This Social Venture Helps Marginalized People Get a Leg Up

Originally posted by Devin Thorpe

Walking through the dusty Nairobi slum called Kawangware, the general bustle of the place overwhelms the visitor. Grace Njeri lives in the neighborhood and she’s got work to do. She recently signed on as a sales rep for the social enterprise Livelyhoods and this is her third day on the job.

Yesterday, she had her first sale. She sold a clean cookstove and she’s carrying another one through the streets; she holds the stove in one hand and the empty box in the other. As she walks, she and her trainer Simon Mwenya spot a man in an informal hardware store looking at the stove. She decides to approach him.

With her winning smile and the knowledge that she has three children at home and no father to help carry the load, she quickly makes the sale. As Thane Kreiner, the Executive Director for the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University completes the receipt for her as part of his field work today, Grace learns that the buyer would like to become a distributor himself. He’s interested in buying 20 more stoves.

Thane Kreiner of the Miller Center completes the receipt for the customer

Thane Kreiner of the Miller Center completes the receipt for the customer

Grace was doing well before the possibility of selling 20 more stoves popped up. After selling two units in her first three days she is well on her way to her first month’s target of six stoves.

She takes the cash from the sale and walks across the street to an M-Pesa kiosk. The ubiquitous kiosks are so common in Nairobi that there are sometimes multiple competing shops on the same block. They are never far away. She hands the clerk the 3,490 shillings (about $35) she collected for the stove and the money is instantly applied to the account on her phone. Using her smartphone, she then transfers the entire amount to Livelyhoods. She’ll collect her commissions and any bonuses she may earn at the end of the month.

Grace Njeri, after making her first sale of the day

Grace Njeri, after making her first sale of the day

After completing the transaction, she cajoles a colleague into allowing her to take the electric kettle in hopes of finding a buyer. Around the corner, she spots the barber shop, a shop that isn’t 100 square feet in size, has two barbers and two customers in it. She recognizes that there are four prospects who can’t leave.

She enters and within five minutes she leaves having taken an order for a blender and another for an iron. Her day is getting better and it isn’t even noon.

Livelyhoods is intent on creating quality employment opportunities for some of Kenya’s least qualified. Sales reps last an average of only four months. A few won’t survive their first week. Some people aren’t cut out for sales.

At 44, Grace is old than the average of 24. The sales reps who attended the meeting this morning at 8:00 sharp–the trainer Lillian locks the door promptly at 8:00–were typically younger. Split almost perfectly between men and women, the crew included eight women and six men.

Most of the reps will move on to better jobs, the company says. The position is intended to be preparatory. Training is pretty intense.

The meeting began comfortably with introductions. Then Lillian offered an enthusiastic evangelical prayer. She then moved on to stretches with twenty people in a 200 square foot room. Despite the cramped quarters, the team seemed genuinely to enjoy the stretching as Lillian made it into a game of “Simon says.” I couldn’t help but wonder if the game was more or less amusing with two Simons in the room. No one seemed to notice.

With that complete, real sales training with goal setting and a review of the seven steps of a sale were presented, reviewed and practiced. Jeff Miller, the namesake for the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship who is visiting Nairobi, provided a group of reps with some personal sales training. Later, he would accompany some of the reps and help one close five sales in one hour.

Jeff Miller coaches a team of reps

Jeff Miller coaches a team of reps

Livelyhoods generated $440,000 in revenue in 2016, according to Claire Baker, the Director of Development. With growth beginning to ramp, in part due to a new layaway program for the $35 stoves, the company hopes to help more people in 2017.

The company’s founder, Tania Laden, participated in the Miller Center’s Global Social Benefit institute program in 2016. I reported on that here.

Despite Big Impact, This Nonprofit Faces Challenges

Originally posted by Devin Thorpe

Potential Energy, a clean cookstove manufacturer based in Kampala, Uganda is facing challenges on several fronts. Despite having sold 45,000 high-efficiency cook stoves, the nonprofit venture is facing a host of troubles, including some existential threats.

Potential Energy sells the Berkeley-Darfur stove primarily to NGOs that give or sell them to refugees. The stove was developed with help from refugees in Darfur at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs. The wood-burning stove is a highly regarded “tier 4” stove that reduces wood consumption by more than 50 percent and reduces smoke and pollution even more.

The nonprofit notes on its website that the stoves have already impacted 270,000 people, mostly refugees.

But today, Potential Energy faces big challenges. It has paid to produce 5,000 stoves in India that sit there unassembled. According to CEO Jessica De Clerk, originally from Portland, Oregon, the company lacks the resources to bring the stoves to Uganda from India. Between shipping costs and duties, the cost to import them nearly matches the $10 per unit cost to build them in the first place.

Once they arrive, if they do, Potential Energy needs to assemble them and sell them–neither task will be free. While they have a number of small orders, the bulk of the stoves would not have an immediate home. Jessica says she hopes to sell the stoves for $20 each in bulk, meaning that Potential Energy will almost certainly lose money on bulk sales.

The challenges don’t end there. In an effort to broaden its product line and diversify its revenue sources, Potential Energy has begun selling several models of charcoal burning stoves to low-income people in urban Kampala. These stoves range from $6 to $50. The $50 stoves are sold on credit and come with contracts that require the customers to purchase more environmentally friendly charcoal briquettes.

These efforts don’t all sit well with donors, some of whom are focused on moving to the sale only of stoves that are deemed “tier 4” for both efficiency and emissions. Such stoves cost about $100 and require a fan to provide secondary air to enhance burning. Jessica, living and working in Kampala since she came here to support a project for a Portland Rotary Club, says the high prices make selling such stoves impossible. Without them, however, she faces a dearth of funding.

And there’s more. She took us to visit three customers who have purchased the $50 high-efficiency charcoal stoves.

Helen Okidi, Potential Energy customer

Helen Okidi, Potential Energy customer

Helen Okidi lives in a slum in Kampala about 15 minutes’ drive from the Potential Energy office. Helen is obviously proud of her stove and was thrilled to show it off to the international group of visitors from the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University. She wasn’t reluctant to bring out her old stove to show how much nicer the new one is.

Helen Okidi’s two stoves

Helen Okidi’s two stoves

Notably, however, the new stove was clearly not being used regularly. The old stove was full of burning charcoal and she had clearly been cooking with it before we arrived. She had lit some charcoal in the new stove but admitted that she usually cooks with the old one, which consumes much more fuel and emits much more smoke.

Helen was getting virtually none of the benefits of the new stove because she continued to use the old one. She was also buying charcoal at the market rather than using and buying the briquettes that burn more efficiently and come from charcoal dust rather than from burning wood to create charcoal–using up 80 percent of the energy in the wood. So she was getting none of the financial, environmental or health benefits of her new stove.

CEO Jessica De Clerk with customer Betty Sabiti

CEO Jessica De Clerk with customer Betty Sabiti

That is not always the case. We visited both Betty Sabit and Elijah Kizza who have the same stove. Both are using theirs exclusively. Betty says she cooks two meals per day for two people and it works great. A 110-pound bag of the briquettes lasts her two months. Elijah shares the stoves with five roommates. They don’t cook as regularly, but also love the stove and the eco-friendly briquettes, which he says saves them money. Both Betty and Elijah seem to be getting all of the health, environmental and financial benefits of the stove.

CEO Jessica De Clerk with customer Elijah Kizza

CEO Jessica De Clerk with customer Elijah Kizza

Jeff Miller, the namesake for the Miller Center, offered Jessica some advice that she received well. He suggested she focus on the Berkeley-Darfur stove and jettison all of the other distractions so she can build that business to a volume where it can be self-sustaining for the organization.

Moving production to Uganda from India could significantly cut costs, eliminating most if not all importation costs, potentially cutting the landed cost of finished products almost in half.

Jessica is an impressive young CEO. She joined Potential Energy just one year ago precisely because she saw the value and the life-saving potential of the Berkeley-Darfur stove. In the year before joining Potential Energy, she developed a tier 4 stove for LivingGoods that can be produced for just $5. She is committed to the work, obviously bright and apparently hard-working, we left believing that she can find a path to greater sustainability and even more impact.

2,000 Women Rising From Poverty Celebrate the Social Venture That Helped

Originally posted by

The women mostly wearing beautiful, brightly colored traditional gowns were seated quietly beneath white event tents festooned in bright colors surrounding a small plaza that would serve as a stage. An empty tent on a platform was waiting for the VIP guests, including the executives of All Across Africa, the company the women credit with changing their lives.

All Across Africa sources handicrafts from here in Rwanda and also from Uganda and Burundi. The women weave baskets. This model would not distinguish All Across Africa from dozens or perhaps hundreds of other social enterprises that buy handicrafts from marginalized communities in emerging markets, but the story doesn’t end there.

CEO Greg Stone and COO Alicia Wallace have developed an impressive customer base for their products, including Pro Flowers and Costco. Their portfolio of buyers includes hundreds of independent retailers, allowing them to buy in volumes that are unusual.

All Across Africa’s secret sauce is creating contemporary designs that are appealing to Americans that the weavers in Rwanda can produce, rather than simply taking what the women were making and trying to sell it in the U.S.

When the company landed Costco in 2009, they had to grow their phalanx of weavers who supply their products from 60 women to over 1,000 in about 90 days. It has continued to grow ever since. Today, about 2,000 of the women were invited from this part of Rwanda to participate in the celebration. At least half showed up.

The weavers, primarily women but including a few men, held their annual celebration of the year spent working themselves out of poverty. The event is part annual meeting and includes some ceremony, but is primarily a party to celebrate their shared success.

Greg Stone, CEO, All Across Africa

Greg Stone, CEO, All Across Africa

At last year’s event, the weavers presented Greg with a spear and shield as symbols of his battle with their poverty. They recognized that they needed each other to make the climb from the lowest economic rungs to a lifestyle that would include adequate food, shelter and clothing—and dignity. In his remarks, Greg recommitted himself and the company to the fight.

All Across Africa exists to fulfill that mission. Selling baskets is simply the vehicle the company uses to achieve that objective. Organized originally as a nonprofit, the company now uses a hybrid model with a for-profit and a nonprofit entity. The for-profit business, All Across Africa, sources and sells baskets and other handicrafts. Opportunity Across Africa, the nonprofit, provides training.

The company participated in the Global Social Benefit Institute program at the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University in 2016. I wrote about the program here.

One of the weavers displays special baskets for Alicia Walker, COO

One of the weavers displays special baskets for Alicia Walker, COO

The company has helped the women form and manage co-ops. Technically, the company doesn’t buy products from the weavers; it buys from the co-ops. The co-ops are all independent. They can choose to sell products to other companies and there are several competing for the women’s handicrafts. But, the women say they earn twice as much selling to All Across Africa and so devote the majority of their time to its orders.

The income they make is life changing, they say. Typically, before joining the ranks of the All Across Africa weavers, they ate only two meals a day, including a bowl of porridge for breakfast that would have to last a full day of working outside on their farms. Now, they eat three meals a day, pay others to work on their farms and use their profits to acquire more land and animals. The women take pride in being fat, though few would qualify for that label in the U.S. None of the women appeared skinny or undernourished.

The income increases their status in the community and at home. The women not only earn greater respect from their neighbors but also from their husbands. They admitted that their husbands were dismissive of their work before All Across Africa but no longer. Many women earn more than their husbands and are now true partners in their marriages.

The income is also growing the local economy in unanticipated ways. In addition to using their new wealth to hire farm hands, they also buy sisal, the natural thread they use for weaving the baskets, rather than tediously harvest it themselves as they once did. Each week, the women gather for order days on Monday and Tuesday. A cottage industry of food purveyors has popped up so the woman don’t have to cook or bring lunch.

One of the weavers shows off some freshly harvested sisal.

One of the weavers shows off some freshly harvested sisal.

At today’s event, in a lengthy pageant-like sketch, the women portrayed the complete cycle of change that All Across Africa brings to their lives. They covered everything from how they were recruited and how skeptical they were about changing their lives by weaving to how to run a co-op, to avoid bad financial decisions—like spending their money on banana beer—and how to save for the future. The presentation ended with the women dancing and proudly holding up their bank books.

Irene Mujawayezu, one of the co-op leaders

Irene Mujawayezu, one of the co-op leaders

A local politician was invited to speak. His message, reminding the women to be thrifty and to buy health insurance was at least redundant and perhaps insulting. One of the women leaders, Irene Mujawayezu (her last name means servant of Jesus, one of the staff explained), took the microphone to explain in response that in her co-op, all of the women have their health insurance paid and to otherwise make clear that these women didn’t need a man to tell them how to spend their money.

Alicia Wallace, COO, All Across Africa

Alicia Wallace, COO, All Across Africa

In her remarks today, Alicia invoked a local blessing, “I wish you many cows and much success.” That was also redundant. The women do have many cows and plenty of success.

How Do You Start Charging People You've Been Serving For Free?

Originally posted by Devin Thorpe

“How Do You Start Charging People You’ve Been Serving For Free?” That’s the question that Brian Iredale, head of Nurture Africa in Kampala, Uganda is asking himself. At the same time, the handwriting is on the wall. To continue serving the people he loves, he must begin charging.

Brian came to Uganda in 1997. Seeing the challenges the country he faced, he decided to do something about it. He earned a nursing degree and returned in 2003 to launch a nonprofit that today is called Nurture Africa. He focused on the needs surrounding the community of HIV patients and their families, especially AIDS orphans. In 2009, he left his job as a nurse and began working full time for the organization.

Since its founding, Nurture Africa has provided services to its needy clients at no charge. In order to continue serving them, however, Brian has recognized that the organization will need to begin charging fees to make it more financially sustainable.

A view of the Nurture Africa campus

A view of the Nurture Africa campus

His plan is to begin offering some services to the public at a profit so that it can afford to offer those services at a discount to the needier families.

The organization offers microloans to mostly women to help them become more financially independent. For the loans, Nurture Africa has traditionally charged an interest rate of 1 percent per month. Going forward, Brian plans to charge 2.75 percent per month, which is still below the market rate of 3 percent. The loans of up to about $150 are expected to be–and generally are–repaid within six months.

Most health services have been offered completely for free. The challenge of charging low-income clients anything will be big. In order to be able to afford to offer the services at a discount in the long run, Brian plans to offer services to the general public, including more affluent customers, at a modest premium to cost to generate cash flow to support the discounts for needier clients.

The organization provides a variety of educational programs. As we toured the campus with Brian, we encountered classes going on all over. In one room, HIV-positive women who are pregnant were learning how to deliver a baby without infecting them. Another group was learning about hygiene. In another room, girls were learning how to sew and others were learning how to braid hair. Next door, a group of teens was learning to use Microsft Office on donated computers.

Girls practicing vocational skills

Girls practicing vocational skills

One of the students in the computer lab was Latif Sserunjoji. He explained that the students “need I.T. skills for life.” Latif was born after his mother received help from the organization before he was born.

Latif Sserunjoji

Latif Sserunjoji

Brian recognizes his own need for training at this critical juncture in the organization’s history. He’s enrolled in the Healthymagination Mother and Child program, a social venture accelerator that is a partnership between GE and the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship. He will be presenting to a group of donors and investors next week in Nairobi as the culmination of the program. The coaching and mentoring he’s received as part of the program has helped him develop a pitch for the investors and a strategy for shifting from a pure donor-supported model to relying on fees for a substantial portion of the funding.

As the tour came to an end, Brian guided the group to a small stage. Some of the students performed a dance for the visitors.

 

Brian noted that some of the kids who were born to HIV-infected women in the earliest days have grown up to become volunteers and even employees of the organization, coming full circle. In a similar way, Brian hopes to master this difficult transition and to have the opportunity to share his insights and lessons learned with others.

Can One Person Change the World? This One Did!

Originially posted by Devin Thorpe

Margaret Mead famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Personally, I would argue that a small group is typically organized and led by one person. Here in Uganda, I found the one.

To be fair, I have been in Uganda three days and I could say this about any number of the remarkable social entrepreneurs I’ve met, but Joseph Nkandu embodies that more than most. Philanthropist Jeff Miller, the namesake of the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, noted in his remarks at a brief ceremony at the National Union of Coffee Agribusinesses and Farm Enterprises, always abbreviated NUCAFE, that most people lack the ambition to dream of doing what Joseph has done: remake a national industry.

Jeff Miller addresses a group of employees and member of NUCAFE

Jeff Miller addresses a group of employees and member of NUCAFE

Joseph participated in the 2016 cohort of the Miller Center’s Global Social Benefit Institute. I covered that for Forbes here.

Over the past 20 years, Joseph has been working to implement his vision of the “farmer ownership model” for growing coffee in Uganda. Perhaps because coffee grows easily in Uganda and millions of people grow a little bit of coffee, the power in the coffee industry has been in the hands of the buyers and their agents.

Joseph observed that farmers in Uganda did not effectively own their coffee. As evidence, he pointed out that when he asked coffee farmers about the price of coffee, they never seemed to know. When he asked the same farmers, who frequently kept a few chickens, about the price of chicken, they always knew. Put another way, small-holder farmers in Uganda have traditionally been price takers.

This provided the basis for organizing farmers into cooperatives to create more balance in the industry so that farmers could negotiate from a position of strength. Today, 198 cooperatives representing 1 million small farmers are members of NUCAFE. Together they produce about $500 million of raw coffee.

More recently, Joseph has been working to create more vertical integration so that the farmers can capture more of the value. Ground, roasted coffee sells for about ten times the price of coffee off the tree. The equipment required to remove the coffee bean from the berry is ubiquitous in Uganda, but beans in that condition aren’t ready to be ground and roasted, substantial cleaning, grading, drying and processing is required to get it ready to be roasted and ground.

NUCAFE has recently constructed and begun operating only the third coffee processing plant in all of Uganda. Joseph believes that it is the only one in the world that is farmer owned. Now, member farmers can pay a tiny fee to have their beans processed, allowing them to increase their revenue 2.5 fold.

Inside the new NUCAFE processing facility

Inside the new NUCAFE processing facility

NUCAFE also built roasting and grinding capacity at the plant and has begun selling coffee under the brand Omukago, a Lugandan word referring to deep, close friendship akin to family, traditionally expressed with a drop of blood on a coffee bean. Although volumes are relatively modest today, the nearly tenfold difference price allows participating farmers to meaningfully increase their profits even if only a portion of their production.

Joseph grew up on a small coffee farm and then attended university to learn how to optimize coffee farming. He realized after completing school that the system was rigged against the farmers and that the industry would have to be restructured to protect the interests of the farmers.

Joseph Nkandu listens to Jeff Miller

Joseph Nkandu listens to Jeff Miller

His father had 16 children–and two wives–stretching the resources of a small coffee grower. His father was also a primary school teacher and understood the need to make sacrifices to ensure that his children had the opportunity to attend school. That investment is now paying dividends for the millions of people who are now benefiting from his son’s work.

Joseph’s next challenge: grow coffee production in Uganda. NUCAFE has targeted a six-fold increase in national coffee production over the next three years. A government-supported effort to plant millions of coffee plants around the country makes this conceivable. If I learned anything from my visit with Joseph, it would be this: never doubt that one person can change the world.

Scaling Rapidly, This Social Entrepreneur Provides Clean Water to Many in Three Countries

Originally posted by Devin Thorpe

CEO Galen Welsch launched Jibu with his father to provide affordable access to clean water to people in three countries where culinary water–where available–isn’t safe to drink. Already operating in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, customers already number in the hundreds of thousands.

While the most prosperous folks in these three countries have long purchased bottled water to drink, Galen believed that he could not only make a profit selling water to less affluent people in three African countries, he also saw the potential to accelerate growth by giving more economic opportunities to people.

Jibu

Jibu

Jibu operates with a franchise model, unlike almost any other. With just about five percent down, Jibu will finance a franchise for a would-be entrepreneur. The total cost of a franchise is about $25,000, but franchisees put down only $1,000 to $1,500 to acquire a store and pay the rest back via volume-based assessments.

Jibu recovers the balance in about three years in Uganda and Kenya but notes that economics in Rwanda allow the company to recover the balance in the first year.

Ron Mugisha is a franchisee in Kampala, Uganda. He says he is happy with the deal. He reports that he is earning more now as a franchisee than he was before. He is excited to earn even more, both by increasing revenue at his current store and by adding new stores.

Franchisee, Ron Mugisha

Franchisee, Ron Mugisha

Ron has already opened a few “micro-franchises.” While Ron, like all of the 20 or so franchisees, operates an actual water filtration system that produces up to 20,000 liters per day, the micro-franchisees are employees of a franchisee and are typically hoping to learn the ropes so they can open their own franchise store. A few micro-franchisees, including one of Ron’s, are simply agents content to represent the company in a small, strategic location where bottled water is stocked but not produced.

The franchisee’s operations aren’t quite as challenging as you might expect, operating a small-scale bottling plant. The water filtration system, developed by a partner in Colorado, is maintained by corporate; the franchisees just need to bottle water and sell it. In fact, to simplify the franchise structure, the company maintains ownership of the equipment, even after the franchisee has paid off the initial financing.

The Jibu strategy is to serve the middle 70 percent of the market, essentially ceding the relatively small market of affluent customers to legacy bottled-water providers and competing instead for the largest part of the market, those who are typically boiling their water. Because boiling isn’t free and isn’t completely effective–you can’t remove some contaminants by boiling–most people in the three countries served can afford Jibu bottled water.

Jeff Miller and Galen Welsch

Jeff Miller and Galen Welsch

The poorest people, those who can’t afford to pay for water at almost any price, comprise about 20 percent of the population. Jibu doesn’t ignore them entirely, instead, Galen has helped to create “water clubs” for people who are referred to a franchisee. After some modest screening, these customers are given an opportunity to buy filtered water at 90 percent off the list price. While these customers are not profitable, it provides a model for helping rather than ignforing the poorest people in the markets Jibu serves.

Jibu has already raised over $5 million and is working on another round of financing to allow the company to keep growing quickly. Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship estimates that the number of customers reached by Jibu over the past 30 months has grown by more than tenfold to about 250,000. Galen represented Jibu at the Center’s Global Social Benefit Institute accelerator program in 2014.

The total population of the three countries Jibu serves approaches 100 million people, providing ample opportunity for growth.

The company’s social and environmental goals–and progress toward achieving them–has allowed the company to raise millions in the form of grants. The company hopes to quickly scale to 1,000 franchises, employing 8,000 people, including 5,000 women and youth (for whom the unemployment rate is stratospheric). By encouraging customers not to boil water, Jibu hopes to prevent the emission of 300 tons of CO2.

This looks like one to watch.

Inspired by His Sister, This Man Seeks Maximum Impact From Sanitary Pads

Originally posted by Devin Thorpe

Richard Bbaale was upset that his younger sister could not attend school during her monthly period so he decided to do something about it. After pondering the situation through completing his MBA at Uganda Martyrs University, he launched Bana, a nonprofit social venture to make and sell affordable pads to keep girls in school.

Richard wasn’t content to sell affordable pads to keep girls in school, however. He wanted to use the pads to empower women in every way possible.

Richard Bbaale, outside Bana plant

Richard Bbaale, outside Bana plant

Starting with highly absorbent banana tree fibers, he conceived of an environmentally friendly pad that would be completely biodegradable, especially in Uganda’s ubiquitous pit toilets. Traditionally, the banana tree trunks are simply discarded.

He also wanted to create a distribution channel that would empower women so he’s created an Avon-like sales force of “Champions” who sell the pads to their friends and neighbors. The five-year-old s company is changing the lives of these women in dramatic ways.

All this was not enough for Richard. He recognized that women could help him with the supply of banana tree fibers. He hires groups of women in villages to harvest the banana tree trunks, break them down and pound them to release the fibers. They then dry them in the sun and sell them to Bana. Most women work part time for about $15 per month, but some work nearly full time and earn about $45.

Richard says he’s about to provide the women with equipment that will do much of the hard work of preparing the fiber, allowing them to more than double their production—and their potential incomes. This could allow women who have traditionally earned less than $1 per day to earn $3 or $5 per day.

Most of the employees in the production facility are also women. He’s making every effort to see the production and distribution of the pads change the world for as many women as possible.

To that end, Richard has established a community health clinic that provides a variety of basic health care functions, including labor and delivery, HIV and STD screening, and immunizations. The clinic also provides health education, helping women to understand their reproductive options.

Richard is excited. He is prepared to scale up the production substantially with an infusion of capital. One donor has committed about $750,000 subject to finding another to match that. The capital would principally be used to “industrialize” the production processes in the plant.

Richard introduced us to three of the women who provide Bana with banana fibers.

Maria Nantubwe is a young-looking grandmother who is a painful reminder of the childhood mortality statistics in Uganda, having lost two of her three children. Today, she makes two kinds of soap to sell to her neighbors and occasionally weaves baskets to sell as well. She also works in the garden, growing food for her family. He devotes about six hours per day pounding banana tree stalks into fibers for Bana. She says, “It is hard work but you get used to it.” She says she likes the work because she gets paid immediately when she delivers a 70-kilo bag of fiber and can produce three per month.

Maria Nantubwe prepares banana fiber

Maria Nantubwe prepares banana fiber

Richard  also introduced us to three of the more successful “champions.”

Grace Nalubowa is a 21-year-old mother of one daughter who has been selling Banapads since she was 16 years old. She learned enough about retail sales that she has opened a small retail shop on her family’s property and says she now generates a profit approaching $100 per month.

Grace Nalubowa with daughter

Grace Nalubowa with daughter

Fausta Cibe is a mother of six who sports dyed bright red hair. She too sells other products along with the pads. She sells cosmetics along with the pads to her young women customers. She sells some of the pads to women who resell them, agents who help her increase her volume. Asked how the business changes her life, she says with a cheeky grin, “I feed [my family] well and I look beautiful, as you can see.”

Fausta Cibe, a successful “Champion”

Fausta Cibe, a successful “Champion”

Sylvia Naluyage has been selling for Bana since the company was launched in 2012 and was involved even before that. We visited with her outside of her big new home, about twice the size of the small home where she used to live across the street with her ten children. She practiced her pitch for us, explaining how she always involves a wife’s husband in the sales pitch. She takes credit for the initial sales but notes that the product itself if responsible for resales. Like Fausta, she has built a small network of women from other neighborhoods who act as agents for her.

Sylvia Naluyage, former home left, new home right

Sylvia Naluyage, former home left, new home right

Impact Measurement Poses Challenge For Social Entrepreneurs And Impact Investors Alike

Impact Measurement Poses Challenge For Social Entrepreneurs And Impact Investors Alike

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

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

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

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

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Announcing the 2017 Ashoka U - Cordes Innovation Award Winners

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Since 2011, Ashoka U and the Cordes Foundation have recognized outstanding programmatic innovations that transform how colleges and universities foster changemaking education on campus. This is the only award of it’s kind, designating premiere innovative programs that advance social impact education.

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PACE MD Enhances Healthcare in Mexico

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

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Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship Celebrates its 20th Anniversary

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

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Saving Lives Through Innovation at Santa Clara University

By Deborah Lohse, Assistant Director for Media Relations, Santa Clara University
Originally posted on Jan. 24, 2017 on
http://www.ajcunet.edu/

ONE OF THE WOMEN LEADERS OF THE SANTA CLARA-MENTORED SOCIAL ENTERPRISE, EMPOWER GENERATION, SHARES INFORMATION ABOUT THE ADVANTAGES OF SOLAR POWER AT A SALES PROMOTION PROGRAM AND A WOMEN'S MICROFINANCE COOPERATIVE IN NEPAL (PHOTO BY EMPOWER GENERATION)

ONE OF THE WOMEN LEADERS OF THE SANTA CLARA-MENTORED SOCIAL ENTERPRISE, EMPOWER GENERATION, SHARES INFORMATION ABOUT THE ADVANTAGES OF SOLAR POWER AT A SALES PROMOTION PROGRAM AND A WOMEN'S MICROFINANCE COOPERATIVE IN NEPAL (PHOTO BY EMPOWER GENERATION)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Redefining "Replication" For Social Enterprises

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

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

Originally posted on Business Ethics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Characterizing Successful Social Enterprises

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Replication Means for Social Enterprises

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Replicating Social Enterprise Successes

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

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

Social Entrepreneurship in Central America

Originally posted on Medium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is impact capital available to these enterprises?

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

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

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

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

Who else is Miller Center partnering with in Central America?

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

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

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

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