DIG (Development in Gardening)

DIG (Development in Gardening)

I’ve been growing DIG (Development in Gardening) for almost 13 years and over that time I’ve intentionally avoided conversations focused on “scale.” For many in the development sector, “scale” has become the gold standard for “good.” But for me, scale leaves me suspicious. It often reduces progress down to a quest for number of people reached over quality of impact made, and when working to shift social norms or address the endless negative effects stemming from poverty, the solution can’t always be as simple as more.     

DIG, for example, works with some of the world’s most vulnerable people to improve their nutrition and livelihoods by growing sustainable vegetable gardens. The people we serve are the chronically malnourished, the ultra-poor, the elderly, the physically disabled, refugees, people living with HIV, and the marginalized. It is challenging enough to serve the deeply vulnerable, but to do so through the cultivation of land in the age of climate change creates endless obstacles DIG must adjust to. 

What DIG has learned over these years is that our success comes down to our ability to listen and adapt our program to meet the unique challenges, needs, wants, and desires of each community we serve. We’ve learned that it’s all about building relationships. This takes time because good relationships are built on trust, something earned— something that appears inherently at odds with the interests of scale. 

Reluctantly, I’ve known that for DIG’s future, we were going to have to address the question of scale at some point. As impact investor Jennifer Keening from Align Impact asked us, “Who does DIG want to be when it grows up?” So, when I applied to the Miller Center’s GSBI program (a program that is all about preparing to scale), I did so with some ambivalence. Honestly, I wasn’t sure we would be seen as a viable candidate. I suspected the program would force me to re-examine some of what I held near and dear about DIG. After all, Santa Clara University and Miller Center are in the heart of Silicon Valley, one of the biggest proponents for fast, scalable, market-based business solutions. I worried that GSBI would ignore some important lessons DIG had learned along the way about quality and nuance and might ask us to sacrifice our development philosophy on the altar of scale.  

So when I say I was genuinely surprised to find out DIG was not only accepted but later invited to the 10-day in-residence in California, it would be an understatement. The affirmation of this acceptance was gratifying, to be sure, but my gratitude was accompanied by fearful preparations for defending DIG’s (and my) commitment to quality. I felt a bit like David going up against the Goliaths of growth.

Fortunately, I had ten months of preparation and hard work leading up to the in-residence. In addition to my own DIG staff and board members supporting me, I was accompanied by 3 incredible GSBI mentors who challenged and refined my models and ideas and became real believers in DIG and what we have learned. 

When I finally arrived in Santa Clara, I was ready to not only answer DIG’s troublesome question of scale, but redefine it. And I was ready to go into battle to defend it if necessary.


What I found, however, was not a battlefield at all. The Goliaths were products of my own imagination. Instead, my review panels— what I had thought would be tough-minded business-types looking to poke holes in details, bring to light weak spots, and force me to rethink DIG’s strategy and organization— instead, became opportunities for insight and affirmation. They provided me encouragement to keep going and go deeper. They offered suggestions for better framing and communication; they prepared me for hard conversations with potential investors. Best of all, my panelists became genuine thought partners for DIG’s journey ahead.

I had expected a rough, competitive environment where social entrepreneurs jockeyed for attention, validation, and resources.  What I experienced instead was community and support. This was a gathering of incredible people using their experience and whatever tools they had to advance social justice in many sectors in many corners around the world. Over the 10-day in-residence, their mentors became my mentors, their strengths melded with DIG’s, and we became each other’s cheerleaders and sounding boards. We gave and received challenging feedback with honesty, humility, and love and listened to each other’s investor pitches with a desire to strengthen our voices for future success. 

The Miller Center’s GSBI program was more than I could have ever expected. It not only delivered on its mission, it did so with the love and nuance I have found so necessary in my own work. If we are going to address some of the world’s biggest challenges, we need a vision for scale, but we also need to walk the path together and hold space for the subtleties our respective enterprises require. 


No injustice happens in a vacuum; we have to embrace our connected story. We are all part of a complex ecosystem, and accounting for that ecosystem can’t be overlooked or oversimplified. I have found that Miller Center’s staff, mentors, entrepreneurs, and extended community are genuinely committed to connecting our stories and accompanying us on a shared journey to both broaden but also deepen our impact. I personally look forward to continuing to be a part of this incredible network as a grateful and contributing alumnus. 


About the Author

Sarah Koch

Founder & Executive Director
DIG (Development in Gardening)
GSBI 2019 Alumni

GDC Conference

GDC Conference

Every August, Miller Center hosts up to 20 social enterprises on campus as a part of our GSBIⓇ In-Residence program. In the cohort that gathered August 2017, there were two last mile distribution (LMD) companies, Livelyhoods and Pollinate. Conversations began then about what has now become the Global Distributors Collective (GDC), an organization that is committed to supporting and representing last mile distributors globally. Last mile distribution companies are a critical piece in the value chain for getting socially responsible products, e.g. solar lights, clean cookstoves, water, and health products, to the poor in difficult to reach places like rural areas and slums. They face a range of challenges—they operate in isolation within high-risk/low-infrastructure markets, with little capacity and no collective voice, and instead of learning from and leveraging one another they are continuously reinventing the wheel.

Throughout the formation and start-up phase, Miller Center has been a partner of the GDC. The first replication playbook created was on last mile distribution. The organizations interviewed to capture their best practices are all GSBI Alumni and early members of the GDC. So when Emma Colenbrander, Head of the Global Distributors Collective, reached out to ask if we’d participate in the first GDC member gathering and provide mentorship to a few of the participants, we jumped at the opportunity. 

Our incredible, very experienced executive mentor John O’Keefe and I joined the gathering that was held in Kampala, Uganda, July 22-23. The attendance of 70 people was double what was originally expected, given it was the first meeting. Though most of the attendees were from Uganda, there was representation from Ethiopia, Kenya, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. I was struck by the spirit of freely sharing challenges and learnings, and the desire to support each other. 

My key takeaways:

  • The room was so full and there was so much being shared; there is a hunger and thirst for organizations in LMD to convene and support each other. There is definitely a role for GDC to play. 

  • GDC had surveyed its members to find out topics they wanted to cover during the conference. Overwhelmingly the top topic was access to finance. Half of the second day of the conference was dedicated to this and it was discussed many times during the first day. Attendees brought up so many aspects of “access to finance” they needed assistance with—tapping into impact investor networks, targeting the “right” investors, bridging the vernacular gap between social enterprises (SEs) and investors, figuring out the right forms and amounts of capital, and more. And funders in the room also said they needed to do a better job of providing the right forms of capital, in the ranges that the SEs were looking for, and make it easier and faster for SEs to access. 

  • Capacity building came up many times during the two days. Of course it came up around access to finance, but it came up in other discussions as well. I led a “mini academy” on marketing for LMDs where I discussed marketing plans needing to be tied to financial projections and sales plans, and that marketing needs to be data driven. It was clear from the many questions that people hadn’t really thought about this and didn’t know how. Most LMDs are focused on sales—at the end of the day that is what they are doing—but good sales starts with good marketing and it all needs to be tied to business goals.

  • John O’Keefe led a “mini academy” about how to build a sales network and get the most from your sales agents. This session and the ensuing group discussion on distribution brought up many questions and great discussions on how to manage a sales network, lack of integrity of agents, and competition between distributors and suppliers. Given this is the heart of LMD’s business, there was a lot of interest in sharing and learning from one another. 

  • Another topic that attendees would clearly like more help with is partnerships—how to identify who would be good partners, how to manage them effectively, types of partnerships, good and bad reasons to partner, and much, much more. At Miller Center we strongly encourage the SEs that go through our GSBI programs to partner because it is impossible for a small, under-resourced organization to do everything themselves. But you need to be careful who you partner with and always make sure there is a value exchange. There is a lot to be gained from deepening knowledge on this topic. 

The conference was a truly great accomplishment as measured by the energy and enthusiasm of the participants. Given the learnings and takeaways from the conference, the GDC can continue to develop plans to support their members. John and I look forward to continuing to mentor some of the organizations that participated and Miller Center remains committed to partner with the GDC to support its entire membership. Not sure when the next conference will be but we look forward to it—supporting these incredible organizations doing very important business to serve the poor and protect the planet. 

A huge thank you to John O’Keefe for attending the conference, presenting, and doing follow-up mentorship of six attendee organizations! 

A special thank you to iBAN/GIZ, Practical Action, BoPInc and Hystra for sponsoring the conference. 

About the Author

Pamela began mentoring social entrepreneurs over 10 years ago and has been dedicated to and inspired by them ever since. She is grateful to be able to use the knowledge, lessons learned and wisdom she gained building and leading venture-backed software companies for over 20 years to support these passionate entrepreneurs solving problems of poverty and protecting the planet. She joined Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship five years ago and can be found serving as ambassador for Miller Center around the world

Lines of Sight to Social Justice

Lines of Sight to Social Justice

2019 GSBI In-Residence Investor Showcase illustrates how
17 unique journeys are making an impact

Every entrepreneur’s story reveals a unique path that led them to be leaders of their respective enterprises, but what they all have in common is that they are fueled by passion and heroic ambition.

As I sat in a room with the 28 participants representing 17 social enterprises selected to attend this year’s GSBI In-Residence Accelerator in August, it was apparent that every person there had been on a journey that led them to Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University. Before diving into the hard week ahead of business review panel sessions—analyzing growth plans and dissecting impact and financial models—we took a moment on that first day to sit together in a circle and share stories of what brought them all here and why it is they do what they do.


We listened to Sandeep Giri of Gham Power tell his story of visiting his home country Nepal after having a successful career in San Francisco and being shocked by the disparate access to electricity. Even though he grew up on a rural farm and did not see electricity until he was 7, he could not believe the 16 hours of load shedding in the nation’s capital and seeing businesses shutting when electricity was unavailable.

Pratyusha Pareddy of NemoCare shared that she came from a family of doctors, and after witnessing in her home country of India the astoundingly high number of preventable newborn deaths, her need to focus on this particular aspect of healthcare felt like a natural calling.

After serving in the Peace Corp as a rural health extension agent in Senegal, Sarah Koch of DIG (Development in Gardening) shared how she wanted to build upon her experience working with vulnerable and HIV-affected communities and encourage health-based behavioral change through the act of sustainable farming.

Suniya Sadullah Khan of Mauqa Online shared her story of attending school abroad in the UK and working part time as a housecleaner to help offset the costs of her tuition. Then upon returning to her home in Pakistan, she was shocked by how women domestic workers were treated without dignity nor given the agency to build a better life with their existing skills and expertise.


We all inherently understand and agree that access to clean energy, healthcare, sustainable agriculture, and women’s economic empowerment are good things, especially if they are aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. But when you hear the unique stories from social entrepreneurs like Sandeep, Pratyusha, Sarah, and Suniya, it makes the work that they do personable and relatable. Above all, it provides direct lines of sight to social justice. The women and men selected to participate in this year’s In-Residence represent the stalwart ambition that is required to operate a social enterprise whose mission it is to improve, transform, or save the lives of people living in poverty.

The journey of a social entrepreneur is often a long and lonely one. At Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, it is our job to accompany these women and men on their journeys and to help foster a community in which they feel valued and heard. They have certainly been on a journey with GSBI. Upon being selected into our accelerator in January 2019 and then further assessed in April, these women and men worked for months on our online curriculum and met weekly with their mentors before coming to Santa Clara University for 7 days. Over the week, I witnessed them work tirelessly as they were grilled by our tough but loving panelists through review sessions, all with the goal of refining their business and impact models and making their pathways to scale a reality.


The week-long In-Residence culminated with an Investor Showcase on August 21, in which the 17 social enterprises presented for six minutes each. In attendance were 200 investors, partners, and influencers in the impact investing space. Their presentations took the audience along on their journeys for creating gender equality and human rights by giving women dignity and agency over their own lives in countries like Kenya, India, and Pakistan. They learned about technologies for stopping preventable neonatal deaths in the developing world; and about innovative models for providing equal access to education for children and youth in Jordan, Peru, and even in our own backyard here in the US.

In the second half of the showcase, the audience continued the journey to impact which involved supporting smallholder farmers, vulnerable communities, and the urban poor in Nepal, India, Kenya, Uganda, Burkina Faso, and Tanzania by providing access to clean water, clean energy, food security, and access to markets. Needless to say, this year’s Investor Showcase left those in attendance feeling inspired by these many lines of sight to social justice, and perhaps also with the question: What more can we all do to accelerate them?

The journey to impact does not stop here. It has only begun and, with your help, will only continue to improve, transform, and save many more lives. I welcome you to join our network of 1000+ social entrepreneur alumni, 200+ executive mentors, 100+ student fellows, and our strong and growing community of supporters.

If you are interested in learning more about these 17 journeys, I invite you to watch their powerful video presentations and read these overview profiles.

I also encourage you to read our 2019 Annual Report, Journey to Impact. And social entrepreneurs are invited to apply to our programs.

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

About the Author


Karen Runde
Associate Program Director
Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship
Santa Clara University

Using Augmented Reality to Teach Innovation

Using Augmented Reality to Teach Innovation

How Might We Learn Innovation Techniques Without a Professor?

This was the challenge from our students at Santa Clara University.  Our mission was to create a way to teach human-centered design in the Innovation Space at Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship without a professor or staff person present.  Our design team accepted the challenge, and we are prototyping a method using augmented reality to use technology to teach innovation in a variety of settings. Our method may be the first of its kind in the world, but that is normal for Miller Center!  

Augmented reality is currently being used in a variety of applications:  training workers in hazardous jobs, gaming and entertainment, fashion, marketing, and now education.  Augmented reality (AR) differs from virtual reality in that it allows end users to still see the “real” world around them - AR provides an overlap or insertion of content that is not “real,” but looks real.  Whether you are shooting at scary, fire-breathing dragons that are flying around the ceiling, searching for colorful Pokémon Go characters at a local park, or deciding which colors of makeup look best with your complexion, AR will become ubiquitous in our everyday lives.  We believe the best way to know about AR is to experience it, so we invite our readers to participate in our challenge at the end of the article.  

Why Augmented Reality?

We selected AR as a tool to teach innovation because it is interactive and engaging, and it allows the end user to work at his or her own pace.  Preliminary research suggests that it may lead to better long-term learning of information, and it excites or surprises the brain, holding the interest of the end user.  In our research thus far, we have found that most end users enjoy the experience and learn the basic steps of design thinking in an hour or two without the aid of a professor.    

Our AR Challenge

The innovation challenge in our AR experience is “how might we reduce food waste at school?”  Individuals or teams are guided through The Innovation Journey process by an AR character. End users first brainstorm what they know, don’t know, and assume they know about food waste, and then they go on an empathy “safari” to interview and observe people at a cafeteria or restaurant.  Our first cohort of students interviewed a chef, food service workers, students, and faculty, and analyzed trash, recycling, and compost bins. Based on new insights, the teams reframed the challenge, brainstormed lots of wild and crazy ideas, and then made a prototype of one or two solutions to solicit feedback from end users.  Most students had no knowledge of design thinking before the challenge, but, by the end of the AR experience, they learned the basic steps of design thinking, and they generated innovative ideas on how to reduce food waste.  

Next Steps

Our AR design team will continue to refine our work, but, in the meantime, we would like to share it with others.  If you want to participate in The Innovation Journey, you will need some basic office supplies like paper, pens, and rough prototyping materials (tape, glue, markers, etc.)   You will first need to download the free Zappar application from the App Store on your phone or smart tablet device (be sure to spell Zappar with an “a”). Go through the basic overview of Zappar, and then begin The Innovation Journey by Zapping the Zappar design on the design below.  Wait until the full yellow circle appears, and then you are all set. Feedback is a gift in design thinking, so we welcome your input!  

Our many thanks to Mr. Jay Dold, who created all of the design elements of the project. Without his talent, expertise, and generosity, this project would not exist.

Our many thanks to Mr. Jay Dold, who created all of the design elements of the project. Without his talent, expertise, and generosity, this project would not exist.

Please share your input with our team!

Ms. Kelly Grunewald, Miller Center Innovation Research Fellow, kgrunewald@scu.edu

Dr. Tonya Nilsson, Senior Lecturer, Department of Civil Engineering, tnilsson@scu.edu

Dr. Christina Ri, Senior Instructional Technology Resource Specialist at SCU, Christina.Ri@gmail.com

Dr. Michelle Stecker, Director of Education and Action Research at Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, drmichellestecker@gmail.com

Prototype created by a SCU student team.

Prototype created by a SCU student team.

About the Author

Michelle Stecker, PhD, Miller Center’s Director of Education and Action Research, teaches and designs social innovation and entrepreneurship curriculum and leads the effort to integrate human-centered design thinking into the College of Arts & Sciences at Santa Clara University.

Settling In & Stepping Up

Settling In & Stepping Up

Settling into the daily routine of working in the city has been a new and exciting experience for me. All of the little things are falling into place – I’ve worked out the best route to take (across the rainbow bridge, go north first not west), I’m getting to know everyone at the office, and I finally got my key fob to get in the building properly. But most importantly, my work itself excites me, and the work environment is awesome. I walk into the OpenWorks building every day with purpose in my step because I know that I will be doing work that I’m passionate about, contributing to the success of Innovation Works (IW), and learning a whole lot from everyone around me.

It’s energizing to be working at a relatively young social enterprise accelerator, surrounded by a very small team. To say that the IW team is working hard is an understatement; everyone is exceeding their job descriptions in some way, and they’re doing it all because they believe in the power of Innovation Works to transform the way people think about Baltimore. It’s inspiring to see the passion my coworkers have for seeking out the untapped potential of the city they’ve lived in for years, or even generations; and those generations are tired of seeing a whole lot of funding go nowhere in solving the racial wealth divide.

Although Innovation Works has been over two years in the making, it’s technically only been operational for about six months, and IW is a team of just 8 people. But you can bet that they’ve accomplished great feats in those 6 months, and they haven’t slowed down since I’ve arrived; if anything, we’ve sped up with the implementation of Miller Center’s programs on top of everything else. In just the past six months, those 8 people have engaged with over 156 community members and prospective social entrepreneurs through outreach events, information sessions, and one-on-one meetings, and 81 social entrepreneurs are already actively engaged in their pipeline. These SEs are receiving support from nearly 30 local mentors....the list of statistics and milestones goes on. It’s really quite impressive, especially considering the general skepticism that Baltimore even has any social entrepreneurs to begin with.

Not just any old 9-to-5.

It feels strange to say that I like how my schedule works here more than when I’m in college. At first, I had to keep reminding myself that I’m not inundated with the usual homework each night; I can actually take a break when I get home for the day. It feels like a luxury, and definitely has me excited for the post-grad life, at a time when thinking about the post-grad life usually terrifies me. One of the most unique parts of the Fellowship is that the placement gives us a taste of real-world work. My final deliverables are constantly being re-shaped by the work I’m doing in the field. And it’s not like a college essay; there’s no long and detailed prompt telling me exactly what to produce and what the parameters are. I have to work closely with the people at my host organization to make sure that the work I’m doing is exactly what they need, and that it will be valuable to them moving forward. Shaping the form and direction of my own project is simultaneously liberating and terrifying, but I’m constantly reminded of my support system at Innovation Works, Miller Center, and back home. And every bit of progress validates the skills I've gained from my seemingly odd assortment of majors. If I can double major in dance and political science, minor in women's and gender studies, and discover a burning passion for accelerating social entrepreneurship, then who knows what's next. ("Burning passion for social entrepreneurship" sounds incredibly strange when I say it out loud, but who cares—it's true! I love my work!)

On a typical workday in the Innovation Works office, my hours may generally be around 9-5 (usually less than that, occasionally more if there’s an event), but it’s far from the usual office environment. There’s plenty of work to be done and meetings to be had at our home base, particularly in the aftermath of the Boost program, but I’m starting to see just how closely IW is tied directly to community engagement. I’ve gone on several unexpected and spontaneous adventures accompanying Jay, Sally, and Nick, including but not limited to: a meeting at the University of Baltimore discussing a new community mapping tool that’s in the works, a SOCAP 365 event at the Impact Hub, and a pizza-fueled design thinking workshop. Although these events and side-projects might not be directly related to my work surrounding the curriculum of the Miller Center and IW partnership, just getting to talk to so many different people in the city has been valuable. While I’m here, my goal is to learn, observe, absorb, and experience as much as I can that can only be had while I’m in Baltimore.

This is right outside our studio space at OpenWorks--check out the wooden cubicles!

This is right outside our studio space at OpenWorks--check out the wooden cubicles!

I’m even finding myself not so far removed from the arts & social justice scene that I love to be a part of. OpenWorks, the building where IW rents its office space, is an incredible maker space for Baltimore’s creative professionals. Every day in the office, we’re surrounded by entrepreneurs, designers, crafters, inventors, painters, leather workers, sewists, and even drone builders in the cubicles surrounding ours. Just downstairs you can find all the metalworking, woodworking, and sewing equipment that’s been made accessible to OpenWorks members. Some of my personal favorite products that come out of the businesses here include custom-made backpacks for dogs, and real, life-sized versions of swords from the Legend of Zelda! Even the cubicles (“studios”) were crafted right here in the shop, made from repurposed wood panels. It’s certainly a unique and energizing space to work in, even on quieter days.

One of the most inspiring parts of OpenWorks is the collaborative atmosphere and knowledge exchange that takes place here. The shared spaces are key to learning from one another, and makers with adjacent cubicles and similar products sometimes adopt each other’s innovative techniques. OpenWorks offers classes and workshops to the general public in its classroom spaces as well, and I’m determined to take a stab at one of the foundational courses before I leave (Will it be Photoshop? Embroidery? Maybe 3-D printing??).

This is part of a compelling set of pieces on display at Baltimore's Impact Hub.

This is part of a compelling set of pieces on display at Baltimore's Impact Hub.

The Impact Hub is another key spot for creative and entrepreneurial minds to gather in the same space, collaborate, and grow alongside one another. Aside from Boost and the SOCAP event, I've gone there several times just to work in their space for the day, surrounded by beautiful artwork, hardworking entrepreneurs, and even a few familiar faces from other events. Jay dared me to meet a new person every time I spend time there, and let's just say I have a lot of room for growth in the networking department...I'm working on it, I promise! There are Impact Hubs around the world, but this one specifically features the redlining exhibit which catches your eye right when you walk in. The exhibit spans several walls, visualizing not just the history of gentrification and the racial wealth divide in Baltimore, but the way that history continues to manifest in the present day. Everyone in Baltimore has heard of the "white L" and "black butterfly" shaped gentrification, and although the shape itself was new to me, I'd heard about the sharply divided lines. Baltimore is clearly divided racially and economically to this day; and it's gotten progressively worse.

The left image is unemployment data, and the right is demographic.

These images are not from Impact Hub, but you can clearly see the "L" and the "butterfly".

The racial wealth divide is by no means unique to Baltimore. It's been the root of many other problems in the city, and it's persisted after generations of both internal and external efforts towards change, for a host of complex reasons. But there's plenty of bad news (or no news) about Baltimore already, to the point where most people are jaded, and many have simply come to expect no better from their hometown. Innovation Works and everyone they work with are telling a different story. IW is shining a light on all of the aspiring and already-inspiring social entrepreneurs, connecting them to each other so that they can collaborate for greater impact, and walking with them to support their work. Transforming the city sounds impossible, but what happens when you start with just one small plot of an urban farm, one daycare center, or one after school program? What can happen when 28 of them gather in the same room? What happens when they leverage the tools of social entrepreneurship to start expanding the depth of their impact, partnering to meet each other's needs, and inspiring the incubation of even more social entrepreneurs? There's so much work to be done, but there's no doubt that it's happening here, and it's something truly special. (And there's no doubt that Jay and Sally don't seem to need sleep like other people!)

Baltimore's community assets.

What makes IW's work unique is that they're creating a complete pipeline of support for Baltimore's change-makers, starting even before an idea is formed. IW engages with people at five key levels of innovation: Ignite, Ideate, Create, Grow, and Scale. This is huge. No one is turned away who is looking for some kind of support, and each stage is meant to prepare you for the next one when you're ready. Whether you’re just a person with a crazy idea for helping your community, or an experienced social enterprise looking to scale your impact, IW will meet you right where you are and help you get where you need to go. Miller Center’s resources come in mainly at the grow and scale stages, but it’s been valuable to see how IW engages with people even prior to the ideation stage, when they’re just identifying a problem (aka an opportunity) in their neighborhood.

One of IW's four "Ignite Hubs," Fayette Street Outreach, is a key spot for fostering—you guessed it—the Ignite stage of innovation. Before people start sharing ideas, it's important to take a step back and look at what's already available to use as an asset in the community, from churches to black-owned businesses to parks and community centers. We wouldn't want to end up with two competing businesses on the same block, when the real problem at hand doesn't even require starting a business. As a part of the exercise, each group described the daily life of someone of a particular age group from their own community. It quickly felt personal, and the real-life stories that came out of the discussion were both moving and crucial to the way they were able to articulate the problems and opportunities in their neighborhood. In the end, we circled back to how the community assets could play a role in providing solutions.

Naming positive community assets that people are proud of requires a significant mindset shift from typical community association meetings, but that mindset shift is the first key step in working towards grassroots solutions. The FSO members who attended the design thinking workshop were able to take that first step. I'm excited to see where it leads in the future.

Photos are courtesy of Nicholas Mitchel. Check out the video recap he made of the event as well!

About the Author

Avery Rissling is currently a junior at Santa Clara University studying Political Science, Dance, and Women’s and Gender Studies. Her passion for civic engagement, interest in sustainable social impact, and background as a visual and performing artist have inspired her to pursue opportunities in innovation for social justice, whether it be in public policy, business, or the arts. She is a strong believer that the personal is political, and that art has the power to transform communities and bring people together.

Social Justice in the U.S.

Social Justice in the U.S.

Little did I anticipate when my trusted colleague and dear friend Pamela Roussos authored a blog last month about Miller Center’s strategic partnership with Innovation Works that Baltimore would become front-page news. 

Sadly, as is too often the case these days, the news was not about the good work of social enterprises solving problems in their neighborhoods. Instead, the news was about racist comments from the highest office in the land, left uncontested by other leaders whose states and districts suffer from dire poverty. By numbers alone, the number of poor white people in Kentucky is approximately the same as the entire population of Baltimore. 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 40 million Americans lived in poverty in 2017, more than the entire population of Canada, Afghanistan, or Ghana. Kentucky has one of the highest poverty rates at 17.2%, exceeded by West Virginia at 19.1% and Mississippi at 19.8%. 

The racial and gender disparities in race are profound – 12.4% for whites, 23.4% for Hispanics, 26.2% for Blacks, and 27.6% for Native Americans.  While these rates vary state-to-state, the systemic differences are the same: there is injustice in our social structures nationally and locally. As my long-time friend Dennis often says, “Facts are stubborn things,” even in an era while lying and name-calling are routine. 

Words are easy, though. As St. Ignatius, founder of the Society of Jesus said, “Love ought to manifest itself more by deeds than words.” That’s why Miller Center partnered with Catholic Charities USA, with its mission “to provide service to people in need, to advocate for justice in social structures, and to call the entire church and other people of good will to do the same.” 

For 16 years, Miller Center has accelerated social enterprises that serve the poor and protect the planet in over 100 countries in the developing world; these social enterprises have collectively improved, transformed, or saved the lives of over 400 million people living in poverty – greater than the entire population of the U.S.

Our Pathways out of Poverty US accelerator program in collaboration with Catholic Charities is designed to help social enterprises that serve the poor and other vulnerable populations increase their impact and transform lives. Like all of our GSBI® Accelerator programs, it features accompaniment through a structured curriculum by Silicon Valley executive mentors who serve as trusted advisors and who help tailor the 6-month experience to the specific needs of each enterprise. 

In their landmark book Getting Beyond Better, Sally Osberg and Roger Martin differentiate social entrepreneurship from social activism and social services. Social entrepreneurship disrupts unjust social equilibria, often creating systemic change while directly engaging those who suffer injustices. In contrast, social services organizations work to alleviate suffering, but operate within existing systems, however unjust; and social activism seeks to create systemic change but does so indirectly through advocacy.

A prerequisite of authentic human development is agency, the notion that individuals and communities can be architects of their own futures. In our partnerships with Catholic Charities and with congregations of religious women in East and Central Africa, we’re discovering whether traditional nonprofit social services organizations can embrace entrepreneurial principles to become more sustainable, scale their impact, and authentically engage those afflicted by injustices. Early results are encouraging, and offer hope in a time of harsh words and incivility.  

Rather than a war of words, it’s time for action to catalyze social justice in the United States. If you are a leader of an operational social enterprise that provides products or services to poor, underserved, or other vulnerable communities in the US or know someone who is, applications are open until August 30 for our Pathways Out of Poverty Program. 

About the Author

Thane Kreiner, Ph.D., 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.

A Day with Gham Power

A Day with Gham Power


I was recently in Nepal and had a chance to spend a day with Gham Power, a social enterprise focused on providing safe and reliable solar energy to underserved rural markets. Mr. Anjal Niraula, the General Manager of Gham Power, was kind enough to arrange a trip to the Chitwan District in southern Nepal where I also met staff members, Mr. Ram Avatar and Mr. Kiran Thapa.

During my one day visit, we toured:

  1. A local teaching hospital which is a potential customer for a 100KW solar system that would provide 20% of the hospital’s power needs, resulting in cost savings of more than $100,000 over a ten year period;

  2. Three local farms, out of over 120, that each have a Gham Power 1KW solar pump that pumps water into fish ponds, and from there, to fields for irrigation and fertilization;

  3. A tower in Chitwan National Park, one of 12 towers that have a Gham Power 3KW system solar system for water, lights, and animal tracking. 


While all three types of systems generate savings for their customers and are profitable for Gham Power, their “killer app” is the solar pump used by small farmers. Compared to the alternatives of diesel or the national grid, Gham Power’s solar system is more reliable and predictable, is considerably less expensive, and creates much less carbon impact. 

The unit economics are impressive. A farmer pays $780 per year for 3 years, saving $1220 each year for a total of  $3660 over the 3 years, and generating about $100 in profit per year for Gham Power. After 3 years, the farmer owns the solar system (and can get a maintenance contract from Gham Power). There are over one million farms in southern Nepal so the total addressable market is $2.34 billion for Gham Power with $300 million in profit. There is also significant upside in selling farmers larger systems and solar appliances. Retail and commercial solar systems, such as the solar towers and the hospital system, also generate additional revenue. What’s more, Gham Power has built 6 microgrids to improve power reliability and resilience. Since its inception in 2010, Gham Power has executed over 2500 solar projects with more than 2.5 megawatts of cumulative capacity.

So, in addition to thoroughly enjoying myself, I was very impressed by Gham Power’s solar systems and their business.

About 2019 GSBI In-Residence Accelerator Social Enterprise Gham Power

For rural smallholder farmers in Nepal struggling to increase their crop yield due to lack of irrigation and financing, Gham Power helps increase their income with data-driven crop selections combined with solar water pumps and instant financing. The enterprise minimizes investment risks by using PAYG smart meters and mobile money to collect loan payments and monitor systems remotely.

Established: 2018
Enterprise Type: For-Profit
UN Sustainable Development Goals:
7 – Affordable and Clean Energy, 13 – Climate Action, 9 – Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure


About the author


Eric Carlson is a retired Silicon Valley entrepreneur now focusing on accelerating global social ventures. He helped start and build the GSBI, Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship’s flagship accelerator program platform at Santa Clara University, which has become the longest-running, most impactful, and most-innovative accelerator for social enterprises. His recently published book Building A Successful Social Venture (with Jim Koch) captures 15 years of learning from the GSBI experience with over 150 social ventures.

Meet the 18 Members of the 2019 GSBI In-residence Accelerator Cohort

Meet the 18 Members of the 2019 GSBI In-residence Accelerator Cohort

Every year, up-and-coming social entrepreneurs from around the world complete the rigorous GSBI Online Accelerator curriculum, and the 18 social enterprises of Cohort 17 are some of the most promising alumni to date. In the culmination of six months of transformative mentorship, these organizations have truly risen to the challenge, emerging with tangible growth so that they can better accomplish sustainable social change. For these social enterprises that have already been serving their target beneficiaries for one to five years, the online accelerator helped strengthen and validate their:

  • Impact and business model

  • Growth plan

  • Financial model

  • Funding plan

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

The social entrepreneurs in Cohort 14 are achieving impact in a variety of sectors, but whatever their focus and wherever they work, they are tackling deeply rooted problems, asking the hard questions, and breaking unjust equilibrium.

Many of these social enterprises tackle a combination of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in different ways and every one of the 18 social entrepreneurs are already making lasting change.

Perhaps the most uniquely beneficial part of the GSBI Online Accelerator is the close mentorship from Silicon Valley professionals, who commit to providing insightful advice to their mentees each week.

Are you ready to scale and create lasting impact?

We’re currently recruiting for two new GSBI cohorts. Learn more about these exciting opportunities.

Meet the 2019 In-residence cohort

Organization Name: CityTaps
Headquarters: France
Enterprise Type: For-Profit
Description: Develop and deploy technological and financial innovations to help water utilities serve the urban poor
Countries Impacted: Africa

Organization Name: Cycle Connect
Headquarters: Uganda
Enterprise Type: Hybrid
Description: Increase income for East African smallholder farmers through productive asset financing and training
Countries Impacted: Uganda

Organization Name: Dandelion Africa
Headquarters: Kenya
Enterprise Type: Non-Profit
Description: Improve sexual health and economy of women in Kenya
Countries Impacted: Kenya


Organization Name: Development in Gardening (DIG)
Headquarters: Atlanta, GA, USA
Enterprise Type: Non-Profit
Description: Enable vulnerable communities to become more resilient, healthy and connected through nutrition-sensitive and climate-smart agriculture using a community-led model
Countries Impacted: Africa

Organization Name: East Africa Fruits Co.
Headquarters: Tanzania
Enterprise Type: For-Profit
Description: Modernize agribusiness and increase farmers’ income by reducing post-harvest losses and adding value to produce
Countries Impacted: Tanzania


Organization Name: Ellie Fun Day
Headquarters: San Jose, CA, USA
Enterprise Type: Hybrid
Description: Improve access to sustainable employment for victims of domestic violence, human trafficking and marginalized women in India and around the world
Countries Impacted: India


Organization Name: Eneza Education Ghana Ltd.
Headquarters: Kenya
Enterprise Type: For-Profit
Description: Making 50 million African learners smarter by leveraging on SMS, USSD and web technology
Countries Impacted: Ghana


Organization Name: Gham Power
Headquarters: Nepal
Enterprise Type: For-Profit
Description: Helping small holder farmers increase income
Countries Impacted:

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Organization Name: Grassroots Energy Inc.
Headquarters: India
Enterprise Type: For-Profit
Description: Provide sustainable energy solutions in the emerging economies
Countries Impacted: India


Organization Name: Ignis Careers
Headquarters: India
Enterprise Type: Hybrid
Description: Improve access to empowering education for the under privileged communities in India
Countries Impacted: India


Organization Name: Jhumki Basu Foundation
Headquarters: Saratoga, CA, USA
Enterprise Type: Non-Profit
Description: Guarantee that every underserved American student receives an excellent STEM education
Countries Impacted: United States of America


Organization Name: Kantaya
Headquarters: Peru
Enterprise Type: Non-Profit
Description: Promote the human development of children in vulnerable areas in Peru, through an efficient and replicable academic and social emotional training model that links family and society
Countries Impacted: Peru

Organization Name: Kwangu Kwako Ltd.
Headquarters: Kenya
Enterprise Type: For-Profit
Description: Co-create opportunities for dignified living that is accessible to underserved communities
Countries Impacted: East Africa


Organization Name: Leap Skills
Headquarters: India
Enterprise Type: For-Profit
Description: Delivering high-quality workplace skills to the youth from small towns and rural India to bridge the skill gap in the country
Countries Impacted: India

Organization Name: Mauqa Online
Headquarters: Pakistan
Enterprise Type: For-Profit
Description: Provide jobs to uneducated people
Countries Impacted: Pakistan

Organization Name: NeMoCare Wellness Pvt Ltd.
Headquarters: India
Enterprise Type: For-Profit
Description: Be an integral part of a world where no child ever dies of a cause that is completely preventable
Countries Impacted: India

Headquarters: Kenya
Enterprise Type: For-Profit
Description: Provide affordable and sustainable universal basic utility access (UBUA) to empower rural livelihoods, eradicate poverty, and combat climate change
Countries Impacted: Kenya

Organization Name: The Alchemist Lab (Fun Science for Extra Curricular Activities)
Headquarters: Jordan
Enterprise Type: For-Profit
Description: Empower children & youth, through interactive hands on experiences, with the skills they need to explore themselves & the world around them with confidence & determination
Countries Impacted: Jordan; The Middle East

Innovation Works GSBI Boost

Innovation Works GSBI Boost

Can a global model be taken local?

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Nearly two years ago, Baltimore community development advocate Frank Knott reached out to Miller Center. He had been asked by Father Robert Hussey, S.J., Provincial Superior of the Maryland Province, to look into whether the work the center does supporting social entrepreneurs globally could be applicable in an urban American setting, serving social entrepreneurs in Baltimore and solving problems in their neighborhoods. Intrigued and compelled by the request, we have been accompanying Frank as he dug deeply into the work we do, surveyed the Baltimore ecosystem to identify gaps, and formed Innovation Works

On March 5, 2019, Innovation Works (IW) and Miller Center announced a strategic partnership to support IW’s goal to launch 250 social enterprises, create 5,000 jobs, and facilitate $100 million of investments into Baltimore by 2029. On June 18-20, 2019, we took the next step together by delivering our first Innovation Works GSBIⓇ Boost program to 28 Baltimore-based social enterprises. The program was a tremendous success; you can read more about it here. A big takeaway for me was the deep commitment by everyone – the social entrepreneurs, mentors, partners, and the IW team – to Baltimore City and making it a thriving place to live and work. The harmony around this commitment was palpable. 

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As you all know, events like this aren’t a success without a lot of planning and leg work. Frank and the Innovation Works team did a lot of the spadework in connecting with all of the social entrepreneurial activities happening across Baltimore, forging the partnerships to fuel the ecosystem, and being mindful of not reinventing the wheel. This is evident in the quality of the social entrepreneurs and the Innovation Works mentors that have been recruited and trained with support from Miller Center. 

When we first started talking with Frank, the question in front of us collectively was how to take our global model and make it local, even hyper-local. The context of Baltimore, with over 280 neighborhoods that are very separate and distinct from one another, had to be embraced. One of the ways that Innovation Works has addressed this challenge is by creating Ignite Hubs. Ignite Hubs are located in neighborhoods through partnerships with organizations already working in these communities. Within Ignite Hubs, community members are encouraged to identify the specific needs and challenges of their neighborhood, and are given support to turn their ideas into solutions. As that happens, these nascent social enterprises can be prepared for a Boost workshop and other Miller Center GSBI accelerator programs that Innovation Works will run. Figure 1 is the framework that IW created, with GSBI programs fitting in the Grow and Scale phases.

Figure 1. Innovation Works Framework

Figure 1. Innovation Works Framework

What’s next? A subset of the social enterprises that participated in the June Boost program will be selected for an Innovation Works GSBIⓇ Online program starting in August. Innovation Works will manage the cohort, with support from us, using our learning management platform. The social entrepreneurs will be accompanied by both a Miller Center and an IW mentor. Joint mentoring will continue to strengthen the IW mentor’s understanding of our curriculum and methodology. Miller Center is committed to a long-term relationship with IW – strengthening and deepening our partnership, and learning together how to refine a local/global model to solve urban problems in communities across the US. 

I’d like to thank Steve White who co-facilitated the workshop with me. Steve’s continued contribution to the center is invaluable, and his commitment to social entrepreneurs is unparalleled. I’d also like to thank Mervat Mina and George Economy, two Miller Center mentors who live in Washington DC. They traveled to Baltimore twice for IW mentor trainings and were mentors, alongside IW mentors, for the IW GSBIⓇ Boost workshop. Their support of the Miller Center / Innovation Works partnership is deeply appreciated.

About the author

Pamela began mentoring social entrepreneurs over 10 years ago and has been dedicated to and inspired by them ever since. She is grateful to be able to use the knowledge, lessons learned and wisdom she gained building and leading venture-backed software companies for over 20 years to support these passionate entrepreneurs solving problems of poverty and protecting the planet. She joined Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship five years ago and can be found serving as ambassador for Miller Center around the world

What a View

What a View

If you know me, you know that I always have something to say. I’m an extrovert, an external processor. I am never shy to share my opinions and again I have a lot of them. Sometimes this gets me into trouble, but it is also the part of myself that I love most. I don’t shy away from any conversation and with every experience I have a strong desire to understand and be understood.

In 2018 I spent six months traveling through Africa and Asia and I turned into an avid blogger. Experiencing so many new cultures and landscapes heightened my thirst for reflection and understanding; I wanted to curate my memories and how I interpreted them in writing, for my own consumption and for my friends and family.

But here I am, over two weeks into my time in Tanzania, and I am at a loss. I don’t know what to write.

So far I feel comfortable. Part of it is certainly because my partner Emma and I have been staying in nice hotels and Airbnbs, eating restaurant food for almost every meal, and we are shuttled around in private cars. Even the weather has been a moderate 75 degrees most days. On our journey from Singida to Dodoma (our current home base) I spent the drive observing the people and infrastructure of the villages en route to our destination, pondering what to blog about. It wasn’t until I tried to summarize my thoughts and extract some greater meaning that I got really frustrated by the whole situation. The window glass felt like much more than a physical barrier. It was like I was just watching a movie of Tanzania, I couldn’t touch it. This approach to travel was different from what I grew used to in the past and seemed to hold me back from everything.

This was the first time that I have felt like I was in a funk here. I forced myself to really probe at this feeling. I questioned every experience that lead me here. At this point I have traveled to more developing countries than developed countries. I thought maybe I am just used to witnessing cultural norms so different from my own or even the poverty that is so visible in Tanzania.

In just this short time Emma and I have found ourselves in situations that most Americans never will. We had an unexpected overnight visit with some Catholic nuns, attended an entrepreneurship summit and interviewed almost 30 of the most successful Solar Sister Entrepreneurs, we have gone into the field with Business Development Associates to observe training and recruitment, and have even been able to visit some of the most beautiful national parks in the world. Currently we are road tripping through the country with our translator Lumba and our driver Vitalis. It feels like a family trip, the four of us do pretty much everything together.

I eventually came to the realization that it’s not that I haven't been connecting with local people or become jaded to the poverty. And I know that I am incredibly appreciative of this opportunity as well as the memories that I have in so many other countries. Rather with each new experience the world gets so much smaller. The differences between Africa, Asia, and the Western world feel less and less significant. Sure, globalization definitely contributes to this, but regardless we are so similar. We love and hurt in the same ways; we crave belonging, adventure, and stability and we fear being belittled, abused, and ignored. We all want to be viewed a complicated and important. We are all afraid of dying. As I have come to understand these truths more, I have also developed a greater confidence working, speaking, and being with people from backgrounds different from my own.

I came to Tanzania expecting so many moments to be met with discomfort and confusion. The ideas that Americans promote about “Africa” have certainly influenced how I imagined my role here. My entire life I have been exposed to images of Africans as being poor, helpless, and unsophisticated. The history of imperialism and development that has lead us to these ideas is not something I can get into in this post, but regardless these ideas are just untrue.

Fatma, the country manager of Solar Sister Tanzania and the mastermind behind the whole operation is one of the most busy, hardworking, and detail oriented people that I have met. The Solar Sister Entrepreneurs have some extremely innovative ideas and a perseverance that I see rarely in the US. Our translator Lumba is incredibly articulate and has the best sense of humor. I have learned time and time again that the single story of the over one billion people living in Africa’s 54 countries is so, so misguided. Learning from these amazing people hasn’t pushed me outside of my comfort zone, because they are so real to me, they make so much sense to me. With each day here I watch the world become more complicated but so simplified all at once. And I have such a view.


About the author


Amanda Eason is a current fellow for the Global Social Benefit Fellowship with Miller Center. She is double majoring in Environmental Studies and Sociology with an emphasis in Sustainable Development. She hopes to advance sustainable development and promote gender equity through women’s enterprise. She is currently gaining hands-on experience as a Fellow working with Solar Sister.

Complementary Partnerships Expand Impact for Microgrid Developers

Complementary Partnerships Expand Impact for Microgrid Developers

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Since January, Miller Center has been accompanying 6 microgrid developers across Sub-Saharan Africa to create a new energy infrastructure and close the energy gap. This program is part of our Replication and Scaling Initiative focused on spreading best practices to transfer successful know-how. 

We chose develop specific curriculum for microgrids because of:

  • Microgrids are the least expensive way to deliver power for at least 100 million people in Africa, and microgrids can have enormous impact on local economic development by suddenly providing electricity to a whole community

  • There is a growing interest in microgrids including emerging financing vehicles, support organizations, and innovations and cost reductions in technologies such as smart meters and solar panels

  • Our ability to develop curriculum directly from the success and best practices of the 115 clean energy entrepreneurs we have accompanied. 

In launching this program we also had a key partner to support our efforts: Energy 4 Impact, which manages the Green Mini-Grid Help Desk in partnership with INENSUS. The Green Mini-Grid Help Desk, funded by the African Development Bank, is part of SE4All’s Green Mini-Grid Market Development Programme.

Utilizing E4I’s deep research into the local energy sector in Africa, we were able to create interactive webinars monthly for both mentors and entrepreneurs to share and learn. These insights from local experts were key to help both Miller Center team members and mentors learn how to support the entrepreneurs even better. 

We’ve included our 3 biggest takeaways below:

1) Microgrid Developers are doing a lot

Microgrid business models are some of the most complex that many of our executive mentors have seen. Part of the reason is that the off-grid microgrid sector is nascent and developers must provide many discrete and varied services for which reliable contractors do not yet exist: site selection and assessment of electricity demand, engineering and procurement, operational management, and productive use promotion, including upselling productive load equipment like cold storage, refrigeration and other appliances.

Furthermore, many of the developers are also selling commercial solar or creating new business lines dependent on their microgrid such as purifying water, ice making in fishing communities, agricultural processing, etc.

Mercy Rose, Senior Business Analyst at E4I, shared, “the market is very young so people are still trying to figure out what works– [selling] solar home systems [for example] is more stable so that is their safety net as they explore the microgrid world.” 

As the sector grows more niche, organizations may enter the market to provide the services like productive equipment or project management software that support microgrids. 

2) Investment is essential  

Microgrid enterprises begin serving their customers only after installing a significant amount of equipment. Due to the cost of this equipment and the time spent acquiring customers, we found that most of our teams needed to focus on creating a strong financial model. 

Unlike other social enterprises that can subsist in their early years with relatively small amounts of incremental funding, a microgrid enterprise needs substantial capital to launch their first microgrid. And then to grow beyond their first 1-3 microgrids, such enterprises often require $1,000,000+ of capital. While it makes sense that creating infrastructure requires significantly more capital than other social enterprises, this is a significant hurdle for microgrid entrepreneurs. This is compounded by the fact that it takes quite some time to recover costs, especially for entrepreneurs with 1-2 microgrids.

Given the size of investment needs and the risk to set up dozens of microgrids, it became clear that it’s challenging to find the right type of funding for the stage of this sector and these enterprises. Organizations do not want to dilute themselves by giving away too much equity at this early stage, yet debt funding is hard to find for these entrepreneurs.

These findings are mirrored in two different reports that E4I created and shared with our cohort, including:

  • Financial and Operational Bundling Strategies for Sustainable Micro-Grid Business Models - Published in partnership with NREL, this report looks at the various financial bundling methods that micro-grids could employ to achieve sustainable business models. This is particularly interesting since it highlights possible financing options for various micro-grid business structures as well as various stages of project development. 

  • Strategic Investments in Off-grid Energy Access - The second report, published in partnership with Wood Mackenzie, looks at the various trends in strategic financing for off-grid energy companies, including financing models and types of investors. It’s interesting to see certain investors who have traditionally not engaged in this space taking interest in the off-grid energy markets. 

How can we create staggered investments in this sector that allow organizations to find and deploy grant funding to create infrastructure, then take on equity funding as they scale?

3)   Scaling fast vs scaling slow – old rules don’t apply

These microgrid developers were also focused on scaling up very fast, going from pilot systems to raising funding for dozens of microgrids. Through a webinar with E4I, we were able to discuss and learn some of the reasons why this trend toward scaling as quickly as possible is happening, including:

  • Governments, both locally and development organizations like USAID, launch for tenders that request companies supply multiple villages or electrification need for public services such as health clinics and schools.  

  • Investors want to see positive return on investments which isn’t possible with one project/site. Therefore, developers must take into consideration a portfolio of microgrids to provide sufficient return on investment. 

  • Economies of scale functions is important. How you procure materials, contract out sites, organize staff, etc provide improved margins and return on investment. 

E4I shared tips for de-risking this fast scaling including assessing the sites in-person in advance of commitment, ensuring your organizational structure includes a local team to keep local travel and other logistics costs down, and most importantly, hiring engineering procurement and construction contractors who can do construction and the commissioning and help start operations.

These learnings will be utilized to develop even more aligned content for both Miller Center and E4I to share and help support entrepreneurs and the energy access ecosystem as a whole. Check out more insights from Miller Center’s Replication and Scaling Initiative in our newest report linked here.

About the Authors

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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.

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

Mercy Leta Rose from Energy 4 Impact

Be It Women In Tech Or Women In Social Sector, The Call For Change Is Same

Be It Women In Tech Or Women In Social Sector, The Call For Change Is Same

With my background in tech journalism and recent experience of working with Miller Center, where I lead our women-led affinity group that has 25 women running their social enterprises, I had a chance to reflect on the issues, problems, and opportunities of both sectors.

Last month, I attended The Next Web Conference in Amsterdam and represented Miller Center For Social Entrepreneurship at their The Next Women track. The conference brought together 12,500 attendees and 3,500 companies from all over the world. For me, it was a delightful experience to meet and greet women from the tech sector, women social entrepreneurs who are using tech to solve social issues, and other stakeholders who all share the vision to make this world a better place to live.

The conference also hosted 2019 Chivas Venture – a social startup competition that gives away $1m in no-strings-attached funding to businesses who blend profit with purpose to have a positive impact on the world. From 20 global finalists, Mexico’s Xilinat walked away with the largest amount of funding, receiving $310,000, following a live pitch at the conference.

Xilinat is on a mission to convert agricultural waste into a natural sugar substitute that looks and tastes like normal sugar yet is low in calories; helping tackle obesity while providing a sustainable alternative for diabetics and the health-conscious. 

During multiple discussions with social entrepreneurs who pitched at the conference, investors and general attendees, I curated some high-level conclusions of the problems and issues after that conference. 

Women Representation in Social Sector is Far Better

The serious underrepresentation of women in the tech industry is always in the news. All big companies in Silicon Valley are fighting for it but the stats are much better for the social sector. The social enterprise or non-profit model has women representation in ever-greater numbers: 38 percent of social ventures are now led by women, while there are more than twice as many men than women in conventional business. In other news quoted by Independent, More than 90 percent of companies that are tackling social problems have at least one woman on their leadership team, as opposed to almost half of small or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that have all-male directors. 

The numbers are not surprising, though. Due to their compassionate and empathetic nature, women tend to start a business that is close to their heart, have more passion involved and/or tackle any global or local issues of their country or community. These traits are certainly not gender-specific but they create a pattern. 

By leveraging women representation in the social sector, we can also fix the gender gap in the tech industry. More technological solutions to solve the world’s problems is just one way to do it.

Access to Capital

As per Kauffman Research, women entrepreneurs face three challenges for their firms: a lack of mentors, their view of success and failure, and a financing gap. Access to capital in both sectors is an issue. It’s not just in the United States— last year, in Europe, 93% of technology investments went to all-male founding teams. On the other hand, despite the fact that women tend to run more social enterprises with a non-profit model as compared to men, a significant issue has been overlooked – namely, investment in women-led social enterprises. According to studies, 45% of women entrepreneurs report access to capital as one of the major barriers to sustaining an enterprise, compared with 36% of men.

Over the years, impact investors and gender-lens investors emerged as strong beneficiaries to help women entrepreneurs raise the capital but the gap is still too big in both sectors.

Access to Mentors and Role Models

While having a candid discussion with representatives of Startup Genome who released their Global Startup Ecosystem Report based on primary and secondary data from over 10,000 founders and more than one million companies across over 150 cities worldwide, we discussed the barriers on why women representation is still a question mark in many countries and sector. 

One of the highlights of the discussion was the inaccessibility of mentors and role models in respective industries. You don’t become what you don’t see. In the United States, only 43 percent of managers are women and less than 19 percent of corporate board members are women. The mentorship comes from someone who has been through the journey and the leadership gap is one of the main barriers for women entrepreneurs to access mentorship and role models.

Having men mentors in your entrepreneurial journey is not wrong but having role models and mentors who have been through the same journey, helps them get acclimated and gives a feeling of being connected on a level where they can bat around strategies and also get some counsel on their personal and professional goals.


This issue takes us back to where we all started gaining knowledge about things, i.e, childhood. As a kid, girls have always been pinkified with the gifts that sometimes only include dolls, dollhouses, make-up products, cutlery sets and what not. Whereas, the gifts boys get are toy cars, hoverboards, and gadgets. Psychologically, men are pushed from an early stage to ‘be a man’ and take risks whereas girls are taught to ‘act like a girl’ and be more submissive.

All these psychological conditioning have impacted the way we see entrepreneurship trends these days where self-confidence is a major issue faced by women entrepreneurs. Women founders see themselves less capable of running a company and hold themselves off many times. Whereas, Men tend to grab more risk-oriented business opportunities, are more likely to start a business with profits in mind, and have higher expectations for their business in terms of money, size, and rate of growth. Thinking big and embracing risk is more common among male entrepreneurs.

Social entrepreneurship still has a better rate of women entrepreneurs gaining momentum as compared to the tech industry because women often launch their businesses to gain growth instead of wealth. Women social entrepreneurs prefer lower risk opportunities, smaller returns with better impact, and a more localized customer base.


The more I talk to entrepreneurs (men and women) from both sectors about the issue of gender equality and bias, the more I stand firm on the point that it is an issue regardless of which sector you work in. The call for change in both sectors is the same hence the collaboration between them is necessary. In some countries, women entrepreneurs are only mentored but not funded. In some parts of the world, access to funding and funding itself is nowhere to be found.

If we increase the share of women representation in leadership positions in both sectors, make funding accessible and easy, create a strong pipeline for mentors access and last but not the least, make our girls bold, brave and risk taker from an early age, we will see tangible rewards that will benefit not just women but the entire society.

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.

5 Lessons on Building Social Enterprises in the Philippines

5 Lessons on Building Social Enterprises in the Philippines

Social entrepreneurship is gaining ground in the Philippines. According to one estimate, social enterprises already benefit 4.7 million people per year. I’ve been working to develop programs that support social entrepreneurship in the Philippines for about fifteen months now. It’s been an amazing journey so far learning about the economy, people, and culture. As I continue my work with our partner, the University of San Carlos, and we prepare to launch our second iteration of these programs, it seems like the right time to reflect on what I’ve learned so far. 

Here are my 5 lessons on supporting social entrepreneurship in the Philippines:

1. Island geography matters. The Philippine archipelago is comprised of 7,600 islands. Among those only 2,000 are inhabitable, but that is still a huge number. The island geography reinforces strong local communities and regional identities, with social entrepreneurs targeting familiar local problems. Living in these communities, entrepreneurs are well-equipped to understand and create solutions to address local challenges. On the other hand, entrepreneurs deeply embedded in local communities may face challenges thinking about and preparing for scale, which is necessary to increase their impact. The unique geography also lends itself to agriculture, fishing, tourism, and natural disasters (among other things), that suggest unmistakable opportunities for those looking to make a positive impact.

2. Social entrepreneurs need to think bigger.  There is no shortage of talent, ideas, or passion to improve people’s lives in the Philippines. Everywhere I’ve been, entrepreneurs are there, tackling important and challenging problems. What’s harder to find are those who are willing to think big. There’s no Silicon Valley ethos within the Philippine’s (yet), so big ideas and risk taking aren’t typical features of the culture. Though that is definitely changing. More higher education institutions are instilling entrepreneurial thinking in students, more accelerators are supporting startups, the economy is growing at over 6% per year, and younger socially-minded entrepreneurs are realizing the opportunity to reach beyond their local communities.

3. Most social enterprises are not “investment ready.” This isn’t unique to the Philippines. Practically every entrepreneur I’ve worked with insists they need funding, and many do. Yet most aren’t prepared to receive funding. What’s needed? A realistic growth plan, a financial forecast, an understanding of the types of capital and best uses for each type, an understanding of what returns an investor expects and the ability to articulate what returns your investors will receive, and clarity about how the capital will be used. At Miller Center we refer to this as the “Justifiable Ask,” and developing one is a critical step before raising capital. Even with a compelling justifiable ask, many social enterprises are just too small to effectively absorb the available capital, which currently trends toward larger deal sizes.

4. Impact investors don’t (yet) support early-stage social enterprises. There is so much hype around impact investing that you’d expect investors to be pouring capital into the ecosystem to support fledgling social enterprises. That’s not exactly the reality. While large amounts of investment capital are flowing into the Philippines, the vast majority of it comes from Development Finance Institutions (DFIs) and is focused on large-scale microfinance, infrastructure, and energy projects -with average deal sizes over $50 million (see the Landscape for Impact Investing in Southeast Asia report). Private impact investors deployed $107 million over 54 deals between 2010-2017, with a trend toward larger ticket sizes. This has left a gap in funding, often referred to as “the missing middle.” More local angel investors and philanthropic organizations are needed to provide risk-tolerant grants and capital in deal sizes ranging from $50,000 and $500,000.


5. We need more local champions.  The promise of social enterprises across the Philippines can be seen in the stories of Hapinoy, Rags2Riches, Fishers and Changemakers, Regenesys BPO, Gawad Kalinga, ANTHILL, Coffee for Peace, Bagosphere, Human Nature, and Mad Travel (four of which are GSBI alumni). These pioneering enterprises are visible examples of what is possible, and they are an inspiration for the next generation of entrepreneurs. But we need more of them. We need more local success stories which become the aspirational role models for budding entrepreneurs and build buzz and confidence among investors.

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Social enterprises in the Philippines are growing, and a supportive ecosystem is developing to help fledgling social enterprises thrive. It’s amazing to be part of it.  If you are a part of this community of entrepreneurs, investors, mentors, NGOs, and educators -or would like to join it- please contact me. We can get farther, faster together. 

Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship and the University of San Carlos in Cebu are launching the next GSBI accelerator programs in September 2019. Find out more about the upcoming USC GSBI accelerator or apply now.

About the Author


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



Editor’s note: This post is the final part of a three-part blog series from the author. Read part one here: Learning to Use my Voice for Good, and part two here: Reflection from Time in Rwanda

I can recall looking at the fellowship program and feeling drawn towards the chance to make a social impact. I desperately wanted to go into a cross-cultural context and do meaningful work. Despite this desire, I hesitated when it came time to apply. I told myself it was going to be too rigorous, too challenging, and that social entrepreneurship didn’t align with my future goals. Now I see I was full of doubt not in the program but in myself. My deficiency of self-worth and value was something that I hid very well. I masked my suspicion with a layer of false confidence and a smile. I essentially faked it till I made it and I am so glad I did because being awarded the fellowship was the most significant gift I could have received.


My junior year after I came back from abroad I felt a loss of community. Looking around I struggled to find others who related to me, and there was even a sense of feeling isolated in the Santa Clara bubble. Before going into the field, it became a concern of mine that I would feel alone in a new environment too. Even though I was going with a team, it was hard to picture the dynamic that would take place once we were in Rwanda. My fears disappeared immediately upon arrival in Rwanda. I was taken aback by the amount of hospitality we received from the moment we stepped foot in the country. Fr. Innocent who was one of the people running PICO Rwanda and a Jesuit Priest residing at Center Cristus took us under his wing. Many things were different from what we were used to in the United States such as the warmer climate, beautiful yet soft-spoken people, and roads with moto drivers shouting for passengers to get on the back. Fr. Innocent acted as our guide helping us assimilate to all the sensations around. He was so easy to talk to and I found myself settling in the culture very fast.

PASTOR JOHN R. AND I   Pastor John R. brought PICO to Rwanda. His presence at the workshops lifted peoples spirits.


Pastor John R. brought PICO to Rwanda. His presence at the workshops lifted peoples spirits.

SUNSET AT CENTRE CHRISTUS   The beauty captured here is just a glimpse at the heart and soul of the place I called home for seven weeks.


The beauty captured here is just a glimpse at the heart and soul of the place I called home for seven weeks.

FR. INNOCENT   Fr. Innocent worked tirelessly to make all of us feel comfortable and welcomed in Rwanda.


Fr. Innocent worked tirelessly to make all of us feel comfortable and welcomed in Rwanda.

The staff at Centre Christus ended up bringing a smile to my face every day and night. It became a ritual of mine to go into the kitchen to say hi to the staff. Although I didn’t know much Kirwanda, the little phrases I managed to memorize led to an uproar of laughter from every Rwandan in the room. In return, they gave me hugs before I went to bed. The simple acts of kindness from them were mighty and demonstrated that relationships transcend beyond just verbal language. The mutual ability to emote and show an understanding of love and respect was so strong that it created a sense of community. To be so far away from home yet feel so comfortable with the people around was an incredible realization. Despite the different backgrounds Centre Christus fostered a home-like atmosphere to build impactful relationships and learn. People from all walks of life would gather together to listen, share, discuss, and unwind. It indeed was never a dull day in Rwanda.

When discerning my vocation I can’t ignore the pull I feel to go back to East Africa. Not only is it where I originate from, but it is the place where I feel most like myself. Before I go to grad school for social work, it is a goal of mine to work in Uganda or Rwanda for a year or two to gain professional experience in community development and further explore my love for social justice.


Before the fellowship, I was recovering from a traumatic event. I couldn’t understand why people believed in me because I didn’t see my own value. Being selected as a fellow, I was ecstatic. I thought to myself FINALLY because growing up I had little to no mentors. My teachers in my suburban predominately white town didn’t see a future for a black girl and didn’t care to help me. The Miller Center, in contrast, saw that I was intelligent and had skills to offer in Social Entrepreneurship. For the first time, I wasn’t the only one believing in myself (which at times it got exhausting).

The spring before our departure I felt as if I was about to embark on something great but at the middle marker of our time in the field self-doubt crept in. My teammates were all set on what they needed and were supposed to do. To speed production along, we decided to handover the interviewing role to the translators and the Social Enterprise Interns that accompanied us fellows into the field appeared to have everything under control. As a project manager, I should have been happy about everything running so smoothly, but on the contrary, I experienced some confusion. If I was nonessential for the videography aspect of the project and the training wheels I acted as in preparation for the workshops were ready to come off then what was my role? I tried to remind myself that my team's success was a reflection of my project management but I still couldn’t shake off the feeling of purposelessness.

INTERVIEWING IN THE FIELD   Before I stopped doing the interviews I really enjoyed getting to ask people questions and learn more about their stories. I was sad to not do them anymore but it ended up being best for the team. One of our translators Kiki (pictured above) took over and she was incredible.


Before I stopped doing the interviews I really enjoyed getting to ask people questions and learn more about their stories. I was sad to not do them anymore but it ended up being best for the team. One of our translators Kiki (pictured above) took over and she was incredible.

FINDING JOY THROUGH DELEGATION   As a project manager I became more comfortable delegating tasks to my team.I learned to adapt and embrace the different elements being thrown in our way.I enjoyed the pressure that came with my role and as time went on I grew to become a strong leader.


As a project manager I became more comfortable delegating tasks to my team.I learned to adapt and embrace the different elements being thrown in our way.I enjoyed the pressure that came with my role and as time went on I grew to become a strong leader.

I remember sitting eating dinner feeling still a little sad when a problem arose. There was an issue of communication between PICO Rwanda and the Miller Center which lead me to spring into action, conversing back and forth between the two organizations. PICO Rwanda wanted to show us a coffee factory, and our team needed to focus on our deliverable to make sure everything was in place for the workshops in one week. I was challenged to make sure everyone was comfortable, understood, and walked out with at least something that they wanted.

I remember how exhilarating it was to come up with a solution on the spot and act quickly to keep the conflict from escalating. As a mediator, representative of my team, and spokesperson on behalf of the program I had to balance the complexity of the different parties emotions. For many, that sounds like a situation from hell, but to me, I was in pure bliss. Not only was I managing this communication mishap, but I was confident that my interventions would result in a good outcome for all.

The sense of empowerment I got after the crisis was averted was a feeling I desperately needed. I was overcome with a sense relief knowing that my talent was needed at that moment. When other situations appeared after I leaped at the opportunity to support my team and contribute to the project by effectively communicating with others and solving problems that emerged. Reflecting on this memory, I have now gained a new style of confidence and spirit stemming from self-empowering times in the field. Recounting stories like these from Rwanda additionally leads me to honestly believe in myself and the gifts I have to offer.

When looking at what I want to do in the future, I want to have that feeling of empowerment, confidence, and some pressure to overcome a barrier because that is when I feel the most alive/the most excited. Talking to people and helping everyone feel understood is something that matters a lot to me. I can't think of a better possible way to help others then through communication and empathy.


I use a lot of “I” statements and throughout this essay have been talking mostly about me, but from my time in the fellowship and toward the end of my time in the field I learned the power of “We.” The most important thing I learned that will forever shape my actions is that sustainable growth and community development does not happen alone. To create change their needs to be collectivism. I saw this throughout my time in Rwanda, working with the villages and seeing the fantastic work they accomplished by coming together as a team. This spirit of collectivism I witnessed, in turn, impacted my last interactions with my group comprised of three fellows and three social enterprise interns.

Group dynamics are tricky, and ambiguity makes it even harder. For our team the biggest struggle was communication. I remember the glue keeping us all together was slipping towards the end of the seven weeks. It was the day before our last visit into the field, and everyone was upset sick, and annoyed by each other. During our time in Rwanda, we had all hit breaking points where we felt like we weren’t being listened to and justified our actions without consulting others. By the end, our frustration turned into exhaustion, and we collectively decided to convene for some resolution. We realized that we only work well when we were on the same page. After recognizing that all of our feelings were important, we needed to forgive each other and learn from the situation. Our team was quick to bounce back and we went into the field the next day stronger than ever. We came in with a plan, directly talked to one another, and most importantly validated each other's feelings. The visit to the last village proved to be our most successful. I now perceive the altercations that happened among my team and our ability to solve them as a strength of ours because at the end of the day we were able to set aside our intentions to make a difference in something far more significant than us.

PICO RWANDA FELLOWS   I got close to the other two fellows (Jenny and Neil) who traveled with me. We had many adventure that I will remember for a long time.


I got close to the other two fellows (Jenny and Neil) who traveled with me. We had many adventure that I will remember for a long time.

PICO RWANDA WORKSHOP TEAM   The workshop team and I learned to come together as a team to successfully deliver workshops to urban women in Kigali


The workshop team and I learned to come together as a team to successfully deliver workshops to urban women in Kigali

I believe that as humans were naturally inclined to think about our own needs first. From my time in Rwanda to now, I have developed a new perspective. I can step back and question what good is glory when you're alone and have no one to share in the success? I am much more willing now and honestly, would prefer to overcome obstacles with a strong diverse and multidisciplinary group. In the past nine months, I had a lot of powerful transformations, but they would be nothing and mean nothing without my team.


What’s next?


The fundamental values of social entrepreneurship that I have obtained from my fellowship experience are something I have decided I want to continue practicing in my future vocation. I have always dreamed of entering the vast field of social work and my time in Rwanda helped establish a better picture of what that could entail. My passions in social work lie in social change and innovation. I want to help strengthen and organize communities whether that is working for a particular agency or being an advocate for marginalized groups. I think by intersecting social work and social entrepreneurship it can lead to a beautiful thing that not only can improve lives, but save lives.

About the author


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

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

Reflection from Time in Rwanda

Reflection from Time in Rwanda

Editor’s note: This post is part two of a three-part blog series from the author. Read part one here: Learning to Use my Voice for Good.

Close your eyes and picture the United States government requiring everyone to do community service once a month. What does your state look like? How connected is your community? It seems too good to be true right? In Rwanda, this is the reality and is one of the reasons the country has grown and developed significantly since the genocide. For Rwandans, the first Saturday of every month is called Umuganda day, and on this day, the government makes it mandatory for everyone to participate in a day of service. 

My experience with Umuganda day began at the crack of dawn as my team, and I journeyed three hours out to Nyange, a village where previously visited the week before.  When we last reached out to Nyange, the community members explained to us that they were going to be expanding a small narrow path that they use to retrieve the clay for their bricks and tiles. Since this clay located at the bottom of a hill posed a difficult challenge for the villagers, they hoped that by expanding the path and building a road it would create more efficiency. When we arrived, the whole community was already out working on expanding the route, but some still came to greet us from the roadside. They were covered in dirt, making the whites of their teeth stand out with their big smiles. I felt instantly comforted by their warm welcome. The women advised me to cover my recently braided hair from the dirt like they had, shielding the dust and grime with a kitenge headwrap. I was amazed I had only been in this community for less then 10 minutes, and they were looking out for me as if I was one of their own. I wasn’t used to this hospitality, and I found it interesting that despite all the cultural barriers between myself and these women, there was still a strong feeling of support.

I can recall staring at the men and women and noticing how frail and light they looked compared to the pickaxes they were holding to dig up the earth. This perception of them being weak though was quickly squashed by a blind man named John. During Umuganda day, he came up to me and grabbed my hand. I couldn't understand what he was saying, but I went off with him, and everyone followed behind. We came to a halt right at the place we were going to dig. I wondered how he had decided that this was the right place to dig. I looked down at the ground and noticed his bare feet wiggling in the burnt auburn looking soil. We were both handed hoes, and as I tried to lift mine, he had already swung ten strikes into the dense clay. He was a machine. They all were, and they all worked in sync. They were far from being weak and nimble. Within less than half the day, they cleared a significant portion of the trail and surpassed their goal. Nyange villagers individually might be small, but collectively, I realized they are extremely determined people who will power through and work in unison to achieve their goals. 

What I learned that day was the importance and emphasis of collectivism. For me, although I love my community, I am constantly battling my society’s individualistic tendencies. In the United States and especially Silicon Valley, everything centers around getting ahead. We are so focused on our success that other things, such as community growth and development, get pushed to the back burner. There is nothing wrong with wanting to reach personal achievements, but it comes at a cost. Individualism creates isolation, a lack of community, and ignorance towards the problems of others. Nyange recognizes that other people's problems affect them too. If it's hard to bring up clay for one person, it affects someone who needs bricks to build a house. With the collectivism, I experienced how nice it was to have other people looking out for you (ex. the women worried about my hair). This support takes some stress and pressure away from the individual, and I genuinely believe it makes for a happier environment. Therefore, working more as a community is so important because we are only as strong as the people around us. 


In Mumeya, the oldest Pico Community, we saw how strong the community had become. They worked together as a community to help themselves. A woman named Speciosa shared with us a story of how they identified a critical problem in their village. Mumeya desperately needed a clinic because too many pregnant mothers were dying due to a lack of proper health care. One Orhan baby named Pico tragically came into Speciosas life because the baby’s mother died in labor. Something avoidable had the nearest clinic not been miles away. When Speciosa adopted Pico she realized that too many friends of hers have passed away from delivering a child. Speciosa, together with her community, made an action plan to build a running clinic. 

We got to see this clinic when we visited Mumeya and were impressed. It was fully functioning and offered an amenity of services. When Speciosa spoke of the clinic and baby Pico there was some sadness recalling all the people who lost their lives before, but also pride because she and her community accomplished something together. I wasn’t surprised to hear that on top of her being president of her cooperative, she is a veterinarian and is also trying to install a program in her village to educate youth about teenage pregnancy. What did surprise me was to hear that she used to be extremely timid before PICO. Upon hearing this, I realized that transformations are possible and that even when you reach a level of success like becoming a president that shouldn’t be a reason to stop and slow down. 

As amazing as Speciosa is, many people I’ve told about her assume she is an anomaly, and that’s a mistake. Many other women are doing incredibly impactful work transforming their communities. When talking about these people making a change, I have been asked, “Who helped them to do that?” inferring that their work would not be possible without help from outside. When I explain that they did it all on their own, their reaction is as if I told them pigs could fly. I always have had to explain to people since I’ve been back from the field that I didn’t sleep in a tent and people there aren’t all living in huts. Being half Ugandan, it sometimes feels like people are labeling half of who I am with false depictions of Africa.


Reflecting on the workshops we did, I think about how some people who attended barely had completed primary school. The workshops became a fun and exciting environment for them to learn and explore in. For me, the workshops became a place to realize my privilege. I am very fortunate to have received the education I have today, but I still wake up sometimes and don’t want to go to class. I even indulge in complaining about the workload I have, and I still think about just quitting. I didn’t realize the influence I can have because of my privilege until I was standing in front of a classroom and being perceived as a teacher, even though I was younger than most of the room. Toward the end of the workshop, I remember receiving praise for coming to Rwanda to teach and couldn’t understand why I should be receiving that praise. I questioned if I deserved it. It wasn’t until one of my post-workshop evaluation interviews that I realized that they were praising me because they felt fortunate to have been allowed to learn.  I remember visiting Nymatta, a village where many participants in the workshops resided. We visited them after the workshops to figure out what they thought of them. 

When we arrived, I walked into the church where they hold their cooperatives meeting, and upon my first footstep, my ears flooded with the noises of an electric piano playing an African beat. The people of Nyamata were waiting for us and sprung up to their feet. They clapped their hands, and the drumming began. I knew what I had to do. I put down my bag and started swinging with a woman who was singing a melody. She had a soft yet powerful voice, and it was ever so welcoming. Midway through the dance as beads of sweat started to form on my forehead, I realized how much energy these men and women have. All of whom could have probably danced for three more hours if it wasn’t for the group interview.

As my Co-Researcher was listening to them speak, I noticed her nodding and smiling. She whispered to me, “I think this is one of the best interviews we have done.” Now I know she was right because Nyamattas energy and desire to learn set them apart from the rest. It was one of their first workshops, and it meant more to them than I even realized. For the other older cooperatives who had had other workshops before this was exciting but not wholly new. For Nyamatta, the workshops to them represented so much more than just acquiring more knowledge. It meant finally recieving  a chance. Pastor John always said, think about what Nyamatta could do if they put all their energy into a project of building their community. The workshops allowed them to see what he meant. One man said with glee that he’s going to save money and work with others to help his community. 

“I am thankful to PICO Rwanda and all the people involved in making these workshops possible you help ignite the confidence within us. You gave us a chance to meet up altogether, and you helped us meet with entrepreneurs like from the bank of Africa and people from the Bank of Africa. When they came, they explained to us what they do and how they do it, so I decided right after the workshops that I was going to open a bank account… I think my mind is opened. I am now starting to see that my future is going to get better. I think I am going to work hard and work with entrepreneurs/investors”.

It is with that energy he had along with the boost of confidence the workshops ignited within him that helped him develop the drive to take action. I then realized education has the power to instill confidence into students. The way I viewed education before was just something that you do. You complete grade school, then go to college, and because of these previous notions, I took for granted what school has done for me. Now I see that it has impacted me more than I think. Just like the man from Nymatta, my education has given me confidence and a drive to take action to make impactful change. 


About the Author


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

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

Engaging Men in the Conversation of Women's Empowerment

Engaging Men in the Conversation of Women's Empowerment

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

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

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

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

The ladder towards women empowerment

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

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

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

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

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

‘If’, ‘how’ and ‘when’ Dichotomy

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

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

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

Men as an Ally of Women EmpowermenT

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

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

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

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

The Way Forward

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


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

GSBI Alumni Identify Key Trends in Distribution and Energy Access

GSBI Alumni Identify Key Trends in Distribution and Energy Access


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

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

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

About the Authors

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

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

Eight Fellows Heading Off to Graduate School!

Eight Fellows Heading Off to Graduate School!

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

- Keith Warner OFM

Lindsey Allen

GSBF 2015 with Solar Sister

Action Research Portfolio

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

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

Madeline Nguyen

GSBF 2016 with lluméxico

Action Research Portfolio

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

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

David Hong

GSBF 2016 with Asdenic

Action Research Portfolio

Rush Medical College, Doctor of Medicine Program, MD

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

Grace Krueger

GSBF 2017 with Nurture Africa

Action Research Portfolio

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

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

Athena Nguyen 

GSBF 2017 with Koe Koe Tech

Action Research Portfolio

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

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

Brooke Latham 

GSBF 2015 with Bana 

Action Research Portfolio

ESADE, Master of Business Administration Program

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

Christina Egwim

GSBF 2016 with Bana

Action Research Portfolio

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

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

Esther Bartlett

GSBF 2018 with Koe Koe Tech 

Action Research Portfolio

California Northstate University, College of Medicine, Doctor of Medicine

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

About the author

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

Peter O'Riordan Executive Fellow / Energy Access Blog

Peter O'Riordan Executive Fellow / Energy Access Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

PAYGO solar panel from Angaza.

PAYGO solar panel from Angaza.

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

Interested in becoming a mentor with Miler Center?

Learn more about mentorship and apply.

About the Author


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