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

Photo Credit: Bernard Cherelus for SOIL

Photo Credit: Bernard Cherelus for 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.

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.

Miller Center Fellows represent SCU at Sorenson Impact Center's Winter Innovation Summit

Miller Center Fellows represent SCU at Sorenson Impact Center's Winter Innovation Summit

Last week, I participated in the Student Coalition for Social Impact, which was hosted by the Sorenson Impact Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Coalition brought together student delegates and university leaders from 10 social impact centers across the country to take part in the 2019 Winter Innovation Summit, which is a convening for policymakers, funders, and nonprofits to explore the future of social innovation. In two jam-packed days, we attended panels and deep dive sessions, listened to the keynote speaker, Mayor Michael Tubbs, attended the film premier of The Biggest Little Farm, and participated in a five-hour Impact Hackathon in which we explored the problem of college affordability and worked together to propose a new solution.

In line with the theme of the Summit, “colliding sectors and connecting changemakers,” I came to appreciate the vital importance of collaboration. By gaining insight into the work done by different sectors, I experienced how communication and cooperation enable people and organizations to overcome significant obstacles. Furthermore, learning about the interests, work, and aspirations of the other student delegates made me excited to contribute what I can and collaborate with others to address the problems facing our world.

A common topic at the Summit was how to make money work better for people, which exposed me to the challenge of the lack of accountability in impact investing. I noticed that many panelists claimed it is unnecessary to sacrifice financial returns to have a positive social impact. While both market rate returns and a positive social impact may be possible in some cases, if market rate returns are the expectation it is important to consider what is going unfunded. If impact investors are serious about making their capital work better for people, it should be their responsibility to mold to the needs of social enterprises and the people they serve, not the other way around. While discussions about the use of blended capital and impact investing frameworks are promising, there seems to be the need for a system to keep investors accountable and ensure that they are impact first, especially in light of increasing commercial interest in impact investing. Although this would likely be a significant challenge, the Summit taught me that in each challenge there is an opportunity.

In addressing challenges, it is crucial to always keep people at the center of any solution. As Mayor Michael Tubbs reminded the Summit attendees, “nothing about us without us can be for us.” This resonated with me because it reflects a lesson I learned as a 2018 Global Social Benefit Fellow in Uganda: we must always listen to and work with the people we aim to increase opportunities for. Marginalized people have ideas about how to improve their own lives, what they lack are the resources to do so. Reflecting back on my experience at the Student Coalition for Social Impact, I am grateful to have built connections and gained new perspectives. I look forward to incorporating what I have learned into whatever I do next.  

The Student Coalition for Social Impact

The Student Coalition for Social Impact

Global Social Benefit Fellows ‘18 Huda Navaid and Joe Curran, and Director of Global Operations Spencer Arnold representing Miller Center

Global Social Benefit Fellows ‘18 Huda Navaid and Joe Curran, and Director of Global Operations Spencer Arnold representing Miller Center

Keynote speaker Mayer Michael Tubbs

Keynote speaker Mayer Michael Tubbs


About the Author

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Joe Curran is a fourth year History and Political Science double major. As a 2018 Global Social Benefit Fellow, he worked with Tugende, an enterprise that finances income generating assets for unbanked entrepreneurs in East Africa. Along with his partner, Anne Hsia, he composed a social impact report and a proposal for an ongoing social impact survey for Tugende. He is passionate about breaking into cycles of financial and educational inequities and promoting the opportunity for people to achieve their full potentials. After graduating, he aims to continue working in the social enterprise ecosystem at an enterprise or accelerator.

5 Social Entrepreneurs and VCs share why Gender-lens investing is important for the ecosystem

5 Social Entrepreneurs and VCs share why Gender-lens investing is important for the ecosystem

The term ‘gender lens investing’ coined in early 2009, is now being used heavily in the VC world. Throughout the years, women-owned businesses have suffered due to lack of capital, funds, support, and resources. According to an Ashoka global survey, 9% of their fellows reported experiencing gender-specific challenges while attracting funding and investment for their businesses.

In 2005, when Valeurs Feminines fund, created by the French money-management firm Conseil Plus Gestion, started investing in women-owned and women-led European businesses, it led to many other venture capitalists joining the league. Now, some of the famous gender lens portfolios include Morgan StanleyMerrill LynchGoldman SachsRoot CapitalVeris Wealth PartnersIlluminate VenturesTrillium Asset ManagementGray Matters CapitalGolden Seeds, and the Calvert Foundation.

Gender lens investment yields many benefits to the ecosystem and also contributes to our sustainable future. As times are changing and if we look back, the return on investment or equity of women-owned or backed businesses has never been low. Over a five-year period (2011-2016), U.S. companies that began the period with at least three women on the board experienced median gains in return on equity (ROE) of 10 percentage points and earnings per share (EPS) of 37%.

What other benefits does gender lens investing bring to the table? I had the opportunity to talk to five social entrepreneurs and VCs to share their opinion on it. Let’s hear it from them.


Reema Shah - Investor and Managing Director, Golden Seeds

“Gender investing is absolutely necessary for the ecosystem since women entrepreneurs have been tremendously underfunded around the world, whether it is in Silicon Valley or in an emerging market. Yet, research has shown that companies consisting of at least one female senior executive are more likely to have favorable outcomes than those with an all-male senior executive team. It is also important from a societal impact perspective to invest in women entrepreneurs, as they are significant contributors to innovation and economic growth.”


“Any serious shift towards more sustainable societies must include gender equality. At Green Box, we really believe it is high time to fully invest in ‘her’. Integrating a gender lens in social and corporate businesses can empower women especially young girls in developing countries. We need to remember that they are key to critical, sustainable development challenges: talent acquisition, workplace culture, and the need for holistic innovation.”


Renata George - Managing Director, Zenmen VC fund; Founder, www.women.vc and www.VC.academy

“As a tech VC investor, I can say that many of my fellow colleagues have been missing out on the opportunity of getting better returns from women-led businesses. On the one hand, we cannot blame the men for not having any clue about what women need. However, that brings us to the other issue - the lack of female venture investors who are more than capable of recognizing high-potential tech solutions targeting females that can provide good returns.

Having women investors don’t necessarily automatically lead to a proportional increase in funding for female entrepreneurs because the ratio of them among all entrepreneurs is still low. So unless the investment theses mandate funding female entrepreneurs, the organic share of startups with at least one female founder in a portfolio won’t exceed 15-20%, however, VC firms with female investors do have better chances of attracting female entrepreneurs to their portfolios. It is a fragile structure that needs to be carefully built by all the participating parties with a great share of attention shown to it over time.”


“Less than 10% of venture capital goes to women founders. This system-wide failure presents a huge opportunity for capital deployment. Women founders, while being underestimated, are working on innovative solutions and building scalable products. Polyvore, Glossier, Canva, and Houzz are great examples of companies that were started by women to solve a need in the market that no one else was tackling. If we don't invest in women and LGBTQ founders, while building emerging ecosystems, we're essentially defueling the rocketship of change as it's trying to take off.”


Asma Salman Omer - Co-founder, Marham

“For the last 3 years, Marham grew exponentially as a healthcare startup in Pakistan and one of the core reasons behind it is women. The power and passion of women on our team has moved mountains. Do you know who has benefited the most? Those women who couldn't find the right treatment for themselves. And who played the role in our massive organic growth and word of mouth? Those women who were helped and wanted to help others. What I know for sure is, women can grow and catalyze everything - from revenue numbers to the impact we created - I must say if we want to grow, gender lens investing is a decision every investor should make to thrive in the ecosystem.”



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.

Introducing GSBI TECh : A commitment to continued accompaniment

Introducing GSBI TECh : A commitment to continued accompaniment

Go to any social entrepreneur pitch event and you will see one graph over and over again, the “hockey stick” predicting exponential growth as the enterprise matures. Entrepreneurs feel pressure to project wildly ambitious growth curves in an effort to attract investment, but how realistic are these projections?

In reality, growing a social enterprise is hard, and the hockey stick growth curve is better left to the NHL or the world of Silicon Valley unicorns than the realm of social entrepreneurship. An analysis of Miller Center’s alumni social enterprises shows that while most of our graduates grow significantly in the three to five years after completing our accelerator, most of these enterprises then fall into periods of either moderate growth, stagnation, or even decline. More of an “S” curve than a hockey stick. Yet we need a few hockey sticks if the social enterprise movement is going to make meaningful progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals, or make a sizeable dent in the pressing social and environmental issues they seek to address.

What if social enterprises could break out of their growth plateaus or even preempt a slowing of growth to begin with?  How could we as Miller Center, a social enterprise accelerator, accompany our social enterprise alumni to break through these plateaus and see them make tangible progress toward achieving these global goals?

This commitment to continued accompaniment was the impetus of the GSBI® Technology Entrepreneurship for Change (TECh) Cohort that culminates this Tuesday (today) at the GSBI TECh Showcase.  The GSBI TECh accelerator engaged 14 social entrepreneurs who had previously graduated from either a GSBI accelerator program or were a Tech Awards Laureate run by our partner organization, The Tech Museum of Innovation.  By connecting these entrepreneurs with some of our most seasoned mentors, and allowing them to engage in a flexible and customizable curriculum, we sought to support these diverse social entrepreneurs to break through to the next level of scale.

To learn more about each of the TECh social enterprises, click the thumbnail or   here   .

To learn more about each of the TECh social enterprises, click the thumbnail or here.


Each of these enterprises are pursuing unique strategies to reach scale, however some broad themes emerge.

Scaling by leveraging the existing “development” infrastructure

One effective mechanism to reach scale is to leverage existing infrastructure, such as governments and massive aid agencies, to take a product or service to market.  This technique is being used by We Care Solar, who sells their innovative Solar Suitcase to provide emergency lighting to under-resourced health facilities throughout Africa. By partnering with Ministries of Health, NGOs, and UN agencies, they can reach far more people than they could through their own distribution channels.

Potential Energy is employing a similar strategy to get their clean cookstove into the hands of refugees in Northern Uganda, and Amplio Network is partnering with a number of NGOs and aid agencies who utilize their innovative Talking Book to create engaging and culturally relevant content to reach populations with low literacy skills.  

Amplio Network’s Talking Book used in a classroom setting.

Amplio Network’s Talking Book used in a classroom setting.


Scaling through international replication or acquisition

Another strategy to scale is through replication and/or mergers and acquisitions (M&A), a strategy that seems to becoming more common as the social enterprise sector matures, and is essentially taking a validated business model from one geography and adapting it to work in new markets. This can significantly decrease the time and resources spent on getting a social enterprise up and running, and replicated enterprises may also present reduced risks for impact investors (see more on Miller Center’s Replication Initiative).

This strategy of replication is being pursued in part by both Nazava water filters, who is seeking to bring their low cost water filter to new markets throughout Asia and Africa, and by SAI Sustainable Agro who is expanding its work to connect smallholder farmers with corporate value chains from India to South Africa, Ghana, and Uganda. It is also being pursued in a slightly different form by Pollinate Energy, who builds distribution networks for socially beneficial household products (clean cookstoves, solar lanterns, etc.) in underserved markets, such as slums and remote villages. Pollinate is unique because they merged in 2018 with Empower Generation, a fellow GSBI social enterprise alumni with an aligned purpose in a different geographic market. By leveraging each organizations competitive advantages they are realizing record breaking sales, and critically, an increased ability to empower women in their value chain.

Beneficiaries and a Nazava water filter.

Beneficiaries and a Nazava water filter.


Scaling through spin-offs

The final theme we see is established organizations seeking to scale by spinning off focused and innovative portions of their work. This strategy allows a successful and established organization to protect and maintain its core work, while leveraging its track record of success to build innovative new lines of business or impact.

For example, Solar Ear is pioneer in the hearing loss ecosystem and manufactures an affordable solar powered hearing aid that seeks to serve the 95% of people with hearing loss who cannot afford a traditional hearing aid. While this business is established and scaling, they are now looking to spin off a new service that seeks to identify and prevent hearing loss before it happens, and develop new technology that turns the ubiquitous cell phone, into a hearing aid device.

A similar strategy is being used by AREWA24 for profit Nigerian media platform that educates, inspires and empowers millions of marginalized youth, women and communities across northern Nigeria. AREWA24 spun off from the more well NGO Equal Access so that it can more nimbly serve its market, and attract the type of capital that will allow it to scale rapidly.


While this is analysis is a drastic oversimplification of the complex scaling strategies being used by the social enterprises in this cohort, we are excited to see some broad themes emerging.  We hope to continue to support our alumni in the future to understand their best path toward scale and accompany them in addressing any roadblocks on that path. We hope that this model of accompaniment might help some of the hockey sticks you will see on Tuesday actually come true and that we will see social enterprises making sizeable contributions toward meeting the sustainable development goals.

About the Author

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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.

Mentor Appreciation Night

Mentor Appreciation Night

In late November, Miller Center held a Mentor Appreciation Night honoring our cadre of 200+ volunteer mentors, the individuals who make the Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) Methodology possible and our accelerator programs impactful.  It was wonderful to see so many of our fantastic mentors at the event!  The hall in Santa Clara University’s Nobili Dining Room buzzed with everyone meeting up and celebrating the close of a successful year for the mentor network.  We had a well-rounded turnout with long-term mentors meeting alongside new folks just getting involved. The dinner bell was barely audible over the din of conversation!

About the Mentor Appreciation Night

Miller Center uses this annual event to thank mentors for all the efforts expended on behalf of GSBI and its community of Social Entrepreneurs. In the past, appreciation of mentors coincided with the annual In-Residence celebration dinner, but this year and in years to come we will be keeping the mentor appreciation night separate to recognize all mentor efforts independent of a cohort event.

As a mentor I believe the reward is in the work, and I’m not alone in this opinion. I also understand that many mentors don’t usually want or need special appreciation or thank you. But, as Director of the Mentor Network, my gratitude has expanded and now includes a desire to recognize the amazing group of people I have the privilege to serve. So for one day a year, we set aside some time to recognize and celebrate the people in our network, and the amazing services they provide.
— Lynne Anderson, Mentor Network Director

In case you missed this year’s event, the informational portion of the evening included a status report on the mentor network, and a review of the plans for the upcoming GSBI accelerator cohorts  launching in the coming months. But, more importantly, we celebrated milestones for several mentors. First, we took the time to welcome the class of 2018 with 31 new mentors who successfully completed their mentor-in-training positions for the 2018 cohorts.

We also applauded the dedication and efforts of four fantastic mentors, presenting them with their five-year service awards.  Congratulations and many thanks to Alex Limberis, Alina Adams, Elizabeth Rafael, and Lakshmi Karan.

Finally, we surprised nine mentors who’ve been with us for 10+ years.  The distinguished list included: Arvind Deogirikar, Bob MacDonald, Bret Waters, Dennis Reker, Eric Carlson, Jeff Miller, John Kohler, José Flahaux, and Pamela Roussos.  

The final product : Personalized hardbound books containing personalized impact metrics, quotes, and photos for the 10+ year mentors.

The final product : Personalized hardbound books containing personalized impact metrics, quotes, and photos for the 10+ year mentors.

For this distinguished group, Miller Center creative folks (Karen Paculba, Alexis Tong, and Maya Duggal) designed and prepared customized hardbound books summarizing the mentor’s invaluable participation to Miller Center GSBI programs.  

Bob MacDonald pictured receiving his gift, recognizing 10+ years of service as a mentor to Miller Center social entrepreneurs.

Bob MacDonald pictured receiving his gift, recognizing 10+ years of service as a mentor to Miller Center social entrepreneurs.

These books contain special notes of thanks from Miller Center staff and a summary of the full effect of each mentor’s impact on GSBI alums and their organizations.  To bring back memories of past enterprises, we added a copy of the related investment profiles, along with notes from fellow mentors and social entrepreneurs expressing their gratitude and sharing memories from the past.  

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The centerfold of the book also contains a prototype infographic we refer to as the Mentor Dashboard or “The Big Picture” which will be rolled out to the broader mentor network later this year.  Take a look at an example provided below. You will see all the places in the world this mentor visited (at least virtually) and a summary of his impact.

In the upper left corner you can see that this mentor worked with 18 social entrepreneurs, 14 still remain in operation, with a total combined impact reaching the lives of 29 million people, and raising a sum total of $55 Million dollars! Every mentor has a unique footprint and each one is truly amazing.

In the upper left corner you can see that this mentor worked with 18 social entrepreneurs, 14 still remain in operation, with a total combined impact reaching the lives of 29 million people, and raising a sum total of $55 Million dollars! Every mentor has a unique footprint and each one is truly amazing.

A big thank you to my fellow mentors, and Miller Center staff* who made the evening so special.  Mark your calendars for next November 13th, 2019 when we meet to celebrate the next batch of mentors with five and 10-year service awards.

*Special thanks to Spencer Arnold, Alexis Tong, Sharon Bunyard, Maya Duggal for their fantastic work in planning and making this event so successful!

A brief overview of our mentors:

The volunteers who participate as executive mentors to social entrepreneurs in GSBI accelerator programs at Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship are selected for their business acumen as CEOs, VPs, VCs, Board Chairs, and subject matter experts, as well as the values that make them trusted advisors to the program participants they support over the course of several months through weekly calls and in-person deep dives. They are committed and caring, they actively listen, they search for the need and the problem and ask probing questions to help business leaders find the right solutions. They are humble and generous, and they are energized by working with business leaders solving social problems around the world.

To learn more about being a Miller Center Mentor, check out our website and let us know if you are interested in joining the most exclusive club in Silicon Valley!



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.

Last Mile Distribution: Lessons from Agricultural Sales Agents in Ghana

Last Mile Distribution: Lessons from Agricultural Sales Agents in Ghana

By: Erin Ronald, Jean Baptiste Tooley, Kimmie Meunier


Distributing products and services to remote communities, known as the “last mile,” is a global challenge. To develop a channel that accomplishes this, enterprises must account for poor infrastructure, high costs, and a need to retain and grow a large network of motivated agents. Though difficult, this process is critical when connecting communities to larger markets, delivering crucial services, and offering beneficial or even life-saving products.

This is especially true in the agriculture sector where sales agents must understand the distributed products or services, agricultural practices, and the relevant community in order to gain farmer trust.

This summer, Erin Ronald, Jean Baptiste Tooley, and Kimmie Meunier conducted research with GSBI alumni MoringaConnect a social enterprise aiming to sustainably grow its network of field agents to reach more farming communities in this last mile. MoringaConnect targets smallholder farmers, and work to increase their incomes by providing agricultural practices and market connections. We investigated the best practices for recruiting, training, and compensating these agricultural-focused agents, conducting 139 interviews with field agents, farmers, and partner organizations throughout 6 regions in Ghana.

This research gave us insight into strategies to successfully build an agricultural sales and extension network, specifically attracting agents, training agents, and contracting and paying agents.

Figure 1: Building a Sales Network and Completing the Sales Process (Source :   Last Mile Distribution Playbook  )  *Arrows indicate areas of research focus

Figure 1: Building a Sales Network and Completing the Sales Process (Source : Last Mile Distribution Playbook)
*Arrows indicate areas of research focus


Creating a comprehensive recruitment strategy in the early growth stage of a social enterprise is critical. Strategically recruiting agents in different geographic regions will better position the company to scale, while recruiting agents that can effectively acquire customers will aid the overall success of an organization.

Dividing geographic regions allows effective market penetration. In order to maximize agent productivity and drive customer acquisition, regions should be divided before initiating recruitment. Dividing the region depends upon the number of farmers with whom an agent can effectively work, the travel time needed to reach each farm, and the type of relationship necessary between an agent and a farmer. In agriculture, sales frequently occur on a recurring basis, necessitating a high-touch relationship. A high-touch relationship means that agents will have to work with a smaller number of customers in order to devote time to the relationships. When dividing the region and determining farmers per agent it is also essential to consider travel time to ensure that agent’s time is spent effectively. Enterprises must consider these aspects of agent-customer interactions within their business models in order to divide target regions into zones, which will provide reasonable opportunities for sales and services.

Determining agent roles increases efficiency. Recruiting for specific roles in the agent network is helpful to ensure a team works successfully and fosters field agent efficiency. While working with MoringaConnect we found ideal characteristics and roles for each member of the agent network.

Table 1 : Roles for MoringaConnect Field Agent Network

Table 1 : Roles for MoringaConnect Field Agent Network

The Regional Manager is critical to this process, as they provide the link between the enterprise and the farmers and oversee all agents. MoringaConnect’s Regional Manager who organizes agents in the Eastern region of Ghana, is centrally located among farms. He is able to check in with agents several times a week, and can call planned or spontaneous meetings in order to provide learning opportunities.

Table 2 : Agent Types

Table 2 : Agent Types


Once regions and areas of sale have been outlined, we found it critical for enterprises to determine what type of role the agent should play for the customer. One model is a community-based sales model, where each agent is responsible for selling the product within their respective community. Individuals with leadership roles in their communities are intentionally recruited for this position and are expected to have ongoing relationships with their customers. These relationships allow agents to create a higher degree of trust with farmers, as opposed to engaging in only one-time interactions. This is essential when selling agricultural products or services in the last-mile, since risk-averse farmers tend to be hesitant about heeding the advice or purchasing the products of those who do not know people within the community. However, a high-touch relationship model usually has a high cost per beneficial outcome. This can constrain the number of farmers reachable by field agents. Enterprises using this model have to evaluate its relative advantages versus low-touch models, which generally have broader reach but less impact on farmers. 

Recruiting women increases success of the network. Throughout the process of defining the geographical scope of sales agents and the roles that are needed within it, we also found that women should be at the core of an agent recruitment strategy.

This is MoringaConnect’s first female agent, Mavis. She is crucial to operations, and has increased the number of moringa farmers in her community.

This is MoringaConnect’s first female agent, Mavis. She is crucial to operations, and has increased the number of moringa farmers in her community.

Though researching the role of women within the Ghanaian agricultural sector was outside the scope of our project, we found that MoringaConnect had greater success with their first female agent than with male agents. In her community, she was able to successfully convince community members to grow moringa, and support their crop cultivation. An extensive literature review supports these preliminary findings. Women are more effective at connecting with people and are more successful in establishing trust within a community. Intentionally staging women at the core of the recruitment strategy will not only improve sales, but will also offer women more opportunities to positively transform their families and communities.


Equipping agents with knowledge of sales and sales techniques increases operational efficiency. Agents that are trying to convince farmers to grow a certain crop or buy a service or a product, should focus on making sales. We observed that without explicit training on how to gain farmers’ trust and sell the product or service, processes become inefficient. In some cases, we observed that agents have to traverse difficult terrain and bad roads multiple times in order to successfully sell products or provide information. This consumes valuable resources and time that could otherwise be spent on customer acquisition. For example, an agent with MoringaConnect had to revisit a community over an hour away five different times in order to convince a farmer to start growing moringa.

Setting general working guidelines can help to boost efficiency. Often, sales agents have high degrees of independence and work on their own schedules.  However, it is important to clarify roles and expectations throughout training to ensure that agent time is spent productively.  Without clear expectations, agents may spend the majority of their time engaging in activities that are outside the scope of their work, such as helping farmers work in their fields. A list of clear expectations that indicates the amount of time agents should dedicate to their roles each week would be beneficial.

Resources for support make agents feel valued. Throughout our two months, it became clear that the role of sales agents is extensive and hard to accomplish alone. Agents need resources for support, such as a community of agents. Frequent interactions with supervisors were critical to increasing agent motivation and productivity. Supervisors do this by providing targets, facilitating collaborative spaces for discussing challenges, and encouraging communication within the agent network. MoringaConnect uses WhatsApp as a platform for agents to pose questions when they reach barriers in their extension services.  

Mr. Nartey, a regional Manager for MoringaConnect, shows a crowd of field agents and farmers the best methods for planting moringa seeds.

Mr. Nartey, a regional Manager for MoringaConnect, shows a crowd of field agents and farmers the best methods for planting moringa seeds.


Goals and bonuses create incentive. It is common practice for organizations to offer targets and bonuses within their compensation structure. However, our work showed us how deeply important these are in motivating agents to achieve higher performances. For extension officers, like the agents at MoringaConnect, targets can be set based off of yields. For sales agents, targets can be set based off of the amount of products sold. Designing achievable targets and distinct levels of success allows agents to see possibilities for increased income and opportunity growth. Without goals and bonuses, agents at MoringaConnect rely solely on intrinsic motivation. Identifying a baseline performance for agents per year and compensating agents based on success creates motivating incentives and gives agents an idea of company expectations.

Compensation should meet agent needs. We also discovered that enterprises should not limit themselves to strictly financial compensation. Additional non-fiscal bonuses can be just as incentivizing. We found these to be:

  • Discounts off of products for farmers

  • Additional trainings for agents

  • Meetings with management

  • Branded items

  • Tools that can be used on the job

Throughout our research with field agents, it was evident that age and position shapes incentive desires. For agents that are based in communities and have leadership positions, social standing and community development was far more attractive than monetary compensation. These agents typically view their role as part-time and tend to have a vested interest in seeing the success of their communities. For these agents, reduced price of inputs for their customers, community development workshops, and branded items were more incentivizing than solely increasing their own commissions. By contrast, younger agents were more interested in opportunities for growth within the company, tools that will help their performance at work, and additional financial bonuses. Catering to each of these desires for compensation can make the agent network more attractive to new recruits, increase retention, and ultimately boost performance.  

The form of financial compensation will vary depending on agent roles. Commission is beneficial for part-time agents. Salaries or salary plus commission will be more beneficial for full-time agents, especially those who have continuing relationships with customers. Salary may not always be possible for early stage enterprises, but is crucial for retention of full-time agents.

Earnest is a young field agent based in Upper Manya Krobo District. He explained that he wants to be someone in the moringa field, and feels as though working with MoringaConnect will provide him opportunities for growth.

Earnest is a young field agent based in Upper Manya Krobo District. He explained that he wants to be someone in the moringa field, and feels as though working with MoringaConnect will provide him opportunities for growth.

Agricultural last mile distribution work, whether sourcing moringa from smallholder farmers or providing farmers the tools to become successful entrepreneurs, can create profound impact. Building a successful sales network is key to achieving this mission. Specifically, a strategic recruiting strategy that includes geographic division, intentional roles, and women is critical for fruitful agent recruiting. Once hired, agents should be knowledgeable about agriculture, have the ability to build relationships, be able to sell to farmers, and have consistent communication with supervisors. Agents should them be given motivating goals and bonuses and compensated according to their needs.




Erin Ronald is a fourth year Environmental Studies and Sociology double major. She is passionate about helping communities reduce social inequalities through sustainable development. After college, Erin aims to continue her vocational discernment, pursuing research that focuses on urban climate change mitigation before applying to graduate school. She is most interested in human ecology, climate change management, and international development.


Jean Baptiste Tooley recently finished classes while majoring in Environmental Studies. He is currently following his vocational discernment in Aberdeen, Scotland as a Center for Food Innovation and Entrepreneurship fellow where he is working with a team to make global climate models. After graduating in June, Jean Baptiste aims to work in agriculture at the intersection of development and climate change before applying to graduate schools.

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Kimmie Meunier is a fourth year English and French major. Post-graduation, she plans to spend a year in France in order to improve her language skills, engage in cultural-exchange, and dive deeper into her own vocational discernment. While Kimmie does not know exactly what career path she will follow, she's seeking to advance women's agency and eliminate gender inequality. She is also interested in the intersection between language, communication, and social justice. 

Announcing our newest cohort of social entrepreneurs!

Announcing our newest cohort of social entrepreneurs!

We at Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship are thrilled to announce the 49 social entrepreneurs (SEs) we will be supporting with executive mentorship and customized content through GSBI accelerator programs launching January 2019!

7 SEs focused on delivering off-grid energy solutions through microgrids will be working through a playbook, leveraging best practices and lessons learning from GSBI Alumni organizations with similar technologies. This Microgrid Playbook GSBI accelerator cohort is part of a portfolio of programming focused on the replication of scalable social enterprise models as well as Miller Center’s continued focus on off-grid energy. Read more about the cohort here, or read through to the end of this blog for a list of the participating SEs.

42 SEs with a broad range of solutions addressing poverty will be participating in Miller Center’s signature GSBI Online accelerator program, focused on building more sustainable, scalable solutions through a market-based approach. Our largest cohort yet! Each participating organization will work with 2-3 executive mentors who act as trusted advisors over a 6-month process through which they assess, develop, and refine the organizations impact model, business model, growth strategy, operations, and financial planning by working through learning modules over weekly calls. We are excited to test a new affinity group model to better support the specific needs of women-led companies, leaders of organizations that are focused on social impact in the San Francisco Bay Area, leaders of organizations that are focused on ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for people living in poverty, and leaders of organizations that build distribution channels for a range of beneficial products and services to rural or urban populations, also called, last-mile distributors.

Up to 20 of the SEs from this GSBI Online accelerator cohort will be invited to participate in our GSBI In-residence program, a 9-day intensive bootcamp hosted at Santa Clara University in August. Save the date for our Investor Showcase August 21, 2019 and read more about the cohort here and at the end of this blog.

Since 2003, Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship has supported over 900 social entrepreneurs through executive mentorship and customized content, and over the years we have experimented with and refined our model as we strive towards continuous improvement to better accompany social entrepreneurs on their journeys. When we started offering social enterprise acceleration support, we began with a program supporting 10-20 organizations per year, primarily through an in-residence model. Over time, we discovered that much of our training could be delivered online with an expanded mentor network, reserving our costly GSBI In-residence program for our most scalable ventures. We launched our GSBI Online model in 2012 which now supports the majority of our ≈150 SE per year throughput. Currently, we are proud to offer a variety of acceleration models that augment the accompaniment of social entrepreneurs with customizations to: training modality (online, in-person, or both), content (stage-specific, region-specific, technology-specific), duration (3-day workshops vs. 6-month courses), as well as variations to cohort makeup (by region or sector).

As we welcome another cohort of social entrepreneurs participating in our GSBI accelerator programs, we are proud to be supporting their work in our mission to end poverty and protect the planet.

We are pleased to welcome the following 49 social entrepreneurs to Miller Center’s GSBI accelerator programs this month, that are addressing the needs of those living in poverty across 22 countries!

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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. 

2019 Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) Cohort Metrics

2019 Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) Cohort Metrics

The applications are closed, the interview calls have been made, the finalists have been informed and we are now preparing to welcome our 2019 GSBI® cohort. Let’s look back at this year’s recruitment journey.


About the Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI)

Setting up a social enterprise to impact the lives of those living in poverty is not a bed of roses. At Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, we understand the hardships; we know the questions that keep social entrepreneurs awake at night, and we recognize the positive benefits entrepreneurs reap from a support system made up of those who have walked a similar path.

Each year, our Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBIⓇ) programs help social entrepreneurs make their journey exciting and a little less lonely. Since 2003, Miller Center has accelerated 900+ social enterprises, who have raised over $940M+, and positively impacted the lives of 320M+ people.

How do we do it?

The world is filled with social entrepreneurs making their impact within or outside their local communities. This makes it difficult to handpick only a few for our GSBI cohorts every year. To narrow down our criteria, GSBI supports social entrepreneurs who run non-profit, for-profit or hybrid businesses that are operational and aimed at improving the lives of people living in poverty.

What did we do differently this year?

In addition to selecting entrepreneurs to participate in GSBI Online, In-Residence, JumpStart, Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins (SEM), or Technology Entrepreneurship for Change (TECh) programs which include combined curriculum and mentorship, we launched four affinity groups which solely focus on Bay Area impact, last mile distribution, energy, and women-led enterprises. These affinity groups will have additional exclusive content and peer-to-peer collaboration opportunities.

ENERGY affinity group consists of organizations that are focused on ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for people living in poverty.

LAST MILE DISTRIBUTION affinity group has organizations that build distribution channels for a range of beneficial products and services to rural or urban populations.

BAY AREA-BASED IMPACT is for  organizations that focus on beneficiaries within the San Francisco Bay Area.

WOMEN-LED affinity group has organizations whose founding or executive team is woman-led.

Brief insights and comparisons of last year’s recruitment journey

Through website updates, social media reminders, strategic email campaigns, targeted outreach to discovery partners, and by attending in-person events like SOCAP, we actively recruit the best social entrepreneurs from around the world to apply to the GSBI. Every year, the response is overwhelming and we end up getting a high number of qualified applicants who meet our criteria.

As compared to 228 completed applications for the 2018 cohort, 196 entrepreneurs started the application for 2019 cohort. To keep the quality bar high, this year we added-in automated filters to help weed out those applicants right away who were not a fit with the program. As a result, we had a lower number of completed applications than last year but those applicants were all qualified, which resulted in selecting more applicants to move forward to the quarter-finalist interview round.


Where are our applicants from?

The answer is, everywhere! GSBI programs bring social entrepreneurs from all around the world and match them with Silicon Valley’s executive mentors who accompany them along the GSBI journey. This year, we received applications from 46 countries in total, out of which the United States, Nigeria, India, and Kenya had the most applicants.

To view data on interactive Google Map,   click here  .

To view data on interactive Google Map, click here.

Where do we stand on gender parity?

Gender parity is a human rights issue and a strong prerequisite for a sustainable future. With our efforts towards a gender-balanced cohort and launching exclusive women-led affinity group, we received 79 completed applications from female founders out of a total of 196, which raised the men vs women ratio to 60:40 respectively, as compared to 75:25 ratio in the year 2018.


Which sector or industry are they from?

Social entrepreneurship, in all senses, is a broad term covering a number of industries, sectors and business types. GSBI 2019 applications remained open for all social enterprises working on businesses from all sectors. According to 2019 applicants’ insights, agriculture is the leading sector where social entrepreneurs are trying to create an impact followed by education, energy, and the health sector.


What type of business do they have?

Social enterprises do not necessarily only operate nonprofit models. In fact, this year, 51% of the social enterprises that applied to GSBI are for-profit. GSBI actively supports for-profit, nonprofit and hybrid organizations. We do, however, prefer established organizations with a potential to scale their business and impact.


Insights into the 2019 GSBI Cohort Finalists

After an extensive screening process of the applicant pool, our interview team scrutinized the best possible applicants throughout the quarter-finalist, semi-finalist, and finalist interview rounds. Out of 196 completed applications, we were able to handpick the best 42 social entrepreneurs to join the 2019 GSBI cohort who will receive custom support through executive mentorship and custom learning tracks based on their organization’s stage of development.

With our Women’s Economic Empowerment initiative (WEE) efforts to bring gender parity across our programs, we were able to bring some exceptional female founders onboard.


Out of our 42 selected social entrepreneurs, 24 enterprises are making an impact through a for-profit model, 11 enterprises have a nonprofit model, 6 of them are following the hybrid approach and 1 identifies itself in ‘others’ category.


Education and Agriculture remained dominant sectors where social entrepreneurs are making their marks. Out of 42 finalists, 12 are working to solve the problems in the Education sector, 10 in Agriculture, 7 in Energy, and 4 in the Health sector.


Miller Center's GSBI program for the year 2019 is set to launch on January 29, 2019. We are thrilled to welcome all of these brilliant social entrepreneurs from around the globe and work together to scale their business and impact. To learn more about our social entrepreneurs and their enterprises, keep following Miller Center website social media updates.

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.

A Call for Philanthropic Risk Capital for Refugees: Lessons Learned from the Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins Accelerator

A Call for Philanthropic Risk Capital for Refugees: Lessons Learned from the Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins Accelerator

SEM Cohort with Thane Kreiner and Marie Haller

SEM Cohort with Thane Kreiner and Marie Haller

Miller Center’s Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins (SEM) accelerator program graduated a cohort of 18 organizations in December 2018 that are all serving and/or led by refugees, migrants, and human trafficking survivors. As we accompanied the entrepreneurs leading these organizations over the past year, we learned more about the needs of social enterprises serving these marginalized communities that were formerly supported solely through humanitarian aid. In order to share our learnings and encourage other stakeholders to join us in this work, Miller Center convened and facilitated a panel at SOCAP 2018, presented at the December 2018 ANDE Network Update, and is now publishing a report, “SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP AT THE MARGINS Helping Refugees, Migrants, and Human Trafficking Survivors Reclaim Their Futures”.

An important tension that surfaced throughout the SEM accelerator program is the gap between the funding needed by each enterprise to grow its impact and the minimum investment current refugee-focused funders are able to deploy. This disconnect emerged onstage at our SOCAP panel discussion featuring 4 SEM program alumni and 3 funders including Omidyar Network, Open Society Foundation, and KOIS Invest. Experiences of the SEM accelerator social enterprises confirm a gap between what social enterprises in the emergent sector need and what funders seek.


Impact funds for refugee-focused entrepreneurship are seeking organizations with earned revenue in excess of US$1 million. Our panelists shared that typically seed-stage funding for start-ups comes from friends and family. Many refugee-focused social enterprises haven’t yet attained $1 million in earned income, however, in order to implement their growth strategies, need more funding than can reasonably come from friends and family.

I wondered: how would an entrepreneur who is also a refugee have a network of friends and family with money to fund her start-up? How can entrepreneurs looking to fill in the large gaps left by humanitarian aid change a broken system with only donations from friends and family?

The ideas put forth by Anand Giridharadas in his book Winners Take All, and referenced in his own talk at SOCAP resonate, “I once heard a quote attributed to Archbishop Desmond Tutu addressing a room full of philanthropists, ‘Your job’ he said, ‘is not to make the poor more comfortable in their chains. Your job is to break the chains.’ The question I would ask those of you who seek to change the world through capitalism [...] is whether you are really breaking the chains or making them more comfy?”

This is an essential question for those pledging to fund the creation of new systems that can better support our world’s most vulnerable communities. Is reserving both philanthropic and impact investment capital for only those enterprises that are able to scale to US$1 million of earned revenue really helping change the broken system that is leaving millions of people in refugee camps for decades? Is it even making refugees more comfortable?

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In this same speech, Giridharadas calls on philanthropists to provide the capital to “serve as the start-up incubator for government action [...] test things in the quiet of philanthropy and then seek to mainstream them into our laws and institutions and systems.” Using philanthropic capital to propagate emerging, more socially responsible systems, is not a new idea. Monitor Group and Acumen Fund’s “From Blueprint to Scale - the case for philanthropy in impact investing” talks explicitly about the idea of “enterprise philanthropy” and how, “philanthropy is the essential but often overlooked catalyst that unlocks the impact potential of inclusive business and impact investing.” The urgency and scale of the refugee crisis demands impact capital solutions across the entire spectrum of available options. Philanthropic capital is a key part of the equation, and could be the vehicle that ensures the nascent social enterprise solutions that support refugees are able to flourish and exceed  that magical–some might argue arbitrary–million dollar revenue mark. Natasha Freidus, co-founder of Needslist and a Miller Center SEM program alumni, agrees, “I find it disappointing that philanthropic institutions who frankly, can afford to take the risk, are not investing in early-stage startups or providing philanthropic capital to help cover the 'pioneer gap'."

Miller Center and other stakeholders, such as the Refugee Investment Network, are working diligently to try to connect the seemingly disparate needs of entrepreneurs whose passion is to change a broken system and impact investors who are averse to risking capital in new and untested ways. There is no impact without risk. You can read more about our findings from working with our initial Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins cohort in our report: SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP AT THE MARGINS Helping Refugees, Migrants, and Human Trafficking Survivors Reclaim Their Futures. We look forward to hearing from you about how we can work together to build new and better systems that allow everyone in our human family to thrive.

Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins: Helping Refugees, Migrants, and Human Trafficking Survivors Reclaim Their Futures

Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins: Helping Refugees, Migrants, and Human Trafficking Survivors Reclaim Their Futures

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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.

All Wrapped Up

All Wrapped Up


I have always felt the calling of Mother Nature. It has never been particularly strong, but it has always been present. As I grew up, perhaps I had pushed it aside to follow in the dreams of my parents, who stressed a life of financial stability and personal growth. After the hardships they faced growing up, they wanted to ensure that I would not endure the same struggles and thrive in modern society.

Only recently have I realized the loss of focus on my own goal.

When I first declared electrical engineering, I was never truly set on becoming an engineer. Yes, I enjoyed the intellectual stimulation and the practical and theoretical mix of work, but something was missing. I knew what I wanted to do with my life and where I wanted to be, but I lacked a clear path towards my end goal.

I wanted (and still want) to combat climate change, but telling people I was interested in the environment consistently led to discussions on the topic of renewable energy, and I slowly embodied everyone’s thoughts and this idea began to define who I was.

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In everyone’s mind, I was to use electrical engineering, create power systems, and somehow save the world by only implementing solar and wind. This was unrealistic and not who I wanted to be. But it was what everyone saw in me.

At the same time, even going along with everyone’s perception of me, I realized that I lacked action behind my words. I was a fraud, and this needed to change.

Declaring a double-major with environmental science proved as an outlet to help me come to terms with my identity (as I’ve mentioned in my introduction). I found myself diving headfirst into anything related to sustainability. I went on an immersion trip to Appalachia to learn more about coal mining and environmental injustice. I joined the Center for Sustainability and worked hard to make an impact on our campus through any means possible. I started a Solar Regatta team to teach people more about the intersect of renewable energy and engineering, interned at a solar company and at an engineering consulting firm to further the development of power systems, and recently began an internship at a utility company. Yet, throughout all this, I still felt like a fraud.

Tree planting through the Center for Sustainability (Source: Center for Sustainability)

Tree planting through the Center for Sustainability (Source: Center for Sustainability)

I kept ignoring the voice in my head. The one that made me passionate about the environment in the first place. I had the urge to do something and to do it well. I was tired of having this dream of helping the world, but when it came down to it, I couldn’t follow through. I needed something new. Something to turn my cynicism into hope and to remind me what life truly means. Something that showed that people aren’t self-obsessed and stressed about the minute details of life, but to create a vision of the world that they want to live in.

Luckily, Global Social Benefit Fellows (GSBF) was that something.

(read more about that here)



Having a momentary existential crisis? (Source: James Wang)

Having a momentary existential crisis? (Source: James Wang)

Applying for the fellowship was a last-minute decision. I had originally decided to intern once again at the same engineering consulting firm due to the lack of engineering-related projects provided through GSBF, but I realized almost too late the value of this program. This was an opportunity to broaden my horizons, explore social entrepreneurship (I had previously taken a class in high school about entrepreneurship and hated it, so I was a little scared to try again), and learn more about creating the impact that I was dying to achieve.

Yet, even after being accepted, I continued to question my decision.

When I told people that I was going to Zambia this summer, I received mixed reactions. Some of awe and support, others of fear and ignorance, and there were others who simply disapproved of my life’s path.

One remark haunted my decision: “Are you even a real engineer?”

Now, this may not seem too complicated. Many reading this might respond, “Of course you’re an engineer. You’ve taken the right classes, you’ve had a few internships, research opportunities, and participate in engineering clubs. Why wouldn’t you be one?”

Well, think about it this way. Here I am, a student who is so passionate about wanting more out of his life that he abandons a highly technical internship to undergo a fellowship that has little to no connection to engineering whatsoever. I’m “throwing away” my future to take part in a summer trip where I will not gain the same skills as I would at a company. Taking this class has a time conflict with other electrical engineering classes that would make me more qualified to be a designer, so instead, I’m on the path towards sales engineer at best, which apparently, would make me not a “real engineer.”

Wow. I truly struggled with this statement. Sure, I had come into college not really knowing or wanting to be an engineer, but after three years, it had grown on me. It was the first thing I told people when they asked me to introduce myself. It was my second skin. I had been a dorm counselor for a summer program (S.E.S.) educating high school students about what it was like to be an engineer. I gave tours every week to prospective students to show them what it was like to be an engineer. I had dived headfirst into engineering with the full intention of becoming an engineer, but suddenly, people were telling me that I wasn’t real.

It was an identity crisis. If I wasn’t an engineer, then who was I?

I found my answers throughout my journey in Zambia. I saw firsthand how beneficial an engineering product could have on the lives of so many people, but also the importance of even having the engineering mindset that I developed studying engineering. It helped me discern some of the problems within the agent trainings by being detail-oriented. It helped me optimize visuals and graphics within the sales manual, create schedules to ensure efficiency at work, and even with conflict resolution by rationally listening and explaining both sides of the story. I learned that being an engineer is more than just creating products. It is about fostering a problem-solving mindset to do good and help people. 

Engineering is like a social enterprise, regardless of the classification, what really matters is the intention. I had the intention to create change with my engineering degree, and I slowly came to terms with being an engineer, or at least not being the stereotypical engineer. 

Interviewing one of the sales agents

Interviewing one of the sales agents

And in this, I learned to appreciate that there are so many opportunities in life that we don’t need to just focus on only being good at one thing. We’re not trained for assembly lines, but to use our minds and think creatively. Sure, maybe we don’t know what our true interests are or where we may end up in 10 years, but we know what we like to do and what we want to do. If we understand that our passions can all be interconnected, then we have achieved what we set out to do.

I know this is a simple lesson, but it has had profound impacts on my future. Before the fellowship, I had always considered following the engineering route and seen myself as just another engineer who dabbles in sustainability, but now, I’m excited to learn more about different opportunities within the realm of sustainability with my engineering mindset to enable success.


College, especially Santa Clara University (though I cannot speak for other colleges since I have only ever attended SCU), spends a lot of time focusing on the individual.  What is your mental health status, how stressed are you, and what can you do to move forward in your life? We are rarely ever asked the bigger questions about who we want to be in the world, so we forget to think about ourselves in the bigger picture. I’m not saying that we should neglect who we are, but I believe that finding ourselves requires more external action rather than internal self-reflection. Like Gandhi says (which doubles as my favorite quote): “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

The meaning behind this quote has truly helped me come to terms with my idnetity. Throughout my youth, I volunteered consistently, and that gave me a purpose. Talking with people and seeing the reactions on their face as I provided a simple meal or helped a child with homework made their and my day a hundred times better. But the ambiguity of my own future and the need to finalize it within four years of college put me at a standstill, where I focused more on my own development rather than on addressing the needs of others.

Coming back from this fellowship provided this mental break that I needed. Throughout my journey, I met so many inspirational people—peers, mentors, and Zambians—who all reminded me to be my unapologetic self. That smiling at strangers was not creepy. That being optimistic didn’t make you a dreamer. That sometimes, a conversation with an open mind and an open heart is all that is required. I truly enjoyed being able to be present and interact with the people I was helping, and I can honestly say my heart is a little bit fuller.

Lying on the mattress on the way to Shiwang’andu

Lying on the mattress on the way to Shiwang’andu

I remember lying down on a mattress in the back of a truck on our way to Shiwang’andu from Mpika. Drew and I had begun talking about how all the upcoming and popular movies were about superheroes. We discussed how our culture continually looks for a savior in times of need, with people projecting concerns onto others, hoping that one person can create the change, so the rest of us remain complacent. Drew noted that social enterprises don’t focus on the individual, but rather on encouraging everyone to step up and become their own superhero. 

Before, I had always envisioned business as an evil entity to exacerbate planned obsolescence and consumerism, the work we did showed that business can and should create social value (echoed in Laudato Si). After reading Poor Economics and Getting Beyond Better, I had already really liked the concept of social entrepreneurship, but Drew’s statement at that moment resonated with me. The entrepreneurial mindset was not taking advantage of others but engaging them in the world.

Group of sales agents trained in Kasama and the future for VITALITE

Group of sales agents trained in Kasama and the future for VITALITE

Looking back at these past nine months, I feel both pride and sorrow. Pride at all the things that I have accomplished, learned, and experienced, but sorrow at no longer having this class and seeing all the amazing people who went on this journey with me. Although I never quite realized my transformation throughout the fellowship, as I write this, I finally understand how much I have grown and changed.

And although my future remains uncertain and my path somewhat undecided, I cannot wait to find my place, knowing that we are not limited by our major or our skills, but by the passion and dedication we hope to bring. 

Sunset on the Zambezi

Sunset on the Zambezi

In true engineering fashion, here are some TENTATIVE markers of success for me within the next ten years:

  • (1 year from now) Carry out Fulbright research in France OR find a sustainable company to work for

  • (2 years from now) Develop a useful product

  • (3 years from now) Apprentice at a bakery, while working in a sustainability-related career

  • (4 years from now) Earn another degree, potentially in something related to the interconnection of technology, environment, and sustainability

  • (6 years from now) Pursue geoengineering (now referred to as climate change intervention strategies)

  • (8 years from now) Work with a social enterprise (or multiple) to travel through different countries in West Africa to address needs and encourage participation


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James Wang is a fourth-year double-majoring in Electrical Engineering and Environmental Science with minors in Mathematics and French & Francophone Studies. He is currently researching the ethical implications of geoengineering and working on his senior design project, an aquaponics system for food insecure communities.

Upon graduation, he hopes to receive a Fulbright scholarship to research in France regarding a new energy storage system—a hybrid supercapacitor. In the future, he hopes to couple his passion for the environment with his interest in technology to pursue climate change intervention methods, potentially geoengineering.

For more information, he welcomes anyone to contact him through email or Linkedin and exploring the rest of his blog!

Miller Center’s Top 10 List of 2018

Miller Center’s Top 10 List of 2018

As the end of the year quickly approaches, I look back over these past twelve months and am humbled by our community’s progress and accomplishments. The urgency to advance and accompany the social enterprises that our Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) programs serve was undeniably powerful this year.

I start each day scanning streams of social media and news outlets. This routine has unsuspectingly become my daily dose of hope. There is an abundance of stories that are at once poignant and energizing. One morning I’ll come across an approach developed by a Miller Center GSBI alum to help refugees earn respectable livelihoods, the next day I’ll read a fiery piece from a female-led enterprise that invokes my personal commitment to social impact. One of my favorite parts of my day is sharing these updates across our channels and amplifying the work of our Global Social Benefit Fellows, GSBI alumni, partners, mentors, and my Miller Center colleagues.

As a marketer, I appreciate that these stories–all this “content”–also offers context about you, our readers. With the help of Marketing Associate Alexis Tong, we collected and analyzed a year’s worth of media mentions, website analytics, click-throughs from our bi-monthly newsletters, and social media engagement across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn to inform the composition of this Top 10 list. We generated an algorithm that ranked each news story, blog, and social media post to discover which were most engaging.

Serendipitously, this data-derived list authentically aligns with what the team agrees as our 2018 highlights. Here are the results:

10. #MeToo at SOCAP

In October Miller Center joined 20,000 participants at SOCAP (Social Capital Markets)–a gathering of impact investors, entrepreneurs, and cross-sector practitioners focused on increasing the flow of capital toward social good. Our staff and Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) alumni participated on a variety of panels, including Tools for Scaling Social Ventures, Pioneering Social Enterprise Solutions for Refugees and Trafficking Survivors, and Creative Tensions: Investment & Impact. Yet, it was Senior Program Manager Karen Runde’s submission of Collective Voices Beyond #MeToo that was granted both a panel session and a workshop to explore the topic within the social impact ecosystem. The sessions at SOCAP explored restorative justice, the paradox of power, and even inspired this post-event blog by Avary Kent, Founding Executive Director of Conveners.org.

Senior Program Manager Karen Runde introduces panelists participating on Collective Voices Beyond #MeToo Part 2. (Santa Clara University)

Senior Program Manager Karen Runde introduces panelists participating on Collective Voices Beyond #MeToo Part 2. (Santa Clara University)

9. Social Entrepreneurs, Mentors, Impact Investors… Oh My!

In August we welcomed 25 social business leaders, 63 executive mentors, and 18 social enterprises to the Santa Clara University Campus for our GSBI In-Residence accelerator. The gathering is an intensive 10-day convening of changemakers focused on scaling their innovative solutions that address the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.  Journalist Catherine Cheney of Devex met with a number of entrepreneurs in the cohort at the Investor Showcase and reported [h]ow grants can help for-profits and nonprofits alike fund pathways to scale. Visit our YouTube channel to view the pitches from the showcase.

Miller Center Chief Operating Officer Cassandra Staff hosts the 2018 GSBI In-Residence Accelerator Investor Showcase. (Chuck Barry)

Miller Center Chief Operating Officer Cassandra Staff hosts the 2018 GSBI In-Residence Accelerator Investor Showcase. (Chuck Barry)

8. Mastering Scale Out

Replication can significantly decrease the time and resources spent on getting a social enterprise up and running. In fact, replicated enterprises present reduced risks for impact investors. Associate Director of Replication Neal Harrison’s Scale and Adaption: The Two Sides of Replication and Global Social Benefit Fellow Lauren Oliver’s 5 Lessons Learned from Creating a Sector-Specific Accelerator Program make Miller Center’s Replication Initiative #8 in our Top 10 List of 2018.

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7. From Fellows to Fulbrights and Beyond

The accolades abound in 2018 for Miller Center’s Global Social Benefit Fellows (GSBF). Poets & Quants recognized Haley Harada as one of 2018’s Best & Brightest. Nithya Vemireddy received a William J. Clinton Fellowship for Service in India from the American Indian Foundation. Five of the fellows were awarded Fulbright scholarships, one of whom, Erika Francks was also named a Rhodes Scholar Finalist. However, the GSBF story that took top honors in 2018 was the announcement that Athena Nguyen was not only awarded a Fulbright but was also named Valedictorian for the Class of 2018.

Santa Clara University Undergraduate Commencement, Class of 2018. (Santa Clara University)

6. Alumni in the Headlines

There was an abundance of news and updates from the social enterprises that make up our GSBI alumni network. For the first time, two GSBI alumni made a pivot to partner, forging a stronger path to scale. Vava Coffee, Neopenda, 734 Coffee, and Good Nature Agro were named by Conscious Company as Social Entrepreneurs to Watch in 2018. KadAfrica was one of four winners of the 2018 Roddenberry Prize. Of note, the alumni story that had the greatest reach in 2018 took place just over one week ago on stage in Johannesburg at the Mandela 100 Global Citizen Festival. Recording artist Usher and Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins presented GSBI alumna Wawira Njiru, Founder of Food for Education, with the Youth Leadership Prize and $250,000!


5. Bay Area Boost

This summer Miller Center joined forces with Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County to offer a three-day capacity building workshop specifically for social entrepreneurs that are impacting the lives of those in need in the Bay Area. Journalist Heather Adams of the National Catholic Reporter covered the collaboration and Miller Center’s Chief Innovation Officer Pamela Roussos and Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County’s CEO Greg Kepferle wrote this op-ed. "The university brings intellectual capital; Catholic Charities brings social capital," Kepferle said. "Marrying them both helps us address the reality of poverty in innovative ways."


4. The Power of Partnership: Addressing Maternal and Child Health

In partnership with GE, Miller Center ran its second cohort of the Healthymagination Mother and Child Program. Eleven social enterprises participated in the program and in March presented to impact investors in Nairobi. One of the eleven cohort participants, doctHERs, connects female doctors in Pakistan to underserved communities such as refugees. doctHERs was in Rome last week as one of the top 13 companies to be recognized by the Laudato Si’ Challenge.  

Robert Wells, Executive Director, New Growth Markets and Business Innovations at GE featured on CNBC Africa.

Robert Wells, Executive Director, New Growth Markets and Business Innovations at GE featured on CNBC Africa.


3. Ending Poverty Takes Energy

There are 1.2 billion people worldwide who have little or no access to electricity. This lack of access perpetuates a poverty trap and that’s why we are so focused on accompanying social entrepreneurs who make clean energy affordable and available.  Energy Access India was a program run by Miller Center and New Ventures from 2015 to 2018, with the support of USAID, which helped 30 renewable energy companies raise $40 million of investment and provide clean energy to over 2.5 million Indians through a customized capacity development and investment facilitation program. Andrew Lieberman, Miller Center’s Senior Director of New Programs, together with Colm Fay of William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan, and Mark Correnti of Shine Campaign, published the research paper Closing the Circuit: Accelerating Clean Energy Investment in India.

The report analyzes business models and strategies, identifies barriers, and offers actionable recommendations.

The report analyzes business models and strategies, identifies barriers, and offers actionable recommendations.

2. Impact Investing: Positioned to Accelerate Impact

It may come as no surprise that the blog most read in 2018 was The Justifiable Ask: Realities of Raising Impact Capital written by GSBI Funding Facilitation Lead Anastasiya Litvinova. Lack of capital can be the biggest obstacle to growth. Bringing on the right investors can be course defining. Case in point is Miller Center GSBI alum Husk Power Systems–raising $20 million in equity investment in January, making it one of the largest investments in the mini-grid sector.

GSBI alum Husk Power Systems closed $20 million in funding in January 2018. (Husk Power Systems)

GSBI alum Husk Power Systems closed $20 million in funding in January 2018. (Husk Power Systems)

1. Accelerating Solutions At The Margins

Miller Center launched an experimental cohort named Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins (SEM) in January: could the lives of refugees, migrants, or human trafficking survivors be improved at scale through social entrepreneurship? In his blog Mobilizing for Migrants, Refugees, and Slaves, Miller Center Executive Director Thane Kreiner wrote about the third Vatican impact investing conference that convened in July. It sought to mobilize capital to address pressing, interconnected, global problems, including migrants and refugees. Of the final 13 winners of the 2018 Laudato Si’ Challenge, four are Miller Center alumni, three of which are from the SEM cohort (Five One Labs, Leaf Global Fintech, and Workaround).  From the accolades and media coverage surrounding the cohort to growing commitment to unlock the power of refugees, the 18 social enterprises that made up the SEM cohort captured our attention throughout the year and tops our list for 2018.



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Karen Paculba had the privilege of serving Miller Center in 2018 as its Senior Marketing Manager. With an eye for the nitty gritty and a natural curiosity for the big picture, Karen enjoyed the breadth of programs and sectors supported by Miller Center accelerator programs. Karen is continuing her career at Santa Clara University and will kick off 2019 as the University’s Director of Social and Digital Strategy.

Banner/thumbnail image photo credit: Instagram/Wawira Njiru

Dare to dream bigger | Lessons learned from Yvonne Otieno, founder of Miyonga Fresh Greens

Dare to dream bigger | Lessons learned from Yvonne Otieno, founder of Miyonga Fresh Greens


They say talent exists everywhere but opportunities don’t. This statement stands true in every part of the world where entrepreneurs like Yvonne exists. Yvonne Otieno is an alumna who participated in Miller Center’s 2018 Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) Online Accelerator program. She is a farmer from Kenya who embarked on the journey of entrepreneurship to change the livelihoods of fellow farmers. Yvonne’s enterprise, Miyonga Fresh Greens, exports fresh fruits and vegetables from Kenya to the UK, Norway, Netherlands, Germany, Greece, Ireland and South Africa. Miyonga started exporting from a horticultural farm with 10 acres located in Lukenya, Machakos County and expanded to become a fully-established exporter with access to a network of 5,000+ growers with over 200 hectares of land.

How did this happen? Let’s hear from Yvonne.

The lifelong journey of exploration

Starting and managing a business most commonly originates when an entrepreneur identifies a way to solve a problem or serve a need. What’s unexpected is that, once ignited, one’s entrepreneurial spirit permeates and turns into a lifelong endeavor. To move forward, a founder has to trust her instinct when it comes to decision making and, in those moments, there may not be any indication whether her choice will work out favorably or turn out to be disastrous. The journey is a roller coaster ride of emotions sprinkled with moments of unexpected wisdom. Once Miyonga Fresh Greens achieved its initial milestones, Yvonne regretted not dreaming bigger. (Well, don’t we all?)  “We executed what we set out to do. We have grown from farmers to exporters, diversified from just fresh produce to value addition of fresh fruits to dried fruits and fruit powder and were positively impacting our community by creating employment. But, my only regret is not dreaming bigger at that time,” reflected Yvonne.


Perhaps, the point to ponder here is that even the best-laid plans can go astray. Even though Yvonne carefully crafted a solid business plan, there was a stark difference when it came to the first round of financial actuals. The first planted product was a failure and, to her great frustration,, nothing was making sense to Yvonne. “There are days everything looks bright and there are days when you aren’t quite sure anymore why you are still in business. Our business began farming on a 1.5-acre piece of land growing green beans, or Haricot verts, as commonly known in Europe. Our first planting of the product made huge losses. When preparing the business case, all numbers seemed to make sense and I just couldn’t understand why we were seeing losses,” she shared.

The phase with patience, persistence, and passion

Patience, persistence, and passion make an unbeatable combination for success. When plans take an unexpected detour, entrepreneurs do not quit; they stay patient, become persistent and use their passion to explore the avenues to get back on course. In Yvonne’s case, her business found hope in remodeling the entire business plan and transitioning from just farming to an agricultural business. Since then, Miyonga has won multiple accolades including the 2016 Gender in Innovation and Agriculture, Social Impact award for women and top 50 innovators in Africa.

Besides the initial USD$10,000 seed capital Miyonga Fresh Greens received as an award, it has grown organically and is currently on its first round for investments. Yet, the journey has been quite challenging with a lot of questions that used to keep Yvonne awake at night. “One of the challenges we faced was where to find investors? Another was what type of funding should we seek: equity or debt? If equity, how much equity should we be giving up as a company? And last, because our business cares about positively impacting the community, how does our organization measure its social impact? Those are questions that we struggled with,” listed Yvonne.

Paving the way to find the “right” investor

Making the decision to let someone invest in your company is harder than anything for a founding entrepreneur. You find people showing interest in your idea, but do they really believe in it? Do they trust your passion or commitment towards it, or are they just after the ROI? These questions linger in every entrepreneur’s mind when they are seeking funds.

At Miller Center’s GSBI program, we prepare social entrepreneurs for investment, scaling their business and growth. 93% of the participants in the 2016 GSBI Accelerator cohort raised funding within six months after the program concluded. We match Silicon Valley executive mentors who accompany selected social entrepreneurs for the duration of their time in the program. Oftentimes, this accompaniment goes beyond the program dates to develop the operational excellence and investment readiness required to scale impact. Yvonne benefitted from her mentors’ expertise and now understands how to measure the impact for her business and what to look for in investors before shaking any hands for investment.

She said, “After going through the GSBI Online Accelerator program this year, we now have an understanding of our metrics and how to measure the impact. We have a living investment profile and now know what type of investors we should be speaking with. We keep a database of potential investors and maintain an internal checklist on what type of investor would best fit our company. Before the program, we would get excited every time any investor showed interest and we would share information. Before long we would see our ideas being implemented by others.


Right now, we still get excited, but we now approach  fundraising like dating: you have to find the right fit. Plus, we are more protective of our innovations. Through GSBI, we also learned about a pro bono legal services resource; we applied and qualified. We are in discussions with potential investors and an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) is a prerequisite before we engage in any discussion.”

From a farmer to every entrepreneur in the world

“I just want to say: you can do it! If this farmer with little or no business experience is now contracting other farmers and impacting the livelihoods of 1,500 other farmers in Kenya, and exporting to five different destinations in Europe, you can do it, too.

How will you do it? Know your mission and focus. If you hold a magnifying glass over a pile of dry leaves on the hottest day of the year with the sun shining overhead, nothing will happen as long as you keep moving the magnifying glass. But as soon as you hold the magnifying glass still and focus the rays of the sun on just one leaf, the whole pile of leaves will erupt into flames. Take one day at a time and solve one challenge at a time.

Learn: Make use of the numerous opportunities available to empower you with the skills needed to run a business. The GSBI is just one of those programs that changed my perspective.

Lastly, you will fall 1,000 times and you will get up 1,001 times. Trust your instinct or intuition. It’s a God-given compass to guide you.”



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

Photo credits: Miyonga Fresh Greens

Miller Center 2018 Holiday Gift Guide

Miller Center 2018 Holiday Gift Guide


Every time I come to work at Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, I get a daily dose of inspiration and hope. I consider this one of the perks of the job. The sheer scale of social impact by Miller Center Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) alumni is impressive and gives me hope that positive progress can prevail when it comes to addressing poverty. Another perk of the job is discovering the premium products from Miller Center social enterprise alumni. As the holiday season begins, we’ve curated an assortment of products from some of our alumni and compiled a gift guide from us to you. Click on any of the images below to be linked to the product page or continue to read below to learn more about each selection…and even some exclusive Miller Center friends and family savings! We hope this guide offers you some inspiration and hope knowing that you’re able to make a positive social impact this gift giving season.

1. 734 Coffee (CODE: MILLERCENT)

Coffee is almost an absolute staple here at Miller Center. 734 Coffee is providing a special offer on coffee beans for Miller Center friends and family! Purchase any medium roast coffee beans and receive 15% off all orders over $20 with the code MILLERCENT before December 7, 2018. Coffee from the Gambela region is lauded for its rich flavor—medium bodied with hints of caramel, spice and berries with a smokey chocolate aftertaste.

About 734 Coffee (Miller Center cohort: 2018 GSBI Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins)
734 Coffee is more than a number. It is a place of refuge. 7˚N 34˚E are the geographical coordinates for Gambela, a region in Ethiopia, where over 200,000 displaced South Sudanese citizens now live after fleeing war, atrocities, drought, and famine in South Sudan.

Our coffee is harvested by growers right in the Gambela region, and after it is brought to the US, 80% of sponsorship dollars go to educational scholarships for refugees of Sudan.

Our mission is simple: make great coffee for the greater good. With your support, we can make 7˚N 34˚E not the end of the story, but the start of something wonderful.

2. All Across Africa/KAZI Goods (CODE: MILLER30)

Looking for a new centerpiece for your coffee table? Check out the lovely handwoven Small Lake + Peach Pink Hope Basket from KAZI Goods. Enjoy 30% off this basket with the code MILLER30. Baskets carry their own symbolism in Rwanda because friends give them to celebrate major life events such as weddings, births and graduations, baskets are proudly displayed as symbols of wealth of friends, family and life. The sunburst pattern on these baskets is known as the “hope” design. Reflected on the Rwandan flag, this sunburst images stands for the county’s collective hope for a new dawn and brighter future. This design means a lot to the weavers as each basket they sell increases their chances for a better life.

About All Across Africa/KAZI (Miller Center cohorts: 2016 GSBI In-residence Accelerator, 2018 GSBI TECh)
We endeavor to bring to life your vision of home and style with artful craftsmanship that does good.

When you purchase and enjoy our handcrafted goods, you are creating opportunities for men and women across Africa to thrive.  It’s that simple. Inspired living, opportunities to thrive. Go ahead, take in your love for the world every day and share in the delight of connecting with African artisans. It’s what we do every day at KAZI.

Our business model reaches deep into rural villages in the developing world and provides training and fair wage jobs that restore dignity and promote self-sufficiency—we see it as the way forward for sustainable development in Africa.

3. Kiva

This holiday, create hope around the world by giving Kiva Cards. For just $25, your loved ones can make a loan in the country of their choice and extend a hand to entrepreneurs and those in need. When those loans are repaid, they can use their funds again and again to make an even greater impact. Best of all, Kiva Cards can be emailed or printed at home, so you know they’ll arrive on time.

About Kiva (Miller Center cohort: 2006 GSBI In-Residence Accelerator)
Millions of lenders have come together to support entrepreneurs, farmers and students around the world on Kiva.org, collectively funding more than $1.2 billion in impactful loans.

4. Rebel Nell

A perfect gift for the fashion forward and socially conscious person on your list, Rebel Nell’s Sterling Silver Post Drop earrings are handcrafted, one-of-a-kind pieces made out of repurposed layers of fallen graffiti paint. The earrings are crafted in Detroit, Michigan and have a sterling silver bezel and backing, as well as resin and graffiti paint. Every piece sold directly supports the women employed at Rebel Nell. These earrings are priced at $80 and are available online.

About Rebel Nell (Miller Center cohort: 2016 GSBI Online Accelerator)
Rebel Nell exists to employ, educate, and empower women transitioning out of homelessness in Detroit. We repurpose fallen graffiti, revealing the beauty underneath each layer. Forged through fierce determination, our jewelry is a testament to the woman who created it.

5. Relevée

Relevée’s Icon earrings represent the label's geometric approach to style with a hidden meaning inside the symbolic design. In ethically-sourced recycled Sterling Silver, these earrings have a sleek design, with an arrow pointing upwards encompassing the meaning behind Relevée—“to rise”. This upscale gift is priced at $85 and makes a beautiful gift for the sophisticated someone on your list.

About Relevée (Miller Center cohort: 2018 GSBI Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins)
Relevée is an international socially conscious fine jewelry brand. Our mission is to empower women through beautiful designs that elevate not only the wearer and beholder but the designers themselves. Our passionate jewelry team is guided with the ideology of "feeling beautiful inside and out". In part, our collection is inspired by purposeful designs featuring classic meets modern, day-to-evening styles that are foundational pieces in your personal jewelry collection. Every Relevée piece is simple and elegant with extraordinary attention to details. With precious materials strictly chosen through ethical channels and a global initiative to uplift the world's most marginalized women, we aim to deliver nothing less than perfect to our customers. Inspiring beauty inside and out.

6. Someone Somewhere (CODE: MILLER CENTER FRIENDS)

This holiday you can expand your wardrobe while supporting artisans from Mexico’s five poorest states. Someone Somewhere’s Confetti t-shirt pictured above is a playful cotton t-shirt with hand embroidered details made by artisans from the Northern Sierra of Puebla, Mexico. This is a great and impactful gift for both men and women. The retail price is $37 but with the special code MILLER CENTER FRIENDS, you can purchase this whimsical piece for $33!

About Someone Somewhere (Miller Center cohort: 2017 GSBI In-residence Accelerator)
Someone Somewhere works with hundreds of indigenous artisans, combining their traditional handcrafts with products that are carefully designed for the modern world. Each product is hand signed by the artisan involved in its creation. Click here to learn more.

7. Moringa Connect/True Moringa (CODE: MILLERCENTER15)

This holiday season, think global and shop local with a collection of True Moringa’s favorite Boston-based brands that care deeply about ethical and sustainable sourcing from around the world. Each Holiday Gift Box includes Taza Chocolate's Peppermint Dark Bark, your choice of MEM Tea's Moroccan Mint or Lemon Chamomile Tea, and the signature True Moringa Oil for Face, Body and Hair. This gift box is regularly priced at $35, but you can receive 15% off and free shipping in the U.S. using the code MILLERCENTER15.

About True Moringa (Miller Center cohort: 2017 GSBI In-residence Accelerator)
True Moringa works directly with over three thousand small farming families throughout Ghana to cultivate our cold-pressed moringa oil. To date, we have planted over two million moringa trees.

8. Yellow Leaf Hammocks (CODE: MILLERCENTER)

If you visit our Miller Center office on the Santa Clara University campus, you’ll discover that we have three comfy hammocks from Yellow Leaf Hammocks set up in our Innovation Space. They are the softest, most comfortable hammocks I’ve ever had the opportunity to lounge in. Now you can get your very own with a 20% savings using the code MILLERCENTER until December 17, 2018. The Montauk hammock, which is featured above, is one of Yellow Leaf Hammocks’ best-selling products at a great gifting price-point!

About Yellow Leaf Hammocks (Miller Center cohort: 2017 GSBI In-residence Accelerator)
Yellow Leaf Hammocks is breaking the cycle of extreme poverty through sustainable job creation. Our artisan weavers and their families were previously trapped in extreme poverty and debt slavery. Now they are empowered to earn a stable, healthy income through dignified work (we call this a "prosperity wage"). This is the basis for a brighter future, built on a hand up, not a handout.

9. Vega Coffee (CODE: MillerCenter)

Vega Coffee’s roast sampler is the perfect gift for office colleagues, party hosts, and any coffee lover in your life. You will receive four 6 oz bags of exclusive, curated coffees, one in each level of roast. The four bags of coffee will represent a range of high-quality microlots from Nicaragua and Colombia, making it the perfect gift for anyone who drinks coffee (everybody?). The price is $30 and comes with a note card and information about the farmers that grow the coffee. Enter code MillerCenter for 20% off any item purchased on the website!

About Vega Coffee (Miller Center cohort: 2017 GSBI In-residence Accelerator)
Vega Coffee reinvents the traditional coffee supply chain by empowering women farmers to earn four times more than through typical export channels. Vega connects farming communities who roast their own coffee to customers worldwide.

About the author

Sally Park is a fourth-year Web Design and Engineering major with minors in Communication and Computer Science and Engineering working towards a Master of Science in Engineering Management and Leadership at Santa Clara University. She is currently a Community Facilitator (Resident Assistant) with the Cyphi Residential Learning Community helping many first-year students transition into college. In her free time, she is working on a project to help animal shelters simplify the adoption process.

What You Give is What You Shall Receive

What You Give is What You Shall Receive


Lots of laughter. And lots of love.

Lots of laughter. And lots of love.

When I look back on my summer fellowship in East Africa, I can't help but think of the first memory that I have from there. Walking out of the airport in Uganda, I remembered feeling an overwhelming sense of what I can only describe as home. It is the same feeling that I get when I walk out of the Islamabad airport in my home country of Pakistan. And it feels like a wave of peace has washed over you. As if the arms of the universe are cradling you and welcoming you back to your true nature.

My trip to East Africa made me think a lot about my "true nature". When I speak of my "true nature", I am referring to the part of me that connects with others on a level outside of the superficial. In Pakistan and in East Africa, no one cared what university I went to. No one knew about my extracurricular activities. My value to others did not stem from any superficial forms of success that I had attained. Instead, people cared about who I really was as a person. They cared about how genuine our interactions were. We often engaged in conversations that I find so difficult to have here in America. In Uganda, we often conversed about the hardships of political corruption or the complex nuances of Western charity work in Africa. In Rwanda, I bonded with many of my friends and co-workers over discussions of the shared genocidal history of Rwanda and of Kashmir (my mother's homeland). I've gotta say: things just felt so much more real in East Africa. I didn't feel like I had to put on a front. Though people on the streets often referred to me as a mzungu because of the color of my skin, engaging them in conversation made us realize that we had more in common than I often feel like I have with people in America.

In East Africa, people cared about the love we shared and the laughter we bonded over. They cared about what we could learn from each other's lives and shared experiences. And it never took too long for me to engage in genuine conversation with anyone. It was as if I could finally throw away the rose-colored glasses I often feel pressured to wear in the US and actually immediately dig at what I wanted to know most about people: how they engage with life, what they genuinely struggle with, what brings them joy and what brings them pain, and what they really care about doing with their lives.

Our incredible Rwandan translator, Agnes, sending us off at the airport.

Our incredible Rwandan translator, Agnes, sending us off at the airport.

People in East Africa were so open to being genuine and spreading love. And it was evident in everything they did. People often went out of their way to be kind to us. To be generous. Women in the villages we visited would often make us food or bring us water bottles they had gone out to buy for us, even though water was a scarce resource in their village. I remember getting really sick at one point during our trip in Rwanda. We made a visit to the office at some point and, upon mentioning in conversation that I had a sore throat, the country manager, Benon, left the office in the middle of work just to buy me Amoxicillin from the local pharmacy. Agnes, our translator and good friend in Rwanda, went out of her way just to drive with us to the airport so she could send us off before our flight back to Uganda.

One particularly memorable moment was when some of the lovely staff at the Uganda office surprised us on our last day in Uganda by making an impromptu visit to our hostel just to squeeze in one last goodbye to us before we left the continent altogether. What made this moment so memorable, was the fact that we'd had the loveliest goodbye party full of cake and dancing and pictures the day before. We had so woefully said what we thought would be our last goodbyes the day before, but were absolutely thrilled to find that half the staff had piled into the company van just to see us off one last time.

We were so thrilled to find the staff from the Uganda office waiting for us downstairs on our last day at Bushpig!

We were so thrilled to find the staff from the Uganda office waiting for us downstairs on our last day at Bushpig!

Even the staff at Bushpig (the hostel we stayed at in Uganda) along with Father Innocent and the guards at Centre Christus (the Jesuit center we stayed at in Rwanda) were so beyond hospitable and loving towards us. From having long and lovely chats at breakfast with some of the waitresses at Bushpig's breakfast (who would later sneak some extra fruit onto our plates) to playing cards at midnight with the security guards at Centre Christus, everything about East Africa just felt so fun and so homey. It was little moments like these that made me realize that the people there truly understood the value of making others feel welcome like family. 

I think more than anything, what my trip to East Africa made me realize is that what you put into life is what you get out of it. What you reap is what you sow. If you spread love and kindness and are genuine with others, you will receive it in your own life. If you live a life where you choose to be generous to others, the universe will find a way to bring that generosity back to you. If you go forth into the world seeking a means to make it a better place, life will find a way to make itself better for you. Life is about choosing to embody certain values in your interactions with the world. And whatever you embody, life will embody that back for you. 

All smiles and good times at the weaving center in Rwanda

All smiles and good times at the weaving center in Rwanda

A snapshot from our goodbye party at All Across Africa's Ugandan office.

A snapshot from our goodbye party at All Across Africa's Ugandan office.

We live in a culture where we can often get lost in attempting to increase the importance of our own individual journeys in the grand scheme of things. This can lead to high rates of depression, anxiety, lack of self worth, and endemic self doubt. I find that the East African culture can inspire a lot of positive change in our lives if we choose to let it do so. From both East African culture, as well as many other Eastern cultures, I find that the West can benefit from learning the value of community building and choosing to live a life beyond ourselves. Uganda and Rwanda are by no means perfect. Decades of government corruption in Uganda as well as the ghosts of the genocidal past that haunt Rwanda make it clear that both countries still have a lot of work to do for their citizens, as do all nations. Any success stories from both of these nations, whether they came in the form of women empowering one another to develop financial livelihoods outside of depending on their husband's income, such as the weavers in both nations did, or whether they came in the form of people from conflicting backgrounds choosing to put aside their differences to work together, all stemmed from the basic value of prioritizing community needs over individual desires.

I think that if we work together as a nation on creating a culture that fosters more of this, we will be so much happier for it at the end of the day. If we focus on improving the lives of others, on spreading happiness and love wherever we go, and on fostering more genuine interactions with others, we will come to find our own lives improved, our own happiness skyrocketing, and our own sense of self strong and secure. We will find strength in places we never knew we could rely on before. We will climb mountains higher than we think we could, and we will boundlessly open new doors. We will break barriers that lie in our relationships between each other and connect deeply on levels beyond what we had once perceived. For what you give to this world, is what you shall receive. 


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Huda Navaid is a fourth-year Political Science major and Creative Writing minor. After college, she aims to pursue a gap year before applying for graduate school. In her gap year, she intends to travel and do research on how culturally-competent mental health care policy can be implemented across the world. She is currently working on writing her first book and is jumpstarting a PAUSD student mental health initiative called The Palo Alto Project. Huda also runs a blog where she reflects on life, discusses cultivating life skills, and talks about developing organizational skills. She also posts her own music, poetry, and short stories on her Instagram page.