Social Entrepreneurship in Central America

Social Entrepreneurship in Central America

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.

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Introducing the 2017 GSBI Accelerator Cohort

Photo Credit: Resonate

Photo Credit: Resonate

“When I heard, “And the winner is Wendo Dorcas” that evening I took the trophy to my room, sat on my hotel bed and cried until my ribs hurt. I cried for the woman who did not have confidence in herself, who considered herself inferior, who was fearlessly afraid, who was so proud of herself for doing something she had never done before. She had pitched and won. Yes! The villager as I commonly, proudly, refer to [as] myself, had won $10,000 plus a trophy.”

Dorcas’s story is one among many from uplifted women in Resonate’s programs. Its program encourages women to write and share their stories with others. Women are being encouraged to reach for - and achieve - greatness, to love themselves, and know that they can pursue leadership with confidence.


Resonate is not alone in its vision to change lives for the better. It is one of sixteen social enterprises involved in this year’s Global Social Benefit (GSBI®) Accelerator program at Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship.

Miller Center addresses the problems of poverty by focusing on women’s economic empowerment – “women rising” – and climate resilience through our Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) programs. We believe that by investing in these two target markets, the pains of poverty can be sustainably addressed. The GSBI Accelerator supports trailblazing social enterprises through business training and in-depth mentorship. We are excited to embark on the 2017 program with our newest cohort! Each enterprise expresses innovation at its core as they cater to different needs around the globe.

Photo Credit: Food For Education

Photo Credit: Food For Education


Although the cohort impacts lives all across the globe, there is a concentration of enterprises in Africa this year. Over half the organizations work in these African countries:

●      Kenya
●      Uganda
●      Niger
●      Burkina Faso
●      Nigeria
●      Ghana
●      Rwanda
●      United Republic of Tanzania
●      Zambia

Plus, the social enterprises work in sectors that range from education to energy to agriculture, and more.

In the education sector Building Tomorrow, Inc. and Food for Education provide schoolchildren with the facilities they need to stay in school. Building Tomorrow, Inc. works to improve education in hard-to-reach rural areas of Uganda by constructing new schools and supporting various improvements in the quality of education offered. Food for Education works in neighboring country Kenya and provides vulnerable children with nutritious, heavily subsidized lunches in public schools to improve attendance, performance, and nutrition. The lunch subsidies are covered by the profits from Food for Education’s food delivery business.

In the energy sector are enterprises like Simusolar and VITALITE Zambia Limited. These organizations work in Tanzania and Zambia, respectively, each offering energy-efficient products at an affordable price to underserved households. Both offer mobile financing with payable increments over time. Energy-efficient products include solar home systems and clean cookstoves, among others, which enables communities to be more resilient to the effects of climate change.

In the agriculture sector:

●      Excel Bit Com Limited - helps smallholder farmers in Ghana cultivate rice, soy, and maize by providing them with fertilizer, tractors and other products. The organization then trades the produce with buyers and processors to help the farmers reach this end of the supply chain.

●      KadAfrica - equips Ugandan girls who aren’t in school with knowledge, skills, and assets to begin their own cooperative passion fruit farms, enabling them to become financially literate leaders capable of generating income through agriculture.

●      MoringaConnect - changes the story for 120 million small farming families who use the nutritional, medicinal and economically valuable crop “moringa.” MoringaConnect changes the leaves into super-food tea and snack products, sold under Minga Foods. They also use the Moringa seeds for beauty products under True Moringa.

AFRICAQUA and Tugende are the remaining two African enterprises. Working primarily in Kenya, AFRICAQUA is an organization that sits at the intersection of women rising and climate resilience: It offers affordable access to safe drinking water for rural and urban communities plus it trains girls in enterprise development. Tugende is an asset finance company in Uganda that helps people take control of their economic futures by owning the productive assets they use to make a living. For example, Tugende has been offering lease-to-own financing of motorcycles (locally referred to as “boda bodas”) to over 4,500 motorcycle taxi drivers. Through the financial support, taxi drivers are able to own their bikes and make greater profits.

Photo Credit: Hippocampus Learning Centres

Photo Credit: Hippocampus Learning Centres


Two of the social enterprises outside of Africa work in education initiatives and don similar names at opposite ends of the world. Hippocampus Learning Centres (HLC) works in India, and its business concept is being replicated to Mexico as Hipocampus Centros de Aprendizaje. The enterprises offer educational programs to serve those most in need of them in the regions that they serve.

●      India: HLC works to provide affordable, joyful education in small towns and villages. The enterprise hires teachers that deliver consistent high quality education in a sustainable and scalable manner. Through programs such as its Full School Programme, the EnglishSTAR Programme, Training Academy and its Pre-School Programme, HLC offers rural districts of India the power of choice.

●      Mexico: Hipocampus Centros de Aprendizaje offers affordable care and early childhood education to Mexican families with children between one and six years old. It is able to do so by leveraging modern teaching techniques, technology, women and community empowerment, and corporate alliances.

Education is a powerful tool for everyone, whether in Mexico, India or elsewhere. This example of business replication speaks loudly for the good that can be accomplished through social entrepreneurship.

Photo Credit: Yellow Leaf Hammocks

Photo Credit: Yellow Leaf Hammocks


Also in Mexico is Someone Somewhere, an enterprise that works to empower artisans. Someone Somewhere sells clothing that connects global adventurers with rural artisans through its products that combine traditional handcrafts with functional and fun designs. Someone Somewhere recognizes the struggle that Mexican artisans face in trying to keep up with today’s demands. Its connection to a new consumer base opens life-changing opportunities.

Another enterprise working in artisanal empowerment is Yellow Leaf Hammocks. Yellow Leaf Hammocks is an outdoor lifestyle brand, dedicated to “blissful relaxation” and sustainable job creation. Through global sales of “ridiculously comfy” hand woven hammocks, it helps artisan mothers in rural Thailand create a brighter future for their families and communities. From receiving less than a dollar a day working as field laborers in slash and burn agriculture, hammock weavers are able to earn a solid middle-class income and escape the cycle of extreme poverty and debt slavery.


Imagine the world without light - no doubt it would be a very dark place. Our world heavily relies upon energy and electricity to be productive, safe, and connected. Social enterprises involved in energy recognize the unmet need of those without electricity, and offer affordable, alternative clean energy products payable over time. Nizam Bijli works in Pakistan to offer affordable, pay-as-you-go (PAYGo) solar energy. The solar energy it provides is coupled with mobile payments, monitoring, and data-driven credit scoring. Through this approach, Nizam Bijli is able to provide electricity to off-grid homes in Pakistan, effectively allowing kids to study, families to supplement their income, and off-grid access to modern society. Health is also improved as homes switch from using kerosene to solar.

Photo Credit: Be Girl

Photo Credit: Be Girl


One of humanity’s most urgent development problems stems from women’s lack of access to effective and affordable Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) solutions. Be Girl offers MHM products globally to address this persistent barrier. Its “period panties” deliver affordable high-performance products designed for womankind. The for-profit social enterprise is dedicated to enabling women and girls to radically improve their quality of life. Its approach is to eliminate stigma as a barrier to opportunity, so that women are empowered as agents of change for themselves, their families, and the world.


At Miller Center, we are proud to accompany all of the organizations in this year’s GSBI Accelerator program. Their missions provide those most in need with safe drinking water, improved livelihoods and better access to education, support in agriculture, and so much more. Each one understands, inside and out, a specific need that exists in a specific region, and then works tirelessly to provide a solution. It is through the dedication and innovation of the entrepreneurs that lives can be changed for the better.


Offering affordable means to safe drinking water for rural and urban African Communities

Be Girl, Inc.
Offering women Menstrual Hygiene Management solutions that effectively enable girls the autonomy to improve their lives

Building Tomorrow, Inc.
Providing children access to education in hard-to-reach rural areas of Uganda through the construction of new schools

Excel Bit Com Limited
Helping smallholder farmers in Ghana cultivate rice, soy, and maize by providing them with fertilizer, tractors and other products

Food for Education
Providing vulnerable children in Kenya with nutritious, heavily subsidized lunches in public schools to improve attendance, performance and nutrition status.

Hipocampus Centros de Aprendizaje
Offering affordable, quality care and early childhood education for children 1 to 6 years old to Mexican families

Hippocampus Learning Centres
Providing affordable, joyful education in small towns and villages in India with teachers that deliver consistent high quality educational outcomes

Equipping girls who out of school in Uganda with knowledge, skills and assets to begin their own cooperative passion fruit farms

Changing the story for 120 million small farming families who use the nutritional, medicinal and economically valuable crop Moringa

Nizam Bijli
Providing the under-served and the off-grid with affordable, Pay-As-You-Go solar energy coupled with mobile payment, monitoring, and data driven credit scoring.

Using storytelling to empower women and girls in East Africa to build self-confidence and unlock leadership.

Offering energy-efficient products with mobile technology and PAYGo payments

Someone Somewhere
Connecting global adventurers with rural artisans from Mexico

Providing financial services to help people take control of their economic futures by owning the productive assets they use to make a living

VITALITE Zambia Limited
Offering energy-efficient products with mobile technology and PAYGo payments

Yellow Leaf Hammocks
Helping artisan mothers in rural Thailand create a brighter future for their families and communities through the sales of hand woven hammock


Miller Center's 20th Anniversary Celebration

On February 1st, Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship celebrated its 20th anniversary along with the 5th anniversary of its Global Social Benefit Fellowship. The center is a pioneer in social entrepreneurship and student action research. Founded as the Center for Science, Technology, and Society in 1997 by Father Paul Locatelli, Miller Center unites Silicon Valley’s spirit of innovation with Santa Clara University’s Jesuit ethos to help find sustainable business solutions to end global poverty.

Father Engh opened the evening talking about the genesis of the center and the vision of Father Locatelli. He quoted Locatelli from a speech made at the launch of the center, “We are experiencing an avalanche of new technologies at an unprecedented rate of acceleration that could either unite us and provide creative opportunities to improve our sense of community; or, create a divide between the haves and the have-nots.” 

Father Michael Engh Photo credit: Joanne Lee, Santa Clara University

Father Michael Engh
Photo credit: Joanne Lee, Santa Clara University

“The reason for the existence of Miller Center is more important today than ever,” said Thane Kreiner, PhD, executive director of the center. He went on to describe how the center uses the Silicon Valley principles of innovation and entrepreneurship in its efforts to bridge that gap between the haves and have-nots. Santa Clara University uniquely provides a platform for the center – the students, the professors, the curriculum, the Jesuit network, the location, and the guiding principles – to make a significant contribution to help end poverty around the globe.

Almost 300 people attended the event, including the founding executive director, Jim Koch, and the founders of the Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) program, Al Bruno and Pat Guerra. Eric Carlson – the third employee at the center and the force behind operationalizing the program – was also present. 

Jim Koch, Al Bruno, Pat Guerra and Eric Carlson Photo credit: Joanne Lee, Santa Clara University

Jim Koch, Al Bruno, Pat Guerra and Eric Carlson
Photo credit: Joanne Lee, Santa Clara University

“Miller Center was founded with a vision of uniting the Jesuit tradition of working to create a more just, humane and sustainable world with the Silicon Valley tradition of innovation in science and technology,” said Jim Koch, senior founding fellow of Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship and the Don C. Dodson Distinguished Service Professor of Management for Santa Clara University’s Leavey School of Business. “I’ve always seen our role as connecting humanism with technology to serve the common good and especially the needs of the poor. It’s gratifying to witness Miller Center’s progress so far.”

A short video was shown at the celebration that includes more comments from Father Locatelli, Jim Koch and the other founders, Thane Kreiner, and Father Engh.

More About Miller Center

Miller Center is part of a broad ecosystem that uses social entrepreneurship—which blends the goals of social action with the rigor of business know-how—to create social change and address environmental challenges. Aligned with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations in 2015 and the call to action by Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si’, Miller Center concentrates on advancing social enterprises that help poor communities become resilient to the damaging effects of climate change and that foster economic empowerment of women.

“Climate change will impact the global poor most dramatically, and the majority of the world’s 4 billion poor are women,” said Kreiner. “Social entrepreneurship offers a solution to these inextricably linked global challenges of poverty, climate change and gender inequality.”

Some Miller Center Accomplishments and Milestones

Jeff and Karen Miller Photo Credit: Joanne Lee, Santa Clara University

Jeff and Karen Miller
Photo Credit: Joanne Lee, Santa Clara University

Jeff Miller talked about his involvement in the center over the years. “I’ve seen the center from a variety of angles – as a GSBI mentor essentially since the beginning, as a co-managing director with Rahda Basu, as an advisory board member and chair, as a participant on immersion trips into the field meeting the social entrepreneurs we work with, and as a donor – and I can’t tell you how extremely fortunate I have been to be part of a group of people who were able to turn an idea into such a success. My participation with the center has been educational and humbling, as well as, inspiring. Karen and I could not be more excited or more proud about the center.”

Jeff Miller, Thane Kreiner, and Rahda Basu Photo credit: Joanne Lee, Santa Clara University

Jeff Miller, Thane Kreiner, and Rahda Basu
Photo credit: Joanne Lee, Santa Clara University

Accomplishments highlighted by Jeff included:

·      Serving through its Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) programs more than 600 social entrepreneurs from 65 countries who have positively impacted more than 230 million lives

·      Enlisting a cadre of more than 140 Silicon Valley executives as Miller Center mentors, who accompany GSBI social entrepreneurs for 6 to 10 months through structured curricula that are personalized and tuned to the needs of the entrepreneurs

·      Deploying 75 Global Social Benefit Fellows, undergraduate Santa Clara University students who conduct field-based action research that has helped 22 Miller Center GSBI alumni scale their impact

Thane closed the evening by saying, “While Miller Center has accomplished a great deal, the need for social justice is greater now than ever. We continually experiment with new ways to scale the impact of social enterprises, leveraging the acumen of our Silicon Valley mentors, the impact investing community and future change leaders among our students.” He further asked, “Directly and through our global network of mission-aligned accelerators, how can we help thousands of social enterprises successfully scale their impact? How can the next generation of change leaders engage in lifting billions of people out of poverty? These challenges occupy and inspire us.”

Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship Celebrates its 20th Anniversary

Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship Celebrates its 20th Anniversary

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

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Taking "Poo Power" Around The World

How innovative technology could soon be helping Kenyan farmers
Author: ICSF, Cho Kim, and Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship

Small farmers supply over 80% of the food in the developing world, but today they are confronted with critical challenges of animal waste management, procurement of high quality and affordable fertilizer, and access to inexpensive and reliable energy sources.[1] Climate change, increasing price pressures, and lack of affordable agricultural inputs threaten the viability of small farms, while unsustainable agricultural practices and energy dependency threaten ecosystems, and create further economic and environmental risks to food systems.

What if we could harness Poo Power to improve the well-being of small-scale farmers while reducing our environmental footprint?

Transforming waste into opportunity is at the core of Sistema Biobolsa. Founder Alex Eaton’s interest in solar energy and small-scale organic producers led him to a small town in Michoacán, Mexico in 2006. Here, Alex met Calletana Nambo, who had recently installed a homemade “biodigester” to convert her animal manure into energy and fertilizer at her small farm.

Biodigesters use naturally occurring bacteria to breakdown organic waste into two useful by-products: a high potency natural fertilizer; and biogas, a natural gas that farmers can use for cooking, heating, and producing electricity. Seeing the impact in Calletana’s flourishing crops and bright blue cooking flame, Alex’s vision for Sistema Biobolsa was born.

Sistema Biobolsa has since become the largest supplier of biodigesters in Mexico and Central America. By 2015, the organization improved the lives of over 20,000 people in rural Mexico. In addition to the product itself, Sistema Biobolsa sets itself apart from its competitors by providing high-quality services to help farmers finance, install, and maintain the biodigesters.

Sistema Biobolsa’s technology has few competitive alternatives and it has been proven to work in diverse geographies around the world; thus, the company has decided to scale its offering across the globe.

With 500 million small farms around the world, how can Sistema Biobolsa’s impact be replicated?

The Sistema Biobolsa team brought this question to the non-profit International Centre for Social Franchising (ICSF) in early 2016. ICSF and Sistema Biobolsa co-designed a strategy and lean replication model for scaling Sistema Biobolsa to Nicaragua. After the successful opening of its Nicaragua branch, Sistema Biobolsa is now bringing this transformative technology to the African continent, starting with Kenya.

Why Kenya? Kenya has:

· An estimated 1.2 million farms with little biodigester penetration.

· The political will through initiatives such as Vision 2030 supporting its transition to renewable energy sources.

· A business-friendly way of doing business in comparison to other African countries.[2]

The case for replication: Why reinvent the wheel?

Sistema Biobolsa is partnering with ICSF and Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, based at Santa Clara University, to provide strategic support for its move to East Africa. Miller Center supported Sistema Biobolsa in 2014 through its flagship GSBI® Accelerator program. Now, Miller Center’s replication initiative will continue to support its expansion into Kenya through strategic connections, funding, and mentorship.

At ICSF, we believe that the social sector can achieve significant transformational change by broadening the reach of what has been proven to work rather than trying to reinvent the wheel. That’s why we are thrilled to be working with Sistema Biobolsa to scale its impact. Stay tuned for updates following our visit to Kenya in February 2017.

[1] Source: Arsenault, C. (2014, October 14). Family farms produce 80 percent of world’s food, speculators seek land. Retrieved from

[2] Ranked 92 of 190, 5th highest in Africa. Source: Doing Business (2016). Retrieved from:

Announcing 17 GSBI Online Social Enterprises for 2017

Photo Credit: Rebel Nell

Photo Credit: Rebel Nell


Graffiti artists, egg farmers, and soccer players couldn’t possibly have anything in common - could they? When it comes to fighting poverty they can! Social enterprises from all over the world, working with people from all different kinds of backgrounds, overlap in that all of their missions focus on doing good through business.

Seventeen of these social enterprises will begin working closely with Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship this year to gain support in meeting their goals and scaling their businesses. A common theme among the social enterprises at Miller Center is a focus on “women rising” as a means to end poverty. Women and poverty are closely intertwined as women are most deeply affected by the consequences of poverty and they are simultaneously more likely to re-invest their income in their children and communities. Enterprises like Rebel Nell and Last Mile recognize this dynamic as they reimagine ways to employ and empower women.


Located at opposite ends of the world, Rebel Nell in the United States and Last Mile in Tanzania, together support women rising initiatives through training and employing vulnerable women. Rebel Nell works with women transitioning out of homelessness in Detroit and Last Mile works with impoverished women across the Kilimanjaro region. The homeless women in Detroit are offered a new beginning as they become artisans and receive training in financial independence, among other things. Impoverished women in Tanzania distribute Last Mile’s socially beneficial products and develop new skills while earning a commission on sales. These are just two examples of the ingenious social enterprises working with Miller Center this year. Like Rebel Nell and Last Mile, each organization in the GSBI Online cohort imagines a new way to create more just and sustainable communities. As 2017 begins, we can’t wait to highlight their stories as the social enterprises scale and reach greater impact.


Miller Center is located at Santa Clara University in the heart of the Silicon Valley. The center is dedicated to poverty eradication initiatives through its Global Social Benefit (GSBI®) programs. GSBI Online is a 6-month, virtual program for early-stage social entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs in the cohort work weekly with Silicon Valley executive mentors to create their business plans, improve their business models and growth strategy, and reach meaningful results. Organizations range in sector type and location, among other details, but they each drive meaningful change in the face of poverty’s many pains and consequences.


These social enterprises aim to advance women, plus over half of them are led by women. Rebel Nell and Last Mile are two of the eight enterprises led by female entrepreneurs. While these two enterprises work directly to train and empower women, three of the others work in education, two work in healthcare access, one works to fight against the dangers caused by climate change, and one offers affordable access to clean energy.

Photo Credit: Library For All

Photo Credit: Library For All


The women-led enterprises vary in sector and in location. There are three education-focused organizations: TalkingPoints, SEED - Youth and the Green Economy, and Library for All. TalkingPoints is located in the United States, SEED - Youth and the Green Economy is located in South Africa, and Library for All is located online and works in America, Africa and Asia. Each of these enterprises tackle different educational challenges based on the needs in their locations:   

      TalkingPoints provides an improved communication platform for teachers, parents and students.

      SEED - Youth and the Green Economy educates and connects unemployed township youth to the green economy.

      Library for All provides affordable online books to children who otherwise cannot afford school books.

The Ihangane Project, located in Rwanda, uses porridge known as “Aheza” to provide low cost access to fortified foods for children and communities while also investing revenue into additional health services for the community.

The last two women-led enterprises are Cloud to Street and Solstice. Cloud to Street and Solstice work in the climate sector and recognize the implications that today’s declining environment has upon the poorest in our fragile world. Cloud to Street provides online information on climate disaster risks helping governments and others mitigate unnecessary death and damages. Solstice radically expands access to clean energy by providing community solar to the 80% of American households that cannot install an array on their roof. Like the connection between women and poverty, climate also plays a role in the vicious poverty cycle. Both Cloud to Street and Solstice recognize this connection, and they are not alone in working towards climate resilience.

Photo Credit: Eggpreneur

Photo Credit: Eggpreneur


Seven more of the enterprises in the cohort are also working to create “climate resilience.” Miller Center defines climate resilience as the ability of individuals or communities to withstand and adapt to the stresses of climate change. Miller Center works with social enterprises that are involved in climate resilience because of the close relationship between climate change and poverty. It is no secret that our climate is changing and imposing negative consequences on our earth, but perhaps it is lesser known that these consequences most directly impact the poor and women in particular. The declining environment reinforces the cycle of poverty, so it is crucial that we support climate resilience actions. These actions align with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which includes activities like enhancing agricultural production, enhancing rural livelihoods, providing clean energy, water and sanitation products, and strengthening health systems. Eggpreneur Initiative, iNuka Pap, Awamu Biomass Energy, and CookClean Ghana Limited each have missions that align with these climate resilience goals. Awamu Biomass Energy and CookClean Ghana Limited develop clean cookstoves, while Partagria works with West African farmers and WateROAM develops portable water filtration devices in Singapore. Lastly, Sunpoynt Health, located in Kenya, uses garbage as a financial resource, enabling uninsured slum dwellers access to healthcare twice monthly.

 The remaining social enterprises are GoForGood and the third half. GoForGood improves corporate social responsibility initiatives through the use of volunteer management software and the third half provides education to disadvantaged children through sustainable soccer tourism.

Photo Credit: Sunpoynt Health

Photo Credit: Sunpoynt Health


These enterprises drive impact in various locations across the globe, covering Africa, North America, South America and Asia. Their services cover a variety of initiatives as well, in sectors such as health, energy, education, and agriculture - with an overarching focus on women rising and climate resilience. Each organization has an incredible and empowering story, and we are excited to work with each of the talented entrepreneurs to help them create an even larger positive impact in the world.

© GSBI is a registered trademark of Santa Clara University. All rights reserved.

AT A GLANCE: The 10th GSBI Online Cohort, Spring 2017

Awamu Biomass Energy
Manufacture clean and affordable cookstoves while creating employment, saving household incomes, reducing indoor air pollution and mitigating climate change.

Cloud To Street
United States
End unnecessary death and damages from flooding or other climate disaster.

CookClean Ghana Limited
We protect and save lives and our forests.

Eggpreneur Initiative
To reduce child malnutrition and poverty in rural Kenya.

Offers a volunteer management software with an app developed for better employee engagement.

iNuka Pap
Improve access to financial and health services in Rural Africa.

Last Mile
United Republic of Tanzania
Access to life-changing products for the last mile.

Library For All
United States
Our mission is to make knowledge accessible to all, equally.

Connecting West African farmers to global produce and financial markets.

Rebel Nell
United States
Provide employment, education, support and opportunities to address joblessness for women who are living in homeless shelters in Detroit.

SEED – Youth and the Green Economy
South Africa
We educate, mentor and connect unemployed township youth in Cape Town to opportunities in the green economy.

United States
We radically expand access to clean energy by providing community solar to the 80% of American households that cannot install an array on their roof.

Sunpoynt Health
We are a micro health insurance program that uses garbage as a financial resource in enabling uninsured poor slum dwellers access to health care twice monthly.

Talking Points
United States
Meaningfully connect parents, schools and students across tech and language barriers to improve parent engagement in low-income communities in the US.

The Ihangane Project
In Ruli, Rwanda, local production and sale of fortified porridge (Aheza) provides low cost access to fortified foods to the entire community, subsidizes the cost of porridge provision to the most vulnerable children and generates revenue to be invested into additional health services.

The Third Half
United States
Provide education to disadvantaged children around the world through sustainable soccer tourism.

Wateroam develops water filtration devices for disaster relief and rural/ developing communities that are durable, affordable, portable and easy to use.  


The GSBI® Online Program is Advancing Women who are Changing the World

Image Credit: Comprehensive Design Services

Image Credit: Comprehensive Design Services

Originally posted on Medium.

Postpartum hemorrhage (PPH) is the number one cause of maternal deaths, in particular areas without adequate maternal care facilities and kills over 90,000 women globally every year. This means that every six minutes a woman dies of PPH. InPress Technologies has developed an easy-to-use device aimed to eradicate maternal death caused by PPH that does not require surgery.

Nigeria currently faces a staggering 17 million unit housing deficit. Only half of the population has access to a power supply, two-thirds to clean water and only a third to improved sanitation. Comprehensive Design Services (CDS) is tackling the housing deficit in sub-Saharan Africa by building eco-friendly homes. The housing units are bio-climatically designed to be 70 percent energy-efficient, self-cooling, solar-powered, and water sufficient.

These two enterprises are part of the latest group of the 15 social entrepreneurs (or SEs) to graduate from Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship’s Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) Online class. Despite the diversity amongst the social enterprises, this cohort was unique in that 7 of the 15 social enterprises, including the two mentioned above, focused on Women Rising, meaning the social enterprise was working to benefit women or the social enterprise was woman-led. That’s almost half of the cohort!

Miller Center exists to unify the Santa Clara University campus to the rest of the world by combining innovation and entrepreneurship. Our goal is to help social entrepreneurs help more people; by aiding these entrepreneurs to become investment-ready for financial capital, they can scale their impact. The GSBI distinguishes itself from other capacity development organizations for social enterprises through the quality and depth of its mentoring. GSBI mentors, who are successful Silicon Valley executives, volunteer to work one-on-one with a single social enterprise every week for the duration of the program.

The GSBI Online program focuses specifically on early-stage enterprises, helping them create their business plans and develop or refine their impact models. The program’s curriculum is broken into topic modules such as social impact model, value proposition, marketing and sales, cost structure and revenue streams, and financing plans. Social enterprises and entrepreneurs can expect to come out of the online program with a validated and refined business model, and with a path to prepare to scale in the future. Furthermore, upon completion of the six-month program, social entrepreneurs will have a compelling pitch, a slide deck for investor presentations and valuable connections.

These 15 presentations from GSBI Online Summer 2016 Cohort 7 represent the best, brightest, and most passionate group of social entrepreneurs who are working to positively impact lives.

As can be seen from these presentations, the social enterprises are as diverse as they are compelling in their drive to positively impact lives and represent the culmination of the work each of them does to validate their business models.

Interested impact investors and foundations can also view Cohort 7’s investor profiles on the Miller Center website which highlight the entrepreneurs’ work, their impact, growth plans and financing needs.

Check out the current GSBI Online cohort. Applications for our upcoming GSBI cohorts are now open and all interested social enterprises are encouraged to apply. For more information contact us at

Assessing the Impact of Social Enterprises Using the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals and IRIS

by Joe Schuchter, Associate Director of Social Impact Assessment, Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship

Social entrepreneurship is increasingly recognized as a means of addressing the world’s most pressing social and environmental problems. However, assessing the impact of social enterprises continues to be challenging. Part of the challenge is to find a shared language of impact in the myriad approaches used by social entrepreneurs, impact investors, and development agencies to code, classify, and interpret impact.

Two of the more prominent approaches are the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Global Impact Investing Network’s (GIIN) IRIS. At first glance, the SDGs and IRIS appear to use different “languages” for different audiences. To better support social entrepreneurs, Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship decided to explore the alignment of these two approaches, and its ability to support impact assessment more broadly.

What are the SDGs and IRIS?

Adopted by the UN in September 2015, the SDGs were introduced as an iteration of the Millennium Development Goals, which were established in 2000.[i] The SDGs include 17 goals formulated into 169 targets, and additional indicators for those targets.[ii] Collectively, the SDGs are focused on ending poverty, protecting the planet, and ensuring prosperity and well-being for all. The users of the SDGs extend beyond the United Nations to include governments, the private sector, and civil society in all parts of the world. The SDGs are measured routinely at the country level to show progress toward specific goals, often aimed at the year 2030.

IRIS is a catalog of 559 impact investment metrics, grouped into 12 sectors (e.g., agriculture, education, energy). The stated purpose of IRIS is to measure the social, environmental, and financial performance of investments. With leadership from the Rockefeller Foundation, it was introduced in 2008.[iii] Now in its fourth iteration, IRIS has become the preferred taxonomy for impact investors to measure the impact of their financial investments.

Which language do social entrepreneurs speak?

At Miller Center, we observed that the social entrepreneurs we target were using various means of classifying and assessing their impact. Because these entrepreneurs fall into roughly equal thirds of for-profit, non-profit, and hybrid incorporation types, they would seem to represent a broad range of perspectives and languages within the overall development ecosystem. However, we also know that entrepreneurs that have participated in our Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) programs are intensely mission-focused, therefore we suspected SDGs might be more popular among them.

To address this question, we analyzed the data from our GSBI programs for accelerating social enterprises. We found that 71% of GSBI applicants reported using SDGs, and only 10% were not familiar with them. On the other hand, we found that only 14% of the applicants reported using IRIS metrics, and 40% were not even familiar with them. In other words, the SDGs seemed to resonate more with these entrepreneurs, while IRIS – the primary metrics used by impact investment – were not being widely applied.

How do we “translate” these languages?

Based on these findings and to help bridge this disconnect between SDG and IRIS languages, we “cross-walked” SDG targets and IRIS metrics to identify gaps and overlap.

In our first pass at the crosswalk, we found that 25% of the SDG targets have related IRIS metrics, while 30% of IRIS metrics map to SDG targets. This included very high alignment in content areas like education, but very low alignment in broader areas like eliminating poverty. We conducted this process focused only on close matches of SDG targets and IRIS metrics.   

Through this process, we identified opportunities for a combined IRIS-SDG framework. IRIS focuses on more discrete, near-term results, while SDGs aim at bigger, broader, and long-term changes. Although only roughly one-quarter of the metrics and targets matched directly, we saw the potential for much greater alignment were we to apply a theory of change logic. For example, IRIS metrics around education match directly with the SDG targets for education, but also contribute to and therefore align to the longer-term SDG of poverty elimination.

What next?

Together, SDGs and IRIS offer a powerful framework and catalog for impact. With its broad goals and specific targets, the SDGs help align social enterprise to other development actors. But IRIS is what helps align social entrepreneurs with investors. Therefore, Miller Center believes that social entrepreneurs should learn the basics of the investor language, IRIS, while continuing to use the SDGs to articulate their systems-changing goals and ambitions. At the same time, investors could benefit from a better understanding of SDGs. As an example, Sonen Capital has already aligned its portfolio with the SDGs.[iv]

Miller Center is working with partners at GIIN and the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE) to refine and enhance the crosswalk.[v] We are also working to integrate this into our own application and assessment system. Using this shared-language taxonomy as a teaching tool can help social entrepreneurs navigate the growing glut of options for classification and measurement, ideally arriving at indicators optimally suited for their own operations as well as their investors and stakeholders. Ultimately, the SDG/IRIS crosswalk should enable social entrepreneurs to better leverage the resources they need to achieve the disruptive systems changes that they seek.

Note: The first pass at "crosswalking" these two prominent sets of indicators was conducted by Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship in the spring of 2016, and presented at the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs conference in June 2016.


[i] John W. McArthur. The Origins of the Millennium Development Goals. SAIS Review vol. XXXIV no. 2 (Summer–Fall 2014)






Social Enterprise-Investor Matchmaking In Silicon Valley

3CF board members Erica Jordan and Sara Cannon attended this years’ Global Social Benefit Institute GSBI Investor Showcase, a presentation of 14 social entrepreneurs who had recently completed the 10-month GSBI accelerator program. Through this program, entrepreneurs from all over the world are paired with volunteer mentors. The culmination of their work together is the Investor Showcase, where funders listen to each pitch, network with entrepreneurs over lunch, and in some cases sit down with them to begin more serious discussions about their business and investment requirements. In this way GSBI, provides a launching pad for companies that demonstrate great potential for success.

Worldwide, there are many early and middle stage businesses today that have found a way to do well (become profitable) by doing good (provide a social benefit). However, the challenges they face are ubiquitous because they are pioneering new territory in their fields. Fortunately, resources such as the Global Social Benefit Institute at Santa Clara University's Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship exist to help entrepreneurs and investors overcome challenges by convening them in a common network and matchmaking forum. Social entrepreneurs explore the training, mentorship, and access to financial capital provided by organizations such as these, in order to scale their businesses and gain access to otherwise elusive financial capital. Since 2003, 572 social entrepreneurs have participated in a mentored GSBI program, and collectively they have raised $308M to date.

Michael Porter says “when business solves a problem, it makes a profit – which lets that solution grow.” 3rd Creek Foundation is dedicated to supporting scalable, high impact programs with a mission to alleviate poverty. We are privileged to be a part of this network that connects funders to innovative social enterprises from all over the world.

Women Rising in Kenya: “Even the presidential seat—we can do it.”

Women Rising in Kenya: “Even the presidential seat—we can do it.”

Jahenda Sheilla is a slight, 23-year old woman whose tempered voice might at first give an impression of shyness. But Jahenda is anything but shy. She takes her time to listen, and in reality, there is no need to raise your voice if you believe in what you say. And Jahenda knows exactly what she is saying—and what she wants.

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Dumb Phones and Boda Bodas: Proving the World Wrong One Call At a Time

Pictured is Joseph Onguti, the Officer in Command of Nabusanke and the Official Trainer for Wakabi

Pictured is Joseph Onguti, the Officer in Command of Nabusanke and the Official Trainer for Wakabi

By: Ty Van Herweg, Fulbright Student Researcher 2015-2016

It all started when I was sitting with my mentor, Dr. Thane Kreiner, at Santa Clara University. I was deconstructing my Global Social Benefit Fellowship experience and explaining all of these epiphanies I had about the challenges of last mile distribution in Uganda. I was remarking on the intense inefficiencies that limit the incomes of those who live in rural areas, and the opportunity to improve these distribution channels using frugal technology. Suddenly he remarked, “You are trying to start an Uber for rural Africa.” That’s when everything changed. That’s when my purpose was carved into stone.

When I initially discovered the idea, I had no idea where to begin. I knew there was an opportunity to build a frugal app that could operate on feature phones, and also that the aforementioned app should connect rural villagers with motorcycle riders. I had a hunch that the app was needed, but no proof or justification. The entrepreneurial spirit drove me off the deep end like so many before me.  I began discussing the idea with various people, and across the board everyone was in agreement that the idea was special. I couldn’t turn back; the prospect of pursuing this idea had consumed me. 

I immediately scrounged for all the various opportunities like a mad man. Fulbright became the best option. Sure, it was prestigious and extremely competitive, but it was my only reasonable option to test the business model I had dreamed up. I submitted my application after much rigor and editing, and prayed for the best. I started collaborating with two engineers at Santa Clara University as the waiting game commenced. I was the igniter of a crazy idea, and the energy that came with it was beyond anything I had ever felt before.

In April I received good news; Fulbright gave me a shot, and I was ready to do just about anything and everything to make Wakabi a reality. I was given the gift of a low-risk, 9-month pilot. There is no better opportunity for a young and broke social entrepreneur. It was time to see if rural Uganda could benefit from on-demand transportation, and make whatever changes were necessary to improve the business model.

In September 2015, I set off on my journey. With the help of my friends at Bana (U) Limited, ThinVoid Limited, and the Bukibira Village community, we emerged successful in creating an automated toll-free number that connects rural villagers with registered motorcycle riders, otherwise known as “boda bodas.” We are now in the process of securing long-term funding to keep the dream alive.

We were able to successfully launch Wakabi thanks to effective research, intuitive strategic moves, and an unwavering commitment to creating the most impactful customer experience. We refused to settle for an inferior prototype; we continued to collaborate and develop Wakabi’s technology until we were certain it would fit our end-users’ needs and properly support our motorcycle riders. We also listened carefully to the experiences of our interviewees. Our research exposed an intense void between motorcycle riders and those who need transportation. The hunch I had felt for so long finally evolved into concrete knowledge and a justification to pursue Wakabi further.

Wakabi now benefits end-users who need transportation, and motorcycle riders who seek to improve their income and job security. End-users access our service for free, and our riders will eventually pay a low weekly fee to gain access to our clientele and numerous other benefits. We are ready to accelerate our impact and continue learning with every challenge we face. We plan to train and empower 15,000 motorcycle riders, reach 3 million end-users, and operate in over 60 districts throughout Uganda by 2020. By 2025 we plan to operate in Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, and Nigeria in addition to Uganda. The sky is just the beginning, and we are poised to continue making the right strategic moves to bring on-demand transportation to those who need it most.  

This unique experience taught me some incredible truths. I was raised to keep an open heart to the world, and to keep an open eye for the talent in others. Although my research unveiled some negative bias towards boda boda riders, the young men that invested their trust in the Wakabi mission were some of the most impressive guys I have ever met. Our special covenant helped keep the Wakabi dream afloat during the development phase. It goes to show that keeping an open heart is just as important as keeping an open mind. 

Pictured is the inaugural graduating class of Wakabi’s safety training program

Pictured is the inaugural graduating class of Wakabi’s safety training program

The research also proved to me that anything, and I mean anything, is possible if enough sweat equity is invested. We attempted to bring a service to rural Uganda that had only been previously curated for smart phone users in Kampala. We needed a platform that was low-cost, functional on “dumb” phones, and accessible to end-users that are illiterate. Our collaboration with ThinVoid, a Kampala-based software consultancy, proved that dumb phones aren’t so dumb after all. We now have a free, easy to use number that is automated and incredibly robust.

Thank you, Santa Clara University, for inspiring me to pursue my dreams. Without your persistent teachings of the three C’s and the importance of social justice, I would have never felt empowered to apply for the Fulbright or to pursue Wakabi. I am proud to be a Bronco, and to represent everything SCU stands for. Here’s to the persistence of the entrepreneurial spirit, the drive to create a more just world, and to the Jesuit mission to educate the entire individual.     

Photo by: Ty Van Herweg

Photo by: Ty Van Herweg