Mother and Child pilot because, as one of them told me, “We need help organizing the work in a way that our enterprises can grow.” And we can help them do that.


Santa Clara University is in the heart of Silicon Valley. We take advantage of our location among legendary tech companies to recruit outstanding executive mentors to work with social entrepreneurs around the world.

In Nairobi, we introduced the entrepreneurs to our Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI) methodology and mentoring style. Over the ensuing seven months, the healthymagination entrepreneurs will work with Silicon Valley executive mentors who will help them scale their social enterprises for greater impact. They will work on managing every aspect of their businesses: from mission statement, impact, business model, to financials and operations.

Simultaneously, experts from GE Africa will train the entrepreneurs in the use of medical products and services aimed at improving maternal and child health.

At the end of the mentoring phase, the entrepreneurs will be ready to stand before potential investors and make their case for funding.


GE has been doing business in Africa for more than 100 years, but this is a first-of-its-kind social enterprise accelerator program.

You might wonder how tiny Miller Center was able to partner with giant GE for this program.

Sue Siegel, CEO of GE Ventures, was a member of our advisory board. She was aware of Miller Center’s track record working with social entrepreneurs. Siegel introduced us to GE’s healthymagination team, which creates initiatives like the Mother and Child Program.

When I joined Miller’s GSBI this past February from my previous job running an even smaller social-impact accelerator, GE and Miller Center had already forged the informal agreement to go with the program. I jumped in to work on it during my first week on the job, before the agreement was even signed. And a few short months later, there we were in Nairobi with a full cohort of entrepreneurs, ready to begin the program.

I want to point out how unusual it is to recruit excellent candidates and start a program that fast. Typically, we have a longer lead time – at least two-and-a-half months. For healthymagination Mother and Child, it was only three weeks.

The heathymagination team got down into the weeds with us and started gathering referrals. We approached other accelerators, as well as funders, impact investors and foundations. And we received referrals from the GE team in Africa.

We wanted to build a cohort of impact-focused enterprises that addressed health problems of sub-Saharan mothers and children living in poverty. Our definition of health issues was fairly broad. (For example, we looked at an organization educating people about malaria prevention with mosquito nets.) And we considered a number of business models: for-profit, nonprofit and hybrid. We accepted some early-stage organizations and some older enterprises, but they all have the potential to scale to reach larger numbers of people than they do today.

One of our very connected partners in Nairobi told me he was shocked that we got such a large and broad applicant pool, including some organizations he’d never encountered before. To me, that meant we had done a great job of unearthing some worthy groups that have been flying under the radar.

The GE heathymagination team understands that philanthropy has its place, but it’s not the only way to do good in the world. In my mind, social entrepreneurship – supported by big companies – is going to become more mainstream and less of a niche approach. Many corporations already have a corporate social responsibility arm that is focused on philanthropy. Through supporting social enterprises using those same funds and human capital, corporations can continue to make a positive impact in the world while simultaneously advancing their business goals. It’s also a win for organizations looking to retain employees through offering a way to use their skills for good. The healthymagination program is just one example – Miller Center has also engaged with Seagate Technology employees as mentors for a program with social entrepreneurs in Thailand and Sephora’s recent accelerator pilot has similar motivations.

It’s exciting to watch a large corporation like GE “get” it, and really walk the talk.

Miller Center Appoints Correnti and Stecker to Key Posts

Michelle Stecker

Michelle Stecker

Originally Posted on

SANTA CLARA, Calif., Sept. 29, 2016 —Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University (SCU) today announced the appointments of Mark Correnti as director of impact investing, and Michelle Stecker as associate director of education and action research at Miller Center.

Mark Correnti

Mark Correnti

As impact investing director, Correnti plans to identify and execute on practical improvements to moving financial capital to social entrepreneurs, utilizing Miller Center’s over 570 alumni, as well as assist in scaling impact investing and philanthropy via thought leadership. This much-needed effort seeks to breakdown the major barrier of social entrepreneurs being able to scale their impact.

Before joining Miller Center, Correnti held leadership positions in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, combining his passion for serving the poor and the planet with his financial acumen. He has more than 20 years of experience in the investment management industry, including 10 years at Nicholas-Applegate Capital Management (acquired by Allianz) serving in the Management Committee and as Lead Portfolio Manager.

Correnti holds a juris doctorate from Loyola Law School and bachelor’s degrees in biology and psychology from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

As Miller Center’s new associate director of education and action research, Stecker will develop new courses and curricula in social innovation and entrepreneurship. Stecker created the world’s first Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)-accredited major in social entrepreneurship and is a founding coach for Ashoka U Commons, a program to foster social enterprise education on university campuses. She spent five years as a visiting assistant professor of Business & Social Entrepreneurship at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla. prior to her appointment at Miller Center.

Stecker holds a Ph.D. in American history, and a juris doctorate from the University of Toledo and is a member of the Ohio bar. She earned her master’s of divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary and studied at Princeton Theological Seminary; she is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church USA. For her entire professional life, Stecker has worked with changemaker students who have the passion to solve the world’s most pressing problems.

About Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship
Founded in 1997, Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship is one of three Centers of Distinction at Santa Clara University in California. Miller Center accelerates global, innovation-based entrepreneurship in service to humanity. Its strategic focus is on poverty eradication through its three areas of work: The Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI), Impact Capital, and Education and Action Research. To learn more about Miller Center or any of its social entrepreneurship programs, visit

About Santa Clara University
Santa Clara University, a comprehensive Jesuit, Catholic university located 40 miles south of San Francisco in California’s Silicon Valley, offers its more than 9,000 students rigorous undergraduate curricula in arts and sciences, business and engineering; master’s degrees in business, education, counseling psychology, pastoral ministry and theology; and law degrees and engineering Ph.D.’s. Distinguished nationally by one of the highest graduation rates among all U.S. master’s universities, California’s oldest operating higher-education institution demonstrates faith-inspired values of ethics and social justice. For more information, see

Media Contacts
Deborah Lohse | SCU Media Relations | | 408-554-5121
Colleen Martell | Martell Communications for Miller Center | | 408-832-0147

$20-Million Women's Health Initiative Kicks Off with Training in Nairobi

Image Credit: HavenAfrica

Image Credit: HavenAfrica

Originally published on HavenAfrica Sept. 9, 2016

By the end of 2015, roughly 99% of the world’s maternal deaths had occurred in developing regions with Sub-Saharan Africa accounting for two-thirds of that number. Added to this alarming statistic is the fact that the risk of a child dying before reaching five years of age is seven times higher in Africa than in Europe, according to the World Health Organisation.

The need to improve the quality, access and affordability of healthcare around the world presents a challenge that GE sees as an opportunity to make lasting changes with initiatives such as the Healthymagination Mother and Child Programme. This initiative was launched by GE and Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship in March to accelerate much-needed medical innovations in nine African countries. The primary objective of the $20-million joint venture is to address maternal and child mortality by supporting social entrepreneurs operating in the health sector across Sub-Sahara Africa.

After a rigorous evaluation process, 17 social entrepreneurs from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Nigeria, Zambia, and Uganda were selected to participate in the programme’s first cohort. The candidates attended a three-day workshop in Nairobi, Kenya, where senior Miller Center mentors and GE business leaders trained them on business fundamentals to improve their strategic thought processes, and to develop business plans that demonstrate growth as well as long-term financial sustainability.

Organisations, which were considered for the programme, met the following criteria:

  • had been in operation in Sub-Saharan Africa for a minimum of three years,
  • were involved in delivering health care services to mothers and children,
  • had experience in distribution, training, use and maintenance of medical equipment for pregnant women or children,
  • developed products or technologies that improved knowledge and/or access to care, such as telemedicine, mobile technologies, data analysis or image interpretation,
  • provided infrastructure services or facilities associated with needs arising from pregnancy to paediatric care, and
  • were for-profit, non-profit, or hybrid enterprises.

This training and mentoring program combine Silicon Valley entrepreneurial principles with the Miller Center’s Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI) methodology, which has been refined through 12 years of working with more than 570 social enterprises worldwide.

The overall goal of the programme is to ensure that women have access to high-quality health services during pregnancy and childbirth by addressing problems such as the availability of screening tools as well as potentially fatal conditions such as pregnancy-induced hypertension.

“Social innovations and entrepreneurs in the health sector have in recent years yielded sustainable solutions to some of the world’s biggest health challenges,” said Jay Ireland, GE Africa president and CEO.

“It is for this reason that the healthymagination Mother and Child Programme is focusing on training and mentoring social entrepreneurs working on increasing the quality, access and affordability of maternal and child health in sub-Saharan Africa, thereby enabling more women and children to experience better health,” said Ireland.

A six-month online accelerator programme follows the initial workshop where Silicon Valley-based executives — who have also completed rigorous mentorship training with Miller Center — coach the entrepreneurs on developing an action plan, operational and social impact metrics, a presentation deck for investors, and an investment summary document. The programme will culminate in February 2017 with a premier pitch event in Africa where the 17 participants will present their respective enterprises to an audience of potential investors.

5 Essential Lessons For Social Entrepreneurs by Pamela Roussos

Photo: © anubhabroy, YFS Magazine

Photo: © anubhabroy, YFS Magazine

Originally published on by Pamela Roussos


The world needs social enterprises to succeed. That might sound melodramatic, but our global challenges are serious, and social entrepreneurship is increasingly recognized as an important pathway to address these challenges.

I spend a lot of time traveling the globementoring social entrepreneurs, helping to train others as mentors, and attending and speaking at conferences on social entrepreneurship, impact investing, and innovation.

Whether I’m in Brazil or Ghana or India, I see certain threads that run through every successful social enterprise.

Here are five lessons learned during some of my recent travels that I hope will help aspiring social entrepreneurs everywhere—and those working with them.


1. Begin with passion for solving a real problem

Make no mistake, social entrepreneurship is not easy. It’s really hard, and some days it might feel impossible. Follow your passion—because that’s where the drive to persevere and thrive comes from.

Your passion will carry you through the difficult days.

But passion for what, exactly? Connect with a problem that you want to solve and that you believe you can address. The better “feel” you have for the product you’ll deliver and the market you’ll serve, the higher your probability of success.

Take it personally as well as seriously. For example, those of us in the United States might take seriously the threat of global climate change, but there’s no way we can take it as personally as the young woman I heard at a the Skoll World Forum in London earlier this year.

Selina Leem, an 18-year-old student and a citizen of the Marshall Islands, speaks simply and eloquently about how her nation is likely to disappear as ocean levels rise in the next few years. While not a social entrepreneur, she has become a powerful voice for the urgency to address global climate change. She demonstrates the kind of passion I’m talking about.


2. Listen to your customers

You know the old saying that the customer is always right? If you’re a social entrepreneur, you should really take that saying to heart.

Your customers (and future customers) will have answers beyond what you already know. They will likely also ask questions you haven’t considered.

Customers will provide you with a fuller perspective on your offerings.

While social entrepreneurs understandably focus deeply on the details of the products or services they offer, pay attention to broader considerations, as well. These can include everything from the kinds of product distribution and pricing that makes your offering attractive to customers, to subtle cultural or community attitudes and practices that might help or hinder acceptance of your products or services.


3. Think strategically about how to scale your social enterprise

Scaling a social enterprise can mean expanding your business to new geographic regions (scaling horizontally, in breadth) or expanding the range of offerings within your existing communities (scaling vertically, in depth).

In either case, don’t try to scale too early.

So many social entrepreneurs who are passionate about solving a problem feel like they need to do it quickly. Moving too fast can be a death knell for an organization.

Photo: © SolisImages, YFS Magazine

Photo: © SolisImages, YFS Magazine

As an example, if you want to get a medical clinic up and running, make sure you have the right services and pricing, and that you understand the needs of the customers you’ll serve. Only when your first clinic is operating well should you open a second one.

And don’t expect the second one to be identical to the first; I guarantee that you’ll discover new things with each new clinic. If all is still going well with your two locations, then consider opening a third.

When you see all three growing in success, increasing revenue, and customers, you might be ready to start scaling, at least into a similar environment. For instance, if your clinics are in urban areas, don’t try to start scaling into rural areas, because the dynamics will be totally different.


4. Don’t try to go it alone

Remember that no enterprise, social or otherwise, operates in isolation. Build a strong network to support your business.

Ask yourself: What partners could help me improve my offerings, or reach customers better, or operate more efficiently or effectively throughout the entire value chain?

You don’t need to do everything yourself.

Instead, select partners to help you succeed. Think about where you can find mentors to strengthen all your business skill sets, and who you can invite to join your board of directors or advisory board.

When establishing your board, especially in the early days, choose people who will roll up their sleeves and work with you. Don’t make the mistake of chasing big celebrity types. Even if you land them, they are unlikely to provide the support you need.

Think of your board as an extremely experienced, free resource. Just as you want the very best employees who will help you create huge impact, you want board members who will do the same.

Over time, as your enterprise evolves and becomes more mature, the role of the board will evolve, too—becoming more of a strategic and visioning partner, in addition to minding its fiduciary responsibilities


5. Be prepared and smart about fundraising

Become familiar with the range of fundraising options available to your business, fromequity investments and grants to loans and crowdsourcing.

Calculate your justifiable ask with solid data and financial models to back it up. If you’reseeking investments, what is your exit strategy—or how do you plan to repay your investors?

Photo: © Konstantin Yuganov, YFS Magazine

Photo: © Konstantin Yuganov, YFS Magazine

Whatever form(s) of capital you decide to seek—such as grants, equity, or debt (loans)—be sure to choose funding partners that are aligned with both your financial and your social impact goals.


Helping social entrepreneurs thrive

Of course, there’s much more to successful social entrepreneurship than what I’ve outlined here. But when I presented these best practices at the O Melhor da Inovação (“The Best of Innovation”) conference in São Paulo earlier this year, the presenters that followed referred back to my presentation throughout the day.

That tells me that these points resonated and might not be self-evident.

My work with the Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI) at Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship exposes me daily to the positive impact that social enterprises can have in the world today. But they can achieve positive impact only if they succeed in their business goals. For all our sakes, let’s do whatever we can to help social entrepreneurs thrive.


This article has been edited and condensed.

Pamela Roussos is Senior Director, Global Social Benefit Institute, Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University. Pamela has worked with and for early-stage software companies as a business and marketing strategy leader, helping founders create, refine, and execute their business strategy and go-to-market plans. She also serves on the board of Pact, an international NGO that benefits communities by promoting healthy lifestyles, decent livelihoods, and sustainable natural resources; and as as board chair for Livelyhoods, an organization that creates jobs for youth in slums. Connect with @MillerSocEnt on Twitter.

Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship’s John Kohler to Speak at SOCAP16 on Two Panels about Impact Investing

John Kohler

John Kohler

August 31, 2016

Dateline: Santa Clara, Calif.


John Kohler, executive fellow and director, Impact Capital, at Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, will speak at two panel sessions at SOCAP16 (Social Capital Markets), the world’s largest conference on social enterprise and impact investing, taking place in San Francisco September 13 - 16, 2016.  Kohler is speaking on a panel about impact investing as well as a panel with Catholic Relief Services as a follow up to the recent Second Vatican Conference on Impact Investing, which took place in Rome in June of 2016.

A recognized expert in impact investing, venture capital, and corporate executive management, Kohler is the pioneer of a new investment vehicle—the Demand Dividend—that presents investors with a “structured exit” alternative to equity, while providing social enterprises with more appropriate funding vehicles. He also is co-founder and director of Toniic, a syndication network of impact investors.

Kohler published a report on impact investing entitled, “Coordinating Impact Capital: A New Approach to Investing in Small and Growing Businesses,” and recently co-authored a chapter on equity investing in “New Frontiers of Philanthropy” (Oxford Press-2014).

#1 Panel Title: Supermodels: Constructing an Investment Portfolio with 100% Impact

When:    September 14, 2016, 3:45 pm

Where:  Fort Mason Center, San Francisco; Cowell Hall for the panel and Festival Hall #3 for the practicum

What:    Recent work in building and modeling impact investment now allows us to move from sharing examples to actual choices and considerations in building a broad-asset investment portfolio.  Pioneers in this work are sharing their investment selections and results, presenting a much clearer picture on how to get started.  Social impact investors can actively build their own portfolio by learning from early and brave investors who have committed to a 100% impact portfolio.  A practicum for practitioners!

Panel Members

John Kohler – Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship

Brendan Maher – Heron Foundation

Eva Yazhari – Beyond Capital Fund

Charly Kleissner – KL Felicitas Foundation


#2 Panel Title: Engaging the Global Catholic Community in Impact Investing to Serve the World’s Poor

When:    Friday, September 16, 9:45 am

Where:  Fort Mason Center, San Francisco, Gallery Tent

What:     Worldwide, Catholic social ministries provide significant healthcare, education and social services to the poor while diverse Catholic institutional and individual investors have considerable assets under management.  In 2016, leaders from these two groups convened with impact investing practitioners for the historic Second Vatican Conference on Impact Investing to explore using investment capital and social enterprise for increased sustainability, scalability and impact of these ministries.  The panel will discuss takeaways, commitments, and opportunities to engage stemming from the Second Vatican Conference.

Panel Members

John Kohler – Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship

Evan Gill – Catholic Relief Services

Matt Bannick – Omidyar Network

Laure Wessemius-Chibrac – Cordaid

For More Information:

Pat Haines, Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship,, 408-551-7118

Colleen Martell, Martell Communications for Miller Center,, 408-832-0147







Five Social Entrepreneurs Impacting India Among 14 in the 2016 GSBI Investor Showcase

Pollinate Energy trains and empowers local entrepreneurs to establish sustainable micro-businesses that provide clean energy solutions to India's urban slums. Photo courtesy of Pollinate Energy.

Pollinate Energy trains and empowers local entrepreneurs to establish sustainable micro-businesses that provide clean energy solutions to India's urban slums. Photo courtesy of Pollinate Energy.

Originally posted on

More than a dozen social entrepreneurs throughout the world, including five with ties to India, will pitch their business plans to a roomful of investors during the 2016 Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship’s Global Social Benefit Institute Investor Showcase at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, Calif.

The showcase comes six months after the 14 social entrepreneurs — ranging from countries including India, Egypt, Kenya, Mexico, Myanmar and Rwanda — began working individually with Silicon Valley executive mentors to hone their business plans.

The five companies looking to tackle issues in India include Awaaz.De, CareNx Innovations Pvt. Ltd., engageSPARK, Noora Health and Pollinate Energy.

Awaaz.De, co-founded by Neil Patel and Tapan Parikh, develops inclusive mobile solutions that enable organizations to achieve last-mile connectivity for social impact. It develops customizable mobile technology solutions for its 500,000-plus users in six countries.

Patel believed communications platforms driven by basic phones and the medium of voice could overcome basic barriers of literacy and language to both disseminate content and collect data.

Parikh helped push him to start a company to scale the impact the system could have in rural communications.

CareNx, founded by Shantanu Pathak and Aditya Kulkarni, develops technologies to quickly deliver healthcare services to remote patients using mobile platforms.

One product, CareMother, offers mobile pregnancy care through its portable solar-powered kit along with an app, which can be used by health workers for early diagnosis of high-risk pregnancies.

To date, the company has sold dozens of kits to hospitals, performed 10,000 tests, reached more than 60 villages and cared for more than 3,000 mothers.

engageSPARK, founded by Ravi Agarwal and Avner Mizrah, is an easy-to-use platform for non-government organizations and businesses to engage their customers in any country using Voice IVR and two-way SMS interactions. With no technical expertise required, organizations can build and launch interactive campaigns in minutes.

They allow for organizations to instantly get local inbound phone numbers for receiving calls and SMS messages.

The company's vision is a world where any motivated person has the economic opportunities they need to step out of poverty and reach for their dreams.

It boasts it will build a conglomerate of nonprofits that directly or indirectly impact the lives of the poor. These businesses, it added, will sell products, provide services, and create fair jobs.

Noora Health, founded by Katy Ashe, trains marginalized patient families with high impact health skills to improve outcomes and save lives.

By turning waiting rooms into classrooms and nurses into trainers, Noora Health sends families home from hospitals and clinics with the skills they need to succeed with their condition.

All told, the company has trained roughly 50,000 family members and activated 25 hospitals.

Its impact has been felt by those people, as well, with about a 24 percent reduction in re-admissions, 6 percent reduction in anxiety and 36 percent reduction in post-surgical complications, it said.

Pollinate Energy, founded by Emma Colenbrander, Alexie Seller and four others, trains and empowers local entrepreneurs to establish sustainable micro-businesses that provide clean energy solutions to India's urban slums.

They provide employment opportunities for locals while improving quality of life in slum communities.

By transitioning families from kerosene to solar, they improve health and safety, create work opportunities, save money, improve study conditions for children, reduce carbon emissions and dramatically ease the burden of women’s household tasks.

Its impact in India includes nearly 16,000 systems installed, which has benefitted roughly 72,224 people. It has serviced about 2,000 communities, saving roughly 86.5 million rupees, 1.64 million liters of kerosene and 3.96 million kgs of CO2 emissions.

An invite-only event, the fourth annual GSBI Accelerator Investor Showcase Supports President Barack Obama’s and Pope Francis’ social entrepreneurship efforts.

The hope behind the social entrepreneurs is to tackle some of the world’s challenges. This year’s event comes just months since President Obama hosted the seventh annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Silicon Valley, where he talked about similar objectives. Additionally, Pope Francis led the second Vatican Impact Investment Conference in June, which aims to bridge the worlds of impact investing and Catholic social ministries serving the poor, according to a SCU statement.

“Miller Center is aligned with the goals of both the Obama administration and the Vatican conference, supporting social entrepreneurs who are striving to solve the world’s largest problems — the elimination of poverty, the advancement of women and girls, and climate resilience in the face of global climate change,” said Miller Center executive director Thane Kreiner. “Hosting the GSBI Accelerator social entrepreneurs here in Silicon Valley is significant because this region has that special ‘jet fuel’ for entrepreneurs that you can’t find anywhere else.”

Miller Center puts special emphasis on social enterprises working to empower poor women and girls – particularly those in areas affected by climate change. Of the social enterprises in this year’s GSBI Accelerator cohort, eight are women-led or specifically benefit women, and six focus on resilience to climate change.

The Keys to Good Mentorship for Global Entrepreneurs by Catherine Cheney

Michael Lwin and his mentors from the Global Social Benefit Institute. Photo by: Catherine Cheney / Devex

Michael Lwin and his mentors from the Global Social Benefit Institute. Photo by: Catherine Cheney / Devex

Originally published on by Catherine Cheney

Since the launch of Y Combinator, which wrapped up its Demo Days Wednesday, there have been many iterations accelerator and incubator models.

Given the growing acknowledgement that global entrepreneurship is essential for global development, and the role that accelerators are playing in helping founders all over the world to scale their startups, the global development community is likely to invest more heavily in those programs, which often have a mentorship component.

While efforts are underway to determine the effectiveness of accelerators, and best practices are emerging, it is becoming clear that the key to good mentorship is the depth of the relationship.

The best relationships are those that continue

Bob Macdonald, a technical program manager at Google, watched, nodded and applauded with other members of the audience as each of the entrepreneurs stepped into and out of the spotlight at the investor showcase hosted by the Global Social Benefit Institute last week. But his face really lit up when a man stepped on the stage to talk about his software technology company that aims to turn farmers into entrepreneurs. Macdonald, who has been a mentor with this accelerator based at the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University for the past 10 years, has spent the past eight months working with Farmerline cofounder and CEO Alloysius Attah.

Over the past decade, GSBI has developed a litmus test for mentoring chemistry. The program seeks mentors with strong business and operational experience who will maximize what amounts to 300 hours of individualized support per entrepreneur over the course of 10 months. The best mentors, according to GSBI program staff, strike the right balance of challenging and encouraging entrepreneurs. They are humble and respectful and active listeners. They work with entrepreneurs to find the right answers rather than thinking they have all the answers.

The most effective mentors become trusted advisors, and Macdonald has evolved into that role for GSBI entrepreneurs from years past, providing an example of why the best mentoring relationships are those that continue.

“The GSBI leadership look for matches where this company could really use help, in driving sales or in expanding their supply chain or in figuring out distribution, and try to make those assignments in a way that the two mentors working with the entrepreneur bring complementary backgrounds to the table,” Macdonald told Devex. His work with Farmerline builds on his experience mentoring entrepreneurs with businesses that are either headquartered in Ghana or using phones to make transactions more efficient.

“A good mentor is somebody that knows how to listen and to give advice, based on his or her experience, when it's applicable,” Aldo Aguirre, who directs Techstars startup programs in Latin America, the United States and Canada, told Devex via email. “A good mentor makes sure that they understand what the entrepreneur is trying to accomplish, and that his or her actions and plans are consistent and congruent and will help them get to the point they want to.”

The value of a serial entrepreneur

Whereas some accelerators tend to see inherent value in mentors who have worked with big companies, what matters more is how the experiences mentors have might add value for these startups, said Sonali Mehta-Rao, co-founder of the India-based mobile phone solutions and services company Awaaz.De. Plus, some accelerators will list big name mentors without any guarantees that they will make themselves available to entrepreneurs in the program, she said.

“The archetype we look for in a mentor is a serial entrepreneur, someone who has done it over and over again, and from a high level can provide guidance and strategy,” said Will Butler, who oversees mentorship at the Unreasonable Institute, an international accelerator headquartered in Boulder, Colorado. “They may also have domain expertise, like scaling a clean energy company, but in general these are people who know how to launch businesses and have done it time and time again.”

At the center of any strong mentoring relationship is empathy, Butler said, also emphasizing what a change it makes when mentors see their role not only as giving, but also gaining, from a relationship that evolves into a real partnership.

“I see the relationship more as a two way dialogue and learning between two mission-aligned human beings passionate about bringing positive change to the world and learning from each other,” Radhika Shah, co-founder of Stanford Angels and Entrepreneurs, said of her mentoring relationships.

A common line among emerging market entrepreneurs is that mentorship is more valuable than money. But Vava Angwenyi, founder and “chief coffaholic” at Vava Coffee in Kenya, who said she appreciates any offers of mentorship, also explained that she has limited time and bandwidth and can only pursue those mentoring relationships that can help her get what she really needs. At this point that is funding.

Alloysius Attah of Farmerline at a Global Social Benefit Institute investor showcase. Photo by: Catherine Cheney / Devex

The pitch is only a small part of it

Mentorship networks are demonstrating their value in helping young professionals in developing countries realize their full potential, what emerging market entrepreneurs often seek in mentorship driven accelerators is help turning connections into capital.

“It's all about building and growing great businesses that solve real problems, generate and recuperate value,” said Techstars’ Aguirre. “The pitch is just a small part of it. It's learning how to adequately share what your business is, how it does it, and why it's a great opportunity for investors and others to join them somehow.”

The GSBI curriculum, which guides mentors and entrepreneurs through modules of the program, outlines how startups should ask for funding. The pitch has to make sense in terms of the type and amount of capital being sought and the ask must be justified by a financial model and growth plan. And over time those guidelines have evolved into encouraging entrepreneurs to ask for the appropriate capital to meet the needs based on the stage of their startups.

“We are guiding them to ask for the appropriate capital for where their business is, and not just throwing equity out there when they have the chance of getting equity or talking about a grant when they really should be looking for debt capital,” John Kohler, the director of impact capital at the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, told Devex.

One of the investors in the audience last week was Michael MacHarg, who serves as senior advisor to the social ventures team at the global humanitarian agency Mercy Corps, which is part of a coalition of more than 45 NGOs engaging in or exploring impact investing. MacHarg explained that while some people tend to dismiss grants as gifts rather than investments, grants that go into organizations that will eventually be sustainable are what he calls high performing grants.

While Kohler emphasizes that all kinds of funding, including grants, are investments in a social enterprise, he wants organizations to look to grants, and consider NGOs as partners, in order to scale to the point where they can build an earned income side of what they do to in order to be sustainable.

Going beyond constructive criticism

A week before the investor showcase, Michael Lwin, the co founder of Koe Koe Tech, a social enterprise that creates websites and applications for the health sector in Myanmar, met with his mentors to go over his presentation on the maymay app, which provides information on maternal and child health.

His mentors made the most of every minute. They did not let a single bullet nor slide go by without commenting on ways to improve upon them, even if that meant removing them entirely, as Lwin made live edits. Throughout the meeting, they pulled out their iPhone calculator apps, or scribbled in their notepads. They emphasized the importance of sequencing, moving from the problem to the theory of change to the opportunity. They eliminated distractions and emphasized differentiators.

“For lack of a better term the communication culture in and around Silicon Valley is fairly unique,”Jeff Miller, who started as a GSBI mentor then gave the university $25 million to support its efforts to apply innovation and entrepreneurship to global development challenges, told Devex. “It is very direct and it is not necessarily for the faint of heart.”

Leading up to the investor showcase, Miller sat in on the business model review, mock investor presentation, and operations review for Koe Koe Tech, where he drew on a communications style he developed in his time at Intel: “constructive confrontation.”

“We would ask Michael a straightforward question and get about a ten minute answer,” he said, about Koe Koe Tech’s Lwin. “I told Michael, ‘One of your issues is you know too much. You’re too smart.’ He looked at me like, ‘How are those bad things?’ I said, ‘We can’t take it all in. Tell me what I need to know at a high level. I don’t have enough context to handle all the detail. But you need to make me understand it in one or two sentences.’”

“I just got steamrolled,” Lwin told Devex, laughing as he reflected on the model of mentorship that prepared him for his presentation at the investor showcase.  “But for me that is the value. Don’t be nice. I have friends who can be nice to me.”

The strategy worked. Following Lwin’s presentation, Devex caught up with Tim Morgan, an impact investor with TriLinc Global in Manhattan Beach, California, whose immediate takeaway was that he was impressed with how the global entrepreneurs had learned to speak the language that Silicon Valley investors are used to hearing.

In a recent report on best practices in startup acceleration, Village Capital executive director Ross Baird advised entrepreneurs to ask accelerators who their mentors are and what they will be doing rather than taking their word on mentorship being central to their programs.

“We are not seeing the expected relationships between time spent with mentors and program outcomes,” he wrote. “If I had to place a bet on where this research will go in the future, I would say that who we recruit is extremely important, and that entrepreneurs will want to know how we plan to expand their networks during our programs.”

14 Noteworthy Social Ventures Looking To Scale - by Devin Thorpe

Originally published on by Devin Thorpe

The Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University runs the GSBI Accelerator for social entrepreneurs from around the world. The ten-month program culminates in a few weeks on campus in Silicon Valley, ending with a traditional entrepreneurial demo day. The Center hosted me so I could meet their 14 entrepreneurs.

This is an impressive crop from almost every corner of the globe working around the developing world. From selling water in Mexico to selling weather reports in Ghana, the enterprises came not with business plans but with history and data to support their impact.

The ventures come in a variety of forms, some structured as nonprofits, others as for-profit ventures while some have set up hybrid structures. All have achieved sufficient scale to suggest the potential to impact a lot of people. Typically, they have a vision of reaching at least ten million within ten years.

Here is a quick run down of all 14 ventures based on their presentations and my interviews with each one of them.

All Across Africa

We imagine artisans in the developing world toiling away at their trade to earn a living selling one basket at a time. The trouble is, that is a crummy way to earn a living. All Across Africa, a for-profit social enterprise, uses US-based designers to conjure products that major corporations buy by the thousands. The company sources the products in Africa using artisans producing exactly to the design standards who then receive consistent work and income. Now, that’s a great way to earn a living.

Koe Koe Tech

Myanmar doesn’t fit all of the stereotypes of the developing world. The country had virtually no functional cell phone network before 2014. As a result, when one was introduced, virtually everyone bought a smart phone. Unlike other markets in the developing world where most people are limited to feature phones or have smart phones but can’t afford data plans, people in Myanmar use their smartphones. In part, this results from the Facebook “Free Basics” program that gives low income people access to free data and a set of apps pre-installed on the phones. Michael Lwin, a Myanmar American lawyer, saw the situation and paired it to a national travesty, an infant mortality rate that was the worst in the region, about ten-times worse than the U.S. (which, by the way, isn’t the gold standard for infant mortality). He created Koe Koe Tech to help mothers track their pregnancies and care for their children for the first two years of life. Just launched less than three months ago, the app already has 40,000 users, representing about 5 percent of the pregnancies in Myanmar.

Pollinate Energy

Unbelievably, some people in India are considred by aid organizations to be too poor to help. While millions of Indians live in slums with poor infrastructure, questionable title to their tin-roofed homes and jobs that fail to provide for basic incomes, millions more aspire to such a lifestyle. The poorest live in slums where the residents live in tents, have no access to electricity and no prospect for getting title to the land where they are squatting. No one, it seems, would help them until two young women from Australia created Pollinate Energy to sell them solar powered lamps–on credit. It turns out, these people no one would help, pay their bills 99 percent of the time and the business is thriving. This powerful lesson could be a boon to millions of people, but it certainly is good for Emma Colenbrander and Alexie Seller, the founders of Pollinate Energy.


The LivelyHoods management team and sales agents, courtesy of LivelyHoods

The LivelyHoods management team and sales agents, courtesy of LivelyHoods


Tania Laden, a Stanford grad working in Kenya, realized there was a problem in Kenya when 75 percent of those engaged in post-election violence were deemed to be unemployed youth. She knew that young people their age in Silicon Velley were doing things like launching businesses while young people in Kenya had no prospects. Initially, they tried teaching youth entrepreneurship and even financed startups. Ultimately, they learned that most of them didn’t want to entrepreneurs; they just wanted jobs. She’d committed to stay in Kenya for three months; five years later she’s still there helping to run LivelyHoods, a nonprofit that now hires youth to sell solar products in slums, providing employment opportunities for young people and enhancing the lives of the consumers who buy their products. With twelve branches in two cities, they have created over 900 jobs with plans to triple that by 2020.

Vava Coffee

Vava Angwenyi loves coffee. She is especially proud of the coffee in her native Kenya. She launched Vava Coffee to buy and export some of the country’s finest coffee from small-holder farmers who have traditionally lacked access to fair markets. These vulnerable people have been victims of the market as much as particpants in it. Vava works with them to assure them a fair price for their coffee and proudly exports it.


Inside the NUCAFE factory, courtesy of NUCAFE

Inside the NUCAFE factory, courtesy of NUCAFE

NUCAFE (National Union of Coffee Agribusinesses and Farm Enterprises)

Joseph Nkandu was born on a coffee farm in Uganda and grew up watching his parents struggle to keep the family fed and him in school. Now a university graduate, he leads a national effort to give small-holder farmers the ability to earn a fair living from growing coffee. Small farmers are often forced to sell their crops at deep discounts while still on the plant. Joseph’s NUCAFE is a national association of farmers who now own a processing plant that may completely change their lives, The plant could allow them to pay fair fees for preparing their coffee for export. Soon they will be able sell a finished product at the top of the value chain, capturing most of the difference.


What does a serial entrepreneur do after he’s made a fortune? Ravi Agarwal, who was born and made his fortune in Boston, spent time volunteering in Africa before deciding to create a global technology business to serve the base of the pyramid, the world’s poor. Without access to the internet, no one had an effective or affordable way to reach 5 billion people. NGOs and others wanting to communicate with the people they serve can’t. At least they couldn’t until Ravi created engageSpark to allow everyone affordable access to effective ways to engage with people whose only way to communicate is talking or texting via old style feature phones with no internet access. The new low-cost interactive voice response and texting service allows NGOs to help people more effectively.


Imagine running an NGO that serves rural people living in low income villages in the developing world. How would you communicate with your customers? Most do not have any access to the Internet. While a few have smart phones, they can scarcely afford the data plans to use them., meaning to “give voice” offers a low-cost communications platform that enables SMS and interactive voice response system that enables nonprofits to reach the people they serve effectively. Now, an nonprofit providing maternal healthcare services can send appointment reminders, nutritional coaching and get health data in response from the women it serves.

Cantaro Azul

What if there were a way to deliver clean drinking water to more people who lack it while creating a business opportunity for disadvantaged women at the same time? Cantaro Azul asked this question and found the answer was “yes.” By producing the clean water in small facilities closer to the people they serve in rural and suburban Mexico, and employing women to sell it, they can undercut market prices by 20 to 40 percent. The lower price allows the company to reach more people. As they do so, the sales force earns a living at the same time communities benefit from improved health.


What do you do when saving lives becomes more important than finishing your PhD. Shantanu Pathak started his PhD in Public Health shortly after a friend, Shilpa Munda, almost died from pregnancy-related hypertension. He realized that something must be done to improve maternal health outcomes. He created a kit that could be used at the doorstep to monitor basic maternity metrics using a smart phone. His kit, which fits in a small briefcase, can be carried door to door and allows a modestly trainer user to check vital signs, measure the fetal heart rate and even do a spot check with a urine sample to help doctors screen for high-risk pregnancies. In a pilot with just 20 door-to-door health workers, over 1500 pregnancies were tracked–including 700 high risk ones–with an increase of high-risk pregancies identified of 23 percent, suggesting that some lives may already have been saved. Pathak hasn’t officially ended his studies, but told me, “My prof is like, I know you’re not going to do it, but see if you can.”

Noora Health

There is a proud professor at Stanford, I suspect. Katy Ashe was taking a design course there that included a class project in India. She and a few classmates went to Bangalore and spent time in a hospital observing and talking to patients and staff. They observed an interesting dichotomy. Hallways and grounds were overrun with family members of patients waiting for short visitation windows and then to take their loved ones home. At the same time, the hospitals were understaffed. To add insult to injury, patients were often sent home with limited–if any–home-care instructions, resulting in lots of complications, return visits to the hospital and some deaths. Ashe and her colleagues conceived that during the hospital stay, the family members could be effectively trained to provide required home care. The executed a low-budget proof of concept. After a dangerous stint in South America, Ashe returned to Palo Alto only to learn that her project had proven so effective that the hospital was clamouring for her to return. She did, creating Noora Health to formalize and extend the training provided to family members. They have now trained over 50,000 family members, reducing 30-day complication rates by 71% and saving countless lives in the process. Let’s just say, I hope Ashe got an A on her project.


Farmerline customer receiving tropical weather forecast via voice in his local language, courtesy of Farmerline

Farmerline customer receiving tropical weather forecast via voice in his local language, courtesy of Farmerline


Will illiterate small holder farmers living in Ghana pay for access to weather information, agricultural tips and market pricing data? Alloysius Attah thought they would, provided that the information were provided in an accessible manner. Because they can receive calls for free, Attah created a system that would call the farmers with the information they need. At just $7 per year, Farmerline can provide its full three-tiered service with weather, tips and market data. Farmers report increasing their profits by 50 percent, easily justifying the annual fee.

Attah, it turns out, was raised on a farm but hates farming. He taught himself to code in college while studying natural resource management. He’s always wanted to get away from farming. Perhaps it was that fundamental desire that enabled him to create a tool that will make farming easier and more productive for his fellow Ghanaians.


“You can’t get anything out of frustrated young people but revolution,” says Mohamed El-Kamal, managing director of Alashanek ya Balady (roughly translated as “For you, my beloved country”). The nonprofit organization survived the revolution in Egypt, giving the organization an even greater sense of purpose as the country struggles to recover. The organization works with young people ages 21 to 35 to help them become more self-reliant. Over the years, 35,000 people have been trained, 8,000 have obtained jobs and 22,000 have started businesses with help from AYB. El-Kamal says that he is working to create systemic change. El-Kamal says that when young people find employment, they contribute more to their families, their communities and their country.


If you can read this article, it is likely hard to imagine life without electricity. We completely take it for granted. Despite its importance in our lives, Marc Henrich was surprised when he had the opportunity to introduce solar lamps to off-grid villages in Central America. He quickly learned from the villagers what should not shock any of us: having access to electricity was life changing. Before long, Henrich abandoned his crowdfunding website and created Solubrite to distribute solar powered lamps and other products to people without access to power. Partnering with microfinance institutions, he sells everything from individual lamps up to commercial freezers (that double a store’s profits, he says) in Nicaragua and Panama, already reaching almost 50,000 people.



Devin Thorpe, Champion of Social Good, is a new media journalist and Forbes Contributor who covers social entrepreneurship and impact investing. He is also author of five books on using money for good and a popular speaker. Learn more at


Bridging two worlds at the 2nd Vatican conference on impact investing

Originally posted on by John Kohler 29 July 2016

St. Peter's Square, the plaza in front of St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. Photo by: Bill Bereza / CC BY-NC-ND

St. Peter's Square, the plaza in front of St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. Photo by: Bill Bereza / CC BY-NC-ND

It’s not often that discussions of earned income share space with discussions of faith-based missions to help the poor. Yet bridging the worlds of impact investing and Catholic social ministries was the goal of the recent second Vatican Impact Investing Conference. And while that linkage and the entire field of impact investing are still evolving, this conference demonstrated that some real progress is being made.

The VIIC was preceded by a two-and-a-half day pre-conference workshop designed to help top-level Catholic Church leaders become steeped in the language (i.e., jargon) and concepts of impact investing, social enterprises, and business in general. So, when the VIIC itself began, it was easier for all the participants to delve more deeply into impact investing details as they related to the conference theme: celebrating the Extraordinary Year of Mercy.

Catholic social ministries often already operate as businesses

What may come as a surprise to some, is that Catholic bishops, cardinals and nuns know considerably more about business concepts than they are given credit for, according to a survey of pre-conference attendees designed by conference hosts Catholic Relief Services and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. They might not know how to define working capital or what free cash flow means, but they were mostly aware of basic accounting principles such as profit and loss statements.

The survey also revealed that many organizations operating as Catholic social ministries could also be considered businesses, though they sometimes operate in disguise. Their stated purpose is to administer social teachings on the ground, but in fact they often are engaged in profit-generating activities that are financially self-sustaining.

For example, one bishop from the Middle East described how he had bought a sewing machine, given it to a woman, taught her to sew, and hired her to provide sewing services in the community. The woman received a regular livelihood, fulfilling the Catholic social mission of helping the poor and empowering women — and the bishop’s mission generated enough profit to buy another sewing machine and add another woman to the operation. They continue to add more profit, and more women to their sewing services operation. By any definition, this is a social enterprise.

Social ministries find common ground with impact investing

Traditionally, Catholic social ministries have taken the view that their contributed income donor models are fundamentally incompatible with business-based approaches and earned income.

But impact investing, which means investments that consider social and environmental impact alongside financial return, engenders considerable enthusiasm within the Catholic Church. In an audience with VIIC participants, Pope Francis praised the idea of impact investing.

“The logic underlying these innovative forms of intervention is one which acknowledges the ultimate connection between profit and solidarity, the virtuous circle existing between profit and gift,” Pope Francis said.

Church leaders also discovered common ground with impact investing in the metrics they use to measure social impact. Beneficial outcomes ascribed to Catholic social ministries map closely to the IRIS index, the catalog of generally accepted performance metrics used by impact investors to measure social, environmental, and financial performance.

From there, it’s a small sidestep to see ways to apply IRIS metrics to Catholic social ministries in the field. Both address the same needs — poverty, advancement of women, and environmental challenges, particularly the negative effects of climate change — and measure beneficial outcomes in terms of favorable social and environmental impacts.

It’s still a work in process

Despite the recognition that the objectives of the Catholic Church’s social ministries and of impact investors are more convergent than divergent, one of the things not discussed at VIIC is the largely unspoken friction between purpose and profit.

As Mike Quinn, the Group CEO of African financial technology business Zoona said at the conference: “Purpose and profit are not opposing forces, but purpose must come first.” Or at least, it should come first if Catholic social ministries and impact investors are to work together effectively to serve the poor.

Catholic social ministries need to learn more about the ways in which impact investing can not only can be compatible with their missions, but can also fuel their effectiveness. And the impact investing field — which is still in its infancy — needs to clarify the balance between purpose, or the positive social and environmental outcomes they are measuring, and profit, which is necessary to sustain any viable business enterprise.

Progress will not be easy. Obviously, most people working in Catholic and other faith-based social ministries throughout the world did not attend the Vatican conference. Reaching them with these new ideas will take time and concerted effort.

One next step is to identify social ministries that could potentially benefit from impact investing. CRS, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, and many other organizations are working to do that.

Looking at each of the thousands of social ministries, we can ask: Is this something that could move from contributed income to earned, sustainable income? Can it grow — and does it want to grow? Would it benefit from impact investment, or is it happy being a bakeshop in a local village and providing income to a handful of women?

These are all important questions that I hope will be raised at future conferences and discussions between the Catholic Church and impact investing communities. We’ve begun to build the bridge, but it’s still shrouded in a kind of mist. Our task is to dispel the mist as we continue to build and strengthen the bridge.

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Impact Investing Conference at the Vatican: New Perspectives From Both Sides

Photo by Diego Cambiaso via Flickr.

Photo by Diego Cambiaso via Flickr.

Originally posted on

In late June, the Second Vatican Conference on Impact Investing (VIIC) brought together leaders from the Catholic Church and impact investment communities to discuss the role of impact investing for the poor. Because the Vatican conference occurred during the Extraordinary Year of Mercy established by Pope Francis, the VIIC chose the theme “Making the Year of Mercy a Year of Impact for the Poor.”

The VIIC was a wonderful gathering of bright and interesting people who were there for serious business: As became clear during the course of the conference, everyone attending shared a deep commitment to finding new and better ways to serve the world’s poor.


The VIIC comprised two distinct groups: representatives of Catholic Church-affiliated social ministries, who accounted for around 60 percent of the attendees, and impact investors, meaning those who balance the social and environmental impacts of their investments with their financial returns. The first group’s “street cred” on serving the poor is unassailable. Go to any base-of-the-pyramid (BoP) community in the world, and you’ll likely encounter at least one Catholic social ministry.

The impact investors, on the other hand, have a more complicated reputation when it comes to helping those at the base of the pyramid. In fact, Catholic and other faith-based organizations traditionally have viewed the business and financial world with some suspicion – keeping them at arm’s length for fear that the mission of business, which is to make money, is fundamentally incompatible with the mission of the Church social ministries, which is to help the poor.

One main purpose of the VIIC was to help overcome this view, to present evidence and examples of how impact investing and social enterprises can be used to directly benefit the poor. In this effort, the conference was following the lead of Pope Francis. Addressing a gathering of conference participants previously, the pope said this about impact investing: “The logic underlying these innovative forms of intervention is one which acknowledges the ultimate connection between profit and solidarity, the virtuous circle existing between profit and gift.”

The two groups found strong overlap not only in their shared goals of helping the poor, but also in the ways that they measure social impact. Specifically, the IRIS index, which is the catalog of generally accepted performance metrics used by impact investors to measure social, environmental and financial performance, mirrors the beneficial outcomes described by Catholic social ministries.



For faith-based social ministries, service to the poor is deeply rooted in both belief and practice. One new perspective I saw emerging at the VIIC was the realization that service to the poor doesn’t have to rely solely on contributed income, meaning donations or charity. And in fact, many Catholic social ministries are already generating earned income and could easily be considered social enterprises.

This realization probably seemed obvious to the impact investors, but it’s still a relatively novel view within the Catholic Church. This is the case even though a pre-conference survey – conducted by VIIC hosts Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace – found that the VIIC attendees from the church know more about basic business concepts and principles than expected. And it’s the case even in light of the highly successful hospitals, schools, universities and other business organizations that the Catholic Church operates across the globe.

When the impact investors at the VIIC spoke about why they invest in social enterprises, you could almost see the Catholic representatives’ lights of understanding begin to turn on. And when we described that impact investors often are willing to include grants as part of their funding sources, those lights grew brighter.

For instance, I gave a presentation outlining a range of capital sources used by impact investors, aimed at the needs of different types and stages of social enterprises. I described some previous social enterprise participants in the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship’s Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI) programs that had started with grants and, over time, layered on additional forms of soft loans (i.e., loans offering more flexible or lenient terms for repayment than standard loans) and, eventually, equity investments. Examples from Africa, Latin America and Asia described entities initially supported entirely by donors that had transformed into thriving, income-earning social businesses.

For their part, most impact investors had never noticed that numerous social ministries are simply small businesses that are largely donor-supported – which means many are potential social enterprises in disguise. Not all of these social ministries will make the transition from contributed to earned income, but some will. In fact, many of them will.

In addition, impact investors are gaining appreciation for the fact that the Catholic Church has points of presence in poor communities worldwide, with trusted contacts and an understanding of local contexts. These are valuable assets that impact investors can leverage to help achieve the shared goals of lifting more people out of poverty and helping them establish lives of autonomy and dignity.

By the conclusion of the VIIC, both participant groups had seen the other group in a slightly different light. Which is not to say that the work of bridging the gap is done. Far from it. But I see progress along a very promising path. My hope is that if there is a third VIIC, I can bring back reports of continued advancement along that path. In the end, that would be the best possible news for all of us involved in trying to alleviate poverty, and for the world’s poor.


John Kohler is executive fellow and  director of impact capital at Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship.

Hacking poverty through mobile tech and social entrepreneurship



Originally posted on


In Silicon Valley the term “hacker” has evolved to connote high praise for someone particularly creative, ingenious and adept at finding clever new ways to accomplish a difficult task. It’s with that framework in mind, rather than some of the other meanings that “hack” usually represents, that I suggested during my recent TEDx talk that Pope Francis and the UN are hackers of poverty.

Global poverty qualifies as a difficult task. It must be, because even with all the money spent on helping to lift people out of poverty — an estimated $150 billion in 2013 alone — 4 billion of the world’s nearly 7.5 billion people still live on an average of less than $4 a day.

And here are some other daunting statistics on the effects of poverty:

1.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water.

  • 2.5 billion people practice open defecation, spreading diarrheal diseases such as cholera, typhoid and intestinal worms that kill a child every 20 seconds.
  • 1.6 billion people live off the grid, and another 1 billion have unreliable grid access.
  • 3 billion people cook on open-wood fires, creating indoor air pollution that prematurely kills 4.3 million people per year, mostly women and children.
  • Small farm-holders are among the 3 billion people worldwide who are excluded from current financial systems — unable to invest in simple things like drip irrigation or fertilizer to increase their yields, or refrigeration to store things like milk generated from their cows and goats.

These ill effects of poverty are likely to get only worse, due to three trends:

  1. We’ll have 2 billion more people on the planet by 2050. Most of the population growth will happen in Africa and Southeast Asia. So while the rates of poverty might decline, the absolute number of people living in poverty could increase.
  2. We’re experiencing the largest wave of urban migration in the history of humankind. Already more than half of our global population lives in cities, moving in search of better jobs. But too often, urban migrants lack the skills or access to education that would enable them to find work. They end up destitute and unable to forage for food, like they could in the rural environments they left behind.
  3. We’re on a trajectory to a 4° Celsius increase in global mean surface temperature by the end of the century, far beyond what most scientists consider catastrophic. While everyone will suffer from the effects of climate change, the poor will feel it first and most severely. Food insecurity will intensify from drought, heat waves and ocean warming and acidification.
More people on the planet have access to mobile phones than to toilets.

Unfortunately, attempts so far to alleviate poverty — typically in the form of centralized, official development or government assistance — are not working. That’s where the “hacking poverty” idea emerges. What would a poverty hacker do differently?

Two hacks for poverty: distributed systems and social entrepreneurship

The most successful distributed system to date is mobile technology. With 6.8 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide, more people on the planet have access to mobile phones than to toilets. Using this near ubiquity of mobile technology, poverty hackers are changing the economics of poverty through new strategies for investments, loans and credit. Already, mobile money in the global south is leapfrogging the global north’s centralized banking paradigm.

Social entrepreneurship is proving its worth throughout the developing world by applying established business principles and practices to poverty-related issues. Unlike top-down aid approaches, social entrepreneurship fosters and supports solutions created within communities of poor and marginalized people, making those solutions more likely to be adopted and sustained over time.

Social enterprises are hacking poverty by revolutionizing how energy and food are provided in the developing world, and also how solutions are financed, distributed and sold — and by shifting the economic dynamics toward the poor themselves.

Where do Pope Francis and the United Nations fit into this conversation about hacking poverty? The pope’s recent Laudato Si’ encyclical, and the recent UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), echo the same messages and call for essentially the same outcomes: The system is broken. It needs to be hacked.

Pope Francis and the U.N. SDGs provide guidelines for how we can do things differently, more creatively, more effectively. Now, it’s up to all of us to follow through and take action — to become hackers of poverty in whatever ways we can. There’s literally no time to waste.


General Electric Welcomes its First Group of Social Entrepreneurs Addressing Maternal & Child Health in Africa

General Electric Welcomes its First Group of Social Entrepreneurs Addressing Maternal & Child Health in Africa

GE and Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship is addressing Maternal & Child Health in sub-Saharan Africa by accelerating health innovations in nine African countries through its Healthymagination Mother and Child Programme which is focusing on training and mentoring social entrepreneurs working on increasing the quality, access and affordability of maternal and child health in sub-Saharan Africa.

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The Organisation of African First Ladies, GE & Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship Join Forces to Advance Health Care Goals in Africa

Originally posted on on 13 July 2016

Image Credit: GE (From Left) H.E., First Lady of Cote d’Ivoire, Mrs. Dominique Ouattara-Folloroux; H.E. First Lady of Namibia, Mrs. Monica Geingos; H.E., Mrs. Ban Soon-Taek, spouse of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon; H.E. Dr. Malika Issoufou Mahamadou, First Lady of The Republic of Niger. The Organisation of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA) joined GE and Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship on to advance social entrepreneurship to improve maternal and child health outcomes in sub-Saharan Africa.

Image Credit: GE

(From Left) H.E., First Lady of Cote d’Ivoire, Mrs. Dominique Ouattara-Folloroux; H.E. First Lady of Namibia, Mrs. Monica Geingos; H.E., Mrs. Ban Soon-Taek, spouse of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon; H.E. Dr. Malika Issoufou Mahamadou, First Lady of The Republic of Niger. The Organisation of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA) joined GE and Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship on to advance social entrepreneurship to improve maternal and child health outcomes in sub-Saharan Africa.

Healthymagination Mother & Child program partners convene to discuss how social entrepreneurship can reduce healthcare disparities in Sub-Saharan Africa

The Organisation of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA) joined General Electric Company (GE) and Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship on June 9 to advance social entrepreneurship to improve maternal and child health outcomes in sub-Saharan Africa.

The First Ladies of Africa were introduced to the healthymagination Mother & Child program, and participated in a roundtable panel that addressed how countries can engage social enterprises to meet U.N. Sustainable Development Goals and improve health care for mothers and children.

In March, GE and Miller Center partnered to create the healthymagination Mother & Child program which trains and mentors social entrepreneurs working on maternal and child health innovations in sub-Saharan Africa. The program combines GE healthcare product expertise with Miller Center’s proven Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI) methodology for accelerating social enterprises.

“We are encouraged by the potential of social entrepreneurship, and the healthymagination program in particular, to help reduce maternal, newborn and child mortality rates in sub-Saharan Africa,” said Her Excellency Madam Monica Geingos, First Lady of the Republic of Namibia. “The well-being of the mother is key to ensuring the survival of the child, because children who lose their mothers are less likely to celebrate their second birthdays. The mission and goals of this GE and Miller Center project align perfectly with the mission and goals of OAFLA.”

“The healthymagination Mother & Child program is part of a multi-year global investment by GE to improve global health outcomes, foster regional economic development and develop local human capital,” said Robert Wells, Executive Director of GE’s healthymagination commitment. “We have always tried to stay close to new thinkers and partner with companies that have innovative ideas and move fast to solve major challenges of our time. We are proud to support the development of healthcare innovations and partner with the Miller Center and OAFLA to mentor the best minds to reach this goal.”

“We are delighted to partner with GE healthymagination, and to continue interaction with OAFLA, as we all work to apply social entrepreneurship to our important shared goals.”

“Miller Center has aligned our time-tested curriculum and successful track record in training, mentoring and accelerating social enterprises globally toward achieving as many of the 17 U.N. SDGs as possible—an approach we feel is the most direct path toward making a tangible difference in the lives of poor and underserved women and children in Africa and elsewhere,” said Thane Kreiner, Ph.D., Executive Director of Miller Center for Entrepreneurship. “We are delighted to partner with GE healthymagination, and to continue interaction with OAFLA, as we all work to apply social entrepreneurship to our important shared goals.”

Improving maternal and child health care in Africa, the world’s second-most populous continent, is a critical global health priority. Over 450 women in Africa die every day from pregnancy-related complications, and children in sub-Saharan Africa are more than 14 times more likely to die before the age of 5 than children in developed regions. Social entrepreneurship, with its dual focus on positive social outcomes and solid business practices, is uniquely suited to address these issues.

Social entrepreneurship is considered a crucial catalytic factor in alleviating many social and environmental ills because it provides solutions in local contexts that enrich the communities where they are located; is sustainable; invests in human capital; and delivers a replicable, business-focused model that helps organizations to scale.

Participants in the New York luncheon included: Her Excellency Mrs. Ban Soon-Taek, spouse of UN Secretary General; Her Excellency, Mrs. Monica Geingos, First Lady of the Republic of Namibia; Her Excellency, Aissata Issoufou Mahamadou, First Lady of the Republic of Niger; Her Excellency Mrs. Dominique Ouattara-Folloroux, First Lady of the Republic of Cote D’Ivoire; Deborah Elam, president of The GE Foundation and Chief Diversity Officer for GE; Carol Evans, founder and former CEO of Working Mother Media; Dr Stefan Peterson, Director and Chief of the Health Section, UNICEF, Thane Kreiner, Ph.D., Executive Director of Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship; Katherine Lucey, CEO and founder of Solar Sister; Jennifer Reingold, senior editor at Fortune magazine and Robert Wells, Executive Director for GE’s healthymagination commitment.

About the Organisation of First Ladies of Africa Against HIV/AIDS

The Organisation of African First Ladies against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA) is an organization established by African First Ladies in 2002 as a collective voice for Africa's most vulnerable people including women and children infected and affected by HIV and AIDS. OAFLA has since expanded its mission to work broadly for the health and empowerment of women, children and adolescents in Africa, including the improvement of maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health services thereby supporting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

About GE and its healthymagination Commitment

GE (NYSE:GE) is the world’s Digital Industrial Company, transforming industry with software-defined machines and solutions that are connected, responsive and predictive. GE is organized around a global exchange of knowledge, the "GE Store," through which each business shares and accesses the same technology, markets, structure and intellect. GE’s healthymagination commitment is about better health for more people. Through its healthymagination efforts, GE continuously develops and invests in innovations that deliver high-quality, more affordable healthcare to more people around the world. For more information about the GE healthymagination commitment, visit

About Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship

Founded in 1997, Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship is one of three Centers of Distinction at Santa Clara University. Miller Center accelerates global, innovation-based entrepreneurship in service to humanity. Its strategic focus is on poverty eradication through its three areas of work: The Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI), Impact Capital, and Education and Action Research. To learn more about the Center or any of its social entrepreneurship programs,

Kristin Schwarz for GE

+1 (646) 682-5601

Colleen Martell for Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship
Martell Communications for Miller Center

+1 (408) 832-0147

healthymagination Mother and Child Programme welcomes its first group of social entrepreneurs addressing maternal & child health in sub-saharan Africa

healthymagination Mother and Child Programme welcomes its first group of social entrepreneurs addressing maternal & child health in sub-saharan Africa

GE and Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship launched the healthymagination Mother and Child Programme to accelerate health innovations in nine African countries

The programme has selected 17 African social entrepreneurs who will benefit from training and mentorship aimed at improving maternal and/or child health outcomes

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Composting Social Enterprise Reduces Landfill Woes and Improves the Local Economy in Milwaukee, Wisconsin


Food waste occupies over 30% of U.S. landfills and is the number 1 contributor of landfills’ harmful methane gases, which is proven to cause ozone depletion. Handling the growing volume of food scraps has become a major problem for municipalities nationwide, as landfills rapidly face a capacity crisis. The state of Wisconsin alone sends as much as 455,259 tons of food scraps annually to landfills, with restaurants accounting for 45.8% of that waste stream.

Composting, hailed as the latest form of recycling, is embraced as a sustainable solution for food waste diversion in cities both in the United States and abroad. At the forefront of this emerging industry is Compost Crusader, based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Compost Crusader hauls organic waste from Milwaukee-area restaurants, corporations, and schools to a certified composting facility, where it is turned into compost and sold to community gardens and local farms. By creating this separate recycling channel, Compost Crusader is able to divert 50–75% of organic food waste from landfill waste streams.

In addition to generating environmental benefits, Compost Crusader creates jobs for the local community. The social enterprise partners with small business owners who are responsible for turning waste into finished compost, as well as with a welder who makes the customized waste containers at each Compost Crusader location.

Melissa Tashjian, founder of Compost Crusader

Melissa Tashjian, founder of Compost Crusader

From Community Nonprofit to Social Enterprise

Compost Crusader grew out of a small nonprofit focused on community-based composting. After six years, founder Melissa Tashjian and the organization’s board decided it was time to scale up operations to make a larger impact. Like the name of the company she founded, Melissa became a real crusader for composting in southeastern Wisconsin.

In 2014, Melissa competed in and won the Good Money Challenge, hosted by Marquette University. The $7,000 winnings enabled her to upgrade the truck she used to collect food waste and to begin taking on new clients. Almost immediately, these moves paid off. Between January and November 2015, Compost Crusader diverted 543,671 lbs. of waste from landfills, the equivalent of keeping 395 cars off the road for a year.

Compost Crusader’s biodiesel compost truck

Compost Crusader’s biodiesel compost truck

Despite Compost Crusader’s progress, however, Melissa realized that long-term success would require a deeper focus on financials and the solid business practices needed to grow the business.

In September 2015, Melissa participated in a 3-day Marquette University Social Innovation Initiative, adapted from Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) material developed at Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship and made possible through the support of eBay Foundation. The GSBI Boost program helped Melissa focus on the key business elements of her venture.

Working closely one-on-one with one of the program mentors, she used the GSBI Boost program’s financial module to examine the Compost Crusader financials in detail. By understanding the business value, costs, and profits at the unit/container level, Melissa was able to see where Compost Crusader was making money and where it was losing money. She decided to change her pricing structure, which not only improved her bottom line, but also allowed her to offer different pricing levels and container sizes to meet different corporate needs across the city.

For Melissa, “the one-on-one real-time feedback and coaching” from her mentor helped her to establish effective growth and revenue-generating plans for Compost Crusader. Based on the output measures she focused on, she closed 2015 in the black and prepared to generate significant revenues in 2016.

Part of the Compost Crusader team

Part of the Compost Crusader team

Financial Discipline Leads to Big Benefits

Following her participation in the GSBI Boost program, Melissa hit a major milestone with Compost Crusader: diverting 100,000 lbs. of waste from the landfill in a single month. In addition, she added two new corporate partnerships (bringing her total to 35) and set up customer contracts with help from the Law and Entrepreneurship Clinic at Marquette.

Melissa has been able to hire a full-time sales person to help local businesses understand how composting works and how it affects them. Composting is usually a cost-neutral approach to landfilling for her customers. They are able to reduce the costs associated with their landfill pick-ups and use that “savings” to pay Compost Crusader to retrieve their organic food waste.

After reviewing the business financials with her mentor, Melissa was finally able to start paying herself a salary. In addition, she is adding more employees and is confident that the number of Compost Crusader customers will continue to grow.

During 2016, Melissa focused on launching the composting pilot program with the City of Milwaukee. She has set a goal for the next 5 to 10 years to sell the Compost Crusader business to an organization able to scale composting throughout the Midwest — at which point Melissa intends to apply what she’s learned to embark on a new social venture.

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