Last week, a dozen executives and mentors accompanied Miller Center to visit GSBI® alumni social enterprises in Rwanda and Uganda. The impact models of the social enterprises vary widely, including dignified livelihoods for rural women artisans, safe drinking water, asset-back financing for boda-boda drivers, infrastructure for education, clean energy solutions, and smallholder farmer cooperatives. A common theme that emerged, however, is the need for individual relationships to create positive change, whether at the level of the community, nation, region, or globally.

In her prelude to next month’s Skoll World Forum in Oxford, Sally Osberg shares her personal passion for the power of proximity during a difficult period for democracy. In parallel, Sally’s leadership of Skoll Foundation has catalyzed large-scale change through social entrepreneurship. The resonance of Sally’s reflections with our experiences visiting social enterprises is striking. Powerfully proximal to the problems of poverty are the social enterprises themselves. Common elements of their success include personal relationships, cooperatives, and community context.

 All Across Africa’s annual meeting of women’s cooperatives: over 1,800 artisans came together to celebrate escape from poverty and hope for Rwanda’s future.

All Across Africa’s annual meeting of women’s cooperatives: over 1,800 artisans came together to celebrate escape from poverty and hope for Rwanda’s future.

All Across Africa creates jobs for artisan women by providing access to markets, building the economies of their communities.

 Miller Center executive immersion trip participants at Jibu’s headquarters in Kigali with Rwanda country manager Nathan Dowling.

Miller Center executive immersion trip participants at Jibu’s headquarters in Kigali with Rwanda country manager Nathan Dowling.

Jibu franchisees leverage relationships to build profitable businesses that provide radically affordable safe drinking water to their communities, improving health and economic productivity.

PICO-Rwanda employs a “one to one” relationship model that identifies the most pressing problems of poverty in communities followed by an authentic democratic process to decide which needs to address first.

Tugende offers financial inclusion so that boda-boda drivers can escape the poverty trap through asset ownership. It accompanies its customers through the repayment process, building relationships of trust. It has already financed nearly 9,000 motorcycles and created 4,000 owners.

 CEO Joseph Nkandu explains how NUCAFE’s model enables farmers in the cooperatives to own their coffee all the way to the cup.

CEO Joseph Nkandu explains how NUCAFE’s model enables farmers in the cooperatives to own their coffee all the way to the cup.

NUCAFE catalyzes collectives of coffee farmers and helps them realize the value of their work throughout the value chain from tree to cup. Some 200 cooperatives engage over a million smallholder farmers, providing each a passport out of poverty through 30% increases in price per kilogram of coffee.

Village Energy trains women and youth to service solar systems, driving adoption of sustainable energy in rural Uganda and reducing the carbon footprint of SMEs in Kampala.

Building Tomorrow has constructed 62 primary schools in rural Uganda, engaging communities in building facilities for their children to learn, architecting a foundation of hope for the future of Uganda.

On the large-scale change side of the double helix, Miller Center has worked with 820 social enterprises in 65 countries. The heart of our GSBI accelerator programs is authentic accompaniment. Trusted advisor relationships emerge from proximity of social entrepreneurs and their mentors, fostered through meaningful communication over six to nine months, with informal mentoring often continuing for years.

Through many forms of impact, the social enterprises we’ve accompanied have collectively improved the lives of over 259 million people living in poverty. The global scale of their impact inspires and motivates all of us associated with Miller Center to ask what more we can do to help them scale their impact as they architect change in communities around the world. That was the impetus for our immersion trip, a journey of hope in troubled times.

 On International Women’s Day, children and teachers from a school in Sentigi, Uganda greet participants on the immersion trip with Miller Center.

On International Women’s Day, children and teachers from a school in Sentigi, Uganda greet participants on the immersion trip with Miller Center.