Social enterprise workshop participants

Social enterprise workshop participants

Over the past nine months, Miller Center has conducted experiments to test the feasibility of adapting and applying our GSBI® methodology to these ministries, and results are quite promising. This month, in Nairobi, Kenya, Pamela Roussos, Thane Kreiner, and I presented two workshops to Jesuits and Catholic Sisters. Both of these African networks have asked us to accompany them as they transform their social ministries into social enterprises.

Catholic social ministries worldwide are aware that the funding landscape has shifted dramatically over the past generation. Traditional Catholic funding sources are fading, and being replaced by impact philanthropy, which expects innovative approaches to service delivery and enhanced accountability for their impact. Social ministries face threats from declining income, but are pursuing opportunities to develop more robust business and impact models. For Catholic social ministries seeking transformation into social enterprises, the GSBI methodology provides a structured curriculum and customized mentoring draw on 15 years of practical experience with a thousand social enterprises. Our acceleration services are practical, draw lessons from hundreds of successful social enterprises, and share with Catholic social ministries the vision for sustainable development as articulated by Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’. We call this initiative the Catholic Action for Social Entrepreneurship.

Sisters in social entrepreneurship

Miller Center has prioritized women’s economic empowerment as a strategic focus for five years, accelerating women-led and women-serving social enterprises. Still, we have rarely been able to recruit groups of entrepreneurs that are majority women. So imagine our response when we are approached by a network representing only women: Catholic Sisters. As Thane explained in a prior blog, ACWECA (Association of Consecrated Women in East and Central Africa) is network of some 30,000 Sisters organized into some 300 congregations, and this association requested a partnership with Miller Center.

Keith Warner OFM and Sisters

Keith Warner OFM and Sisters

The missions of these congregations are compelling. Many of them were founded to educate girls. Others organize their ministries to serve some of Africa’s poorest women. A number of Sisters engage in farming themselves, and work with local subsistence farmers to increase their income and resilience in the face of climate disruption. ACWECA recruited 11 congregations from 6 African countries to participate in the Sisters Blended Value project, and the workshop in Nairobi March 3-7. I had met a majority of these Sisters when I took them on the road to visit our social enterprises in January. This project would help the Sisters design their own social enterprise initiatives, consistent with their congregational missions, creating opportunities for their poor neighbors and earned income for the Sisters.

Each congregation was represented by three Sisters, and in the workshop, these Sisters developed a business plan for a social enterprise initiative to be sponsored by their respective congregation. The Sisters Blended Value project kickoff workshop drew extensively from our GSBI Boost curriculum for early stage enterprises, and so the Sisters developed skills used by early stage entrepreneurs. They designed value chains, segmented their target markets, wrote value propositions, and engaged in backcasting (imagining a multi-year organizational vision, and then working backwards to build toward that vision). In some cases, Sisters re-examined their expectations of merely writing up 1-page concept notes to ask for large grants.  

The lean startup methodology – designed to launch ventures in low-resource settings – will over-write historic dependence on external funders. The workshop concluded with each congregation’s team pitching to the whole group. Several congregations designed initiatives in agriculture, using chickens in partnership with GSBI alum Eggpreneur, pigs, or coffee with NUCAFE, another GSBI alum. Global Social Benefit Fellows will work with Eggpreneur and NUCAFE in 2019, and will foster collaboration between Sisters and social entrepreneurs.

Each congregational team is now charged with refining their business plan, and then presenting it to the leadership of their congregations. One great advantage of partnering with ACWECA is that its leadership understands the internal dynamics of these congregations better than we do. ACWECA’s vision for this multi-year project is to transform Sisters’ social ministries, step by step. The social enterprise initiatives are to be learning activities. ACWECA and Miller Center will accompany the Sisters as they launch them, and provide ongoing curriculum and mentoring over the rest of this year. ACWECA envisions this as a multi-year project, to position Catholic Sisters as the agents of a new form of pro-woman sustainable development.

Activating Jesuit networks

Pamela Roussos workshop

Pamela Roussos workshop

Co-sponsored with the Jesuit Justice and Ecology Network of Africa, Miller Center provided a social enterprise workshop for 18 African Jesuit social ministry centers February 26-28 in Nairobi, Kenya. This network of Jesuit social ministry centers is a project of the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar. Miller Center’s team (Pamela Roussos and your humble servant) led the participants through the process of writing a business plan for their centers to enhance their ministerial outreach and increase the financial sustainability of their organizations. 

Last year, the new director of the network, Fr. Charles Chilufya SJ, reached out to Miller Center to request a structured program of accompaniment to transform these social ministry centers into social enterprises. These 18 social ministries are spread across 13 Sub-Saharan African countries. Ten of them operate in French-speaking Africa. Four of the center directors are graduates of SCU’s Jesuit School of Theology (JST): Claude Domfang SJ of Center for Research, Education and Creativity in Benin, Jean Nyembo SJ of Center Arrupe for Research and Formation in Democratic Republic of Congo, Ismael Matambura SJ of Center Maisha also in DRC, and Innocent Rugaragu SJ of Centre Christus/People in Community Organizing - Rwanda.


These ministries were founded independently by various provinces in response to local needs, and have been generally funded by Catholic philanthropy from Europe. This funding model is coming to an end, and these centers recognize the need to network more effectively and to develop new business and social impact models to fulfill their common Jesuit mission. At this workshop, the 24 participants developed a social enterprise initiative for their centers, supported by a business plan. 

The predominant programmatic theme was the fostering of livelihoods, especially for rural and urban youth. The lack of jobs is a tremendous challenge across the continent. In addition, several of the centers foster climate resilient agriculture, such as the Jesuit Centre for Ecological Development in Malawi.


One of the social ministry centers is in fact a network of 8 programs, the African Jesuit AIDS Network (AJAM), distributed across several ministry sites in multiple countries to serve people with AIDS/HIV. AJAM was initially founded to provide medical support, but with improved medication, many of these people are living much longer, albeit with bouts of poor health. AJAM now recognizes the need to provide supportive livelihood services to respond to the socio-economic needs of people with AIDS. Another network, Jesuit Refugee Services, is also part of JENA.  

Agnieszka Winkler at Jesuit workshop in Nairobi

Agnieszka Winkler at Jesuit workshop in Nairobi

On February 27, Miller Center brought a delegation of executive mentors and friends to visit this workshop, and the executives provided feedback on the development of these business plans. In the first picture,

Winnie Wan, Pascalia Sergon, and Vedaste Nkeshimana SJ

Winnie Wan, Pascalia Sergon, and Vedaste Nkeshimana SJ

Winnie Wan (one of Miller Center’s executive mentors) is asking questions about the proposed business plans of Pascalia Sergon of AJAM and Vedaste Nkeshimana SJ (who directs Service Yezu Mwiza, an AIDS ministry in Burundi). In the second picture,

Lisa Fullam and Elphege Quenum SJ

Lisa Fullam and Elphege Quenum SJ

Elphege Quenum SJ – the director of AJAM – listens in next to Lisa Fullam, who teaches social ethics at JST. Lisa has taught classes on the ethics of responding to AIDS/HIV, and has proposed greater collaboration between Miller Center and JST to develop innovative curriculum in theology and social entrepreneurship. 

These JENA centers are in the process of reviewing their social enterprise initiatives with their local teams, and will be sharing them next month. Miller Center will continue to accompany them, while working with JENA to raise funds for further support.



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.