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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 

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

About the author

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

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

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