The audacious goal of energy access

The audacious goal of energy access

Over the last decade, I have worked directly or indirectly with dozens of social enterprises tackling energy access. Solar lights, biomass-powered chillers, and solar pumps are just a few of the well-known technologies that have been proven to dramatically improve quality of life for the global poor and often pay for themselves in as little as a few months. The challenge remains getting them out to everyone who can benefit from them.

Chasing the 2030 Goal

We understand that it’s more than a distribution problem, aspects of which Miller Center originally documented in 2015 in Universal Energy Access: an Enterprise System Approach. There remain persistent business model and financing challenges, which we have explored in our latest paper, Closing the Circuit: Accelerating Clean Energy Investment in India, written in partnership with the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan.

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Progress has been made, as evidenced by the number of people lacking modern lighting dropping from 1.5 billion in 2009 to 1.1 billion in 2018. We are moving in the right direction, but not fast enough to meet United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal #7 of affordable and clean energy for everyone on the planet by 2030.

Optimism Prevails

I go through periods of optimism and pessimism about achieving anything close to such an audacious goal. Logic dictates that the easiest to serve are being reached first, so progress will get harder instead of easier. Sure, I am optimistic when I hear about new technologies, business model innovations, and new investment funds focused on energy access. But I also become pessimistic when I talk to brilliant, committed, focused entrepreneurs who are spending more time fundraising than running their businesses.

Right now, I’m optimistic, having spent last week in Delhi for events including the National Dialogue on Distributed Renewable Energy and an Energy Access Practitioner’s Roundtable. These events culminated Miller Center’s work over the last three years with New Ventures to implement the USAID-supported Energy Access India program, providing accompaniment to a portfolio of 30 social enterprises and developing relationships with key investors.

Much of the optimism comes from spending time with dear colleagues including the New Ventures India team, our advisors, Rakesh Rewari and Harvey Koh, and many of the social entrepreneurs we have worked with. There have been wins for many of the entrepreneurs in the program, including major investment into Cygni and Husk Power Systems.

Yet, lack of capital is holding companies back. $275 billion dollars of investment are needed to provide enough off-grid and mini-grid systems to achieve SDG #7. The best that social entrepreneurs can do for themselves is develop a solid business plan, a justifiable ask, and seek out capital that is aligned. But I am now convinced that ever larger numbers of capable social enterprises with strong business plans alone won’t unlock capital.

To many of us working at the ecosystem level, it is clear that there are many excellent entrepreneurs that are not getting funding, or are getting funding, but not in a timely and efficient fashion. Why is that?

The Risk/Return Spectrum for Clean Energy Investments

One of the biggest areas of learning for me during this project was to better see the energy access challenge from the investors’ point of view. I had the privilege of working with investor-minded colleagues like Mark Correnti (now of Shine Campaign, a co-sponsor of Closing the Circuit) and directly with insightful investors. Through them, I have learned much about what unlocking capital truly means.

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Investors face their own sets of constraints that guide how they deploy capital. In our research for the paper, we detected opportunities for investors to consider alternatives in credit risk assessment to increase access to affordable, short-term debt and to develop a more realistic risk/return spectrum for clean energy investments (especially in India). Progressive investors such as SunFunder are proving that such investments can work. We hope these models will be built on by others.

Of course, it’s easy to write these ideas here and much harder to implement them. Yet, given the proven clean energy solutions we have at hand and the knowledge that energy access is an enabler for so many quality-of-life improvements, shouldn’t we all continue our push to support the intrepid energy entrepreneurs who are at the forefront of this movement?


About the author

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Since joining in 2008, Andy Lieberman has been a driver in developing Miller Center's strategy, programming, and curriculum. He is also responsible for many of the efforts to formalize Miller Center's knowledge into whitepapers and presentations.


 

Why we need Women’s Economic Empowerment for a Sustainable Future

Why we need Women’s Economic Empowerment for a Sustainable Future

Fortunately, we live in a time where female entrepreneurs are gaining recognition for their innovative and socially impactful work. Miller Center alumni like Lesley Marincola (’11) and Shivani Siroya (’12) immediately come to mind.

But, even in 2018, with the proliferation of reporting fueled in this #MeToo and #TimesUp era, we are reminded that our ecosystem remains unequivocally male-dominated. While I will not be discussing the sexist remarks and gender prejudice that still prevails in our society (that’s a story for another day), in this piece, I want to call attention to how empowering women can lead to our sustainable future.

On the job, women make about 80 cents for every dollar as compared to what a man earns. This inequality is even more pronounced when it comes to fundraising. When female founders pitch their ideas to investors for early-stage capital, they receive significantly less—a disparity that averages more than $1 million—than men, according to BCG.

In contrast, according to the same research, businesses founded by women ultimately deliver higher revenue—more than twice as much per dollar invested—than those founded by men. Also on average, more than 11 million U.S. firms are now owned by women, employing nearly 9 million people and generating $1.7 trillion in sales, according to 2017 data from the National Association of Women Business Owners.

What can we do to scale up our work and boost economic gender equality?

Women’s Economic Empowerment as a catalyst for change

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 Women’s economic empowerment is the highest contributing factor to close the gender gap. It is the most impactful way to build a world where women can exercise personal choice and freedom to make their lives better. Given that women are a majority among economically disadvantaged groups, women’s empowerment is essential to opening doors for equal wage and investment.

According to the World Bank, addressing gender inequalities by focusing on women’s empowerment is not only essential to reduce poverty but is also “Smart Economics”.  Better gender equality enhances productivity and improves development and outcomes for future generations. Women represent 40% of the entire global labor force and more than half of the world’s university students. Increasing productivity is directly related to empowering women by making it easy for them to access education, develop competency in a skill set, and pursue opportunities to use their talents

Miller Center’s goal to bring gender parity

Gender parity is a human rights issue and a precondition for, and an indicator of, a sustainable future. As a part of Miller Center’s effort to bring gender-balanced cohorts, a new affinity group of women-led social enterprises has been introduced in our Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) online accelerator program. The goal for this affinity group is to bring more women social entrepreneurs onboard, refine and validate their business and financial models, provide a customized resource library with curated content specific to their businesses, match them with industry-relevant mentors, foster peer-to-peer connections with our alumni, and offer opportunities for their businesses to flourish.

 

From one woman to all women

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Out of all the sustainable development goals of the United Nations, Goal 5, gender equality, has been a major part of my life’s work. Coming from a patriarchal society like Pakistan, I have experienced male dominance first-hand in all spheres of my life. Women in rural, as well as sub-urban areas of Pakistan, have a subordinate position within their communities, even within their own households. Starting from the basic right of education through acquiring the skills needed to get a better-paying job, girls need to shackle multiple barriers to access what is given for granted to men.

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Joining Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship as a Women’s Economic Empowerment Fellow is close to my heart and closer to what I strive to do in my life: building countless opportunities for women all over the world. The idea is to set an example from one woman to all women so our future generations get to see the world where gender is just a classification of human biology.

Applications for our 2019 GSBI programs are being accepted through November 2, 2018 and women-led social enterprises are encouraged to apply. For more information, click here or email gsbi@scu.edu.

Let’s make it happen together!

 

About the author

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Hira Saeed joined Miller Center in July 2018 through a partnership with the US Embassy in Islamabad and Atlas Corps. Hira works as a GSBI Women’s Economic Empowerment Fellow to implement  new  research,  initiatives,  and  projects  to  help advance women’s economic empowerment through GSBI programs globally and with a specific focus in the Middle East.


Photo and image credits: Women empowerment artwork used under Creative Commons CC0; Planet 50-50 from UN Women; Group photo at Aman Foundation courtesy of Hira Saeed; all other images and photos property of Santa Clara University.

SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP AS SPIRITUALITY

SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP AS SPIRITUALITY

Over the summer, Miller Center accompanied over 150 social enterprises through our accelerator programs to help them discern pathways to scale their impact as they serve the poor, protect the planet, and economically empower women.

  Bay Area Boost (June 2018)

Bay Area Boost (June 2018)

We worked with Jesuits in Cameroon and Benin to accelerate more than 60 community-based enterprises that support women farmers and artisans and provide IT training to women. In partnership with Catholic Charities, we ran a Bay Area Boost for 32 social services organizations and enterprises. For ten days in August, we hosted 26 entrepreneurs from 18 social enterprises on the Santa Clara University campus as part of our 9-month GSBI® In-Residence accelerator program. Over 150 “friends and family” welcomed them at Testarossa Winery, site of the historic Novitiate Winery, an enterprise of Jesuits in formation for almost a century. 240 impact investors, mentors, and guests attended our GSBI Investor Showcase and our social enterprises had on average 3.6 investor meetings each. Our 18 2018 Global Social Benefit Fellows returned from 7 weeks in Ghana, Uganda, Rwanda, India, and Zambia conducting action research for GSBI alumni social enterprises. Indeed, it’s been an amazing summer of walking with change leaders around the world.

  2018 Miller Center annual report

2018 Miller Center annual report

Witnessing social entrepreneurs discern growth plans is a spiritual experience for me. Because their intention is for the greater good – to improve, transform, or save lives of people living in poverty, their work is powered by love and compassion. As we accompany them through this process, we see what more we can do to help others, a manifestation of the notion of magis. They are architects of hope, the theme of Miller Center’s 2018 Annual Report.

After I chaired a panel on mobilizing resources to help refugees at the Third Vatican Impact Investing Conference this summer, people asked me about my faith. Similar questions arose following my welcoming comments at our August GSBI events. I describe myself as spiritual, not religious, as you can witness from the story of my communion experience at St. Peter’s tomb. Because we are multi-dimensional and intersectional in our identities, so too is our spirituality. This I am sure of: social entrepreneurship is a core component of my spirituality.

  Wildfire smoke blankets California  Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Earth Science Data and Information System (ESDIS) project

Wildfire smoke blankets California
Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Earth Science Data and Information System (ESDIS) project

The view from my home in Sonoma County is obscured by smoke drifting down from Mendocino County, Oregon, British Columbia; a hurricane hurls towards Hawai’i, where I have planned a brief dive vacation next week. Climate change is affecting our lives, but it affects the poor the most.

Refugees flee violence driven by hunger, thirst, political corruption, greed, power; many have nowhere to go, rejected by those who claim moral authority. There is much reason to lose hope.

Despite the smoke, I prepare for Friday afternoon yoga, putting on a soft t-shirt with a Jimi Hendrix quote: “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”

The opportunity to accompany architects of hope is proximity to the power of love, and that connects us all. We invite you to join Miller Center on this incredible journey.

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Implementation in action: one community advancing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals

Implementation in action: one community advancing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals

One community made up of 25 social business leaders, 63 executive mentors, and 18 social enterprises is tackling all but four of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals

This community formed in January, where it began its journey together through the GSBI In-Residence accelerator program. This August that journey culminated with 10-days at Santa Clara University where Silicon Valley’s best talents and teachings collaborated with the world’s most innovative social change makers to examine how to scale solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. Problems these social entrepreneurs have taken on by answering the questions:

How might we help the 4 billion people living in poverty get into the middle class?

How do we get affordable, clean energy to the 1.6 billion without electricity?

How do we provide clean, safe drinking water to the 750 million without?

At the end of our 10 days together, the entrepreneurs also had answers to the questions of: how do you create and track social impact, how does the business model work, what is the growth strategy, are the financials credible, and, how effectively are you managing the operations of your business?

If you are interested in their answers, I invite you to watch these powerful video presentations, and read these overview profiles.

The enterprises presented above carry the courage, brilliance, grit, and visions of the leaders, teams, and beneficiaries they represent. They also encompass the dedicated mentorship and guidance from professionals who accompanied decades of tacit knowledge into 18 audacious, infinitely important missions.

I invite you to join our network of 900+ social entrepreneur alumni by applying to our programs, 200+ executive mentors, 100+ student fellows, and growing community of supporters.

For those already on the journey with us, I thank you.

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Cassandra Staff
Chief Operating Officer
Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship

 

Solve Energy Poverty, Solve Climate Change?

Solve Energy Poverty, Solve Climate Change?

By the end of the recent GSBI in-residence program, I was feeling energized, appreciative, and – on one question – flummoxed. It was a fleeting, rhetorical question: Was my focus solving poverty or solving climate change? I’m a new apostle of simplified messaging, but on this point, ‘both’ still seems the right answer.

“The poor cannot afford poor solutions,” says social entrepreneur Runa Khan. In an era of climate change, none of us can afford poor energy solutions. Happily, clean energy is now nearly universally the most cost-effective way to generate electricity. We do not need to choose between cheap, high-quality and clean. They are the same.

I work in Haiti, building electricity systems in towns that have never before had grid power. I’m often surprised when people separate energy poverty from climate change. I get a good laugh out of my US clean energy friends when I gently tease, “It’s easier to build a ‘town-sized, solar-powered smart grid in rural Haiti than it is in [Washington, DC / Santa Clara / Insert any major grid-connected city name here].” They know it’s true. Of course, I face different challenges, but building something from scratch is always easier than disrupting the status quo. There is no incumbent infrastructure or utility business model in the towns where I work, so I get to collaborate with local and international partners to think through what the best system could be. Building self-contained off-grid utility systems, we get to face many of the ‘big grid’ challenges on a micro scale. Is 100% clean energy possible? Yes. Is storage essential? For solar microgrids, yes. Are clean energy microgrids exciting elements of resilient power systems of the future? Definitely.

First and foremost, building energy access is about solving poverty. Electricity is not sufficient for prosperity, but it is essential. In rural Haiti, families without electricity are spending 10% of their income on kerosene and candles for lighting. (In the US we generally spend less than 0.5% of our income on lighting.) Around the world, over a billion people have no electricity, with tragic consequences. Without electricity, there is very little opportunity.

Solving energy poverty can also help solve climate change. The two issues are linked. “Sustainable energy is opportunity – it transforms lives, economies and the planet,” reads Sustainable Development Goal 7. That Goal is summarized as “affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.”

Clean energy microgrids can directly reduce CO2 and black carbon emissions by replacing kerosene lamps and diesel generators. If electric cooking pilots are successful, they can also replace charcoal. Though wick-based kerosene lamps emit only modest CO2, they are significant emitters of atmospheric ‘black carbon’, a strong climate warmer.

 EarthSpark takes a ‘  feminist electrification’   approach to energy access, intentionally leveraging the arrival of electricity to benefit women. Here, Rosane Jean-Jacques, a grid ambassador, sells electricity credits from a tablet.

EarthSpark takes a ‘feminist electrification’ approach to energy access, intentionally leveraging the arrival of electricity to benefit women. Here, Rosane Jean-Jacques, a grid ambassador, sells electricity credits from a tablet.

Clean energy microgrids can also chart the course for grid decarbonization. Ironically, important grid innovation may come from remote villages that have not yet seen electricity. Where there is no incumbent infrastructure, there is an opportunity to build energy systems with today's best technologies and business models. These models that leverage clean energy, storage, smart grid, and customer participation can be adapted to inform the evolving utility business models in established markets. For example, both Homer Energy’s microgrid software tool and SparkMeter’s low-cost smart meters were both initially developed for stand-alone microgrids and are now seeing applications in central grids.

Of course, solving energy poverty will not alone solve the climate change crisis. There are many levers we should be pulling simultaneously, only some of which are addressed by solving energy poverty. Indeed, Project Drawdown‘s list of 100 climate solutions rank “microgrids” a lowly #78. But an integrated electrification approach involves not only microgrids but also rooftop solar (#10), clean cookstoves (#21), LED lighting (#33), and empowering women and girls (#6). Economic development enabled by the arrival of electricity can also influence agriculture, forestry, and many other key solutions.

To be sure, if tackling energy poverty did not also address climate change, it would still be worth doing. Regions with high energy poverty, in general, have had almost no role in causing the current climate crisis.  Poor countries should not be saddled with solving global emissions problems, but, because distributed clean energy systems are now cheaper and faster to build than the alternatives, poor countries have the opportunity to leapfrog straight into smart, clean, efficient systems. It just doesn’t make sense to build 20th century power systems in 2018.

Though more and more are getting built, microgrids are not easy yet. From California to Puerto Rico to India, Africa, and Haiti, proponents of microgrids are struggling with technical, participant, and policy challenges. That, to me, is precisely why energy access microgrids are so exciting. Clean energy microgrids are early-stage, but they hold enormous potential. When we solve these challenges and start to mainstream microgrids, we will have made meaningful progress towards solving both energy poverty and climate change.

About Allison Archambault
Allison is president of EarthSpark International, a non-profit organization incubating businesses that solve energy poverty. EarthSpark has built a town-sized, solar-powered smart grid in rural Haiti and has spun off a smart meter company, SparkMeter, which now serves microgrid operators in 22 countries.  She previously worked on large-scale renewable energy siting and grid integration and with an early clean tech company combining distributed energy storage, solar PV, and energy management. She holds a B.A. (hons) from Tufts University and a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins. She is a member of the 2018 GSBI In-Residence accelerator cohort at Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship.

 


Banner photo (Les Anglais, Haiti): EarthSpark microgrids run on solar power and serve everyone from tiny households to pico-industry in rural towns.

Photo credits: EarthSpark International

The lasting impact of the GSBI® In-Residence accelerator

The lasting impact of the GSBI® In-Residence accelerator

  Photo from 2017 GSBI In-Residence accelerator Investor Showcase

Photo from 2017 GSBI In-Residence accelerator Investor Showcase

Tomorrow, eighteen social entrepreneurs making impact around the world will showcase their work in front of an audience of investors and will highlight the hard work they have been doing over the past 10 months in the GSBI® In-Residence accelerator program.

To me, this event is one of the most inspiring days of my year and it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the potential for these enterprises to scale their impact and truly help change the world. But the skeptic inside me also wonders how many of these ambitious social entrepreneurs will deliver on their promises and projections? Have we at Miller Center done our job and equipped these entrepreneurs with the tools they need to scale and to become architects of hope?

Looking back at the 2017 GSBI In-Residence accelerator lends us some insights and I am happy to report that our alumni’s ambitions are matched by their ability to deliver.

Out of the 14 social entrepreneurs that pitched at last year’s showcase, over 50% of them were successful in meeting or exceeding their justifiable ask or the investment request they and their mentors think is “justifiable" based on their financial model and ability to meet their operational growth targets.  As a cohort, they have raised a median of ~$500,000 and a cumulative total of over $12 million.

Raising investment is one thing, but are these enterprises able to utilize this capital they receive to grow their social impact and serve more people? Happily, the answer here is a resounding yes! Last year’s cohort on average doubled their impact in the 12 months since graduation and some have seen growth in the 5x range.

  Photo courtesy of Food 4 Education

Photo courtesy of Food 4 Education

One of last years’ Social Entrepreneurs who has had transformational success since last year’s showcase is Wawira Njiru, CEO of Food 4 Education. In Kenya, where food for education works, 1 in 5 children are developmentally stunted due to malnourishment. Food 4 Education provides high quality, nutritious meals to students in Kenyan public primary schools to improve their nutrition and education outcomes. They use a social enterprise model that caters healthy and convenient meals to Kenyan corporates and private institutions and uses the profits to provide the nutritious lunches that keep children in school, improve their learning ability and opportunities to use education as a means to break out of the cycle of poverty.

  Photo courtesy of Food 4 Education

Photo courtesy of Food 4 Education

When Wawira joined the GSBI program in 2016, Food 4 Education was one of our earliest stage enterprises; they had raised less than $100,000 in investment and had served only 2,500 school children.

Since graduating from the GSBI accelerator, Wawira has attracted some of the most influential partners in the impact investing space.  Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation invested shortly after Wawira completed the program, and Mulago Foundation recently named her as one of the fellows in their newest class.

Food 4 Education has now grown their investment from $100,000 to $550,000 and has utilized this investment to more than double their social impact from 2,500 children served to over 6,000.

Food 4 Education is just one example of the many social enterprises that have grown their impact dramatically since last year’s showcase and we would invite you to review their progress on our GSBI Alumni Database.

This retrospective gets me even more excited to be working with this 2018 class of GSBI In-Residence accelerator social enterprises. When I am watching the pitches tomorrow, I will be inspired by not only the audacious ambition of our social enterprises to create change, but the data that gives me faith that they will be successful in meeting their goals.

Please join us at the showcase or watch through our livestream. I look forward to connecting you with any of the social entrepreneurs you’ll see pitching.

 

Cover photo courtesy of Food 4 Education

How GSBI Online Validates Business Models: Meet the 21 members of the GSBI Online Cohort

How GSBI Online Validates Business Models: Meet the 21 members of the GSBI Online Cohort

Every year, up-and-coming social entrepreneurs from around the world complete the rigorous GSBI Online accelerator curriculum, and the 21 social enterprises of Cohort 13 are some of the most promising alumni yet. In the culmination of six months of transformative mentorship, these organizations have truly risen to the challenge, emerging with tangible growth so that they can better accomplish sustainable social change. For these social enterprises that have already been serving their target beneficiaries for one to five years, the Online accelerator helped strengthen and validate their:

  • Impact and Business Model
  • Growth plan
  • Financial model
  • Funding plan

With their tools of market success refined, these social entrepreneurs can achieve maximum potential and maintain a sustainable business model while keeping their social impact missions the driving force of their enterprises.

The social entrepreneurs in Cohort 13 are achieving impact in a variety of sectors, but whatever their focus and wherever they work, they are tackling deeply rooted problems, asking the hard questions, and breaking unjust equilibriums.

Education is often identified as a root cause of systemic change, which might be why six of the cohort members are focusing on education in their respective regions. Each of them takes a different and unique approach to the identified needs of their beneficiaries. Edupay is making quality, low-cost primary education accessible to the rural poor in Ghana, and accessibility is also a key focus of i-Saksham Education and Learning Foundation, which serves youth in India. Accelerated places emphasis on coaching teachers so that they can lead more effective and engaging classrooms in Ethiopia. Coschool moves beyond traditional educational techniques to foster Colombian students’ social and emotional well-being alongside leadership training and camps to build character. Bodhi Health is also education-based, expanding the accessibility of quality medical training through e-learning.

Many of these social enterprises tackle a combination of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in different ways. Miyonga Fresh Greens addresses environmental issues by reducing food waste through agro-processing, but also empowers local farmers by making certification more accessible to smallholder farmers, reducing poverty, and growing local businesses. Discovered not only addresses the economic growth of artisans’ small businesses in emerging countries, but advances gender equality as many of these artisan entrepreneurs are women.

  Photo courtesy of Extensio

Photo courtesy of Extensio

  Photo courtesy of Elevated Honey Co.

Photo courtesy of Elevated Honey Co.

Cohort 13 realizes the importance of understanding the specific context of unjust systems in place, engaging directly with the people they serve so that culture and way of life of those impacted are considered. A great example is Extensio, a social enterprise which found that Mexican farmers could greatly benefit from a digital field agent. The cell phone application communicates best agricultural practices, among other information that helps these farmers to increase productivity and standard of living. Elevated Honey Co., based in China, has identified a need for working to improve the honey industry, highlighting the need now more than ever for empowering rural beekeepers.

The global reach of a few in Cohort 13 is remarkable. VIA Global Health and GOODdler are both online platforms that do a world of good: VIA works towards universal access to the tools that enable quality healthcare in underserved markets, and GOODdler maximizes the impact of humanitarian assistance.

These are just some of the incredible social enterprises that completed the GSBI Online accelerator in Cohort 13 – every one of the 21 social entrepreneurs are already making lasting change. Check out all of their Investor Profiles, and view their final presentations to find out more about the work they’re doing to change the world.

Perhaps the most uniquely beneficial part of the GSBI Online accelerator is the close mentorship from Silicon Valley professionals, who commit to providing insightful advice to their mentees each week. Chris Bravo had the opportunity to mentor Extensio, and he shared with us a brief look into his experience:

Even though, I have mentored before; since it was my first time with GSBI, it was very helpful to be paired with Michelle… On a few occasions, I had the opportunity to visit the team, get to know them in person, and have very productive chats with them. Diana and all of the Extensio team was very open to learning and to receive feedback. Providing online mentoring brings up the challenge of how much, and how to push the entrepreneur… The GSBI curriculum provided a good guide for the weekly discussions, and we should not be afraid of revisiting items here and there to revise the business model.
  Photo courtesy of Bodhi Health Education

Photo courtesy of Bodhi Health Education

The GSBI Online accelerator provides a challenging yet rewarding experience for participants, and over the past six months of collaboration and mentor accompaniment this year’s cadre of social entrepreneurs have proven that they have truly put in the work to get the most out of the program and have graduated with validated business models that will further serve the poor and protect the planet.

Apply for the next GSBI Online accelerator cohort here.

 

Cover photo courtesy of Accelerated

Closer To Being Free: Rebuilding Lives of Human Trafficking Survivors

Closer To Being Free: Rebuilding Lives of Human Trafficking Survivors

Fifteen of us sat in a circle on the cool marble floor, drawing birds and flowers.  The girls ranged in age from a tiny seven-year-old named Jasminda with uncanny artistic abilities, to twenty-year old Rishi, who just started college and probably should have been studying, but she just couldn’t resist joining in the fun.

Leela stood alone in the corner, silently watching.  She looked about 16.  She wrapped her arms around her body, seeming cold despite the warm temperature. Her eyes were impossible to read.   Angry, afraid, yearning to join the group, depressed or completely detached?  I couldn’t tell.   She is in a safe place now, at the shelter for trafficking survivors built by Her Future Coalition last year near Darjeeling, India.  But until recently Leela was living a nightmare. Her existence is very hard to even imagine – used every night by 15-20 men on a filthy mattress without even a sheet. She was an outcast judged by passers-by on the street, betrayed by her family, controlled with physical violence, or worse, with shame. Shame is a tool her traffickers used with great skill, knowing it can be even more powerful than physical torture.

Leela had been rescued very recently.  She still showed physical and emotional signs of trauma and was not going to trust easily again.  The risk of hoping and being disappointed is too high.  But we have been in this situation before, many times with wounded girls like Leela who seemed impossible to reach.  At first, I despaired of them ever recovering.  But they did.  With love and time, their spirits came back into their bodies and they began building a new life.

I inched backwards until I was sitting near Leela’s feet.  Not looking her directly in the eye (too threatening), I gave her a sideways glance, inviting her to sit and draw with me.  She shook her head.  A younger girl came over and we drew together for a few minutes.  Eventually, Leela got tired of standing, or maybe it felt culturally inappropriate to remain looming over me, an adult.  She sat beside me, still unsmiling and remote.  We made the briefest eye contact.  I pushed across a piece of paper, and then my pencil. I gently pointed to an image in a book that I wanted to copy for the mural we planned to paint on the shelter wall.  She shook her head no.  I shrugged, that’s okay, no pressure.

But a few minutes later, Leela bit her lips, pushed the hair out her eyes, and began to draw.  She did so brilliantly - an exquisitely detailed peacock, a garden of flowers.  The others were called for lunch and the project came to an end.  Leela stayed on the floor, drawing for hours until we lost the light.

The next morning she was waiting at the shelter door when we arrived, eager to begin painting the mural.  On our last day, she cried the hardest of anyone.  But I know she will be okay.  She is a survivor.  She found the courage to come out of her isolation to sit on the floor with a stranger and draw a peacock.  Next she will learn a trade.  Perhaps she will choose to learn how to make jewelry and go through our two-year goldsmith training.  She could join the jewelry team at our sister organization, Relevée, and earn a good salary as a professional jeweler and designer. For now, it is enough for her to begin believing that not everyone is out to hurt or use her, that life can be sweet again.

-Sarah Symons, Executive Director of Her Future Coalition and Co-Founder of Relevée

“As we work to dismantle trafficking networks and help survivors rebuild their lives, we must also address the underlying forces that push so many into bondage. We must develop economies that create legitimate jobs, build a global sense of justice that says no child should ever be exploited, and empower our daughters and sons with the same chances to pursue their dreams. This month, I call on every nation, every community, and every individual to fight human trafficking wherever it exists. Let us declare as one that slavery has no place in our world, and let us finally restore to all people the most basic rights of freedom, dignity, and justice.”

-Barack Obama, 2013

 

Sarah Symons is the Founder and Executive Director of Her Future Coalition, an international nonprofit helping survivors of gender violence to rebuild their lives, and Co-Founder/CIO of Relevée, a social impact fine jewelry business participating in Miller Center's GSBI® Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins cohort..

Over the past ten years, Sarah and her team have helped over 2500 women and children in India, Nepal, Cambodia and Thailand to build safe, independent futures through innovative shelter, education and employment programs.

Previously, Sarah worked as a composer of TV music and as a recording artist. 

Her book, This is No Ordinary Joy, is available on Amazon.com

 

The Justifiable Ask: Realities of Raising Impact Capital

The Justifiable Ask: Realities of Raising Impact Capital

Entrepreneurs often say that capital, or lack of it, is the biggest obstacle to business growth and cause of enterprise failure. In reality, there is much more to it.

The new cohort of 18 social enterprises (SEs), from 11 countries around the globe, is arriving to Silicon Valley next week for the 16th annual Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) In-Residence accelerator program. The goal for the SEs is to refine their capitalization and scaling strategy, connect with investors, and present them with exciting opportunities.  

  Photo from 2017 GSBI Investor Showcase

Photo from 2017 GSBI Investor Showcase

The SEs in this year’s cohort are working on a variety of solutions–from last-mile distribution of essential goods in Sierra Leone, to preventing newborn deaths in India, to improving earnings potential and livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Zambia.

Since February, these entrepreneurs have been working with experts and mentors to hone in their business models, growth plans, and capital needs, in order to scale their businesses and impact. As many entrepreneurs observe, much of their efforts come down to raising capital – identifying the different types of capital available to their business, the best way to deploy it within the company to position it for success, and the kind of expectations they can set for investors in getting a return on their capital (an impact and/or financial return).

In turn, an enterprise that has a clear and attractive business model, impact, and a Justifiable Ask is more likely to obtain the needed capital quickly and have investors knocking on their door. It is most often not about connections, but rather about attractiveness of the business to an investor, a reasonable capital ask given the enterprise needs and what it can deliver in return, and a thoughtful approach to the right partners.  

The Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) In-Residence Accelerator program has a comprehensive approach to investment preparedness that aims to help entrepreneurs put their best foot forward in attracting the right type of capital for their businesses.

When we talk about a Justifiable Ask, we think about the interrelation between these key items:

  Photo from 2017 GSBI Investor Showcase

Photo from 2017 GSBI Investor Showcase

  • Growth strategy and strategic initiatives,
  • What resources are needed to achieve these,
  • How much capital do those resources translate to and over what time horizon that capital would be deployed,
  • The return the company may be able to provide an investor given their financial performance to date, the potential of the business (forecast) and the inherent risks,
  • The type of capital that is available and appropriate given the aforementioned factors.

By helping develop, then reviewing financial models, we help identify gaps and challenges that an investor may see–often pushing back on how realistic assumptions are, what key drivers of growth, profitability and cash flow may be, and help entrepreneurs paint a clearer picture of their growth opportunity, effect of capital infusion and return potential for that capital to investors.

During the ten-day In-Residence at Santa Clara University, the entrepreneurs are grilled on various topics related to their business with specific feedback on operations, impact metrics, internal finances, and growth strategy, among other topics. Although that feedback is sometimes difficult to receive as the panelists may shoot down exciting ideas, question reasoning or a new strategy, this exercise helps the entrepreneurs develop much stronger cases for their conversations with potential investors and partners. The SEs, with support of their mentors, then have to build the adjustments resulting from the feedback into their forecast and translate it to their capital need.

The result of the process, is an inspiring group of enterprises with diverse business models, working across the world towards solving important social and environmental challenges in their communities and globally.  Their capital needs are as versatile–from debt and equity to convertible notes and blended capital needs, including grants, debt and equity, to innovative structures such as a Security Token Offering (STO) and revenue sharing mechanisms.

You can see these entrepreneurs present their vision to scale and create a lasting impact on the world on Wednesday, August 15 at the 2018 GSBI Investor Showcase or via live stream, hosted by Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship. If you are an investor and would like to schedule a private meeting after the Investor Showcase or connect online with any of the SEs, don’t hesitate to contact us!


 

Anastasiya’s expertise is in providing catalytic capital and advice on financial strategy to businesses ranging from early stage start-ups to multinational corporations. While Anastasiya serves as Miller Center’s GSBI Funding Facilitation Lead, she also actively manages a consulting practice supporting scaling social enterprises in raising capital, and investors in evaluating and structuring deals.

Prior to starting her consulting practice, she was the Director of Investor Relations & Financial Innovation at Agora Partnerships–facilitating over $50M in capital flow to social enterprises in Latin America and designing new funding programs. She is also a former Portfolio Manager of RSF Social Finance, a US-based impact investor with $100M AUM. Anastasiya began her career in Corporate & Investment Banking at Wells Fargo in San Francisco and New York City, providing capital markets advisory and other financial services to a portfolio of Fortune 500 corporates.

Anastasiya holds a Master’s in International Finance and Economic Development from the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics, and a B.S. in Finance from Santa Clara University. She is originally from Ukraine and enjoys visiting friends around the world, dancing, yoga, and rock-climbing.

Recasting Church ministries to mobilize financing

Recasting Church ministries to mobilize financing

Embracing social entrepreneurship at the Vatican’s third annual impact investing conference

“To create a more just, humane, and sustainable world” – a mission that underpins our work at Miller Center supporting social entrepreneurship. For over 700 years, the Catholic church has created income solutions for the poor through ministries that provide jobs. These activities continue today and are largely donor-supported enterprises. A call by Pope Francis in 2014 introduced secular work on social enterprise to the Church practitioners of Catholic ministries. Following the publication of Evangelii Gaudium in late 2013, the Vatican hosted the first Vatican Impact Investing Conference (VIIC) in June 2014. Pope Francis recognized the common values shared by both the Church ministries and social entrepreneurs who were building companies from within underserved communities globally. In a statement issued during the conference, the Pope declared,

  PHOTO BY REMO CASILLI FOR CRS

PHOTO BY REMO CASILLI FOR CRS

“A sense of solidarity with the poor and the marginalized has led you to reflect on impact investing as one emerging form of responsible investment. 

 

...Impact investors are those who are conscious of the existence of serious unjust situations, instances of profound social inequality and unacceptable conditions of poverty affecting communities and entire peoples. These investors turn to financial institutes which will use their resources to promote the economic and social development of these groups through investment funds aimed at satisfying basic needs associated with agriculture, access to water, adequate housing and reasonable prices, as well as with primary health care and educational services”

John Kohler presents Sources of Capital and the Enterprises in Which They Invest at VIIC 2014

With VIIC 2014 as the introduction to the theory of change held by social enterprise and impact investing, VIIC 2016 was the start of a “cross-walk” from Catholic ministries to social enterprise. Miller Center was asked to lead a 2 ½ day pre-conference workshop for Catholic leaders to examine social enterprise, profit and loss operations, impact measurement, and the commonalities between secular work with social enterprise and the Catholic mission.

This month, the third Vatican Impact Investing Conference was held in Rome and was attended by more than 160 people. The content was dense and the conversation lively. A marked change was evident: instead of practitioners explaining impact investing and social enterprise, the voice in the room was from Church practitioners who were already embracing the thesis that some of their ministries could be recast as eligible social enterprises to impact investors.

 Areas of focus identified at VIIC 2018 include Sustainable Development Goals  3, 8, 10, 13, 16,  and  17.

Areas of focus identified at VIIC 2018 include Sustainable Development Goals 3, 8, 10, 13, 16, and 17.

Areas of focus identified for the conference were: Youth - increasing access to jobs; Health – scaling healthcare access for the poor; Migrants and Refugees – financing SMEs owned by or serving the displaced; and, Integral Ecology – climate change and development

More directly aligned commentary was also heard from some of the impact investor community. An example was a social impact bond created by KIOS Invest (Belgium) aimed at economic support to migrant communities.  Other BoP–tailored investment solutions were highlighted by MacArthur Foundation, Investisseurs & Partenaires (France), Social Finance US, Sahel Capital (Nigeria), and Aavishkaar-Intellicap Group. They described specific investment initiatives that are aimed at communities and geographies consistent with priority areas the Vatican had identified.

 Miller Center Executive Director Thane Kreiner lead a panel on using impact investing to help solve global problems of human trafficking, migrants, and refugees.

Miller Center Executive Director Thane Kreiner lead a panel on using impact investing to help solve global problems of human trafficking, migrants, and refugees.

There was also a strong emergence from Sister organizations within the Church. Orders of Sisters run many of the Catholic ministries in service to the poor and the Sisters have been looking for help to create more sustainable enterprises. In describing their commitment, Sister Eneless Chimbali, Director General of the Association of Consecrated Women of Eastern and Central Africa, declared “the Sisters are always there!” with the poor and the enterprises that support them.

On the second full day, parallel sessions were held to create a “deep dive” exploration of the four focus areas and then folded the conversations into how conference participants can take action to support what is immediately needed or in the development of further solutions. Unlike many other conferences, the engagement and participation by attendees was nearly 100% even at the final sessions of the VIIC.

Positive comments and commitment were roundly evident as the VIIC came to a close. Now for action!

Mobilizing for Migrants, Refugees, and Slaves

Mobilizing for Migrants, Refugees, and Slaves

 Click on image to access the encyclical

Click on image to access the encyclical

The third Vatican impact investing conference will convene in Rome next month. It seeks to mobilize capital to address pressing, interconnected, global problems: migrants and refugees, climate change, youth underemployment, and health. In his encyclical Laudato Si’, Pope Francis notes the “tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation” (25) and notes “interdependence obliges us to think of one world with a common plan.” (164).  I am honored to be the invited moderator of a panel on Migrants, Refugees, and SMEs.

In January, when Miller Center decided to launch the SEM accelerator program for social enterprises serving or led by refugees, migrants, or human trafficking survivors, we wondered how many and what kinds of these ventures existed.

We were surprised when many of the over 100 applicants told us the SEM cohort is the first they’d encountered focused on helping them scale their impact, as Program Manager Marie Haller notes. Their business models include impact sourcing, entrepreneurial support, and skills training. Technologies including blockchain and AI are part of the solutions they offer to refugees and modern-day slaves.

We had hoped that launching the SEM program might reveal entrepreneurial solutions to serve the most marginalized among our common human family. The quality and quantity of applicant social enterprises and their profound passion in our pioneering program amazed and heartened us. Convening this group of social entrepreneurs has built momentum among a variety of stakeholders interested in finding new solutions for these global crises.  

Vodafone Americas Foundation, The Chao Foundation/Transparent Fish Fund, and Skoll Foundation have stepped forward to provide Miller Center financial support as we accompany the SEM social enterprises; we are grateful.

ImpactAlpha recently ran a story entitled Entrepreneurs and investors mobilize to tackle challenges of refugees, migrants, and modern day slaves, identifying a growing “market” of the forcibly displaced and enslaved and consequent growing pools of capital. We are thrilled that this story names four of the twenty-one social enterprises in our Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins (SEM)cohort and humbled by the Reuters headline, California executives mentor businesses helping migrants and slaves.

When journalists and foundations use phrases like “stock the pipeline” of investment-ready social enterprises, and “an emerging ecosystem”, it suggests a bigger movement is afoot to define an impact sector focused on the needs of the displaced and enslaved.  

We need it now more than ever. Tomorrow, June 20, is World Refugee Day. We hope you’ll join us on this journey to discern a common plan that affords refugees dignified livelihoods and eradicates modern-day slavery.  


Photo credits: banner image by geralt on Pixabay.com; screenshot of Pope Francis from laudatosi.com; UNHCR, image from UN Refugee Agency post embedded from Facebook by Markel Redondo)

Collective Voices Beyond #MeToo in the Social Impact Ecosystem

Collective Voices Beyond #MeToo in the Social Impact Ecosystem

I, like many women, have followed the cultural shift spurred by THE hashtag currently sweeping the world with ever-increasing intensity. Every tweet (this one is a personal favorite), and every article that shows up in my news and social media feed with mention of the now ubiquitous #MeToo grabs my attention and I can’t help but feel growing levels of satisfaction and resolution. Because what this means is that we are finally feeling encouraged and empowered (underscore underscore) to speak up and call out forms of behavior that are no longer deemed appropriate. From an even broader perspective, the #MeToo movement is challenging us to take another lens through which to view the world, to rethink behavior, and hold ourselves accountable as well as to a higher standard.

To most it probably comes as little to no surprise that the bulk of public accusations of sexual harassment and assault have by and large emerged from Hollywood and political arenas and, even in the culinary world as my cousin Misa Shikuma so aptly wrote in her piece, Male Privilege in the Kitchen. What is probably more surprising is that sexual harassment and assault is also prevalent in the social impact ecosystem.

We, myself included, often assume that because we work in the social impact industry, everyone is “well intentioned,” because we actually care about creating a world where poverty is eliminated, everyone has access to clean water and sanitation, and every girl and boy has equal access to education. In other words, creating a world in which all 17 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals are achieved.

 CEO and Co-founder Ayla Schlosser

CEO and Co-founder Ayla Schlosser

But what is important to point out is that the world of social entrepreneurship is inextricably tied to the world of fundraising and the fundamental role of power dynamics between those seeking funding and those granting funding cannot be denied. Sexual harassment derives from an underlying imbalance of power as GSBI alumna, Ayla Schlosser of Resonate calls out in her article Fundraising While Female.

So where does that leave those of us working in this space? How do we as conveners, accelerators, social enterprises, and impact investors move forward in light of #MeToo? First and foremost, the very notion of calling out when power dynamics are at play is crucial. Second, we must work together collectively to apprentice the problem because it is vital that all perspectives are heard and everyone at the table has equal agency. We at Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University are taking steps to discern a path forward having drafted a Code of Conduct and Ways of Working that outlines the importance of working together and to celebrate everyone’s dignity.

We are the first to admit, however, that simply having a written document is not enough, and that there needs to be further guidance around solutions. It is time for an open conversation and collective actions and the work needs to be done by women and men; the environment has to change. Miller Center, in collaboration with our friends and partners at Conveners.orgEchoing GreenResonateDraper Richards Kaplan Foundation, and Skoll Foundation, are working together to propose a two-part session for this year’s 2018 SOCAP Open. In view of the #MeToo movement, we are proposing sessions that will create and establish a collective voice on behavioral norms in the social enterprise and impact investing communities as well as an exploration of how to balance zero tolerance and restorative justice. #TIMESUPNOW

You can help participate in this collective voice by upvoting our session proposal at SOCAP. Vote here and here by June 29.

 

Photo and image credits: banner image by Lum3n.com on pexels.com; Sustainable Development Goals courtesy of United Nations Department of Public Information; photo of Ayla Schlosser courtesy of Resonate.







 

Pursuing Scale: New program offers advanced content and mentorship for Tech Awards Laureates and GSBI Alumni

Pursuing Scale: New program offers advanced content and mentorship for Tech Awards Laureates and GSBI Alumni

Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship has launched a new partnership with the James & Rebecca Morgan Family Foundation and Charmaine and Dan Warmenhoven to re-engage and support past recipients of the Tech Museum’s Tech Awards with a mentored acceleration program that combines Miller Center’s proven curriculum emphasizing  business fundamentals along with advanced content focused on investment facilitation, leadership, and governance support.  We call this new program GSBI® Technology Entrepreneurship for Change (TECh) Accelerator.

Since 2003 GSBI has accelerated the impact of over 893 social entrepreneurs by delivering world-class accelerator programs that connect global social enterprise leaders with Silicon Valley business executives to develop more sustainable, scalable market-based solutions to the problems of those living in poverty around the world.  In this time we have realized that our alumni social entrepreneurs continue to benefit from mentorship and acceleration even as they transform from start-ups to mature social enterprises.  This program represents Miller Center’s core value of accompanying our entrepreneurs beyond the formal bounds of a GSBI program - committing to provide continued support in order to help them reach scale.  

mc_tech_pms (1).png

Miller Center has selected 14 social enterprises to participate in this new five-month program. The program starts with a refresher on business fundamentals, including impact model, business model,  financial model, and growth strategy. It then advances to a personalized curriculum consisting of master-classes taught by industry experts on some of the most persistent barriers to scale: navigating the impact investing ecosystem, techniques to effectively structure and manage a board, strategies for becoming an effective manager and leader, and building a high performing team.

A powerful component of the program is active accompaniment through the investment process for which Miller Center GSBI® programs are renowned. Miller Center staff help to open doors for program participants, and provide mentorship on new topics including outreach tactics, due diligence, and deal structuring.
 
Since 2001, 296 social enterprises with “technology benefiting humanity” working in the fields of Environment, Education, Economic Development and Equality have been honored by The Tech Museum. Over 40 of the Tech Award Laureates are also GSBI Alumni. Miller Center is eager to re-engage these Laureates and Alumni and help them scale their impact. 

A profile of the 14 social enterprises in this cohort can be found below.

The organizations will benefit from the proven GSBI accelerator curriculum, Silicon Valley mentors who accompany them and serve as trusted advisers, and the collective wisdom gained from accelerating over 800 social enterprises in 65 countries.

Thanks to the support of the James and Rebecca Morgan Family Foundation and Charmaine and Dan Warmenhoven, this cohort will be the first of three annual GSBI TECh Accelerator cohorts. 

“I support the GSBI Technology Entrepreneurship for Change(TECh) led by Miller Center. My enthusiasm comes from decades of experience with Santa Clara University’s culture and successful support for social entrepreneurship when Father Locatelli was forming the Center, “ said Jim Morgan of the James and Rebecca Morgan Family Foundation. “It is exciting to see the Tech Laureates and others getting opportunities for investment facilitation and networking, plus management and financial coaching that can be so helpful.”
 
Each cohort will consist of up to 15 social enterprises utilizing technology to benefit people living in poverty and protecting the planet. These enterprises will have had a solid track record of success, but are now looking to break through to a new level of scale.
 
“Over the years, Dan and I have been incredibly impressed and inspired by the amazing work accomplished by The Tech Laureates. To help give them the opportunity to continue, and scale their endeavors to benefit humanity is a privilege.  We look to this program to help them in their quest to bring impact and change to our world," said Charmaine Warmenhoven.
 

TECh Cohort: 

 All Across Africa employs local artisans.

All Across Africa employs local artisans.

Organization Name: All Across Africa
Headquarters: United States of America
Enterprise Type: Hybrid
Description: All Across Africa brings artisan crafts to modern products and styles that utilize local renewable materials and generate global demand.
Countries Impacted: Burundi; Ghana; Kenya; Rwanda; Uganda

 

Organization Name: Amplio (formerly Literacy Bridge)
Headquarters: United States of America
Enterprise Type: Non-profit
Description: Amplio makes it possible to share knowledge through its Talking Book audio device and monitoring and evaluation services. Talking Book is designed to help development organizations, governments, and businesses amplify their work and share knowledge on-demand with people who are cut off from traditional sources of information.
Countries Impacted: Ghana

 

Organization Name: AREWA24, LLC
Headquarters: Nigeria
Enterprise Type: Hybrid
Description: AREWA24 is Nigeria's first all-Hausa-language satellite television channel produced locally by and for northern Nigerians. 

 

Organization Name: Awaaz.De
Headquarters: India
Enterprise Type: For-profit
Description: Awaaz.De develops cost-effective, easy-to-use communication and data collection tools that work on mobiles and landlines, breaking language and literacy barriers, to make information, connectivity, and communication accessible for everyone.

 

Organization Name: BeeLine Reader
Headquarters: United States of America
Enterprise Type: For-profit
Description:  BeeLine Reader is technology that makes reading on screens easier and more accessible. It helps readers of all ages and skill levels, but it is especially helpful for ELL readers and readers with dyslexia, ADHD, and vision impairments. We build B2C tools and also license our technology to nonprofits and for-profits that want to make their platforms more accessible.

 

Organization Name: Circ MedTech Ltd
Headquarters: Israel
Enterprise Type: Hybrid
Description: Circ MedTech Ltd. develops, manufactures, and markets PrePexTM - the first and only medical device to facilitate a safe and virtually painless non-surgical male circumcision (MC) procedure available for all ages.
Countries Impacted: Zimbabwe, Zambia, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, Rwanda, Malawi, Lesotho, Kenya, Indonesia, Botswana

 

Organization Name: Grupo para Promover la Educación y el Desarrollo Sustentable, A.C.
Headquarters: Mexico
Enterprise Type: Other
Description: Grupo para Promover la Educación y el Desarrollo Sustenable, A.C. provides hands-on learning to build ecotechnologies that satisfy water, food, house, energy and waste management needs. We train people and supervise the self construction of the ecotechnologies.

 

 Approximately 99.99% of bacteria can be netted and destroyed by the ceramic filtration technology owned Nazava.

Approximately 99.99% of bacteria can be netted and destroyed by the ceramic filtration technology owned Nazava.

Organization Name: Nazava Water Filters
Headquarters: Indonesia
Enterprise Type: For-Profit
Description: Nazava Water Filters is a for-profit social enterprise, targeting the 1.8 billion people that do not have safe drinking water from their tap. Our mission is to provide safe and affordable drinking water to everyone, everywhere. We enable low-income households to filter their well, tap or rainwater without the need to use unrenewable fuels to boil or use electricity. Nazava filtered water is 3x cheaper than boiling and 9x cheaper than buying bottled water. As Nazava replaces the need to boil water, we also reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save time for women seeking fuelwood. 
Countries Impacted: Burkina Faso; Maldives; Mozambique; Philippines

 

Organization Name: Pollinate Energy
Headquarters: India
Enterprise Type: Hybrid
Description: Pollinate Energy distributes life-changing products, ranging from solar lights to clean cookstoves and medicated mosquito nets using a women-centric salesforce. 

 

Organization NamePotential Energy 
Headquarters: 
Berkeley, California
Enterprise Type: Nonprofit
Description: Potential Energy manufactures and distributes the Berkeley Darfur Stove, an energy-efficient stove for rural, refugee families.

 

Organization Name: SAI Sustainable Agro
Headquarters: India
Enterprise Type: For-profit
Description: SAI Sustainable Agro works with smallholders in their abandoned agricultural land through an innovative, system-changing model. Farmers grow leguminous crops along with tree farming that increases their income, as well as provides social and ecological benefits.

 

Organization Name: Solar Ear
Headquarters: Canada
Enterprise Type: Hybrid
Description: Solar Ear's mission is to serve the hearing impaired in developing countries using a unique model of manufacturing affordable, solar-powered hearing aids with local deaf workers who are trained to perform at a world-class level.
Countries Impacted: Botswana; Brazil; Mexico

 

Organization Name: We Care Solar
Headquarters: United States of America
Enterprise Type: Non-Profit
Description: We Care Solar saves lives in childbirth by advancing the use of solar electricity in under-resourced health centers. Their award-winning Solar Suitcase is a compact solar electric kit for medical lighting and communication that enables timely and appropriate emergency care in maternal health facilities and settings without reliable electricity.
Countries Impacted: Afghanistan; India; Liberia; Mexico; Nepal; Nicaragua; Nigeria; Rwanda

 

Organization Name: Whirlwind Wheelchair International
Headquarters: United States of America
Enterprise Type: Hybrid
Description: Whirlwind endeavors to make it possible for every person in the developing world who needs a wheelchair to obtain one for a chance of reaching maximum personal independence and integration into society.
Countries Impacted: China; Philippines; Morocco; Republic of Georgia; Vietnam; Canada; South Africa; Mexico


   

Banner photo: Solar Ear founder Howard Weinstein.
 

Behind the scenes: Takeaways from our cohort selection process

Behind the scenes: Takeaways from our cohort selection process

Mentors have been carefully selected and introductions have been made to the 21 social enterprises joining Miller Center’s new cohort, Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins (SEM). After spending January through April recruiting these entrepreneurs from a pool of over 100 applicants, it feels exciting to finally start learning and collaborating together.

Through the recruitment process, I heard from many folks that this was the first program they’d found supporting entrepreneurs focused on working with refugees, migrants and human trafficking survivors. It was surprising news given the unprecedented numbers of people who are currently displaced from their homes globally. We began to realize there is a large opportunity here to bring together innovators and other stakeholders from all over the world to learn from each other and change the way we support the most marginalized in our communities.

 Photo credit: Makers Unite

Photo credit: Makers Unite

As the interviews unfolded, we learned more about the types of solutions people are creating to fill in the gaps that humanitarian aid doesn’t cover. We ultimately selected a cohort of 21 organizations that have impact in 24 countries globally, with the most businesses working regionally in Southeast Asia, East Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. A quick scan of the headlines should make it clear why those are the hotspots, including Europe. We heard from several members of our cohort, such as Refugee Company and More than One Perspective,that the large number of refugees who were resettled in the EU, in 2015 inspired them to help these newcomers build community and livelihoods.

Despite this global distribution, the strong majority (14 out of 21) of the organizations are focused on job or entrepreneurial training programs and/or job placement services for people who have been displaced and need support rebuilding their lives. It seems clear from this data point alone that this is a big challenge in the current system that needs to be solved creatively. Many of these entrepreneurs are working on it, with models clustered around 3 primary areas:

  • Digital skills – “Impact sourcing” organizations and coding schools that train displaced people and human trafficking survivors to gain transferable skills and do digital work remotely. Cohort participants refugees{code}, Regenesys BPO, and WorkAround are enterprises doing work in this area.
  • Entrepreneurial Support – Providing refugee entrepreneurs with education and direct investment for their start-ups. SEM participants doing work in this space include African Entrepreneur Collective, and Five One Labs.
  • Learning a trade – Organizations are training and hiring migrants, refugees, and human trafficking survivors in industries as varied as coffee, high-end artisan crafts, solar energy, fine jewelry and many others. 1951 Coffee Company, Destiny Reflection, and Relevee are SEM enterprises doing transformational work in this way.
 Photo credit: Talent Beyond Boundaries

Photo credit: Talent Beyond Boundaries

Over the next 6 months, we hope to learn a lot more alongside these organizations about what alternative, sustainable solutions could look like that help restore dignity for people who are displaced or forced into modern-day slavery. During the virtual kick-off last week, we had cohort members asking when and how they can start collaborating, as well as saying hello to other entrepreneurs in their region that they’ve met before. We’ll be bringing them together virtually through “office hours” over the next few months and in-person October 19-23 to share their expertise with each other and catalyze systemic change within the sector. We hope you’ll join us for the showcase on October 23 to hear directly from the entrepreneurs about their progress and the impact they’re making on the ground.

You don’t have to search hard to find news headlines detailing this global crisis we are all facing, but hopefully it won’t be much longer until we see more headlines showcasing new types of solutions that work for everyone.  

 

Banner photo courtesy of African Entrepreneur Collective

Social Enterprises Merge in Search of Scale

Social Enterprises Merge in Search of Scale

“Scale” is a nebulous and elusive concept in the social enterprise ecosystem. However, if the community is to make any tangible progress toward the social impact objective it seeks to achieve, like energy access for all, or access to clean water and sanitation, scale is an essential topic for us to wrestle with. The recent merger of Pollinate Energy and Empower Generation, two of our Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) alumni social enterprises, provides a look at a new and rarely seen avenue toward scale.

   Click here   for more details on Sustainable Development Goal 7: Affordable and clean energy.

Click here for more details on Sustainable Development Goal 7: Affordable and clean energy.

Since 2003 GSBI has accelerated over 893 social entrepreneurs by delivering a  world-class accelerator programs that connect global social enterprise leaders with Silicon Valley business executives to develop more sustainable, scalable market-based solutions to the problems of those living in poverty around the world. Over the past 15 years, we have seen that there is no single “right way” to scale. However, we have seen some themes emerge.

In search of scale, GSBI alumni have perused a number of distinct paths. Some entcerprises are able to leverage their proof of concept and record of success into large investments that will afford them the possibility of dramatic expansion. This was the case with GSBI alumni Husk Power Systems, who recently raised over $20 million to add an additional 300 mini grids in India and Tanzania and bring energy access to over 100,000 customers.

Founded in Mexico, Sistema Biobolsa has replicated operations in Kenya.

Other alumni, like Sistema Biobolsa, see replication as the most promising avenue toward scale. Sistema Biobolsa, worked with the GSBI Replication Initiative to package its business model and technology and cultivate international partnership that can replicate its success in new geographies.

But what if there are already a number of social enterprises that utilize a similar model? Organic expansion becomes difficult because the competitive landscape reduces the potential addressable market, and replication becomes challenging, as replicating organizations may face significant challenges from their more established local counterparts.

While many may seen  a challenge, GSBI alumni Alexie Seller of Pollinate Energy, and Anya Chefneff of Empower Generation saw an opportunity.

Pollinate Energy and Empower Generation both aim to increase last mile distribution of socially beneficial products (solar lanterns, clean cookstoves, etc) by training and employing women (and men) who live in under-resourced and under-served communities.  Pollinate works in India and Empower Generation in Nepal.

Empower Generation’s model and impact to date is impressive. Launched in 2011, its distribution network includes 20 women-led businesses that manage over 250 sales agents, working as village-level entrepreneurs and earning an income with every product sold. As of December 2017, the network has distributed 57,000+ clean energy products, saving Nepalese families over $2,737,000 AUD in household energy expenses and displacing 12,861 tons of CO2 by replacing kerosene and candles. Empower Generation has impacted the lives of 294,626 people by providing them with cleaner, safer access to power, light, and cook stoves.

Pollinate Energy has also had an impressive track record and has reached over 130,000 individuals in over 1000 communities throughout India. In sum, Pollinate has helped to save over 4 million liters of kerosene- offsetting almost 10 million kgs of CO2 emissions. They have also helped to save Indian families over 215 million rupees.

 Stronger together: by merging, Pollinate Energy and Empower Generation anticipate an accelerated path to scale (Source: Pollinate Energy)

Stronger together: by merging, Pollinate Energy and Empower Generation anticipate an accelerated path to scale (Source: Pollinate Energy)

Alexie and Anya first met through a connection made through GSBI.  “We Immediately saw that there were significant similarities between both of their models, as well as highly aligned leadership values and ambitions. There was the right set of raw ingredients for a strong collaboration,” said Cassandra Staff, Chief Operating Officer at Miller Center.

By merging, the two organizations will be able to leverage their increased size for greater purchasing power and economies of scale. They will also be able to amplify each other’s strengths and distinct advantages.

For example, one organization had more a sophisticated operational system; leveraging these systems across the newly-merged organization will streamline processes, supply chain, data collection and analysis, sales force recruitment, and leadership.  On the other hand, the other party had much more advanced skills-development programs for their staff and sales agents. By integrating these trainings, the talent at Pollinate Energy will have the skills needed to scale with their organization

“One exciting development for India will be adopting Empower Generation’s rural-based sales approach. This will allow us to reach remote families who are currently missing out on accessing our life-changing products. Together, we will reach millions faster and more efficiently, and be better placed to empower women to play a central role in the development of their communities and their families. This is critical when our model still currently relies on the support of generous donors to support our growth,” says Alexie Seller, who will remain as CEO for the new merged organization.”

While there are obvious advantages of leveraging each other’s strengths, the process of identifying those strengths and determining the practicality of merging was not without its own challenges.  In order to help facilitate the merger process, Miller Center Executive Fellow, Steven White accompanied both of these organizations throughout the process and provided strategic advice on how to navigate this process.

 

Source for banner image: Sustainable Energy for All. Click here to view the recorded announcement of the merger between Pollinate Energy and Empower Generation.

2018 Innovative Professor of the Year: Dr. Tonya Nilsson

2018 Innovative Professor of the Year: Dr. Tonya Nilsson

Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship is delighted to announce Dr. Tonya Nilsson as this year’s “Innovative Professor of the Year”. As a full time lecturer in Santa Clara University's Civil Engineering department, Nilsson regularly teaches Graphic Communication, Statics, Strength of Materials, Civil Engineering Materials, and Civil Engineering Professional Development.

Nilsson’s commitment to the field is reflected in her impressive academic and professional credentials. After studying for a Bachelors in Architectural Engineering from Cal Poly, SLO, she went on to earn a Masters in Structural Engineering from Stanford, and a Ph.D in Structural Mechanics from UC Davis. Prior to her time as a professor at SCU, she worked on structural engineering projects in industry and became a tenured Associate Professor at CSU Chico. Additionally, she has worked with and led SCEE’s ExCEED Teaching Workshops for 8 years.

The selection committee for the Innovative Professor of the Year award, made up of the 2017 Global Social Benefit Fellows cohort, recognized Dr. Nilsson for her effective and accommodating teaching style. From incorporating physical models into lectures to help students visualize key concepts, to mixing in both individual and collaborative problem sets, she caters to students of all learning styles, and fosters a classroom environment that encourages unique problem solving approaches and innovative thinking.

Even beyond her classes, Dr. Nilsson is thoroughly involved with the rest of SCU’s engineering community. As an advisor for Engineers Without Borders and the Society of Women Engineers, she has travelled with both clubs to apply her knowledge of engineering to communities in need. Additionally, she does a significant amount of work promoting best practices in education, currently serving as a board member for the Civil Engineering Division of the American Society of Engineering Education.

Her leadership both within and outside the classroom has made a lasting impact on her students, inspiring and equipping them to become leaders of their own:

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“Dr. T inspires me to go out of my comfort zone, be a leader, and do what I think is right. She’s the perfect amount of encouraging, while also being honest about what she thinks is reasonable and fair. She’s one of the few professors that I can always count on to give honest and true advice, while also giving me the opportunity and support to pursue things I can’t convince myself to do on my own.”

-Shiyin Lim ‘19, Bioengineering

“Dr. T has been an invaluable mentor and role model…. She has a passion for teaching that is obvious in every interaction, and she is constantly pushing me to explore problems from different angles.… The example she sets through her humanitarian work inspires both myself and everyone else in Engineers Without Borders to explore how we can use our engineering skills to help disadvantaged communities.”

-Ben Lampe, ‘18, Electrical Engineering

Join us as we honor Dr. Nilsson at the Research with a Mission Open House & Expo at SCU's Locatelli Center on May 23rd. 

Addressing Issues in the Bay Area

Addressing Issues in the Bay Area

Miller Center announces new cohort in partnership with Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County for Bay Area-based social entrepreneurs

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Bay Area residents have enjoyed meteoric growth in the past few years, bringing in $781 billion for gross domestic product in 2016 alone. While this new surge of wealth may be beneficial for some people, the rise of incomes has been followed by a concurrent rise in inequality.

Fortunately, there is an abundance of social entrepreneurs and innovation working to reconcile the Bay Area’s breakneck growth with stable levels of income equality, with the ultimate aim of making a livelihood possible for every citizen.

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Miller Center is excited to share that we are collaborating with Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County to run a Bay Area GSBI® Boost from July 24-26, a 3-day capacity building workshop engineered specifically for social entrepreneurs concerned with income inequality and its impact on the San Francisco Bay Area. These entrepreneurs envision a Golden State in which innovation and high standards of living for all residents are not incompatible ideals, but instead are complementary ambitions welded together as core values of the Bay Area.

Miller Center will leverage Silicon Valley expertise to equip these social entrepreneurs with the skills they need to address the challenges of domestic poverty and economic inequality. Specifically, Miller Center’s GSBI Boost workshop allows social entrepreneurs to gain valuable business knowledge, improve their strategic thinking, and articulate a business plan that demonstrates impact, growth, and long-term financial sustainability. GSBI Boost will also bring together social business leaders from the community for an unparalleled networking event.

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The Catholic ethos of unity in faith and universality in mission harmonizes well with the historically welcome spirit of the Bay Area. Similarly, Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County helps individuals and families rise above economic barriers, regardless of their background. Miller Center will gild the GSBI Boost with the altruism of Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, channeling values such as humility and service toward those in need.

Selected entrepreneurs will take advantage of various opportunities in the GSBI Boost:

  • PROVEN PROGRAM.  Experience Miller Center’s structured, validated curriculum that has helped over 800 social enterprises attain operational excellence and prepare for investment.

  • EXECUTIVE MENTORS. You will be accompanied by Silicon Valley mentors with expertise in innovation and entrepreneurship who are your trusted advisors.

  • RELATIONSHIP BUILDING. Not only will you work directly with Silicon Valley mentors, but you will work alongside other leaders also trying to solve the problems faced in the Bay Area.

  • NO CHARGE.  All Miller Center GSBI accelerator programs are offered at no charge to selected social enterprises.

  • INVESTOR SHOWCASE*.  An opportunity to pitch your plan for scaling with a justifiable ask at an Investor Showcase in Silicon Valley. (*Available only to enterprises selected to participate in the subsequent GSBI Online accelerator program.)

We invite all social entrepreneurs who are delivering solutions to impact the vulnerable or low-income populations of the Bay Area to apply.

Global Social Venture Competition Features Miller Center Connections

Global Social Venture Competition Features Miller Center Connections

The Future of Social Ventures Conference that took place on Friday, March 16 at UC Berkeley featured several Miller Center Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) connections, including keynote speaker Carlos Orellana, CEO of the 2012 GSBI® alumni enterprise salaUno, and current 2018 GSBI social enterprise Untapped.

The Global Social Venture Competition (GSVC) is a pitch competition providing exposure and mentorship to aspiring social entrepreneurs, a model that complements Miller Center’s accelerator programs. GSVC focuses on finding innovative solutions in the social enterprise space, while Miller Center’s Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI) offers stage-specific support to social enterprises to help them scale.

  Pictured (L-R): Richie Garner, Gavin Cosgrave, Lauren Oliver, Christina Harris, Will Paton, Marisa Rudolph

Pictured (L-R): Richie Garner, Gavin Cosgrave, Lauren Oliver, Christina Harris, Will Paton, Marisa Rudolph

Several Miller Center student employees attended, including Gavin Cosgrave and Richie Garner, and 2017 Global Social Benefit Fellows Will Paton, Christina Harris, Marisa Rudolph, and Lauren Oliver. The students networked with conference attendees, learned from successful entrepreneur speakers, and watched presentations from several of the competing teams.

Orellana kicked off the conference with his keynote speech about his path from a career in finance to pursuing degrees in business and public health at UC Berkeley. There, he learned about Aravind, and realized that a similar business could benefit Mexicans suffering from blindness. Orellana discussed the challenges he faced with adapting Aravind’s business model to Mexico, and how salaUno and Aravind have since worked together to achieve mutual success. Today, SalaUno is the leading provider of cataract surgery in Mexico City.

Next up, Miller Center student employees attended a workshop hosted by OpenIDEO titled “Circular Design for Social Impact.” OpenIDEO is an online community platform that hosts challenges around a variety of global issues, an excellent pipeline partner for GSBI programs.

  Founder, Food 4 Education, Wawira Njiru   Photo credit: Food 4 Education

Founder, Food 4 Education, Wawira Njiru
Photo credit: Food 4 Education

Wawira Njiru, founder of the 2017 GSBI Accelerator alumni enterprise Food 4 Education, started her business through an OpenIDEO challenge for creating ideas to help urban slums combat climate change.

At the workshop, OpenIDEO staff presented on the potential for rethinking products and services to account for their whole life cycle, from manufacturing to disposal. Teams of conference attendees were given two options for imagining new solutions: repurposing material waste from Nike shoes to create new products, or creating a new venture around reducing food waste. Each team progressed through the design thinking process and presented elevator pitches for their ideas at the end of the short workshop.

Following the workshop, Samasource and LXMI CEO Leila Janah spoke about her journey founding the companies, and about the potential of social enterprises to reduce poverty. Samasource has employed almost 10,000 bottom-of-the-pyramid workers to complete data entry and machine learning algorithm work. Janah recently wrote a book, “Give Work” about the power of jobs to lift people out of poverty.

During the afternoon pitch competition, the seven Global Social Venture Competition finalists from the U.S. West Coast region pitched their ideas and fielded investor questions.

Second among the batch was current GSBI In-Residence enterprise Untapped, which provides a clean water and last-mile distribution platform for developing markets. Untapped creates water-treatment centers that double as local distribution hubs to reach remote villages. Although Untapped did not advance to the world finals in Milan, they will continue to hone their enterprise for the 2018 GSBI In-Residence in August.

New beginnings: Four Miller Center Global Social Benefit Fellows awarded Fulbright scholarships

New beginnings: Four Miller Center Global Social Benefit Fellows awarded Fulbright scholarships

I love April because many new exciting things begin!

We have begun teaching the new cohort of 18 Global Social Benefit Fellows! Fourteen of these will be working in Africa this summer, in Ghana, Rwanda, Uganda, and Zambia. We will be working with nine social enterprises, eight of them alumni graduating from the GSBI Accelerator in 2016 and 2017. Replication is a strong theme across the action research projects, with half of the projects testing and refining lessons for accelerating social impact in rural Africa. Half of the projects will evaluate and propose business model innovations with our social enterprise partners. Please come meet the new fellows at the Research With a Mission Open House and Expo on Wednesday, May 23, 2:30-4:30 pm, in Locatelli Center. 

April brings news for our alumni fellows and the exciting next stage of their journeys! I am particularly proud of four of our Global Social Benefit Fellows (GSBF) who have received prestigious Fulbright awards to continue researching social entrepreneurship in the developing world!

Please join me in congratulating Ericka, Carson, Athena, and Marisa!

Our alumni fellows are building the social enterprise ecosystem

We are proud of our alumni fellows starting graduate studies

 

Unless stated otherwise, photo credits: Santa Clara University

CocoAsenso: Reflections from Launching a Social Enterprise in the Philippines

CocoAsenso: Reflections from Launching a Social Enterprise in the Philippines

The rural Philippines: hot, wet, lush. Though I wasn’t exactly sure where I would end up after graduating from Santa Clara University and hiking the Pacific Crest Trail for 4.5 months, I’ve come to settle in at Paranas, Samar, my home away from home. Don’t get me wrong, living in the Eastern Visayas has not come without its challenges—never quite “fitting in”, sweating—always, and living to the cacophonous soundtrack of roosters—but behind the curtain of this small provincial town, innovation is brewing in the coconut industry, and I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of it.

 Rice fields and coconut in Paranas, Samar

Rice fields and coconut in Paranas, Samar

For many of us, coconuts have begun to play a larger role in our daily lives over the last 5-10 years. We cook with its oil, munch on its dried meat in our snacks, moisturize our skin, and of course, bake macaroons. Despite its wonders, the journey of a coconut and its farmer remains mystery to most. Prior to beginning my work in the Philippines, most of my coconut related thoughts revolved around devising a strategy to best chisel open the outer shell without injuring myself, this generally required moving from the kitchen to my garage to select more appropriate tools.

For the more than 15 million Filipinos who farm coconuts for a living, the coconut is more than just a guilty pleasure. Throughout its 7,000+ islands, generations of farmers and their communities have harnessed coconuts to build homes, sweeten meals, create art, and generate income. Its many uses and frequent fruit production has led to the coining of its eternal name, “the tree of life”. And with the rise of globalized markets, more people are demanding its coconut products, yet, despite this growth, 9 million of these coconut farmers still live in poverty.

 

The Disconnect

 Copra drying process

Copra drying process

Understanding this discrepancy begins at the farm. In Samar, most farmers lack access to higher-value markets for their coconuts and are thus forced to produce a low-value product called copra. In the Philippines, farmers spend long hours drying coconut meat to make copra. After the moisture content is reduced to the required maximum, farmers sell copra to village-level traders who then send it to regional oil mills for energy intensive processing. This ultimately creates a low-value coconut oil called refined, deodorized, bleached (RBD) oil, used primarily for cooking. Despite the intensity of their efforts, the average farmer in Samar earns around $620 per year from copra production.

Concurrently, producers of high-value virgin coconut oil (VCO) operate large, but costly processing facilities in more industrialized regions of the Philippines (Manila, Cebu, Davao). In these areas, many high volume, multi-million dollar facilities compete for expensive whole coconuts to be shipped from the closest farmers who are able to meet their demand. These heavy whole coconuts are costly to ship and are commonly processed into dried coconut flakes (desiccated coconut) before being expelled into VCO.

 Large scale coconut processing facility

Large scale coconut processing facility

 

The Opportunity

It’s at this juncture where you might be thinking: why not produce desiccated coconut in rural areas and employ farmers in the processing? With this model coconut farmers could increase their incomes by forgoing the need to make copra and access employment at a municipal-level processing facility, at the same time, the large, multi-million dollar facilities could access less expensive desiccated coconut (DC), forgoing the need to ship whole coconuts, which are 7x heavier than DC.

This is what we are doing at CocoAsenso.

For the last 2 years our team has been assembling the necessary partners, funding, and equipment to begin creating high-value coconut products in the communities where coconuts are grown. Our next challenge: can we scale this innovation beyond our first facility to make a more equitable and efficient coconut industry in the Philippines? We think so.

 

Reflections

After beginning my journey to social enterprise as a Global Social Benefit Fellow in early-2015, consulting Jibu during its early growth stages, and helping launch CocoAsenso since May 2017, I’ve assembled a few reflections to consider for those looking to create scalable ideas in the social enterprise space:

 CocoAsenso’s first processing facility in Paranas, Samar

CocoAsenso’s first processing facility in Paranas, Samar

 

1. Let your community shape your model

The traditional model for starting a business or implementing a new innovation begins with the idea, then finds a financially capable market segment. While this may work for proven businesses that are trying to target established certain groups of people in new areas, new ideas seeking to solve social and environmental challenges in impoverished areas must understand its communities first. Some important questions to ask yourself during the brainstorming process:

  • How much investment is needed to carry out given solutions? How can I minimize investment while maximizing impact?

  • Has anyone pursued my idea? If yes, why didn’t it work or why couldn’t it scale? Was it a capital, human, or infrastructure problem? How will you overcome it?

  • What is the broader context I’m operating in? What resources are available locally, regionally, globally? How will I be disrupting the livelihoods of existing business owners, how vulnerable are these entrepreneurs? How will I give disrupted groups a voice?

  • What is my role in bringing this idea to fruition? How will I ensure my idea has local ownership and management?

 

2. Focus, with a broad vision

 Coconut jerky during trial phases.

Coconut jerky during trial phases.

In the world of coconuts, there are hundreds, if not thousands of ways to extract value from this tree of life. Many are quite niche, and alluring along the long, lonely path to establishing a processing facility in a remote farming community. For CocoAsenso, coconut jerky caught our attention, but, ultimately proved economically infeasible. While exciting in the moment, exploring the feasibility of this products ultimately slowed our progress toward our core model.

  • In short: let your competitive advantage drive sustainable revenue, then expand into other areas once you know how to do what you do best.

 

3. Strategically target financial partners

While the social enterprise ecosystem is still young in the Philippines, impact investing is continuing to gain traction among NGOs and government. More impact-oriented capital is enabling social enterprises to scale with less reliance on traditional financial institutions. CocoAsenso has raised most of its capital through competitions and grants, largely from local and regional partners. We believe these sources will continue to play a substantial role in supporting our early growth stages. A few insights from our experience:

 Opening day at our first facility alongside many of our partners.

Opening day at our first facility alongside many of our partners.

  • Build resilience in disaster-affected communities: As more NGOs look to fund capacity building, target organizations who may have left over or partitioned funds from disaster response efforts. Of course one should not predate funding which helps the most vulnerable bounce-back from a disaster, but in many cases, 2-3 years after a spike in NGOs have left a disaster affected community, there will be remaining financial support best suited for establishing social enterprise. CocoAsenso has been able to access capacity-building grants by working with farming communities affected by Typhoon Haiyan which damaged much of the Eastern Visayas in 2f014.

  • Find partners to widen your scope: While much government funding & support remains excluded from for-profit social enterprises, other groups who may share your same vision can work with you to carry out your idea in exchange for ownership or repayment. CocoAsenso was able to establish its first facility by partnering with a local farming association interested in our vision.

  • Access university resources: As more universities are directing resources and attention toward catalyzing social and environmental change off-campus, utilize their capacity to carry out your shared vision. The Miller Center’s Global Social Benefit Institute is a perfect example of this: a win-win for Santa Clara University and the enterprise. Other Universities, such as the University of San Carlos (USC) in Cebu City (a Miller Center partner), are even going a step further. With the recent announcement of their new Center for Social Enterprise (CSE), undergraduates will soon be required to enroll in social enterprise curriculum. USC’s CSE will also be working to target and launch enterprises in communities throughout greater Cebu.

 

4. Consider how to prioritize your impact model

Balancing impact and growth can be a difficult trade-off in social enterprise. Founders generally want to be as impactful as possible, but market and political conditions may limit their efforts. At CocoAsenso, we’re beginning to ask difficult questions that will have a significant impact on our model as we scale. While unique to our model and the local coconut market, these questions serve as a framework to think about other challenges:

 Whole coconuts ready to be delivered to CocoAsenso directly from the farmer.

Whole coconuts ready to be delivered to CocoAsenso directly from the farmer.

  • How do we best compensate farmers for their coconuts? Do we pay farmers above market rate for their coconuts? Or generate more profit to enable faster scaling? While paying higher prices for locally sourced coconut may have more immediate benefit, this leaves less money for reinvesting, paying farmer employees or funding community development activities.
  • How do we protect tenant farmers from being kicked off their land? Many coconut farmers in our community do not own their land. Some operate under an agreement with the landowner and share the revenue from selling copra. With the establishment of our coconut processing facility, landowners have the opportunity to sell whole coconuts, freeing up the needed labor for copra production. Anticipating the potential for tenants (often the most vulnerable farmers) to be kicked off their land, we must establish protective measures that are fair for landowners and tenants. 
  • Who owns my enterprise? In an ideal world, new social enterprises will always be launched and owned by the most vulnerable and capable. In reality, many are launched by people who are better resourced, may come from another country or community, and have a vision for high level change. As a committed founder, spending time, energy, and passion, you must ask how best to balance fair compensation for your efforts while maximizing benefit to the people you are working to help. It’s here where the core of your company’s “why” lies.

 

The Road Ahead

While coconuts may not have been on the top of my mind amid my post-graduation job search, CocoAsenso has challenged me to better understand the role of social enterprise in global development. Upon my completion of Miller Center’s Global Social Benefit Fellowship, I’ve thought more and more about starting an enterprise of my own, but for now I’ll be in the Philippines, working with coconut farmers of Paranas, and dreaming about the road ahead.

To learn more about CocoAsenso, and its mission to improve the livelihoods of remote coconut farmers in the Philippines, click here.

To read more of Tom’s reflections and follow his upcoming Pacific Northwest Trail thru-hike, check out his blog: wheres-wheeler.com.