One of the highlights of Miller Center’s year is the time we are able to spend in the field with our alumni social entrepreneurs on the Executive Immersion Trip. This year, we visited Kenya and our timing aligned with the Sankalp Forum in Nairobi. Sankalp is a conference which convenes the social enterprise ecosystem and, conveniently, brought a lot of our alumni from across Africa to Nairobi. We were able to pilot Miller Center’s first ever in-country GSBI® alumni workshop with over 25 social enterprises and visit 7 enterprises in the field.
The workshop focused on four main topics: Fundraising, Strategic Planning, Sales and Marketing, and Management and Leadership. The executive immersion trip participants were GSBI mentors and Silicon Valley executives who all had tremendous experience in those areas.
The participants broke into topic-specific groups and all the workshop attendees were able to rotate through each topic and provide the trip participants with unique insights into their business models. Miller Center looks forward to providing similar workshops in the future in different regions as we continue to accompany our alumni enterprises on their journey.
In the days following the workshop, the trip participants had the opportunity to engage the realities of our alumni social entrepreneurs though visiting them in the field. One such visit was to Livelyhoods in Nairobi. After attending the morning sales meeting, we had the opportunity to team up with Livelyhoods’ sales agents as they went into an urban slum and see how they approach selling products such as fuel-efficient cook stoves and solar lanterns.
Many of the mentors who joined the trip have sales experience and experience managing sales teams and they were amazed at how effective the Livelyhoods’ sales agents were at their job.
One mentor remarked, “I can’t believe how hard the agents work just for one sale. They are trying to make the case for money to be invested into a product that will improve the lives of the customers, but oftentimes, the money is just not there. The agents are not really competing against other products, they are competing against the availability of money to purchase the products.”
After returning to the Livelyhoods office, one of the guests purchased some solar lights that he and his sales agent had been trying to sell. When he came back to the group he said, “after spending the morning trying to sell these lights, I realized how good of a product they are.”
Our time spent with Livelyhoods, and other social enterprises such at Alternative Waste Technologies and Food 4 Education, have given the team a unique opportunity to see and experience the need in these communities. We have seen different business and impact models, but like many organizations, the primary challenge is access to capital. One mentor who has a career in investing said, “it is incredible to think about the kind of impact a small amount of funding can have on these kinds of organizations which are directly serving the communities who need it the most.”
In addition to Alternative Waste Technologies and Food4Education, we had the opportunity to spend time with four other alumni social enterprises including Hewe Tele, Ojay Greene, Jacaranda Health, Vava Coffee, each providing us with a new perspective on the challenges and opportunities our alumni face in scaling their impact and their organizations. These visits helped to drive home some of the themes teased out in the earlier GSBI Alumni workshop, and by spending time with our entrepreneurs in their communities our mentors gained valuable experience and insight into the unique challenges of scaling a social enterprise.
Miller Center is starting to plan our next Executive Immersion Trip in 2020. If you are interested in learning more, please reach out to Dave Harrison at email@example.com.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
David is Miller Center’s Director of Advancement and is focused on developing resources and relationships for Miller Center. He served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uganda and as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer in the Republic of Georgia. In addition to his international development and fundraising experience, David has a background in HR and serves on the advisory board for New Creation Home in East Palo Alto. David holds an MS in Organization Development from University of San Francisco.
Alex Pan is a Senior Program Manager, GSBI at Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship. Supporting our network of over 1,000 social entrepreneurs, he is responsible for monitoring and evaluation of programs and delivering alumni accompaniment programs. Alex is an experienced program manager with a background in building the ecosystem that supports social enterprises in emerging markets. Before joining Miller Center, Pan worked for the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE) where he coordinated ANDE’s global network of regional chapters, facilitated collaboration and knowledge sharing among ANDE’s 240+ members and led ANDE’s efforts around talent and invention-based businesses. Before joining ANDE, Alex worked for several international development NGOs in China, India, and Uganda. Pan has also worked for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy where he assisted in the development of their impact investing policy. He holds an M.A. in International Science and Technology Policy from George Washington University and earned his B.A. from Colby College where he studied International Development and East Asian Studies.