Engaging Men in the Conversation of Women's Empowerment

Engaging Men in the Conversation of Women's Empowerment

Why it is Important to Engage Men in the conversation of Gender Equality

The argument that describes gender inequality as a human rights issue approves the notion that it is an issue for both genders because ‘humans’ comprise of both men and women who co-exist and are co-dependent most of the time.

According to Wikipedia, Gender is the range of characteristics pertaining to and differentiating between, masculinity and femininity. Depending on the context, these characteristics may include biological sex, sex-based social structures, or gender identity.

The word gender and the role it plays in each society is socially constructed including the responsibilities that society considers appropriate for men and women. If you remove socially constructed roles from the word, it only defines the biological sex and gender the person identifies with, which means the issue of gender inequality is not limited or fixated to remove the inequality of ones gender but to give all humans equal socio-economic opportunities. UNICEF says gender equality "means that women and men, and girls and boys, enjoy the same rights, resources, opportunities, and protections. It does not require that girls and boys, or women and men, be the same”.

The ladder towards women empowerment

Empowerment is a process. A gradual process of visibility, conversations, dialogues, resources, and recognition. This process is not restricted to marginalized and vulnerable communities or one gender, it is for everyone to become stronger, more confident, and take control of their actions. Involving men in the process of empowering women is necessary to fix the problem from the grassroots level.

Many well-intentioned empowerment efforts in the past have faced backlash from men and increased violence against women since men were included in the awareness. According to UN, in a water project in Africa, efforts of an aid agency to involve women more effectively as pump attendants met stiff resistance from men, particularly when it was proposed that women pump attendants should also be given bicycles to allow them to carry out their work. Men objected first on the grounds the women could not learn to ride bicycles. When that was proven wrong, the real objections emerged, that is, that bicycles – a clear status symbol in a poor community – should not be given to women if men did not already have them. The aid agency learned an important lesson, that efforts for gender equality and the empowerment of women must include awareness raising and engagement of men.

While the vast majority of us agree that involving men in this process is an integral aspect, women-only safe spaces are still an important rung of this ladder. Men and boys can play an important role in reclaiming responsibility in the home, the community, and the workplace but the need for a conversation that is led by women for women still holds unprecedented importance in this narrative.  

For example, when webinars, workshops, and programs about gender equality allow women to share their experiences and concerns, they are hesitant to raise their voice in mixed-gender settings. The same women feel more free, open and have candid heart-to-heart conversations when in women-only settings.

This is why topics like sexual assault and domestic violence are still preferred to be conducted in women-only settings to avoid creating additional trauma for harmed parties enabling a space to address gender-specific issues facing those who identify as women. However, some organizations highly advocate for involving men in these conversations too so that victims of abuse have positive male role models. If, how, and when men should be included, that’s the discretion organizations have to make based on their initiatives, topics, and audiences.

‘If’, ‘how’ and ‘when’ Dichotomy

Women Economic Empowerment is one of our strategic initiatives at Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship. Our 2019 GSBI accelerator cohort has a separate affinity group for women-led enterprises to help them scale their businesses through exclusive business resources and webinars. To find out the answer of if, how and when for our center, we recently conducted an anonymous survey to ask our staff if women-only settings hold more importance in our WEE initiatives or if men should be a part of all discussions. Some of the highlighted opinions are:

“I think involving men in some parts of the broader discussions is important, but that it is also critical to have female-only forums. For so long women have been excluded, and they deserve to move forward a dialogue that reflects their unique perspectives and values in service to other women. That said, the discussion is part of a broader solution that must engage men, but I don't think men should be invited to add their input to everything. Maybe an 80/20 rule can apply, whereby 80% of our sessions are designed for women-only, and 20% are designed for both men and women.”

“In terms of supporting women social entrepreneurs, I am in agreement with creating gender-restricted spaces, because I recognize the value such spaces can create for any under-represented, vulnerable, or marginalized group, and I understand that the presence of men could inhibit conversations. As a man, I prefer to leave it to the discretion of the organizers and participants of the spaces to decide if, when, and how, men should be included in any of the group activities. Regardless of the decision made, it is incumbent upon the organizers of these spaces to share the learnings (respecting confidentiality, of course) with the rest of the Miller Center team as appropriate, so that we can all be better allies. That said, our WEE initiative includes a second dimension, which is supporting SEs working to benefit women and girls, regardless of the gender of the social entrepreneur. I don't see any reason why those spaces should be restricted to women-only.”

Men as an Ally of Women EmpowermenT

Men have the most important role in achieving gender equality and promoting women empowerment initiatives. Men as an ally can be a role model in elevating women’s access to  employment, appropriate working conditions, control of economic resources and full participation in decision-making. UN Women’s campaign HeForShe is an example of a similar solidarity campaign to achieve equality by encouraging all genders to partake as agents of change and take action against negative stereotypes and behaviors. If you are a man reading this, here’s how you can become an ally of women empowerment efforts.

  1. Increase your participation in domestic work and family responsibilities to strive for work/life balance together.

  2. Advocate for women’s access to employment, rights, and opportunities.

  3. In you are an organization, create positive male role models on gender equality by introducing fair employment practices, anti-discrimination measures, and gender-inclusive decision making and by combating sexual harassment in the workplace.  

The Way Forward

To shake the current scenario, the way together is the way forward. Currently, around the world, men hold decision-making positions in all key areas, such as in the executive, economic decision-making, media, academia, and the judiciary. The top to bottom change is necessary to fill the leadership gap and to have our next-generation to be more inclusive and diversified. The involvement of all ‘humans,’ regardless of the gender they identify with, is necessary to have a future which is bright, open and free of any inequality.


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.

GSBI Alumni Identify Key Trends in Distribution and Energy Access

GSBI Alumni Identify Key Trends in Distribution and Energy Access


On April 18, two Miller Center alumni - Emma Colenbrander, head of the Global Distributor's Collective (GDC) at Practical Action UK and Lesley Marincola, CEO of Angaza - joined us to share key trends in the last mile distribution (LMD) and energy sectors.

Emma at GDC gave an overview of the challenges and trends at the ecosystem level that they've learned from working with hundreds of distributors. These trends include the surprising data that shows the importance of distributors increasing product diversity in their offerings versus the traditional consensus that specializing in selling one product allows for better efficiency and scale. Lesley at Angaza followed up by presenting more details on the needs of distribution partners and how they use human-centered design to build technology solutions that address them.

This webinar was a part of the focused curriculum Miller Center has developed to support our sector-specific affinity groups that work with entrepreneurs running last mile distribution and energy access businesses.

About the Authors

Marie has been working as an educator for 10 years. After discovering the concept of social enterprise in 2012, she has been focused on learning about and supporting the growth of the ecosystem through running various education programs at Impact Hub San Francisco and more recently with Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship. Inspired by her Miller Center work with maternal and child health organizations in east Africa, Marie has also recently trained and now practices as a birth doula through the SF General Hospital volunteer doula program.

Neal Harrison has seven years experience working on social innovation, entrepreneurship, impact investment and supply chain management in the U.S., the U.K., Canada and Ghana. He has experience in researching and report writing, leading entrepreneurial ventures, and managing international projects in the public, non-profit and social enterprise sectors. He is certified in Project Management Professional (PMP) and hold an MSc in Global Economics and Politics from the London School of Economics. Neal has a passion for economic development and finding sustainable solutions to pressing social challenges. He is particularly interested in entrepreneurship, food systems and environmental issues.

Eight Fellows Heading Off to Graduate School!

Eight Fellows Heading Off to Graduate School!

Our Global Social Benefit Fellowship alumni are moving on to greater things! These 8 graduates of our program start challenging and exciting graduate school programs in the fall.

- Keith Warner OFM

Lindsey Allen

GSBF 2015 with Solar Sister

Action Research Portfolio

London School of Economics, Master of Science in Environment and Development 

"Over the course of my research and work in emerging markets, I have come to recognize that many of the development challenges I witnessed are rooted in the vulnerabilities that exist in local food systems. With this in mind, I pursued a postgraduate program that would give me a stronger foundation in food policy, political ecology, and development theory so I can have a greater impact in agricultural development strategies. "

Madeline Nguyen

GSBF 2016 with lluméxico

Action Research Portfolio

Yale University, Yale School of Public Health, Master of Public Health in Social and Behavioral Sciences with a Global Health Concentration

“I applied to Yale School of Public Health because its interdisciplinary approach fosters innovative and critical thinking and provides several opportunities for students to pursue their ambitions. I am very excited to continue my education and to become more equipped to create a more equitable and just world.”

David Hong

GSBF 2016 with Asdenic

Action Research Portfolio

Rush Medical College, Doctor of Medicine Program, MD

“When applying, Rush stood out as one of the most dedicated and committed medical schools in addressing health inequality and disparity within healthcare in the communities they reside in. My hope, in attending Rush, is to not only become a great clinician, but one who additionally understands the social, economic, and environmental factors that contribute to health--and to actively work towards finding solutions both inside the hospital and outside of it as well.”

Grace Krueger

GSBF 2017 with Nurture Africa

Action Research Portfolio

University of California, Berkeley - School of Public Health, Master of Public Health in Maternal, Child & Adolescent Health Program

 Grace was inspired to apply to the Maternal, Child & Adolescent Health program at UC Berkeley because of her prior experience serving maternal and child populations while working at Nurture Africa and Stanford Children's Health. Grace is excited to further develop her research and statistical analysis skills at UC Berkeley and hopes to apply her new skills to empower global communities to reduce health care disparities.”

Athena Nguyen 

GSBF 2017 with Koe Koe Tech

Action Research Portfolio

University of California, Berkeley, Master of Public Health with an emphasis in Global Health and Environment

“I applied to Berkeley because I have always admired its rigorous program and dedication to diversity. I am elated to join a cohort of brilliant people, and I am especially excited to use my position as a Kaiser Permanente Public Health Scholar to engage with underserved communities. “

Brooke Latham 

GSBF 2015 with Bana 

Action Research Portfolio

ESADE, Master of Business Administration Program

“After 3 years with Alterna working in impact investing and social entrepreneurship in Guatemala, I am pursuing an MBA to further my career in impact investing. I am excited to be in an international and diverse setting in a program that has a strong emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation.”

Christina Egwim

GSBF 2016 with Bana

Action Research Portfolio

University of California, San FranciscoSchool of Medicine - Doctorate in Medicine."

“I applied to UCSF because I wanted the opportunity to learn from faculty and students who care just as much about health equity, community development, and social justice as they do about human biology and pathology. From this program, I hope to develop the skills that will allow me to be a competent and compassionate physician.”

Esther Bartlett

GSBF 2018 with Koe Koe Tech 

Action Research Portfolio

California Northstate University, College of Medicine, Doctor of Medicine

“I applied to Northstate because it (1) has incredible clinical rotations serving the Californian prison system and substance abuse populations, (2) is ranked in the Top 20 scores nation-wide for the 2018 Step 1 board exam, (3) had an above-average residency match rate for its first graduating class this year. However, I chose to attend Northstate because I quickly recognized that this community is highly motivated, accomplished, socially competent, innovative, and collaborative!”

About the author

Keith Douglass Warner, OFM, PhD directs Miller Center’s education, fellowship, grants and action research activities. He directs the Global Social Benefit Fellowship, which provides a comprehensive program of mentored, field-based study and research for SCU juniors within the Center’s worldwide network of social entrepreneurs. With Thane Kreiner, PhD, he designed the fellowship and wrote the grant that funds it.

Peter O'Riordan Executive Fellow / Energy Access Blog

Peter O'Riordan Executive Fellow / Energy Access Blog

I’m honored and excited to be Miller Center’s newest Executive Fellow. Executive Fellows strive to contribute to Miller Center’s mission in ways that go beyond typical mentor engagements. I am currently working with Andy Lieberman on the Energy Access Affinity Group, one of a number of experimental affinity groups we are piloting in 2019.

My journey to Miller Center began about 2 years ago. After a 30-year career in technology, I decided to take a break in 2014. I joined Encore.org, an organization that seeks to pair executives with local non-profit organizations for a one-year part time fellowship. I worked at Breakthrough Silicon Valley (BSV) where I partnered with the Executive Director (ED) to help refine strategy. I became interim ED when she moved on; overall I was involved with BSV for about 2 years. Upon leaving, I realized that one of the biggest contributions I had made was in mentoring and coaching the various members of the organization; this had a far more positive and long-lasting impact than most of the specific initiatives I worked on.

I now knew that coaching organizations who were making a positive difference in the world was where I wanted to focus. But in what sector? Several long and hard-hitting conversations with my 2 daughters about climate change and climate justice, coupled with my own interest in that space, made me realize that this was the area where I wanted to engage. Miller Center’s focus on helping those who are most at risk from the effects of climate change, and its mentor-driven model was a perfect fit.

The goal for the Energy Access Affinity Group is to provide a clearing house and forum for both social entrepreneurs and mentors working in this space. “Energy Access” is a very broad term, covering everything from supplying end customer products like solar lamps and cell phone chargers (for example Solar Sister), installing single building solar systems (Village Energy in Uganda), installing micro-grids designed to provide power to entire villages (like Mlinda or Husk Power Systems), providing other forms of energy generation such as biomass, and non-electric products like clean cookstoves (Potential Energy). It also covers technology platforms like Pay-As-You-Go (PAYGO) systems, offered by companies like Angaza. Given the breadth of this space, it’s important that we structure outputs from the affinity group in ways that allow entrepreneurs and mentors to easily find information that’s relevant to them.

Solar Sister sales agents with a solar-powered lamp and cell phone charger.

Solar Sister sales agents with a solar-powered lamp and cell phone charger.

PAYGO solar panel from Angaza.

PAYGO solar panel from Angaza.

Using the same philosophy that underpins the various Replication Playbooks that Miller Center has generated (such as the Last Mile Distribution playbook), we aim to speed time-to-success by distilling key learnings, insights, and potential gotchas in easily accessible and digestible formals. The first product we’ve come up with is an Energy Access Mentor Background manual which attempts to help mentors understand the general space and to engage more effectively with SE’s by understanding some of the common challenges and pitfalls in each of the sectors. We are currently polling SE’s and mentors to understand the kinds of information that would be helpful to them, and the most effective ways of disseminating such information.

Interested in becoming a mentor with Miler Center?

Learn more about mentorship and apply.

About the Author


Peter O’Riordan was born and raised in Ireland. He has 30 years experience in the technology sector, most recently at Cisco where he held a variety of VP/GM positions in the Data Center Switching space. Peter is an Encore Foundation Fellow, and has 5 years experience working, volunteering, and coaching in the nonprofit sector. He is married with 2 daughters and is looking forward to being an empty nester.

Can a Traditional Nonprofit Learn to Think Like a Social Enterprise?

Can a Traditional Nonprofit Learn to Think Like a Social Enterprise?

Whether it’s housing the poor, educating children, or feeding the hungry, nonprofits exist first and foremost to serve their beneficiaries and fulfill their stated mission. To achieve this purpose, most nonprofit organizations rely on a variety of funding sources including grants, individual donations, government contracts, and sometimes client fees.

Leaders and managers in organizations that rely heavily on grants and donations often operate with an “all or nothing” mindset, dependent on the success of a given grant proposal or donor fundraising campaign. This funding model can create a “scarcity mindset” limiting potential growth opportunities due to the continuous pursuit of grants and donations needed just to sustain the work they are currently doing.

Last month, Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County (CCSCC) gathered together 20 staff members, representing 11 different program areas including housing, education, immigration legal services, health care, and refugee foster care. Gregory Kepferle, CEO at CCSCC wanted to introduce the concept of social entrepreneurship as a model for expanding social impact while improving the organization’s financial sustainability.

...by encouraging program leaders to start thinking like social enterprises, we can fulfill our mission and begin to reduce the need for donor funding.
— Gregory Kepferle, CEO at CCSCC

Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, in partnership with Catholic Charities of Santa Clara (CCSCC), created a customized 10-week program for program leaders, specifically designed to challenge their thinking about revenue sources, business models, and financial sustainability for the programs and services they deliver. Through a combination of structured curriculum and executive mentorship, each of the 11 teams will deepen their understanding of business model concepts and financial terms, identify key drivers of financial performance and impact, and develop “what-if” analyses to explore new approaches for programs and funding.

The program and the partnership with CCSCC is part of Miller Center’s ambitious new initiative to advance social entrepreneurship through partnerships with religious orders and institutions. The CASE (Catholic Action for Social Entrepreneurship) Initiative, which launched last year, intends to transform Catholic social ministries into social enterprises, create social entrepreneurship leaders and influencers within religious orders, and engage youth by providing opportunities to pursue social entrepreneurship as a vocation.

Can traditional nonprofits learn to develop an entrepreneurial mindset? Can they learn to think like a social enterprise? The signs are promising. The shift in philanthropy away from continuous annual funding and toward funding initiatives with the potential for long-term financial sustainability may make this an imperative for their future.

About the Author


Jeff is Program Manager, Growth and Innovation for Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University. He is also Founder and Chief Strategist at iEnso Consulting, a boutique consultancy which helps purpose-driven businesses and entrepreneurs to bring new products and services to market. Prior to joining Miller Center, he was the Managing Director at Inkomoko, a business accelerator supporting the growth of high-potential entrepreneurs in Rwanda. His previous experience includes work as Venture Manager at Kaiser Permanente Ventures and Director of Product Marketing for Shaklee Corporation -a $500 million global consumer products company. He has also held positions with numerous startups including: Burn Manufacturing, Gazoontite.com, Syndero, Wikimedia Foundation, and GameChanger Products. Jeff earned his MBA from the University of Washington, Foster School of Business.

2019 GSBI Online Cohort at Bay Area Impact Summit 2019

“Can we Marie Kondo our money and investments? How much is enough?”

Opening panel discussion, photo courtesy of One World Training and Investments

Opening panel discussion, photo courtesy of One World Training and Investments

This thought posed by Kristen Hull, Founder and CEO of Nia Impact Capital, struck me while she and Joel Solomon, Founding Partner of Renewal Funds kicked off the opening session of One World Training and Investment’s 2019 Bay Area Impact Summit last March. This idea to apply the KonMari method to one’s belongings has become ubiquitous because of the Netflix special, but to Kristen’s point, we should really be thinking about applying it to how we invest our money in order to declutter, be more aware and be intentional with our investments. Too often, we are putting our money in to funds and investments in which we are too far removed from how our money is being spent, and often not realizing the impact of those dollars.

Photo courtesy of One World Training and Investments

Photo courtesy of One World Training and Investments

One World Training and Investment’s Bay Area Impact Summit (#BAIS19) was held on March 19, 2019 and was a convening of over 150 representatives from the Bay Area’s impact investing ecosystem, bringing together angel investors, impact investors, family office representatives, foundations, fund managers, ecosystem builders, social entrepreneurs, and as Angie Mertens of One World Training affectionately stated, the “impact curious.” Among the social entrepreneurs present in the room were those in Miller Center’s current 2019 GSBI®️ Online cohort in our Bay Area affinity group. In addition to the thought provoking opening panel mentioned above, the summit’s programming consisted of breakout sessions, pitches from Bay Area-based social entrepreneurs and networking opportunities.

The pitch sessions included feedback given to each pitch, which was not only helpful for the pitching entrepreneur, but for others in the room to learn from their peers. Some of my takeaways that were given to the entrepreneurs from the feedback panel and throughout the day were:

  1. You are making an offering of a solution, not just “asking for money.” Emphasize what the consequence of not investing in your company means and what the world looks like without it.

  2. Make sure your passion shines through in pitches.

  3. Research the people you are pitching to so you understand your audience and can make sure to hit on points that speak to them.

  4. If reaching out to a connection that can help your business, personalized emails go a long way.

  5. Don’t be afraid to highlight your amazing team and why they are best suited to do what you are doing.

  6. (The following two tips are from Ha Nguyen of Spero Ventures) Traction is critical. Investors need proof there is a demand for your offering (ie. the dog will eat the dog food), that early customers love your product, that you can execute with speed. Your passion and connection to your mission are important, but your ability to validate your hypotheses and show early indicators of getting to product-market fit is even more critical.

  7. Understand the "sweet spot" of investment for investors you pitch. As a founder, your most precious resource is your time. Don't waste time chasing down Series A investors if all you have is a beta product and some pilot customers. Do your research and know whether that investor invests at your stage of company.

Kristen’s opening point about being more impact focused in our investments is especially important in the Bay Area, where there are too many living in poverty and without access to basic resources. In an area where startups and innovation are abound, our entrepreneurs in the Bay Area affinity group are unique in they are using an entrepreneurial mindset in order to overcome issues that the SF Bay Area is facing, from closing the talent gap in the workforce, creating more diversity within tech jobs, and engaging underrepresented youth in STEM. If we can all be more mindful in supporting and investing in such entrepreneurs, we can “spark joy” in our financial investments and influence society in positive ways.

See the list below to learn more about the entrepreneurs in our 2019 Bay Area affinity group and how they are changing the Bay Area we live in.


Anwar McQueen of TEAM Inc., Oakland, CA - TEAM Inc.'s mission is to prepare underrepresented students for opportunities available at the intersection of tech and sport.

Brittany Hodge of Client Safety Services, San Francisco, CA - Client Safety Services fosters safer communities through relationship building, respectful interventions, and by treating all people with dignity.


Courtenay Carr Heuer of Scientific Adventures for Girls, Oakland, CA - SAFG's mission is to keep kids, especially girls and underserved youth (starting at the age of 5), engaged in STEM for the long term, either as professionals in STEM fields or as contributing members of the global community with a strong background


Michelle Glauser of Techtonica, San Francisco, CA - Techtonica's mission is to provide tech training and jobs to Bay Area women and non-binary adults with low incomes and build a diverse tech community.

Jin Lee of BabyNoggin, San Francisco, CA - BabyNoggin works to increase early detection and intervention of developmental delays for every child in the world.


Yscaira Jimenez of LaborX, San Francisco, CA - LaborX's mission is to connect skilled, untapped talent to living wage jobs.

If you want to be a part of a convening in the Bay Area of stakeholders taking action around the challenges and opportunity in funding and accelerating the seed stage of the social impact ecosystem, join me and some of our GSBI entrepreneurs at the SEED Conference taking place May 20-21, 2019 in San Francisco. Sign up for 50% off your ticket by using the code SEEDProgramPartnerVIP or using this registration link. I hope to see you in San Francisco!



Dolly Ngo is a Program Manager at Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship where she is responsible for successful execution of GSBI accelerator programs by being a bridge between social entrepreneurs and the resources they need to advance their solutions to global challenges. Prior to joining Miller Center, Dolly was an Operations Manager at GSBI alumni Good World Solutions, where she partnered with brands to utilize mobile technology to survey factory workers in Asia and promote worker voice in supply chains. In addition to her program management and social impact experience, Dolly has a background in medical devices as a quality engineer. She holds a BS in Biomedical Engineering from the University of California, Irvine, and is fluent in Vietnamese.

Learning to Use my Voice for Good

Learning to Use my Voice for Good

I was born into the loving home of compassionate, patient, and resilient parents. Growing up in Uganda during the time of Idi Amin, my father could never have predicted that he would end up falling for my mother, who grew on the outskirts of New York City. On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, my mother yearned for someone with a greater perspective for the world. Raised in a wealthy white American neighborhood, ignorant residents alienated my mother for viewing everyone as equal, and she in return despised the judgmental environment she grew up in. The two eventually would meet in Boston College’s School of Social Work and would go on to raise two girls, my sister Sarah and me. My parents raised us to speak up and use our voices for good, and as result, it has shaped who I have become.

I was raised in Arlington, Massachusetts, just six miles outside of Boston. The town of Arlington was predominately white and it impacted my experience as a young biracial girl. I developed many insecurities, the biggest being the texture of my hair. Since my mom wasn't familiar with styling black hair, my dad took charge--and he was great. He would decorate my hair with beads and braid in patterns that when I looked into the mirror made me feel beautiful. But when I went to school, that beautiful feeling quickly disappeared when people would touch my textured soft hair and pull out my beads. Not only did I feel like a zoo animal, but it was distracting and bothered me. One day I came home and told my dad that I didn't want him to do my hair anymore. He looked upset and asked me why. It was hard to tell who liked my hair more, my dad or me, but he knew that something had happened. He asked if what bothered me was kids playing with my hair, and I nodded as tears rolled down my checks. Then he said something I will never forget. He told me, "If you don't like something, you can tell someone to stop.” Later, with my mom, the two explained to me that I had to speak up when something was happening that I didn't like or feel comfortable with--so I did. The next day I went to school and a classmate tried to touch my hair.  I said, "Please don't do that. I don't like when you touch my hair.” She stopped and looked surprised, but I didn’t dwell on it because, finally, I felt comfortable.


Being able to use my voice and speak up became a way for me to realize what I wanted, and what I wanted more than anything was to see more of the world. I was eager to look outside the one perspective my town offered, which led me to spend every summer in Uganda where my dad’s side of the family lives. I developed a cultural competence early on and began to see things through multiple lenses. The culture, music, and people being so different from what I was used to in Boston was refreshing. I embraced and cherished all the unique values--some of which I like more than America--and as I got older, each summer became an opportunity to do more meaningful work, like helping my grandma with her nonprofit, the Makula Fund.  

When I came back from summer vacations, I was frequently met with judgment about Africa. My friends would ask me if there were any lions by my house and assume that it was a dangerous place to be. I was puzzled. Why would they think Africans would be okay with having lions running around a city? Didn't they know Africa has cities and not all countries in Africa have lions? If it wasn't safe, why would I be there? It took me a while to realize that they asked me questions because they were curious. They had pre-existing views of entirely false depictions of Africans. 

I felt that, as a friend, I should speak up and use my voice to break down their views. I wanted to start an open and honest dialogue about it, but I was nervous. I didn't want my friends to feel attacked or shamed for asking these questions. In addition, it was hard to speak to my friends because I wasn't sure how they would react. I went to my mom to seek advice because as a therapist, she knows a lot about the best way to communicate to people about things they don't understand. After all, she had to do a lot of that growing up. She told me that if they were true friends they will want to listen and learn. If they didn't want to change their opinions, then it was their loss. Ultimately, with the help of my mom, I found that I If I spoke to them instead of at them then they could not only understand my experiences better but gain an interest in something I loved.


When picking colleges, Santa Clara University stood out to me for its commitment to service and education. I am a major in Psychology and Sociology and am fascinated by people and groups. I am passionate about learning why people do things and how people and communities can create meaningful change. It was my desire to learn and drive to make a positive impact on the world in a sustainable way that led me to apply for the fellowship. During my first year at Santa Clara, I was faced with many challenges, all of which led me to where I am today. The biggest challenges gave me a new outlook on life and were the result of a traumatic event. After it happened, everything was altered in the blink of an eye. I was lost, confused, down, and broken. With time I started telling others what I had gone through and continue to face as a trauma survivor. What happened to me was awful and shouldn't happen to anyone, but as I struggled to overcome my trauma, I learned that I was not alone in my pain. As I healed and shared my story, peers, friends, and even family entrusted me with their similar narratives. I realized that my voice was powerful and evoked a common thread among many who otherwise felt alone. It was a challenge trying figure out how I could use my voice to inspire, motivate, and comfort others, but I found and am still finding that empathy is the best way.  Empathy, through listening, validating, and understanding people, can encourage others to pursue their voice and passions in return.

Over time, I have come to realize the power that my words have. Being a woman, it is easy to be complacent in the face of numerous barriers. It took numerous challenges for me to realize my inner strength, but with amazing opportunities that have come my way like the Global Social Benefit Fellowship, I have learned to use my voice for good. More importantly, I have learned that empathy is something that I not only want to continue to practice in my relationships, but also in the projects I undertake while discerning my vocation.

Learn more about empathy and how to apply it to a wide variety of real-world situations on Ashoka’s Empathy 101 resource page.



I am half Ugandan and proud of my multicultural background. While I was growing up, I was fortunate enough to travel to Uganda every summer. Spending time with people who have different life experiences than my own instilled me with values of compassion, consciousness, and cultural competence, that have guided my career choices and activities tremendously. While studying psychology, sociology and ethnic studies at Santa Clara University, my mentors and peers have challenged me to think creatively in response to problem-solving.

Programs at my school that are passionate about social justice have helped me discover that I love learning in new cultures and being pushed to grow. Through my fellowship program, I became a project manager for a community organizing nonprofit in Rwanda. It was there that I realized sharing and listening to experiences has the power to change how we see and interact with those around us. Now I strive to empower, strengthen, and engage underserved communities so that our world becomes a just place for all.

Executive Director Thane Kreiner, Ph.D. Speaks at the Annual Membership Meeting of Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities (FADICA)

Executive Director Thane Kreiner, Ph.D. Speaks at the Annual Membership Meeting of Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities (FADICA)


Editors Note: Thane was invited to speak during the annual membership meeting of Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities (FADICA), in Santa Monica, CA in February, on the subject of social entrepreneurship. Following are his remarks.

Pope Francis published his influential encyclical Laudato Si’ in 2015, the same year the United Nations Sustainable Development goals set an ambitious agenda for the next 15 years of global human development. Both frameworks recognize the interconnection between poverty and climate change. In the words of Pope Francis, there is “an intimate relationship between the poor and the fragility of the planet.”

Global human development is a term that generally brings to mind government-to-government aid, formally known as Official Development Assistance (ODA). ODA totaled $146.6B in 2017, which may sound like a lot of money. There are some fundamental problems with the paradigm of ODA, not least of which is that top-down decisions on what to fund deprive developing countries and their communities of agency. Perhaps more problematic is that many of these decisions seek to recapitulate practices that have fueled economic growth in more developed nations, sometimes referred to as the Global North. Much of that economic growth has relied on burning fossil fuels, the Global North accruing what Pope Francis refers to as an “ecological debt” to the Global South. Strikingly, according to the International Monetary Fund, global fossil fuel subsidies in 2015 totaled $5.3T. The Global North is investing thirty-five times more in creating the problem than advancing solutions.

Charity is a deeply rooted model for addressing poverty in almost every religious tradition – alms for the poor a cry heard across millennia. Make no mistake: charity is essential after calamity, natural or human-made, though the distinction is increasingly difficult to discern. To meet basic needs such as food, water, and energy, charity is not a sustainable solution, however; further, it also deprives people of agency in solving their problems.

Social entrepreneurship is a fundamentally different paradigm that enables individuals and communities to be architects of their own futures. We’ve all heard the maxim, “Give a man a fish, he eats for a day; teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.” The corollary for social entrepreneurship is this: “Teach a woman to run a sustainable fishing enterprise, it feeds her community forever.”

What exactly is social entrepreneurship? There are many definitions including one I love from Sally Osberg and Roger Martin: disrupting unjust social equilibria and creating more just ones. Most of us have a sense of entrepreneurial behaviors: innovation, adaptation, resilience, acting boldly even in the face of resource constraints. All of these are true for social entrepreneurship. In addition, as Greg Dees noted in 1998, there are two additional elements: a clearly articulated social value mission; and heightened accountability to constituents, including assessment of the outcomes they experience as a result of the social enterprise’s products and solutions.

A social enterprise with a mission to provide refugees dignified livelihoods can assess how many refugees are engaged in meaningful work, how much income they generate; one that nourishes children so they can learn can measure nutrients and learning outcomes; a safe drinking water enterprise might report liters consumed and reduction in diarrheal diseases. A mission to eliminate needless blindness shows us the amazing grace of social entrepreneurship: the blind can see.

Social enterprises might be structured as for-profit, non-profit, or hybrid organizations; the form should be informed by the impact sector and underlying business model. Social enterprises are often community-based.

As an example, Solar Sister, formed in 2011, supports local women as they create clean energy businesses in Africa. The business model is Avon-style: women entrepreneurs go door-to-door selling solar-powered lanterns and clean cookstoves. The unit economics through the value chain are compelling: the solar lantern manufacturer makes a margin on the sale to Solar Sister; Solar Sister captures margin; and the women entrepreneur makes money on each lantern she sells.

Importantly, the woman who buys the solar lantern is better off economically. She can stop purchasing subsidized kerosene at approximately $2 per week, and using pay-as-you-go technology embedded in the lantern, immediately have higher quality light without fumes equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day or lanterns falling over and burning her home and children, which happens over 2 million times annually.

Once she’s paid off the lantern, in as few as 5 weeks, she has $2 more per week to invest in her family and her community. She sends her girls to school as well as her boys. She starts a small business selling goods to passersby with light after dark. She engages in economically productive activities such as weaving or sewing. She gains a sense of agency.

Everyone wins except the fossil fuel companies as these women becoming economically empowered and make their communities more resilient to climate change. We believe that this intersection is one of powerful levers for ending poverty.

Miller Center accelerates social enterprises to end poverty and protect the planet. Silicon Valley executives accompany the social entrepreneurs through a structured curriculum for about six months, building trust by sharing the journey. The social entrepreneurs discern a path to scaling impact. For those familiar with the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, our accelerator program is akin to the Spiritual Exercises of Silicon Valley. Our goal is to help them achieve operational excellence and become ready for investment of an appropriate form of capital for their impact sector, which may be equity, debt, grants, or blended sources. Since our first program in 2003, we have accelerated over 1,000 social enterprises delivering impact in more than 100 countries; they have raised nearly $1B, half since participating in our accelerator programs. Collectively, these social enterprises have improved, transformed, or saved the lives of over 380 million people living in poverty.

Last year, we pioneered an accelerator for social enterprises serving or led by refugees, migrants, and human trafficking survivors, the first in the world to our knowledge. As a university-based social enterprise accelerator, we published a white paper on this cohort to share lessons we learned on how entrepreneurship can bring dignity to the most vulnerable among our common human family.

We launched a Catholic Action for Social Entrepreneurship (CASE) initiative in Africa and the U.S. to transform social ministries to more sustainable social enterprise models; catalyze formation of new social enterprises; and leverage underutilized assets, such as land. My colleague Keith Warner OFM recently returned from leading visits for Sisters from congregations in east and central Africa to over a dozen social enterprises, and next month, we plan host workshops for the Sisters and for Jesuits in Nairobi. The host social enterprises expressed strong interest in partnering with the congregations to expand their impact; the trust and respect of the Sisters in the communities they serve presents a unique opportunity.

We engage Santa Clara University students in accelerating social enterprises through action research that is rooted in the principle of value-exchange. Host social enterprises receive high-quality research deliverables such as impact assessment reports, documentation of operating procedures, and marketing materials. The students experience transformational learning. This program was possible because of a generous, expendable gift from Ann Bowers, widow of Robert Noyce, first CEO of Intel. So far, Keith and I have had the privilege to share the journey with 111 young leaders, 8 of whom have won Fulbrights and three of whom have been named valedictorian. Today you’ll hear from two of them about their experiences and their host social enterprises.

In a short period of time, I’ve shared a lot of metrics, statistics, and stories with you. I don’t expect you’ll remember them all, so here are my two take-home messages. First, social entrepreneurship is deeply resonant with Catholic social teaching. Second, Catholic social ministries and higher education institutions are uniquely positioned to leverage social entrepreneurship to fashion a more just, humane, and sustainable world.

About the Author


Thane Kreiner, PhD, is Executive Director of Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship and Howard & Alida Charney University Professor at Santa Clara University.

Before joining Miller Center in 2010, Thane was Founder, President, and CEO of Second Genome and Presage Biosciences, Inc. and President and CEO of iPierian. Thane spent 14 years at Affymetrix, Inc., the DNA chip industry pioneer. Thane earned his PhD in Neurosciences and his MBA from Stanford University.

His memoir on science and spirituality Composition of Life was recently published. Thane is an avid SCUBA diver, swimmer, yoga practitioner, and gardener.

Wawira Ngiru and her Vision to Feed the Future with Food4Education

Wawira Ngiru and her Vision to Feed the Future with Food4Education

With only 1 kitchen in 2012 that used to feed 25 kids, Wawira has come a long way with her passion to feed 1 million kids in the next 10 years.

Wawira Ngiru is one of GSBI alumni who participated in GSBI online accelerator in 2017. She is the founder of Food4Education, an enterprise that sources fresh food directly from farmers and uses a central kitchen model to deliver nutritious, heavily subsidized meals to students in urban public primary schools in Kenya. Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship had a chance to catch up with Wawira for a lunch this past month.

Wawira Ngiru and Miller Center staff

Wawira Ngiru and Miller Center staff

Shortly after completing her education, Wawira struggled to find an answer to one question that lingers in many budding entrepreneurs’ minds; Is entrepreneurship a right path for me? She received her higher education from the University of South Australia where she nurtured a passion to become a nutritionist. After graduation in 2014, Wawira returned to her home country Kenya and started Food4Education with just one kitchen that fed 25 kids. In 2016, Wawira received her first grant, started managing Food4Education full-time and hasn’t looked back since. In 2018, she managed to serve 250,000 meals in total.

Wawira’s Vision for a Better Kenya

While growing up in Ruiru, Wawira witnessed the rampant education and health problems firsthand and saw many kids who did not have access to healthy meals, let alone regular meals. As a result, many kids stopped going to school and begged on the street as an alternative means to access food. Even those who did have access to meals scored low in exams and later had very fewer opportunities in life. She started Food4Education to feed those very kids healthy and nutritious meals so they could concentrate in class and excel in life overall. Her initial target was to feed 25 kids at Ruiru Primary School and then expand to other schools.

The Process to provide a meal at a subsidized cost

Students with lunch from Food4Education

Students with lunch from Food4Education

Wawira first consulted with pastors, chefs, and school principals to identify the roots cause of this systemic problem in order to identify how to keep kids in school. Her team found a simple process to make it easier for kids to get healthy and nutritious meals. Her team sources fresh, raw, ingredients including vegetables and fruits directly from farmers and uses their own central kitchen to make meals for kids that are healthy and are served at a subsidized cost. All ingredients used in the meals are locally grown which makes it cost-effective for her team and the farmers.

The impact of Food4Education

Food4Education was initiated in 2012 and ran a successful pilot program to feed 100 children. With little or no support from government institutions, the organization still managed to achieve their goal in 2014. The schools showed an improvement in attendance ratio by 96% as compared to the national average of 87%. During that time, 100% of the students who purchased meals from Food4Education also scored 250/500 marks in KCPE compared to 49.1% nationally.

Food4Education interface

Food4Education interface

Payment and Adaption of Technology

A recent development in Food4Education was the adaption of an NFC payment system, #Tap2Eat, to log the payments of purchased meals. A small smartwatch gadget was given to the kids to use as payment for meals without the involvement of cash. Parents pay for subsidized lunches through MPESA and the amount is automatically credited to a digital wallet linked to an NFC smartwatch and students just TAP TO EAT in less than 5 seconds.  

According to Wawira, the adaptation of technology and convincing the parents to use the bands instead of cash has been a challenge. Her team is still testing the method by providing training to parents and kids in order to make them comfortable with the new payment technology. The payment system will be another milestone for Food4Education in making meals accessible and easy for all kids in Kenya.

The Role GSBI played in Wawira’s Journey

“After coming to GSBI, I learned the methods and language of Silicon Valley which I wouldn’t have learned otherwise”, said Wawira Ngiru. The GSBI Accelerator program helps the organizations with their business potential and equips them with the necessary resources and tools that they can use to run their business successfully. According to Wawira, it was GSBI that taught her not to underestimate her business potential and made her reconsider her justifiable ask. “Before GSBI, I was underestimating our justifiable ask. The mentors helped us look at the bigger picture and made us reconsider our pre-conceived notions about the investment world” Said, Wawira.

Students with lunch from Food4Education

Students with lunch from Food4Education

Barriers, Bias, and Doubts

Like every other entrepreneur, it wasn’t just all success for Wawira. During her entrepreneurial journey, she faced countless “No’s” before that one “Yes.” According to her, she had a hard time convincing people with her idea and passion. Due to her age and young look, she faced countless rejections and was labeled as someone who is just doing it as a passion project and not involved in it seriously.

In the end… Persistence is the key

When asked about her secret sauce of success, Wawira mentioned “persistence”. According to her, the path of entrepreneurship is easy to walk on but it is really difficult to stay there. The one who stays persistent wins the race. “I still doubt my decision every day. I still think I should leave everything and do a corporate job that pays well. The feeling doesn’t go but I promise myself each day to stay persistent and stick to the mission I started”.

Wawira hopes to see a world where children don’t miss school because they are hungry or because they cannot afford healthy meals. With Food4Education, she wants a future which is open and inclusive to the needs of all vulnerable communities in Kenya and beyond.

About the author

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.

Banner photo courtesy of Food4Education

“Converting” Catholic Social Ministries

“Converting” Catholic Social Ministries

Social enterprise workshop participants

Social enterprise workshop participants

Over the past nine months, Miller Center has conducted experiments to test the feasibility of adapting and applying our GSBI® methodology to these ministries, and results are quite promising. This month, in Nairobi, Kenya, Pamela Roussos, Thane Kreiner, and I presented two workshops to Jesuits and Catholic Sisters. Both of these African networks have asked us to accompany them as they transform their social ministries into social enterprises.

Catholic social ministries worldwide are aware that the funding landscape has shifted dramatically over the past generation. Traditional Catholic funding sources are fading, and being replaced by impact philanthropy, which expects innovative approaches to service delivery and enhanced accountability for their impact. Social ministries face threats from declining income, but are pursuing opportunities to develop more robust business and impact models. For Catholic social ministries seeking transformation into social enterprises, the GSBI methodology provides a structured curriculum and customized mentoring draw on 15 years of practical experience with a thousand social enterprises. Our acceleration services are practical, draw lessons from hundreds of successful social enterprises, and share with Catholic social ministries the vision for sustainable development as articulated by Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’. We call this initiative the Catholic Action for Social Entrepreneurship.

Sisters in social entrepreneurship

Miller Center has prioritized women’s economic empowerment as a strategic focus for five years, accelerating women-led and women-serving social enterprises. Still, we have rarely been able to recruit groups of entrepreneurs that are majority women. So imagine our response when we are approached by a network representing only women: Catholic Sisters. As Thane explained in a prior blog, ACWECA (Association of Consecrated Women in East and Central Africa) is network of some 30,000 Sisters organized into some 300 congregations, and this association requested a partnership with Miller Center.

Keith Warner OFM and Sisters

Keith Warner OFM and Sisters

The missions of these congregations are compelling. Many of them were founded to educate girls. Others organize their ministries to serve some of Africa’s poorest women. A number of Sisters engage in farming themselves, and work with local subsistence farmers to increase their income and resilience in the face of climate disruption. ACWECA recruited 11 congregations from 6 African countries to participate in the Sisters Blended Value project, and the workshop in Nairobi March 3-7. I had met a majority of these Sisters when I took them on the road to visit our social enterprises in January. This project would help the Sisters design their own social enterprise initiatives, consistent with their congregational missions, creating opportunities for their poor neighbors and earned income for the Sisters.

Each congregation was represented by three Sisters, and in the workshop, these Sisters developed a business plan for a social enterprise initiative to be sponsored by their respective congregation. The Sisters Blended Value project kickoff workshop drew extensively from our GSBI Boost curriculum for early stage enterprises, and so the Sisters developed skills used by early stage entrepreneurs. They designed value chains, segmented their target markets, wrote value propositions, and engaged in backcasting (imagining a multi-year organizational vision, and then working backwards to build toward that vision). In some cases, Sisters re-examined their expectations of merely writing up 1-page concept notes to ask for large grants.  

The lean startup methodology – designed to launch ventures in low-resource settings – will over-write historic dependence on external funders. The workshop concluded with each congregation’s team pitching to the whole group. Several congregations designed initiatives in agriculture, using chickens in partnership with GSBI alum Eggpreneur, pigs, or coffee with NUCAFE, another GSBI alum. Global Social Benefit Fellows will work with Eggpreneur and NUCAFE in 2019, and will foster collaboration between Sisters and social entrepreneurs.

Each congregational team is now charged with refining their business plan, and then presenting it to the leadership of their congregations. One great advantage of partnering with ACWECA is that its leadership understands the internal dynamics of these congregations better than we do. ACWECA’s vision for this multi-year project is to transform Sisters’ social ministries, step by step. The social enterprise initiatives are to be learning activities. ACWECA and Miller Center will accompany the Sisters as they launch them, and provide ongoing curriculum and mentoring over the rest of this year. ACWECA envisions this as a multi-year project, to position Catholic Sisters as the agents of a new form of pro-woman sustainable development.

Activating Jesuit networks

Pamela Roussos workshop

Pamela Roussos workshop

Co-sponsored with the Jesuit Justice and Ecology Network of Africa, Miller Center provided a social enterprise workshop for 18 African Jesuit social ministry centers February 26-28 in Nairobi, Kenya. This network of Jesuit social ministry centers is a project of the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar. Miller Center’s team (Pamela Roussos and your humble servant) led the participants through the process of writing a business plan for their centers to enhance their ministerial outreach and increase the financial sustainability of their organizations. 

Last year, the new director of the network, Fr. Charles Chilufya SJ, reached out to Miller Center to request a structured program of accompaniment to transform these social ministry centers into social enterprises. These 18 social ministries are spread across 13 Sub-Saharan African countries. Ten of them operate in French-speaking Africa. Four of the center directors are graduates of SCU’s Jesuit School of Theology (JST): Claude Domfang SJ of Center for Research, Education and Creativity in Benin, Jean Nyembo SJ of Center Arrupe for Research and Formation in Democratic Republic of Congo, Ismael Matambura SJ of Center Maisha also in DRC, and Innocent Rugaragu SJ of Centre Christus/People in Community Organizing - Rwanda.

These ministries were founded independently by various provinces in response to local needs, and have been generally funded by Catholic philanthropy from Europe. This funding model is coming to an end, and these centers recognize the need to network more effectively and to develop new business and social impact models to fulfill their common Jesuit mission. At this workshop, the 24 participants developed a social enterprise initiative for their centers, supported by a business plan. 

The predominant programmatic theme was the fostering of livelihoods, especially for rural and urban youth. The lack of jobs is a tremendous challenge across the continent. In addition, several of the centers foster climate resilient agriculture, such as the Jesuit Centre for Ecological Development in Malawi.

One of the social ministry centers is in fact a network of 8 programs, the African Jesuit AIDS Network (AJAM), distributed across several ministry sites in multiple countries to serve people with AIDS/HIV. AJAM was initially founded to provide medical support, but with improved medication, many of these people are living much longer, albeit with bouts of poor health. AJAM now recognizes the need to provide supportive livelihood services to respond to the socio-economic needs of people with AIDS. Another network, Jesuit Refugee Services, is also part of JENA.  

Agnieszka Winkler at Jesuit workshop in Nairobi

Agnieszka Winkler at Jesuit workshop in Nairobi

On February 27, Miller Center brought a delegation of executive mentors and friends to visit this workshop, and the executives provided feedback on the development of these business plans. In the first picture,

Winnie Wan, Pascalia Sergon, and Vedaste Nkeshimana SJ

Winnie Wan, Pascalia Sergon, and Vedaste Nkeshimana SJ

Winnie Wan (one of Miller Center’s executive mentors) is asking questions about the proposed business plans of Pascalia Sergon of AJAM and Vedaste Nkeshimana SJ (who directs Service Yezu Mwiza, an AIDS ministry in Burundi). In the second picture,

Lisa Fullam and Elphege Quenum SJ

Lisa Fullam and Elphege Quenum SJ

Elphege Quenum SJ – the director of AJAM – listens in next to Lisa Fullam, who teaches social ethics at JST. Lisa has taught classes on the ethics of responding to AIDS/HIV, and has proposed greater collaboration between Miller Center and JST to develop innovative curriculum in theology and social entrepreneurship. 

These JENA centers are in the process of reviewing their social enterprise initiatives with their local teams, and will be sharing them next month. Miller Center will continue to accompany them, while working with JENA to raise funds for further support.

About the Author

Keith Douglass Warner, OFM, PhD directs Miller Center’s education, fellowship, grants and action research activities. He directs the Global Social Benefit Fellowship, which provides a comprehensive program of mentored, field-based study and research for SCU juniors within the Center’s worldwide network of social entrepreneurs. With Thane Kreiner, PhD, he designed the fellowship and wrote the grant that funds it.

Nairobi Immersion Trip : GSBI® Workshop and Site Visits

Nairobi Immersion Trip : GSBI® Workshop and Site Visits

Miller Center’s first ever in-country GSBI® alumni workshop in Nairobi.

Miller Center’s first ever in-country GSBI® alumni workshop in Nairobi.

One of the highlights of Miller Center’s year is the time we are able to spend in the field with our alumni social entrepreneurs on the Executive Immersion Trip. This year, we visited Kenya and our timing aligned with the Sankalp Forum in Nairobi. Sankalp is a conference which convenes the social enterprise ecosystem and, conveniently, brought a lot of our alumni from across Africa to Nairobi. We were able to pilot Miller Center’s first ever in-country GSBI® alumni workshop with over 25 social enterprises and visit 7 enterprises in the field.

The workshop focused on four main topics: Fundraising, Strategic Planning, Sales and Marketing, and Management and Leadership. The executive immersion trip participants were GSBI mentors and Silicon Valley executives who all had tremendous experience in those areas.

The participants broke into topic-specific groups and all the workshop attendees were able to rotate through each topic and provide the trip participants with unique insights into their business models. Miller Center looks forward to providing similar workshops in the future in different regions as we continue to accompany our alumni enterprises on their journey.

Sundar Ramamurthy with Livelyhood sales agents and their products.

Sundar Ramamurthy with Livelyhood sales agents and their products.

In the days following the workshop, the trip participants had the opportunity to engage the realities of our alumni social entrepreneurs though visiting them in the field. One such visit was to Livelyhoods in Nairobi. After attending the morning sales meeting, we had the opportunity to team up with Livelyhoods’ sales agents as they went into an urban slum and see how they approach selling products such as fuel-efficient cook stoves and solar lanterns.

Many of the mentors who joined the trip have sales experience and experience managing sales teams and they were amazed at how effective the Livelyhoods’ sales agents were at their job.

One mentor remarked, “I can’t believe how hard the agents work just for one sale. They are trying to make the case for money to be invested into a product that will improve the lives of the customers, but oftentimes, the money is just not there. The agents are not really competing against other products, they are competing against the availability of money to purchase the products.”

After returning to the Livelyhoods office, one of the guests purchased some solar lights that he and his sales agent had been trying to sell. When he came back to the group he said, “after spending the morning trying to sell these lights, I realized how good of a product they are.”

Children that get subsidized, nutritious meals from Food 4 Education.

Children that get subsidized, nutritious meals from Food 4 Education.

Our time spent with Livelyhoods, and other social enterprises such at Alternative Waste Technologies and Food 4 Education, have given the team a unique opportunity to see and experience the need in these communities. We have seen different business and impact models, but like many organizations, the primary challenge is access to capital. One mentor who has a career in investing said, “it is incredible to think about the kind of impact a small amount of funding can have on these kinds of organizations which are directly serving the communities who need it the most.”

In addition to Alternative Waste Technologies and Food4Education, we had the opportunity to spend time with four other alumni social enterprises including Hewe Tele, Ojay Greene, Jacaranda Health, Vava Coffee, each providing us with a new perspective on the challenges and opportunities our alumni face in scaling their impact and their organizations. These visits helped to drive home some of the themes teased out in the earlier GSBI Alumni workshop, and by spending time with our entrepreneurs in their communities our mentors gained valuable experience and insight into the unique challenges of scaling a social enterprise.

Field visit to Ojay Greene.

Field visit to Ojay Greene.


Miller Center is starting to plan our next Executive Immersion Trip in 2020. If you are interested in learning more, please reach out to Dave Harrison at dmharrison@scu.edu.


Dave Harrison.png

David is Miller Center’s Director of Advancement and is focused on developing resources and relationships for Miller Center. He served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uganda and as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer in the Republic of Georgia. In addition to his international development and fundraising experience, David has a background in HR and serves on the advisory board for New Creation Home in East Palo Alto. David holds an MS in Organization Development from University of San Francisco.

Alex Pan.png

Alex Pan is a Senior Program Manager, GSBI at Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship. Supporting our network of over 1,000 social entrepreneurs, he is responsible for monitoring and evaluation of programs and delivering alumni accompaniment programs. Alex is an experienced program manager with a background in building the ecosystem that supports social enterprises in emerging markets. Before joining Miller Center, Pan worked for the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE) where he coordinated ANDE’s global network of regional chapters, facilitated collaboration and knowledge sharing among ANDE’s 240+ members and led ANDE’s efforts around talent and invention-based businesses. Before joining ANDE, Alex worked for several international development NGOs in China, India, and Uganda. Pan has also worked for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy where he assisted in the development of their impact investing policy. He holds an M.A. in International Science and Technology Policy from George Washington University and earned his B.A. from Colby College where he studied International Development and East Asian Studies.

Looking Forward to SOCAP 2019: GSBI Boost alumni Claudia Tello reflects on the Beyond #MeToo workshop

Looking Forward to SOCAP 2019: GSBI Boost alumni Claudia Tello reflects on the Beyond #MeToo workshop


Last May, I had the opportunity to attend a social entrepreneurship symposium at ITESO University, in Jalisco, Mexico, where I live and work. Among the international speakers were Professor Marco Tavanti, Director of Social Entrepreneurship at University of San Francisco, California. Professor Tavanti is known for his passion and serious commitment to social causes.

One of the issues he raised about the environment of social entrepreneurship was that some employers assume that giving jobs fulfills their social responsibility, when in truth, their economic activity makes social problems worse. Professor Tavanti mentioned that the discourse of social entrepreneurship should include "the security issue." In the question and answer session I raised my hand and said, "You have touched one of the points that most hurts us at this moment in Mexico--Data Cívica has reported 36,000 missing people so far this year ... the truth is that the relationship between the people and our government is dysfunctional ... do you have any suggestions for us to improve as a society in this situation?" Openly he confessed, "I do not know, I do not know what you could do."

At that same symposium I took an intensive acceleration workshop for social entrepreneurs with Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, an initiative of high standards and with a serious commitment to promote social entrepreneurship worldwide. That led me to apply for a scholarship to the SOCAP conference in San Francisco. This global event gathered together more than 3,000 people including entrepreneurs, private and government investors, academics, social marketing initiatives, and so many others for 4 days united under a slogan I love: "At the intersection of money + meaning". Being selected from among 800 worldwide social entrepreneurs to be one of 120 scholars was an honor. This event is gigantic; it is impossible to attend all the conferences and workshops, so I had to plan my schedule to attend the topics that I found most interesting and take advantage of breaks to engage in mini-conversations with as many people as I could. At SOCAP you have to communicate with everyone you can.

One workshop I attended was Beyond #MeToo, which seemed would point to the future regarding this movement born in California. The workshop started with a brief introduction and a shared promise by the 80 people in the room to not disclose the identity of the people whose stories were being told. And just like that, three participants stood up and shared their experiences of sexual harassment and abuse. My tablemates and I were frozen. Suddenly everything took on a greater meaning. The genesis of this workshop was because a student at Miller Center suffered sexual harassment by someone who had participated as a speaker in one of the previous editions of SOCAP, and the organizers, instead of covering it up, decided to face the problem and to do this workshop right in the middle of the SOCAP. I clarify that this is in the public domain because it is published in the program. The intention of the organizers is to take a firm stance to stop these acts, exposing them instead of hiding them. Among the workshop exercises we had to share a situation in which we have felt powerful and another in which we felt powerless. When it was my turn, I spoke about femicides and disappearances as examples of situations of feeling powerless that I have experienced in Mexico. My tablemates, two American girls and one Canadian, were shocked when they heard the figures I gave them about my country: 36,000 missing people this year and 7 women murdered daily.

I wonder why in Jalisco, with so much talent in social entrepreneurship, so much excitement, so much technology, and so many pitch events, why haven't we generated a serious space for reflection and entrepreneurship to help solve the problem of insecurity? Or at least, an initiative to create empathy with those who have suffered or felt this national tragedy up close. These tragedies, not to mention sexual exploitation of children and horror stories such as the recently discovered two trailers full of dead bodies, have not been enough to spark us to focus all our efforts to survive as a society. How do we hope to thrive without security or empathy for those who have been hit by violence in any of its forms?

Artificial intelligence has predictive analysis among its multiple functions. While corporations invest in the use of this technology to avoid errors and generate higher revenues, I wonder if these tools could also predict where and when the next disappearance, femicide or theft will occur and do something about it! It is useless to grant the title of distinguished guest to the robot SOPHIA if it does not help us to solve human problems, our human problems. The guts I saw at SOCAP are needed to address the issue of harassment: head on and in the same place where it happened. It is necessary to be sensitive to victims and their families to understand that not talking about serious problems does not help to solve them, instead it makes the problems worse. It is necessary to understand that social entrepreneurship is not only seeking the economic benefit of entrepreneurs and investors. Nor is it only to set up forums to launch pitch events that magnify the political discourse or ego in favor of the governments or institutions that organize them. Social entrepreneurship is not only creating a place for innovation or providing markets for domestic and community enterprises. Social entrepreneurship is also a mechanism to take a problem that is a real threat to the survival of a society and find solutions to solve it, based on models of research, business support and government collaboration. Hopefully it will be in Jalisco where we rise to the challenge and make the first step to respond in the face of the threats that we live. At last year's Talent Land in Jalisco, a USAID representative said, "Creativity without security is nothing." This rings true, just as Marco Tavanti was right.

In Jalisco and everywhere, we should have discussion and reflection workshops such as Beyond #MeTooand include a survey of sexual harassment to find out if all the young people who have attended other editions of these events are still here or have disappeared. We need to channel technology, innovation and entrepreneurship to our human survival. I hope this can happen soon because the generation of young people who can solve these problems are being murdered, raped, and disappeared as we wait.


Claudia Tello is a creative graphic designer with developed administrative and marketing skills and knowledge. She's interested in product design, social poster, design that contributes significantly to the improvement of society and projects that involve the artistic worldwide community.

In Conversation with Stella Sigana, Founder of Alternative Waste on her Impactful Journey

In Conversation with Stella Sigana, Founder of Alternative Waste on her Impactful Journey

Every day in the US, women start almost 849 new businesses. In the past 20 years, the number of women-owned businesses in the US has increased by 114% and the social entrepreneurship business model continues to attract women in even-greater numbers. According to the Independent, 38% of social enterprises are led by women, while there are more than twice as many men than women in conventional business. Furthermore, more than 90% of enterprises that focus on solving social problems have at least one woman on their leadership team, in contrast to almost half of small or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that have all-male directors.

While women entrepreneurs continue to thrive in social entrepreneurship, Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship is helping them scale their enterprises and reach their business potential with our strategic initiative of women’s economic empowerment. Our current Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) Online accelerator cohort has 26 inspiring women entrepreneurs solving a wide array of problems to eliminate poverty from the world. Stella Sigana is one of those 26 inspiring entrepreneurs.

Stella is the founder of Alternative Waste Technologies, an organization that solves a really unique problem by improving indoor air quality through the manufacture and supply of charcoal briquettes across sub-Saharan Africa. Stell was recently featured in Forbes Africa as one of the 20 New Wealth Creators on the African Continent.

Stella’s journey is full of wise choices and unforgettable mistakes. Her persistence and determination to overcome all challenges are the two most important traits that made her a successful entrepreneur.

“Learn to stay with the passion that drove you to start the enterprise.” - Stella Sigana

About her business and how it is impacting the lives of people

“Our business ensures that households have access to affordable and safe cooking fuels. Our impact to date is 170T of charcoal briquettes sold in Kibera community and its immediate environs; households saved US$14,790 by choosing our briquettes over traditional charcoal; we have created employment for 9 staff at the production facility and 15 sales agents.”

Stella’s strategy to acquiring customers

“The most effective way for our social enterprise in raising awareness has been through product demonstrations and word of mouth through referral systems.”

On having the right mentors

“Mentorship is very critical for a business that is starting out, and getting the right mentors is also very critical. Mentors with vested interests in running businesses similar to mine may not be the best due to conflicts of interest. A mentee must be willing to guide the process as well as be humble enough to learn from the experts. We currently have 5 mentors.”

3 Questions every entrepreneur should be able to answer

I think the most important questions for a founder are:

  1. What problem are you solving?

  2. What is your target market?

  3. Are you able to generate sustainable revenue from your enterprise without external financing?

About learning from mistakes

  • Never be in a hurry to produce your products, and start selling with the hope that customers will love the product. Carry out very thorough market research as to who your client is that you are targeting.

  • Being overly ambitious is good, but be willing to start very small, and learn to grow organically for sustainability.

  • Learn to build an asset base that one can use as security in order to access financing. Know the very language of financiers and speak their language.

About leadership challenges from inside the organization

“A leadership challenge from inside the organization was when I hired a team of advisors. They started dictating the direction of the business in total disregard of the spirit of the business, which was to support communities while creating a sustainable income. This resulted in a conflict of interest and I therefore had to let go of the team.”

Advice from Stella

“Learn to stay with the passion that drove you to start the enterprise.”


Women like Stella and her story shows how important it is for entrepreneurs to have a support system to create an enabling environment. The more supportive the environment is for women-led businesses, the more their businesses will grow. The end result is to create a profitable women-led business that improves the economic empowerment of women which leads to greater world economic growth as a whole.

Whenever I feel like giving up, I…

I go on my knees and talk to God in prayer. He will handle the problem for me.

If I wasn’t an entrepreneur, I would be...

I would be a CEO of a non-profit organization championing for economic opportunities for marginalized communities

Being a woman is…

Being a woman is learning to create your own standards and finding your own space where you can excel by your own terms

The most courageous thing I’ve ever done professionally is…

Resigning honorably from a well paying job to venture into entrepreneurship

If I could add one skill to my personality, I will add...

Time management in balancing the different demands as a woman (mother, employer, student, wife, sister etc.)

3 people who inspire me every day are…

My Father for his integrity, honesty and justice for all those he works with

My Mother for believing that Education is the only door that you can use to unlock your future especially for women

My children for their curiosity by asking a lot of life - related questions which have no answers but must be answered intelligently

One quote I live by is…

Matthew 7:12 So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.



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.

Maternal Health Consulting in India: Meeting the Women Behind the Statistic

Maternal Health Consulting in India: Meeting the Women Behind the Statistic

World Health Day and Miller Center

While there are millions of problems in the world today, global health is arguably one of the most crucial. Health is at the core of everything we are and everything we do; without health, we cannot function. Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship is taking vital steps to improve global health through its work with health-based social enterprises all over the world. Thanks to Miller Center, I was able to work with CareNX Innovations last summer, a company striving to eliminate preventable maternal and neonatal deaths in India. I had the opportunity to hear powerful stories from pregnant mothers and hospital employees, and experience gaps in healthcare first-hand. Solving the global health crisis will not be easy, but by giving social enterprises the tools they need to succeed, Miller Center will continue to improve access to healthcare worldwide and improve countless lives.

Why India?

The CareNX Team at the HQ at IIT (Mumbai, India)

The CareNX Team at the HQ at IIT (Mumbai, India)

I spent the summer of 2017 working at UnitedHealthcare as a sales and market analyst intern. While I loved the fast-paced environment and enjoyed learning about the healthcare system and insurance cycle, I couldn’t see myself as a healthcare sales representative. I was yearning for something more hands-on. I wanted to be a changemaker. I registered my interest in the Global Social Benefit Fellowship, with the inkling that it could lead me in the right direction. When I read about CareNX’s mission to decrease neonatal and maternal mortality rates through a smartphone integrated diagnostic kit, I knew I was looking in the right place. I was excited by the possibility of spending my summer doing meaningful work that could truly impact the lives of thousands of pregnant women in India. 

Fast-forward six months to June, and I was on a flight to Mumbai, India.

Fast-forward six months to June, and I was on a flight to Mumbai, India.

My partner, Varsha, and I had spent the three months before the trip building a detailed, 54-page research plan. We had spent countless hours mapping out the logistics of our research project, and I was ready to tackle every step of our plan, which I believed would allow us to gather the research necessary to complete our deliverables successfully. I was confident in our ability to provide enhanced social impact reporting and support CareNX’s scaling through implementing strategy recommendations and business model innovation. 

While I was prepared from a business standpoint, I wasn’t prepared from an emotional one. Varsha and I had collectively read dozens of articles regarding India’s maternal and neonatal mortality rates. I was aware that India accounts for 20 percent of maternal fatalities globally, resulting in approximately 44,000 deaths every year. However, understanding a statistic and meeting the women behind the statistic are two very different things. I was ready to create solutions to fix the maternal healthcare crisis, but I wasn’t mentally prepared to come face to face with the problem.

Reflecting on Hardships

Varsha, Preeti and I sat on the floor of Jyotsana Varthak’s home. Jyotsana was the very last community health worker we interviewed in India. Jyotsana is a highly skilled community health worker, with 30 years of experience as an auxiliary nurse midwife (ANM). We asked her what barriers—personal, familial, societal—she saw preventing the successful adoption of CareMother in mothers. Jyotsana told us that the biggest obstacle for maternal care was education. Jyotsana explained that most of the pregnant women she visits are uneducated, illiterate, and unsure of their age.

Uncertain of their own age. 

This detail shouldn’t have been surprising to me; at this point in our journey, we had interviewed a handful of mothers who looked confused when we’d asked the question.

To me, it was such a simple question. It was a question I was asked frequently as a child. Eager to grow up, my response would usually involve a fraction. I’m nine and three quarters, and I would state proudly — each birthday I celebrated with family, friends, and a homemade cake. I couldn’t fathom the idea of not knowing my age. I realized I had taken my birthday for granted in a way I hadn’t known was possible.

What was even more unsettling was the impact this lack of education had on these women’s health. The pregnant women Jyotsana cares for had never learned about reproductive health—or even taken a general health class. Instead, they learned about myths and superstitions from their mothers and grandmothers. One of the superstitions Jyotsana told us about required the pregnant women to stay locked in their rooms where they gave birth —alone— for three days. During this time, the women were forced to clean up the mess that had been made during their labor. A different myth required mothers to burn their baby on his or her ribcage with an iron rod. I’m not sure if I would have believed this if Jyotsana hadn’t lifted up the shirt of a baby boy for us to see the scar. The child immediately shrieked. It was evident he had been scarred from the experience in more ways than one.  

I was filled with disbelief and rage. How could a mother put her child in pain? I didn’t understand. Did they love their children less?

The rage slowly turned into embarrassment. I realized I was imposing my own beliefs on these women’s culture. Of course, they loved their children. They didn’t want to see them in pain. These mothers felt obligated to harm their babies because of the cultural traditions and societal norms imposed on them.

There was no logical reason for these mothers to trust medical doctors. To them, western medicine seemed more foreign and dangerous than the superstitions their families’ had been following for generations. Choosing to seek medical care for their pregnancies was not only seen as foolish, but disrespectful to their elders.


This was just one of many moments where I felt helpless in India. The language barriers had also proved to be a more significant hindrance than I had expected. While Varsha could understand three different Indian languages, I struggled to comprehend my fellow CareNX team member’s broken English. Most of the mothers and community health workers we interviewed couldn’t understand my American accent either, so Varsha or Pritee (our translator) conducted most of the interviews while I jotted down notes. From speech and debate club in high school to numerous sales roles in college, I have always felt confident in my communication skills. Being unable to have a leadership role on the communication front made me feel utterly useless in the field.

However, this weakness gave me the opportunity to build invaluable listening skills. When Varsha and I returned from the field, we sat down together to analyze our data and discuss our findings. Flipping through my notebook, I realized how much knowledge I had gained. I had scribbled down notes on stories mothers had shared, ideas about ways to increase partnership efficiency, thoughts from a customer experience perspective after talking with community health workers, and much more. The language barriers and communication obstacles had given me the chance to devote all of my energy towards listening and observing. This allowed me to better understand India’s maternal health crisis as well as CareNX’s own business challenges before jumping to creating solutions.

Looking Forward 


Nine months ago, I knew I wanted to be a changemaker. However, I was unsure the best way to incorporate that goal into my career path. This fellowship has given me a deeper understanding of the types of work I enjoy and a more clear direction for my vocational journey.  

I discovered that slow-paced work environments frustrate me, and it is essential for me to work with people that know how to prioritize and balance responsibilities effectively. I am more likely to succeed in a fast-paced environment, surrounded by highly-motivated and competent individuals.  

This fellowship also taught me how to truly collaborate - and I’m not talking about the typical “collaboration” facilitated by group projects in college classes. Varsha and I carved out 20 hours each week to meet up and work on our deliverables in person. True collaboration can foster some of the best ideas, and when Varsha and I created a solution to a problem we had been circling it was exhilarating.  

I learned that I love strategizing. Analyzing the way current systems work and creating solutions to optimize efficiency excites me. While most people consider an entrepreneurial spirit, creativity, and curiosity as common traits for entrepreneurs, I discovered that I don’t need to start my own company to utilize these talents. By questioning the logic behind current processes and creating change with creative solutions, I can provide value to any organization.  

My passions lie in helping current, mid to large size organizations create and change products to accelerate social impact. This isn’t limited to changing drink beverage companies’ straws from plastic to biodegradable, although this certainly is important. We know that the way we create and consume products impact the world from an environmental perspective. However, products also can impact consumers in countless ways, ranging from physical health to child psychological development and so much more. Changing and creating products within organizations through a social impact lens can make a difference in the quality of millions of lives. The opportunities to make the world a better place are endless, and I am excited to see where my journey will lead to next.

Beautiful Himachal Pradesh, India

Beautiful Himachal Pradesh, India

About the Author

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Jess graduated from the Leavey School of Business in March 2019 with a degree in Business Management and a minor in Entrepreneurship. As a 2018 Global Social Benefit Fellow, Jess worked with CareNX Innovations in Mumbai, India, conducting research for a social impact assessment and business model innovation. Jess is currently seeking full-time job opportunities, and hopes to work for an innovative company where she can use both her analytical mindset and creative edge.

Who are the Miller Center GSBI Mentors?

Who are the Miller Center GSBI Mentors?

Humble. Expressing humanity. Encouraging. Respectful. Engaged. Committed. Active listeners. Pragmatic. Challenging. Honest.

These are some of the qualities that define the mentors in our 200+ network of Silicon Valley executive volunteers, the individuals that enable us at Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship to deliver our mission of supporting social entrepreneurs in accelerating entrepreneurship to end global poverty and protect the planet.


As important as it is for us to identify mentors who have decades of experience as CEOs, managing directors, entrepreneurs, investors, managers, and functional and technical experts, we look for the soft-skills that enable a smart and knowledgeable business woman or man to accompany a social entrepreneur through a GSBI accelerator program, and over those months and weekly calls, become their trusted advisor.

Many mentors are founders of successful startups, venture capitalists, or executives at Fortune 500 companies. All are chosen for their experience in startup enterprises and/or profit and loss (P&L) responsibility in larger organizations. They are successful business executives with decades of experience and connections who leverage their considerable professional skills and talents to aid GSBI social entrepreneurs by volunteering their time in a structured and meaningful way. And importantly, they are committed to the success of their mentee and apply their knowledge towards helping social entrepreneurs find the answers to the questions keeping them awake at night. They live by the adage, “You give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. You teach him to fish and you give him an occupation that will feed him for a lifetime.”

The GSBI chooses mentors who, through their education, background and experience, have knowledge of the fundamentals of business planning and experience with the challenges of executing on those plans by building teams, raising funds, and getting products and services to market. While not necessarily experienced in base-of-pyramid (BOP) or emerging markets, mentors have experience in international business environments, recognizing the challenges of working in a variety of cultural, legal, and market environments.

Mentors work with their social entrepreneur through a structured curriculum, a combination that is catalytic. An integrated and systematic approach allows for program participants and their mentors to customize, supplement, and adjust the program to the organization’s needs across five crucial areas: impact model, business model, scalable operations, financing and investment readiness, and a plan for growth.

Learn more about what mentorship means to us from some of our veteran mentors in this video. If you are interested in exploring a mentoring opportunity with us, and accompanying social entrepreneurs to help more people, please register your interest by filling out a short form found online below.



Cassandra Staff is the Chief Operating Officer for at Santa Clara University's Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship. She is responsible for the success of various Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI) accelerator programs as well as program support functions and systems that support Miller Center operations. 


Lynne Anderson is the Mentor Network Director at Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship. She is an Environmental and Business sustainability management professional with expertise in project management and strategic environmental analysis, sustainability, compliance, and accounting. She has extensive and broad-based industry experience in aerospace, steel, auto, electronics manufacturing, and medical sciences, and is equipped with excellent team building, mediation, and executive presentation skills. She holds an MBA from Columbia Business School and Haas School of Business.

Celebrating Entrepreneurship with Founders from our Women's Economic Empowerment affinity group

Celebrating Entrepreneurship with Founders from our Women's Economic Empowerment affinity group

This year, Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship introduced a new women's economic empowerment (WEE) affinity group for women-led social enterprises in our 2019 Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) programs. The idea of this affinity group came into existence with our strategic vision to promote women’s economic empowerment for a sustainable, diverse and better future. The goal of the WEE affinity group is to bring more women social entrepreneurs onboard to:

  • refine their business ideas

  • validate their business and financial models

  • provide them with a customized resource library with curated content related to gender lens, women entrepreneurship, and diversity

  • match them with industry-relevant mentors

  • foster peer-to-peer connections with our alumni and experts through webinars

  • offer opportunities for their businesses to flourish

To learn more about our recruitment journey and metrics for the 2019 GSBI cohort, read this blog.

This International Women’s Day, we are celebrating some inspiring women entrepreneurs from our WEE affinity group and sharing their entrepreneurship story about, “How they made it happen”.

Fien Fomunung Rosette Forkom, CEO of Kayvey Nutri Foods


Fien is the founder of Kayvey Nutri Foods, an organization that uses locally grown nuts, seeds, pulses, and grains to create a unique formula at an affordable rate, with the required amount of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients for the proper growth of babies and infants.

Here’s how Fien made it happen!

“I was raised in a Cameroonian village in Africa as part of a family of seven children, by an uneducated mother who relied on subsistence farming to feed us. Undernutrition-related retarded growth, slow mental development, high infant mortality, and poor recovery rate of hospitalized patients are all realities within my community. Cameroon has an HIV incidence rate of 4.7%. The country hosts refugees from the conflict-torn Central African sub-region. An alarming rate of accidents occurs due to the deplorable road infrastructure. By the time I became a young mother, the challenges of keeping my children healthy through healthy nutrition became a personal issue. Many food brands existed in the market but I found that none of these imported generic brands provided a comprehensive solution to the problems faced by millions of mothers in my country. They are often unavailable where they are needed, the prices are usually unaffordable by the poor, and their formulation (milk, supplements, etc.) usually makes them appear more as luxuries than necessities. In 2010, I founded Dovic Relief Cameroon, a non-profit organization dedicated to women economic empowerment. To date, I have worked with 23 rural communities and affected the lives of over 3000 women. My work with Dovic Relief Cameroon gave me a broader perspective of the pressing needs that women and families in Cameroon face. I knew that I needed to create a solution that was innovative, sustainable, affordable, and accessible. Kayvey Nutri Foods company was born to solve the nutritional problems of the vulnerable population while providing me with the capital needed to fund my social work.  

I thus took the challenge to create Kayvey Nutri Foods, a food brand that is formulated using ingredients that are locally available in abundance. The nutritional content of Kayvey Nutri Foods is carefully constituted to provide a one-stop solution to the dietary needs of all the classes of people cited above, and the formulations are actual foods, snacks, and drinks that can be consumed by every member of the family. Whether it is a quick breakfast, or snacks at school or work, or ‘ready to eat’ packs at refugee centers, hospitals, and disaster relief shelters, Kayvey Nutri Foods has everybody in mind.”

Dr. Sasha Kramer, Co-Founder and Executive Director of SOIL


Leah Jean and Dr. Sasha Kramer are two powerful women who are also a part of our 2019 GSBI cohort. Dr. Sasha is the co-founder of SOIL, an organization that promotes dignity, health, and sustainable livelihoods through the transformation of wastes into resources. Leah is the business development director who joined the organization when it was only two years old.

How did Dr. Sasha make it this far?

“I was a graduate student in ecology at Stanford University when I read, :The Eyes of the Heart: Seeking a Path for the Poor in the Age of Globalization”, by Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically elected president. The book had a huge impact on me, making me wonder how I might use my ecological training in a way that would also advance human rights. When Aristide was overthrown in a military coup in 2004, I accompanied a group of human rights observers to assess conditions in Haiti. I spent three weeks in northern Haiti attending demonstrations, visiting political prisoners, and falling in love with the country and its people.

I went back another dozen times and realized that the most pervasive human rights abuse in Haiti was—and remains—poverty. And a symptom of that poverty is that there’s very little access to is sanitation. I ended up writing a chapter in my ecology dissertation on “Liberation Ecology, Nitrogen, and Microbes,” arguing that if Haiti could recycle 50% of its human waste, it could increase its production of fertilizer by a factor of 17—making strides towards solving the country’s food crisis and its sanitation crisis at the same time.

From my work as a human rights observer, I had a strong network of community organizers in Haiti. They’d already been thinking about sanitation—for reasons of privacy, security, and disease control—and the potential to produce compost from human waste was another inducement, adding value for Haiti’s farmers. So together with this amazing group of Haitian community organizers and a brilliant engineer from the United States, I co-founded SOIL in 2006.”

Stella Sigana, CEO of Alternative Waste Technologies


Stella is another inspirational woman entrepreneur participating in the 2019 GSBI cohort. Her organization solves a really unique problem by improving indoor air quality through the manufacture and supply of charcoal briquettes across sub-Saharan Africa.

How did Stella pave her way to entrepreneurship journey?

“The turning point in my life that made me start my enterprise was when an NGO I was working for in the Kibera slums in Nairobi, Kenya, asked me to develop an income generating business model. The NGO was interested to execute it as a way of generating income for the purpose of sustainability. I worked very hard and put together a business project for the production of charcoal briquettes for that NGO. On the other side, an MIT student had already taught the community on how to make briquettes manually. When I presented the proposal to the top management, it was rejected and thrown out; I was disappointed and started working on it as my own business.

My initial support group was from the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Program that gave me business management skills as well as a seed fund of $5,000 that bought my first machine and raw materials. It got me started in the briquette business till today.”


With stories like these and many more to follow, Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship is paying tribute to social entrepreneurs who are making an impact within or outside their local communities.

According to a recent discussion paper by UN Women and UNDP, accelerating the pace of advancing gender equality in all spheres of society leads to a more rapid increase in progress towards achieving the 2030 Agenda. Miller Center’s strategic vision of women’s economic empowerment is also deeply rooted in the goal of improving women’s access to resources, education, and employment, and also strengthening overall human, economic, and social capital of the world by achieving gender equality.

Let’s celebrate social entrepreneurship by cheering out loud for these founders and keep reading Miller Center’s blog to learn more about the women in the 2019 GSBI cohort and their journey as leaders and changemakers.



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.


Banner image courtesy of Bernard Cherelus for SOIL.

Sisters Show The Way In Africa

Sisters Show The Way In Africa

International Women’s Day 2019, wasn’t the longest day of my life, but at 35 hours, it was indisputably long. My Kenya Airways flight left the gate at 12:10 am on March 8, only 20 minutes late, a consolation given the March 6 strike at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

I settled into my seat, recollections of amazing women I had spent time with the prior two weeks dancing through my exhausted mind, my face relaxing into a gentle smile.

The days preceding, my colleagues Pamela Roussos and Keith Warner, OFM and I accompanied 35 Sisters from 11 congregations in Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe through a three-day workshop to launch the ACWECA (Association of Consecrated Women in East and Central Africa) Sisters Blended Value project.

Secretary General of ACWECA, Sr. Eneless Chimbali, Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and I met just last summer at the Vatican Impact Investing Conference 2018, organized by the Dicastery for Promoting of Integral Human Development and Catholic Relief Services (CRS). There, Sr. Eneless and I publicly committed to conducting social entrepreneurship trainings for 10 ACWECA member congregations in 2019.

On Monday, March 4, Sister Cecilia Njeri, Little Sisters of Saint Francis, and President of ACWECA, opened the workshop. Earlier that day, I had taken the Sisters from Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe to visit Livelyhoods; in January, Keith organized visits for congregations in Kenya and Uganda to local Miller Center GSBI® alumni social enterprises.

The Missionary Benedictine Sisters hosted the workshop at the Subiaco Centre, itself a study of sustainability and self-sufficiency with a 100 kW solar system, biogas generator, kitchen and medicinal gardens, health clinic, pigs, and chickens.


Miller Center’s social entrepreneurship workshop acquainted the Sisters with business strategies to serve the poor and protect Mother Earth. We shared a vision that social entrepreneurship would help social ministries become more sustainable, catalyze the formation of new social enterprises, leverage congregation assets, and transform charity models to enable community members to become architects of their own futures, all while maintaining the charism of each congregation.

I felt their spirits and joy as the 787 Dreamliner leveled off at 40,000 feet, recalled their smiles and laughter as they gave elevator pitches on their social enterprise initiatives just 12 hours earlier. Sisters from other congregations asked incisive, insightful questions after each presentation. We had come so far so fast.


“Be assured that you have planted a seed that will last,” wrote Sister Eneless by the time I changed planes at Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris.

My thoughts shifted to the prior week, when Miller Center hosted its annual executive immersion trip, featuring field visits to social enterprise alumni of our GSBI® programs. Of the seven social enterprises we visited, five are led by women, four of them Kenyan.

Livelyhoods creates jobs for youth and women in Kenyan slums through distribution of life-improving products; leaders from CRS joined us to accompany street sellers in the Kawangware slum.  


Vava Ang founded Vava Coffee to empower coffee farmers in Kenya; it provides specialty coffees and ensures its farmers are fairly paid.


Alternative Waste Technologies, started by Stella Sigana, manufactures and distributes organic and charcoal waste briquettes in Kibera, Nairobi’s biggest slum. Stella introduced us to some of the women who have halved the amount they spend just to cook their food.


Wawira Njiru created Food4Education to provide healthy and nutritious food to schoolchildren so they can learn; currently feeding 20,000 daily, she has a line of sight to feeding 1 million. I remembered their smiling faces and waving hands.


Yvette Ondachi, Founder and Managing Director of Ojay Greene, shared the transformation of Sammy’s farm now that he has market access for his organically-farmed produce: one of his daughters just earned a medical degree!


As we descended through broken clouds from the bright blue sky, the green hills of Sonoma County below not far from my home, I was grateful for a 35 hour International Women’s Day. There will never be enough time to be thankful for all the women who are leading change to better serve the poor and deeply protect Mother Earth, nor for all the other incredible women in my life present and past. Thank you, Sisters, mothers, all women.

About the author

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Thane Kreiner, PhD, is Executive Director of Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship and Howard & Alida Charney University Professor at Santa Clara University.

Before joining Miller Center in 2010, Thane was Founder, President, and CEO of Second Genome and Presage Biosciences, Inc. and President and CEO of iPierian. Thane spent 14 years at Affymetrix, Inc., the DNA chip industry pioneer. Thane earned his PhD in Neurosciences and his MBA from Stanford University.

His memoir on science and spirituality Composition of Life was recently published. Thane is an avid SCUBA diver, swimmer, yoga practitioner, and gardener.

5 Powerhouse Female GSBI Alumni shared one challenge they faced during their entrepreneurial journey

5 Powerhouse Female GSBI Alumni shared one challenge they faced during their entrepreneurial journey

"Don’t give a woman a fish and feed her for a day; rather teach a woman to run a fishing business and feed a village for a lifetime.”

This is how Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship views the power of women’s economic empowerment to transform the world. We believe in a world that provides equal social and economic opportunities for women and sets the stage for gender equity in the future.

Our GSBI accelerator programs so far have served more than 1000 social enterprises that have positively impacted more than 390M lives. All social entrepreneurs, in one way or another, have compelling, challenging and exciting stories about their entrepreneurship journey. For some, they found difficulty in the beginning and shaping their business idea or finding the right start-up capital investment.  For others, it was the lack of moral support from their family and friends, or enduring gender-bias when they least expected it.

I reached out to some of GSBI’s inspirational, powerhouse female entrepreneurs to learn more about the biggest challenges they’ve had to face. Here is what they had to say.

Maria from TPMocs on Funding and Gender Bias


Maria Running Fisher Jones, Alumna of GSBI Online Cohort 2017

“Funding is a challenge for any start-up, but it’s uniquely challenging for female founders. While more and more women are becoming successful entrepreneurs, it remains unfortunate that funding for women-owned businesses isn’t at the same level as men. The challenge is being respected at the same level as men. When I walk into the room, people don’t expect me to be the CEO and co-founder of the business. Female founders want to be treated with the same respect as their male peers, which unfortunately can be undercut by micro-aggressions and unconscious bias. However, I’ve been able to overcome this challenge by remaining confident, prepared and passionate about our company. I’ve also surrounded myself with amazing and inspiring mentors who have experienced this themselves. Finding a supportive community is pivotal.”

Leanne from Mintor on What Matters and Having a Support Group

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Leanne Viviers, Alumna of GSBI Online Cohort 2016

“As a founder, you always have a million things to do and not enough time or money to do even a fraction of it all. The question I ask myself on a daily basis to make sure I put my effort where it is baring most value to the business, is ‘what matters most’ right now / today / this week / this month. I’ve not experienced any significant challenges as a female entrepreneur. In fact, I’ve had more support than what I could have asked for. Since I started my business 4 years ago, there’s been a conscious focus within the startup communities in South Africa to support female founders through meetups, inspirational talks by female leaders and even funding to women-owned businesses.”

Manka from Grassland Cameroon on Getting a Seat at the Table

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Manka Angwafo, Alumna of GSBI Online cohort 2018

“I think the biggest challenge I faced initially was not believing that I ought to have a seat at the table. Given the country/industry my business is in, and the type of operations we run, I had only male advisors to look up to, and male counterparts to work with. Subconsciously, it made me doubt every decision and plan I would come up with, and then go back to the same men for validation. As time went on, I started noticing my advisors asking me for my input and feedback on their business strategy and it helped me realize that I actually am able to think strategically, and I had, without any doubt, earned my place.”

Shivani from Tala on an Overlooked Consumer Base

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Shivani Siroya, Alumna of GSBI In-residence cohort 2012

“Our journey has always focused on proving potential and showing the market opportunity of emerging, mobile-first consumers. The challenge was that there was a whole set of consumers that have been overlooked by the marketplace, and underserved by traditional financial institutions that do not have products or services that cater to the needs of these consumers, nor understand their affinity for mobile adoption. We learned to turn misconceptions about our customers into opportunities to leverage data to prove that the market exists and that the Tala team is best-suited to serve it.”

Yvonne from Miyonga Fresh Greens on Funding Options

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Yvonne Otieno, Alumna of GSBI Online cohort 2018

“One of the challenges we faced was, where to find investors and what type of funding we should seek whether equity or debt and if equity, how much equity should we be giving up as a company? And lastly, because, our business cares about positively impacting the community, how do we as a business measure our social impact? These are questions we struggled with every day during our journey.”

In spite of the challenges presented above, these women are still positively impacting thousands of lives. This isn't to say that more obstacles will not arise as they continue to develop their enterprises. The new challenges will replace the old ones for them, but what will matter in the end, is their determination to be leaders in their respective sectors.

About the Author


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.

Life is but a weaving

Life is but a weaving

A week or so ago a friend approached me and said “you’ve grown and changed so much since the fellowship began.” I shrugged off his comment, but as I walked home that evening, I began to realize he was right. If you looked at me right now, you’d likely see the same old smiling Sammi on the outside. But beneath that smile, there is a newfound burgeoning interest to lead a life focused on enhancing social impact and working on a grassroots scale. 

Journaling helped me to begin to understand the world

Journaling helped me to begin to understand the world


My first introduction to social entrepreneurship stemmed from reading “Getting Beyond Better” during spring break as I backpacked the lush NaPali Coast in Kauai. As I soaked up the sun and the warm tropical air, I read of visionaries and of leaders who were driving the transformation of society. I thought to myself, I want to be involved in this world. The book speaks of four key stages:

  1. understanding the world

  2. envisioning a new future

  3. building a model for change

  4. scaling the solution

As I poured over the book, I was unaware that I would experience some of these stages of social transformation through my fellowship experience and the rest was to come. 

HIking in Sipi

HIking in Sipi


In the field I experienced the stage of understanding the world, as I met new people with different perspectives and my mind was broadened to understand what it means to live a meaningful life. 

I found that the social engagement that brings me the most joy is when I am interacting directly with people, sharing laughter, eating together, asking questions, and seeking solutions. I seek to be in community and conversation with others.


I have come to understand that the role of entrepreneurial thinking in our world is of utmost importance. As we face challenges, we need creative thinking that pushes beyond the boundaries of what is possible. Entrepreneurial thinking does indeed disrupt unjust equilibriums. I’ve seen so many examples of this in the past 9 months and I believe I want to be a part of this movement, which fits well with my creative capacities and my willingness to be adaptive and adventurous.


I moved toward the stage of envisioning a new future as I began to reflect on my experiences in the field. Hearing the stories that women artisans shared painted a vivid picture of the positive effects of enhancing women’s agency in rural communities. I can still picture the grins of excitement with which women shared their stories of advanced economic empowerment because of their work with All Across Africa.

I became so inspired by this working theory that I applied for a Fulbright fellowship focused on women’s agency in the clean energy sector in India. My fellowship experience illuminated an intersection that fascinates me: women’s agency and clean energy solutions. My Fulbright research aims to identify factors that constrain women from participating in economic activities related to the clean energy sector through an ethnographic case study of Pollinate Energy, a social enterprise in Bangalore (where I was originally supposed to go this summer before the pivot). 

Unconditional love

Unconditional love


The process of applying for a Fulbright was a challenging but ultimately a powerful exercise in vocational discernment. I truly experienced the concept of “learning through writing.” With each new draft I created, I learned something about what I wanted to study and how my personal story has coalesced to my current hopes and dreams. Another important lesson I learned from this vocational decision is how to incorporate feedback from a variety of different mentors.

Looking back, I recall walking into the innovation space in the Miller Center and seeing “Feedback is a gift” written on the white board. I now fully understand the writing on the whiteboard. Feedback is one of the greatest gifts we can receive, we must only open our ears and our hearts to then take action. I feel beyond grateful for the amount of support I received from several mentors throughout this vocational journey. No matter the outcome, the process of applying for a Fulbright has further grounded my hopes to work in the social impact space, with an emphasis on women’s agency and clean energy.

Volunteered at SOCAP and met some inspirational people

Volunteered at SOCAP and met some inspirational people

This fellowship has validated me and my intellectual interests in many ways. I’ve always had a diversity of interests, so much so that I strive to make connections between these interests. I am fascinated by how humans interact with the natural world and how behaviors can be shifted.

Theatre and social change through storytelling

Theatre and social change through storytelling

Additionally, creativity and the arts have always been a passion of mine, though before the fellowship I was sure there was no overlap between being a global change-maker and performing. But at the SEM showcase, I met an entrepreneur who utilizes theatre to empower women refugees. I was flabbergasted.

I am now further inspired by the infiniteness of possibility that exists as I move forward in my journey with the support of the Miller Center and all the friends I have made during these past 9 months.

Teams AAA

Teams AAA

Social entrepreneurship, I have found, stands at the nexus between a few of my interests while seeking transdisciplinary thinking in order to thrive. And it’s not all about money or technicality. It’s also about collaboration, community, creativity, and deep-seated spirit. THESE are what drive social change. And this is where I think I fit into this equation.

As I look back on my fellowship experience and move forward into my future, I do so with a smile that has widened as a result of beautiful memories from a transformative experience that has touched my heart deeply. Though I have no idea where I will be 9 months from now, I am comforted by the idea that my “life is but a weaving.”

My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaveth steadily.

Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.

Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why.

The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned

He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.
— Life is but a weaving - Corrie Ten Boom

My experience as a Global Social Benefit Fellow conducting research on women’s economic advancement was a transformative experience. I listened to women’s stories about their lives improving due to their involvement in the economic development of their country. I saw women’s agency animated dynamically by artisans, and I became inspired by the theory that empowering rural women in developing countries economically gives women more social agency and creates more social equality.  Therefore, I was thrilled to hear about the launch of the Women’s Leadership Fund for the fellowship. This fund will provide support to female fellows working with women-led or women-focused enterprises in 2019. 

The sustainability and value of the fellowship program is illustrated by enterprises continuing to request student fellows. All Across Africa, the enterprise I had the opportunity to work with, is again hosting two fellows from the GSBF program this summer in Ghana. I am so excited to see how the fellowship will touch their hearts and transform their lives and to see their hard work create value for All Across Africa.

This year for Day of Giving, your gift will support this Women’s Leadership Fund. By donating to the Miller Center this Day of Giving, you can ensure that this vibrant and challenging experience is possible for students in the future. 


About the Author

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Sammi Bennett is an adventurous young woman fascinated by how humans interact with the natural world. This June, Sammi will graduate from SCU with degrees in Environmental Studies and Psychology. As a 2018 Global Social Benefit Fellow, she worked with All Across Africa in East Africa, conducting research on opportunities for scaling the business in Uganda. Next year, Sammi is hoping to pursue a Fulbright fellowship in India to study how women participate in the clean energy sector. She later aims to work in the social impact space in international development with a focus on climate resilience, clean energy solutions, and women's agency.

See Sammi’s blog here.

Travel Journal: On the Road With the Sisters In East Africa

Travel Journal: On the Road With the Sisters In East Africa

Last year, Miller Center launched a partnership with the Association of Consecrated Women in Eastern and Central Africa (ACWECA) a regional body composed of National Associations of Catholic Sisters from 10 countries. The Association represents national bodies, which cumulatively represent 301 congregations of about 35,000 Catholic Sisters (Consecrated Women). The Association requested a partnership with Miller Center to transform its social ministries, including schools, health ministries, orphanages, and homes for the aged into social enterprises.

On January 15-25, 2019 I guided two delegations of Sisters to visit a dozen of our GSBI social enterprise partners–in Kenya and then in Uganda. These congregations share a mission to serve the poor and vulnerable in their communities, and several of them have a dedicated focus to helping the girl child. Every social enterprise enthusiastically welcomed us and perceived the potential for expanding or partnering with the Sisters. In East Africa, the Sisters have an excellent reputation for dedication to their communities. They carry significant moral authority, and are seen as key influencers. About one third of the enterprises are ready to partner with the Sisters right now, and another third indicated that they would like to partner with the Sisters, should the Sisters decide to do so.

The following is a travel journal of my time on the road with the Sisters and visiting social enterprises.

Kenya, January 15-19

Wednesday January 16

Greetings from warm and sunny Nairobi. Because I will be visiting 12 social enterprises (SEs) in Kenya and Uganda with 15 Catholic Sisters over the next 1.5 weeks, I thought I would try to provide very brief reports.


This morning we visited Wawira Njiru. Her Food4Education (GSBI 2017) is thriving. She has continued to scale her impact, expanding her kitchen capacity, and now opening a second, much bigger kitchen closer to Nairobi. She is committed to bringing down her per meal cost, and when we visited her, she was discussing with some Fintech consultants how she could move from coin payment to Mpesa airtime. About half the Sisters have been teachers, so this was a very compelling SE for them to visit first. They asked many practical questions about how the enterprise cooks and distributes the food, and partners with school districts.


This afternoon we visited two clients of Sistema Biobolsa/Kenya. SB expanded to Kenya is 2017, and in 22 months has sold 1500 units and employs 50 people. Kenyan animal farmers have bought many biodigesters that have failed, but the word is out that SB has a quality product, followed up with service. We were hosted by Carlotta, the first SB employee in Kenya, who took us to two farms, where we received very compelling testimonials from happy farmers. The potential of an innovative technology delivered in an entrepreneurial way to foster human dignity and protection of Mother Earth was not lost on the Sisters. They asked many down and dirty questions about manure management, but were impressed by how the economics and financing packages paved the way for making sales.

Thursday, January 17


Today we visited Access Afya, an alumni of the first GE cohort. It provides frontline clinic services in slums. We met Melissa and Daphne, who provided an overview, and then visited one of their storefront clinics, offering ultra-low pricing, and appropriate referrals. They work in some tough slums. This enterprise is scaling aggressively with six clinics opened, and one to open every month in Kenya this year starting in March. All of the congregations of Sisters on this field trip have hospitals and clinics, and they asked lots of well-informed questions of Daphne. We had some preliminary conversations about Congregations in other East African countries partnering with Access Afya to expand, and create a strong referral relationship, which would help their hospitals.


In the afternoon we visited Matt of Eggpreneur (GSBI Online 2017). Eggpreneur trains rural women to become poultry farmers with improved hens, and sets them up with laying hens, and then markets spring chicken and eggs on their behalf. These services have transformed hundreds of women’s lives, and some of them are now becoming rural micro entrepreneurs in other sectors. Matt has a truly remarkable personal journey, and is a most inspiring presenter and host. He has a Masters in Public Health from a Canadian university, but returned to Kenya to start an antipoverty enterprise. He lived for a while in Eldoret (Western Kenya), where two of the participating congregations are based, and they discussed the possibility of hosting him to give training workshops, and starting a branch of Eggpreneur there. Many of these Sisters are farmer’s daughters, and they loved the chickens. Sisters bought two sets of chickens plus a flat of live eggs to take back to their motherhouses, since they really liked the improved varieties.

Friday January 18


Well known to us and having passed through at least two rounds of GSBI, Livelyhoods is an ideal partner for hosting site visits. It now hosts visitors for a 5-hour experience with their street sellers, with payment through AirBNB. The sales meeting that started the day was like most sales meetings, but doing it in a slum setting made the uplifting messages and testimonials more meaningful. A group of Sisters accompanied several rather green sales agents as we walked through Kawangware. Several of the Sisters tried out their hustle on the locals, but expenses from the holidays had put a crimp in local wallets. The Sisters discovered the challenges of being a street seller, for sure.

Some of them commented on how inspiring were the stories of the Livelyhoods sellers. Livelyhoods has branches in Mombassa and Eldoret, where some congregations have houses, so there was some discussion of how they might forge partnerships. I had the chance to visit with Claire Baker of Livelyhoods about a GSBF project this year, in which fellows will evaluate pilot expansion to Uganda.

After lunch we visited with Daniel Waithaka of Wisdom Stoves, which competed GSBI Online in 2014, and is about to start GSBI TECh cohort 2. He described a multi-year process of technology innovation and market testing that has brought him to this point. He realized a few years ago that he had to adopt a gender lens on his sales, and now markets to rural women’s saving groups, with good success. The Sisters liked his stove, but were concerned that he had not achieved break-even yet, and we discussed the role of impact investing, and why he is going to go through GSBI again. 

We returned to Subiaco Retreat House, engaged in a shared reflection and discussed how the Sisters will develop a 1 page concept note for a social entrepreneurship initiative within a month. This will prompt them to discuss and plan among themselves, and the various notes will help Pamela, Thane, and me to develop the program. 

A shout out and huge thanks to Alex Pan for laboring diligently with me to identify, cultivate and persuade our partners to host us. That part was much more work than I expected. But the Sisters were inspired and motivated by the experience. I am now off to Uganda, and will drive up to Fort Portal/KadAfrica on Sunday.

Uganda, January 20-24

Monday, January 21


We had just finished introductions and KadAfrica was in the process of explaining its mission and impact when Sister Goretti, the Superior General of the Teresian Sisters (based in Fort Portal), interrupted and stated that she wanted her vocational school to partner with KadAfrica and start such a program on their land. Just before, a young woman in the KadAfrica program ran up to embrace her, since she had been Sister Goretti’s pupil some years ago. A few minutes later, the KadAfrica young women in training each picked a Sister, took them by the hand, and showed them their new passion fruit plants, which they would cultivate through the life of the training program. Dispersed across this fertile field, the women young and old exchanged stories, laugher, and dreams of dignity.


The Ugandan Sisters seem to be even more agriculturally oriented than the Kenyans, with all the congregations speaking about working their land. Two of them grow coffee commercially. Fortunately, we spent the whole day with KadAfrica, discussing what it would take to replicate the model (with possible GSBF projects), and will spend all Thursday with Joseph Nkandu of NUCAFE.

Tuesday, January 22

We all recognize the feeling when sparks fly: there is an electric-like charge exchanged, a kind of connection, an illumination of one’s forward path. Yes, yes, these are the feelings when one falls in love, but I love being a teacher because I get to witness people learning about real world opportunities to fulfill their passions. The local ENVenture team of Julius and Robert provided a fabulous overview of social entrepreneurship as a social service/social change strategy for marginalized rural communities. Julius spoke with such clarity and conviction that I could see the Sisters’ eyes opening. He gave the most eloquent presentation on the potential of the Sisters Blended Value project yet — without knowing the name of this program. The scale of the Sisters reach into the kinds of target communities that ENVenture serves gave Julius and Robert pause, because it could represent a significant partnership for that GSBI (2018) social enterprise. 

On our trip into Kampala this morning we stopped and visited a local faith community organization in Kyenjojo: Utopia. This local organization bundles community education for health and sustainability with clean cookstoves, solar lanterns and water filters purchased at wholesale from ENVenture. Sister Jacinta, of the Teresian Sisters who hosted us in Fort Portal, is a nurse, and serves on the advisory board of this local org. Utopia was having a community fair today, so we had the chance to meet with them, and learn about ENVenture from their perspective. Thus, we traveled the value chain upstream from the grassroots to Kampala HQ, and the Sisters learned a new entrepreneurship concept — enriching their journey!


Wednesday, January 23

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Nurture Africa (NA) provided another dynamic, inspiring model of a social enterprise for the Sisters. They completed our first GSBI GE accelerator cohort in 2016, and hosted fellows in 2017. In both cases, NA wanted to work on transitioning its clinic from a charity model to a social enterprise model. This transition was begun in early 2017. Will Paton and Grace Krueger conducted action research on this, with the mentoring of Aimee Brown and Brian Haas. The transition was not well executed, and the fellows were skeptical it could work. I am happy to now report that Nurture Africa’s clinic now operates 24/7 and brings in revenue from patients up to $5000 monthly. NA replaced its circumcision clinic with a birth clinic. It provides free ante-natal visits, and charges ~$12 per birth. This was opened six months ago, and has grown to 50 clean (HIV free) births per month. Both the country director and clinic director waxed eloquent about the value of Miller Center’s program to NA and to them personally because they valued the transition to social enterprise thinking. They also toured their vocational training programs for the Sisters. Because Nurture Africa is a diversified human services provider, the Sisters were inspired by all is programs, and we had to emphasize that it was 15 years in the making.  NA said it would be happy to provide mentoring for the Sisters in a new initiative that could draw on its experience, but we agreed that the Sisters need to develop a plan at the March social enterprise workshop in Nairobi.

This afternoon we visited Teach A Man To Fish Foundation (GSBI 2009/GSBF 2017), which was eager to partner with the Sisters to establish social entrepreneurship models in their schools. All these congregations have schools, and they all have students who struggle with attendance for lack of fees. Teach A Man To Fish accelerates school-based social enterprise initiatives, but it also provides basic business management coaching for schools, teachers, and student clubs. Several congregations would subsequently request partnerships with TAMTF to help their schools become more financially sustainable

We concluded with a visit to Jibu, and played “what if a congregation wanted to open a franchise?”. The Sisters were initially surprised to think of a social enterprise using a franchise model, but the visit stimulated them to think more broadly about this field.

Thursday, January 24: Joseph Nkandu and NUCAFE

The Sisters were astonished by what NUCAFE has been able to accomplish. NUCAFE represents 200+ local coffee coops/associations. It hosts an impressive processing facility, and is expanding its warehouse. Joseph walked the Sister forward through the coffee value chain and his Farmer Ownership Model to explain how NUCAFE promotes rural wealth creation. The training center is under construction. Joseph is actively seeking to replicate his model in other commodity systems. He is working with the GSBI Scale Out initiative to share his Farmer Ownership Model though international development organizations.

Joseph is a prince of a man, and commands everyone’s respect based on knowledge, experience, and impact on the common good. He and Deus were incredibly gracious to the Sisters, and they see the Sisters as powerful influencers in their local communities to engage more farmers. After we visited the factory, they hosted us for a wonderful celebratory meal at Cafe Omukago. Several Sisters expressed a kind embarrassment because, they said, I had to travel all the way from the United States to introduce them to a network creating passports out of poverty right in their home country of Uganda. I assured them there was no shame, since so much of this was new, and that what is important is to apply this knowledge in service to their local communities. Two of the congregations grow coffee — which they use to pay for their Sisters formation, and they wanted to join NUCAFE on the spot. One of these congregations might provide a younger sister interested in coffee to work with the fellows in their field work.



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Keith Douglass Warner, OFM, PhD directs Miller Center’s education, fellowship, grants and action research activities. He directs the Global Social Benefit Fellowship, which provides a comprehensive program of mentored, field-based study and research for SCU juniors within the Center’s worldwide network of social entrepreneurs. With Thane Kreiner, PhD, he designed the fellowship and wrote the grant that funds it.