By Thane Kreiner, Ph.D. - Miller Center Executive Director, Howard & Alida Charney University Professor
I spent a week at the US/Mexico border in early January as part of the Ignatian Colleagues Program learning about challenges facing undocumented migrants and refugees. Though aware that I understood little about the complexity of the issues, hearing stories directly from migrants served by the Kino Border Initiative helped me realize the scope of my ignorance.
Climate change drives massive migration. Lack of water, food insecurity, an increase in weather-related disasters, and violence related to scarcity are among the factors that force people from their communities and, mostly women and children, into human bondage.
As Pope Francis notes in his encyclical Laudato Si’, “There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation.” Globally, according to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, the number of migrants has reached 258 million, an increase of nearly 50% since the turn of the millennium; an unprecedented 65.6 million people are refugees from their homes; nearly 25 million people are modern-day slaves.
We bear witness to a catastrophic convergence of political, economic, and environmental conditions that compound and amplify poverty, violence, and climate change. U.S. government policies in Latin America, for example, have catalyzed violence that makes returning home a death warrant for some Salvadorans and Guatemalans. Overwhelming scientific evidence points to greenhouse gas emissions, mostly from the developed north, as the primary cause of climate change. Policies that encourage use of high-carbon energy sources further accelerate climate change and resultant droughts, fires, and floods that affect the global poor the most.
Modern humans began migrating out of Africa, where our species originated, some 60,000 – 125,000 years ago. The reasons have remained the same for tens of thousands of years: people seeking better lives for themselves and their families, to be together. These are basic human needs that transcend borders and laws. These are the stories I heard from migrants and refugees I met in Nogales: a mother who would crawl through the desert to be with her children again; a father who would risk death so his daughter could go to college; a man who could not return to his homeland without being killed.
Miller Center is a pioneer in accelerating social enterprises, leveraging the twin strands of our DNA: our location in the heart of the world’s most entrepreneurial ecosystem and our Jesuit commitment to serve the poor and protect the planet. We have accompanied over 800 social enterprises in 65 countries that collectively have positively impacted the lives of over a quarter of a billion people living in poverty, in many different ways.
Before my experiences at the border, it was hard to imagine how the principles of social entrepreneurship could help to the most marginalized among our human family. Proximity to pressing problems of the poor and planet can broaden our imaginations.
Serendipitously, I learned of social enterprises using cutting-edge technologies like blockchain to help refugees secure assets and access them anywhere in the world, or AI to identify human trafficking incidents and intervene to free victims. I witnessed opportunities to expand humanitarian aid and advocacy through earned-income education programs that can amplify the need for policies that respect human dignity.
We are launching the Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins accelerator for two primary reasons. First, our alumni social enterprises tell us that our GSBI® accelerator programs help them achieve operational excellence and secure investments essential to scaling their impact. We seek to leverage this proven methodology to help ventures serving and led by migrants, refugees, and human trafficking survivors scale their solutions for these populations.
Second, by accompanying leaders of these social enterprises, we hope to discern what impact models, business models, and technology solutions can benefit the most vulnerable and victimized among us. While we have no illusion that the answers are simple or that we can become experts, we are committed to sharing what we learn with the broader impact investing and social enterprise ecosystems.
We invite you to join us on this journey towards social justice for the most marginalized of our common human family.