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In Conversation with Stella Sigana, Founder of Alternative Waste on her Impactful Journey

In Conversation with Stella Sigana, Founder of Alternative Waste on her Impactful Journey

Every day in the US, women start almost 849 new businesses. In the past 20 years, the number of women-owned businesses in the US has increased by 114% and the social entrepreneurship business model continues to attract women in even-greater numbers. According to the Independent, 38% of social enterprises are led by women, while there are more than twice as many men than women in conventional business. Furthermore, more than 90% of enterprises that focus on solving social problems have at least one woman on their leadership team, in contrast to almost half of small or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that have all-male directors.

While women entrepreneurs continue to thrive in social entrepreneurship, Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship is helping them scale their enterprises and reach their business potential with our strategic initiative of women’s economic empowerment. Our current Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) Online accelerator cohort has 26 inspiring women entrepreneurs solving a wide array of problems to eliminate poverty from the world. Stella Sigana is one of those 26 inspiring entrepreneurs.

Stella is the founder of Alternative Waste Technologies, an organization that solves a really unique problem by improving indoor air quality through the manufacture and supply of charcoal briquettes across sub-Saharan Africa. Stell was recently featured in Forbes Africa as one of the 20 New Wealth Creators on the African Continent.

Stella’s journey is full of wise choices and unforgettable mistakes. Her persistence and determination to overcome all challenges are the two most important traits that made her a successful entrepreneur.

“Learn to stay with the passion that drove you to start the enterprise.” - Stella Sigana

About her business and how it is impacting the lives of people

“Our business ensures that households have access to affordable and safe cooking fuels. Our impact to date is 170T of charcoal briquettes sold in Kibera community and its immediate environs; households saved US$14,790 by choosing our briquettes over traditional charcoal; we have created employment for 9 staff at the production facility and 15 sales agents.”

Stella’s strategy to acquiring customers

“The most effective way for our social enterprise in raising awareness has been through product demonstrations and word of mouth through referral systems.”

On having the right mentors

“Mentorship is very critical for a business that is starting out, and getting the right mentors is also very critical. Mentors with vested interests in running businesses similar to mine may not be the best due to conflicts of interest. A mentee must be willing to guide the process as well as be humble enough to learn from the experts. We currently have 5 mentors.”

3 Questions every entrepreneur should be able to answer

I think the most important questions for a founder are:

  1. What problem are you solving?

  2. What is your target market?

  3. Are you able to generate sustainable revenue from your enterprise without external financing?

About learning from mistakes

  • Never be in a hurry to produce your products, and start selling with the hope that customers will love the product. Carry out very thorough market research as to who your client is that you are targeting.

  • Being overly ambitious is good, but be willing to start very small, and learn to grow organically for sustainability.

  • Learn to build an asset base that one can use as security in order to access financing. Know the very language of financiers and speak their language.

About leadership challenges from inside the organization

“A leadership challenge from inside the organization was when I hired a team of advisors. They started dictating the direction of the business in total disregard of the spirit of the business, which was to support communities while creating a sustainable income. This resulted in a conflict of interest and I therefore had to let go of the team.”

Advice from Stella

“Learn to stay with the passion that drove you to start the enterprise.”

Conclusion

Women like Stella and her story shows how important it is for entrepreneurs to have a support system to create an enabling environment. The more supportive the environment is for women-led businesses, the more their businesses will grow. The end result is to create a profitable women-led business that improves the economic empowerment of women which leads to greater world economic growth as a whole.

Whenever I feel like giving up, I…

I go on my knees and talk to God in prayer. He will handle the problem for me.

If I wasn’t an entrepreneur, I would be...

I would be a CEO of a non-profit organization championing for economic opportunities for marginalized communities

Being a woman is…

Being a woman is learning to create your own standards and finding your own space where you can excel by your own terms

The most courageous thing I’ve ever done professionally is…

Resigning honorably from a well paying job to venture into entrepreneurship

If I could add one skill to my personality, I will add...

Time management in balancing the different demands as a woman (mother, employer, student, wife, sister etc.)

3 people who inspire me every day are…

My Father for his integrity, honesty and justice for all those he works with

My Mother for believing that Education is the only door that you can use to unlock your future especially for women

My children for their curiosity by asking a lot of life - related questions which have no answers but must be answered intelligently

One quote I live by is…

Matthew 7:12 So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Hira Saeed joined Miller Center in July 2018 through a partnership with the US Embassy in Islamabad and Atlas Corps. Hira works as a GSBI Women’s Economic Empowerment Fellow to implement  new  research,  initiatives,  and  projects  to  help advance women’s economic empowerment through GSBI programs globally and with a specific focus in the Middle East.

Maternal Health Consulting in India: Meeting the Women Behind the Statistic

Maternal Health Consulting in India: Meeting the Women Behind the Statistic

World Health Day and Miller Center

While there are millions of problems in the world today, global health is arguably one of the most crucial. Health is at the core of everything we are and everything we do; without health, we cannot function. Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship is taking vital steps to improve global health through its work with health-based social enterprises all over the world. Thanks to Miller Center, I was able to work with CareNX Innovations last summer, a company striving to eliminate preventable maternal and neonatal deaths in India. I had the opportunity to hear powerful stories from pregnant mothers and hospital employees, and experience gaps in healthcare first-hand. Solving the global health crisis will not be easy, but by giving social enterprises the tools they need to succeed, Miller Center will continue to improve access to healthcare worldwide and improve countless lives.

Why India?

The CareNX Team at the HQ at IIT (Mumbai, India)

The CareNX Team at the HQ at IIT (Mumbai, India)

I spent the summer of 2017 working at UnitedHealthcare as a sales and market analyst intern. While I loved the fast-paced environment and enjoyed learning about the healthcare system and insurance cycle, I couldn’t see myself as a healthcare sales representative. I was yearning for something more hands-on. I wanted to be a changemaker. I registered my interest in the Global Social Benefit Fellowship, with the inkling that it could lead me in the right direction. When I read about CareNX’s mission to decrease neonatal and maternal mortality rates through a smartphone integrated diagnostic kit, I knew I was looking in the right place. I was excited by the possibility of spending my summer doing meaningful work that could truly impact the lives of thousands of pregnant women in India. 

Fast-forward six months to June, and I was on a flight to Mumbai, India.

Fast-forward six months to June, and I was on a flight to Mumbai, India.

My partner, Varsha, and I had spent the three months before the trip building a detailed, 54-page research plan. We had spent countless hours mapping out the logistics of our research project, and I was ready to tackle every step of our plan, which I believed would allow us to gather the research necessary to complete our deliverables successfully. I was confident in our ability to provide enhanced social impact reporting and support CareNX’s scaling through implementing strategy recommendations and business model innovation. 

While I was prepared from a business standpoint, I wasn’t prepared from an emotional one. Varsha and I had collectively read dozens of articles regarding India’s maternal and neonatal mortality rates. I was aware that India accounts for 20 percent of maternal fatalities globally, resulting in approximately 44,000 deaths every year. However, understanding a statistic and meeting the women behind the statistic are two very different things. I was ready to create solutions to fix the maternal healthcare crisis, but I wasn’t mentally prepared to come face to face with the problem.

Reflecting on Hardships

Varsha, Preeti and I sat on the floor of Jyotsana Varthak’s home. Jyotsana was the very last community health worker we interviewed in India. Jyotsana is a highly skilled community health worker, with 30 years of experience as an auxiliary nurse midwife (ANM). We asked her what barriers—personal, familial, societal—she saw preventing the successful adoption of CareMother in mothers. Jyotsana told us that the biggest obstacle for maternal care was education. Jyotsana explained that most of the pregnant women she visits are uneducated, illiterate, and unsure of their age.



Uncertain of their own age. 



This detail shouldn’t have been surprising to me; at this point in our journey, we had interviewed a handful of mothers who looked confused when we’d asked the question.

To me, it was such a simple question. It was a question I was asked frequently as a child. Eager to grow up, my response would usually involve a fraction. I’m nine and three quarters, and I would state proudly — each birthday I celebrated with family, friends, and a homemade cake. I couldn’t fathom the idea of not knowing my age. I realized I had taken my birthday for granted in a way I hadn’t known was possible.

What was even more unsettling was the impact this lack of education had on these women’s health. The pregnant women Jyotsana cares for had never learned about reproductive health—or even taken a general health class. Instead, they learned about myths and superstitions from their mothers and grandmothers. One of the superstitions Jyotsana told us about required the pregnant women to stay locked in their rooms where they gave birth —alone— for three days. During this time, the women were forced to clean up the mess that had been made during their labor. A different myth required mothers to burn their baby on his or her ribcage with an iron rod. I’m not sure if I would have believed this if Jyotsana hadn’t lifted up the shirt of a baby boy for us to see the scar. The child immediately shrieked. It was evident he had been scarred from the experience in more ways than one.  



I was filled with disbelief and rage. How could a mother put her child in pain? I didn’t understand. Did they love their children less?



The rage slowly turned into embarrassment. I realized I was imposing my own beliefs on these women’s culture. Of course, they loved their children. They didn’t want to see them in pain. These mothers felt obligated to harm their babies because of the cultural traditions and societal norms imposed on them.

There was no logical reason for these mothers to trust medical doctors. To them, western medicine seemed more foreign and dangerous than the superstitions their families’ had been following for generations. Choosing to seek medical care for their pregnancies was not only seen as foolish, but disrespectful to their elders.

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This was just one of many moments where I felt helpless in India. The language barriers had also proved to be a more significant hindrance than I had expected. While Varsha could understand three different Indian languages, I struggled to comprehend my fellow CareNX team member’s broken English. Most of the mothers and community health workers we interviewed couldn’t understand my American accent either, so Varsha or Pritee (our translator) conducted most of the interviews while I jotted down notes. From speech and debate club in high school to numerous sales roles in college, I have always felt confident in my communication skills. Being unable to have a leadership role on the communication front made me feel utterly useless in the field.

However, this weakness gave me the opportunity to build invaluable listening skills. When Varsha and I returned from the field, we sat down together to analyze our data and discuss our findings. Flipping through my notebook, I realized how much knowledge I had gained. I had scribbled down notes on stories mothers had shared, ideas about ways to increase partnership efficiency, thoughts from a customer experience perspective after talking with community health workers, and much more. The language barriers and communication obstacles had given me the chance to devote all of my energy towards listening and observing. This allowed me to better understand India’s maternal health crisis as well as CareNX’s own business challenges before jumping to creating solutions.

Looking Forward 

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Nine months ago, I knew I wanted to be a changemaker. However, I was unsure the best way to incorporate that goal into my career path. This fellowship has given me a deeper understanding of the types of work I enjoy and a more clear direction for my vocational journey.  

I discovered that slow-paced work environments frustrate me, and it is essential for me to work with people that know how to prioritize and balance responsibilities effectively. I am more likely to succeed in a fast-paced environment, surrounded by highly-motivated and competent individuals.  

This fellowship also taught me how to truly collaborate - and I’m not talking about the typical “collaboration” facilitated by group projects in college classes. Varsha and I carved out 20 hours each week to meet up and work on our deliverables in person. True collaboration can foster some of the best ideas, and when Varsha and I created a solution to a problem we had been circling it was exhilarating.  

I learned that I love strategizing. Analyzing the way current systems work and creating solutions to optimize efficiency excites me. While most people consider an entrepreneurial spirit, creativity, and curiosity as common traits for entrepreneurs, I discovered that I don’t need to start my own company to utilize these talents. By questioning the logic behind current processes and creating change with creative solutions, I can provide value to any organization.  

My passions lie in helping current, mid to large size organizations create and change products to accelerate social impact. This isn’t limited to changing drink beverage companies’ straws from plastic to biodegradable, although this certainly is important. We know that the way we create and consume products impact the world from an environmental perspective. However, products also can impact consumers in countless ways, ranging from physical health to child psychological development and so much more. Changing and creating products within organizations through a social impact lens can make a difference in the quality of millions of lives. The opportunities to make the world a better place are endless, and I am excited to see where my journey will lead to next.

Beautiful Himachal Pradesh, India

Beautiful Himachal Pradesh, India

About the Author

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Jess graduated from the Leavey School of Business in March 2019 with a degree in Business Management and a minor in Entrepreneurship. As a 2018 Global Social Benefit Fellow, Jess worked with CareNX Innovations in Mumbai, India, conducting research for a social impact assessment and business model innovation. Jess is currently seeking full-time job opportunities, and hopes to work for an innovative company where she can use both her analytical mindset and creative edge.

Dare to dream bigger | Lessons learned from Yvonne Otieno, founder of Miyonga Fresh Greens

Dare to dream bigger | Lessons learned from Yvonne Otieno, founder of Miyonga Fresh Greens

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They say talent exists everywhere but opportunities don’t. This statement stands true in every part of the world where entrepreneurs like Yvonne exists. Yvonne Otieno is an alumna who participated in Miller Center’s 2018 Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) Online Accelerator program. She is a farmer from Kenya who embarked on the journey of entrepreneurship to change the livelihoods of fellow farmers. Yvonne’s enterprise, Miyonga Fresh Greens, exports fresh fruits and vegetables from Kenya to the UK, Norway, Netherlands, Germany, Greece, Ireland and South Africa. Miyonga started exporting from a horticultural farm with 10 acres located in Lukenya, Machakos County and expanded to become a fully-established exporter with access to a network of 5,000+ growers with over 200 hectares of land.

How did this happen? Let’s hear from Yvonne.

The lifelong journey of exploration

Starting and managing a business most commonly originates when an entrepreneur identifies a way to solve a problem or serve a need. What’s unexpected is that, once ignited, one’s entrepreneurial spirit permeates and turns into a lifelong endeavor. To move forward, a founder has to trust her instinct when it comes to decision making and, in those moments, there may not be any indication whether her choice will work out favorably or turn out to be disastrous. The journey is a roller coaster ride of emotions sprinkled with moments of unexpected wisdom. Once Miyonga Fresh Greens achieved its initial milestones, Yvonne regretted not dreaming bigger. (Well, don’t we all?)  “We executed what we set out to do. We have grown from farmers to exporters, diversified from just fresh produce to value addition of fresh fruits to dried fruits and fruit powder and were positively impacting our community by creating employment. But, my only regret is not dreaming bigger at that time,” reflected Yvonne.

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Perhaps, the point to ponder here is that even the best-laid plans can go astray. Even though Yvonne carefully crafted a solid business plan, there was a stark difference when it came to the first round of financial actuals. The first planted product was a failure and, to her great frustration,, nothing was making sense to Yvonne. “There are days everything looks bright and there are days when you aren’t quite sure anymore why you are still in business. Our business began farming on a 1.5-acre piece of land growing green beans, or Haricot verts, as commonly known in Europe. Our first planting of the product made huge losses. When preparing the business case, all numbers seemed to make sense and I just couldn’t understand why we were seeing losses,” she shared.

The phase with patience, persistence, and passion

Patience, persistence, and passion make an unbeatable combination for success. When plans take an unexpected detour, entrepreneurs do not quit; they stay patient, become persistent and use their passion to explore the avenues to get back on course. In Yvonne’s case, her business found hope in remodeling the entire business plan and transitioning from just farming to an agricultural business. Since then, Miyonga has won multiple accolades including the 2016 Gender in Innovation and Agriculture, Social Impact award for women and top 50 innovators in Africa.

Besides the initial USD$10,000 seed capital Miyonga Fresh Greens received as an award, it has grown organically and is currently on its first round for investments. Yet, the journey has been quite challenging with a lot of questions that used to keep Yvonne awake at night. “One of the challenges we faced was where to find investors? Another was what type of funding should we seek: equity or debt? If equity, how much equity should we be giving up as a company? And last, because our business cares about positively impacting the community, how does our organization measure its social impact? Those are questions that we struggled with,” listed Yvonne.

Paving the way to find the “right” investor

Making the decision to let someone invest in your company is harder than anything for a founding entrepreneur. You find people showing interest in your idea, but do they really believe in it? Do they trust your passion or commitment towards it, or are they just after the ROI? These questions linger in every entrepreneur’s mind when they are seeking funds.

At Miller Center’s GSBI program, we prepare social entrepreneurs for investment, scaling their business and growth. 93% of the participants in the 2016 GSBI Accelerator cohort raised funding within six months after the program concluded. We match Silicon Valley executive mentors who accompany selected social entrepreneurs for the duration of their time in the program. Oftentimes, this accompaniment goes beyond the program dates to develop the operational excellence and investment readiness required to scale impact. Yvonne benefitted from her mentors’ expertise and now understands how to measure the impact for her business and what to look for in investors before shaking any hands for investment.

She said, “After going through the GSBI Online Accelerator program this year, we now have an understanding of our metrics and how to measure the impact. We have a living investment profile and now know what type of investors we should be speaking with. We keep a database of potential investors and maintain an internal checklist on what type of investor would best fit our company. Before the program, we would get excited every time any investor showed interest and we would share information. Before long we would see our ideas being implemented by others.

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Right now, we still get excited, but we now approach  fundraising like dating: you have to find the right fit. Plus, we are more protective of our innovations. Through GSBI, we also learned about a pro bono legal services resource; we applied and qualified. We are in discussions with potential investors and an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) is a prerequisite before we engage in any discussion.”

From a farmer to every entrepreneur in the world

“I just want to say: you can do it! If this farmer with little or no business experience is now contracting other farmers and impacting the livelihoods of 1,500 other farmers in Kenya, and exporting to five different destinations in Europe, you can do it, too.

How will you do it? Know your mission and focus. If you hold a magnifying glass over a pile of dry leaves on the hottest day of the year with the sun shining overhead, nothing will happen as long as you keep moving the magnifying glass. But as soon as you hold the magnifying glass still and focus the rays of the sun on just one leaf, the whole pile of leaves will erupt into flames. Take one day at a time and solve one challenge at a time.

Learn: Make use of the numerous opportunities available to empower you with the skills needed to run a business. The GSBI is just one of those programs that changed my perspective.

Lastly, you will fall 1,000 times and you will get up 1,001 times. Trust your instinct or intuition. It’s a God-given compass to guide you.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Hira Saeed joined Miller Center in July 2018 through a partnership with the US Embassy in Islamabad and Atlas Corps. Hira works as a GSBI Women’s Economic Empowerment Fellow to implement  new  research,  initiatives,  and  projects  to  help advance women’s economic empowerment through GSBI programs globally and with a specific focus in the Middle East.

Photo credits: Miyonga Fresh Greens

Will the social impact community be any different in our engagement of #MeToo conversations?

Will the social impact community be any different in our engagement of #MeToo conversations?

“We can shift how we talk about it, we can shift how we respond to it, we can shift how the culture understands it—because it’s going to make a difference in the number of sexual assaults that we see. It’s going to make a difference in the way people respond to survivors of sexual violence, and that difference is really everything.”
- Tarana Burke, #MeToo Movement Architect,
The Cut

A year ago at SOCAP17, Karen Runde Senior Program Manager of Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship heard a #MeToo story that exposed harm in our community. A former student had experienced a sexual assault at SOCAP years ago and was continuing to experience harassment from someone who had been well respected within the community of social enterprise change makers.  This conversation had a profound impact on the team that runs Miller Center, and thanks to the leadership of Karen, this experience had a ripple effect across the organization - and now the field of social enterprise. At the session, Executive Director Thane Kreiner, Ph.D. shared, “I was shocked. I thought our community was different.” Are we different? Is there a different standard when we are working for justice and to support social enterprise around the world?  Or is our community even more likely to attract the wolf in sheep's clothing —those who are attracted to a community and workforce that are willing to sacrifice so much in the pursuit of their mission, vision, and passion?

This year at SOCAP18, Karen hosted and organized two discussions on “Collective Voices Beyond #MeToo.”  She brought together a wide range of voices and perspectives from our field—-from funders, technology innovators, restorative justice practitioners, and those who have experienced their own public #MeToo experiences—-showing how this movement has impact across the entire field of social enterprise and impact investing.

“We explored our stories of feeling powerless—-and powerful—-and the paradox that arises when we realize how each of us exists on a spectrum in our relationship to power.”

“We explored our stories of feeling powerless—-and powerful—-and the paradox that arises when we realize how each of us exists on a spectrum in our relationship to power.”

Our first workshop focused on the relationship between #MeToo and Power.  We explored our stories of feeling powerless—-and powerful—-and the paradox that arises when we realize how each of us exists on a spectrum in our relationship to power.

We opened the workshop with stories shared by courageous members of the community—-I cannot share those stories as part of what made our discussion on Wednesday so effective was the promise of confidentiality that we may share and connect with others in a way that we are rarely afforded at large big tent convenings like SOCAP.  However, I can share some of the high-level insights and takeaways from that conversation.

“Because the hard truth is that we all have times—-often within the same day—- where we feel both powerless and powerful."

“Because the hard truth is that we all have times—-often within the same day—- where we feel both powerless and powerful."

When sharing our stories of feeling powerless, part of the paradox was uncovered as some felt powerful in being able to share their stories and in being able to listen deeply to others, while others felt powerless in hearing the stories and not being able to do anything about it.  Across the room the variety of contexts and the recognition that we all have stories to share—-regardless of our race, gender, orientation, or economic status.  This shared experience provides each of us with an entry point to empathy and recognizing our shared humanity.

When we flipped the question of sharing stories of when we felt powerful, the entire energy of the room changed.  People were animated, smiling, laughing, leaning in. One participant shared she “felt a different feeling of intensity—-like a kick of energy as opposed to feeling weighed down.” Because the hard truth is that we all have times—-often within the same day—- where we feel both powerless and powerful.  Recognizing the dynamic nature of our relationship to power is one of the first steps to owning and doing more to responsibly steward our power to shift the culture of the impact ecosystem.

Click image to visit  Conveners.org

Click image to visit Conveners.org

One of the reasons I was asked to join this conversation came from a conversation we hosted with our members of Conveners.org to explore the responsibility of Conveners in light of the #MeToo movement.  As conveners, we wield immense power from whose stories are told, who has a voice from the stage, and who is invited to participate in the conversation. We also have power in how we handle incidents of assault and harassment that occur at our events, as many of our events blend the line between personal and professional, between networking and socializing.

On Thursday we hosted the second session with our incredible panelists sharing their stories and perspectives.  We framed the discussion around the spectrum and paradox of power - from enablers who keep predators protected and allies who help us to find our voice, to the power that comes from funding relationships to positions of power within an organization, to the power we have with others when we raise our collective voices to the power that we have over others—-and that others have over us.  We also explored if we as the social enterprise/impact investor ecosystem are above #MeToo.

We were joined by Ayla Schlosser, co-founder of Resonate, who is working on leadership development with women in Rwanda.  She shared her stories of the dynamics that are raised when fundraising—-especially for the first time—-and the importance of having resources available to help others.  Part of the predatory nature of power in our space is when young women and men who are new in their careers and new to fundraising are exposed to abusers of power who leverage their financial assets to physically take advantage of others.  

Click image to visit  projectcallisto.org

Click image to visit projectcallisto.org

Jess Ladd the founder of Callisto, a recent Skoll Awardee and SheEO-supported ventureshared her history of growing up during the AIDS epidemic and seeing the risks from when sex becomes stigmatized and we no longer celebrate healthy sexuality.  She also saw the trauma that comes from the reporting process and the continued loss of agency harmed parties face when telling their stories. Callisto’s technology empowers survivors, providing options and allowing disclosure in a way that feels safe. Their unique matching system securely connects victims of the same perpetrator to identify repeat offenders and connects them to pro bono legal services to better understand their options.

We were also joined by Jackie Rotman of XSeed who is building a new fund focused on intimate justice.  Jackie supported the conversation as we explored the challenges and opportunities in incorporating restorative justice models into the process.  One key insight raised in the conversation was the structural challenges presented when restorative justice processes require the responsible party to own that they caused harm and cannot begin until that is admitted—-which runs directly counter to our criminal justice system.  There are little to no repercussions for those who drop out of the restorative justice process, and Jackie shared the specific challenges presented by institutions who are primarily concerned with protecting the institution—- not the person who has been harmed.

Thane Kreiner of Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship spoke to the organizational perspective—-especially when working in a university context to respond, prevent, and help shape the dialogue.  A lot of the choice lies with the harmed party - whether they want to be public about their story or share the name of the person who harmed them.  One key question that Thane raised was about the responsibility to protect other students and entrepreneurs whose safety is in the hands of Miller Center?  What do you do if the person wants to access the space? This did come up and was handled accordingly, but in some ways, it was easier as the person was not a faculty or staff member.  Universities face a great deal more complexity when the person causing harm is part of the institution.

Miller Center’s Karen Runde introduces panelists for the “Collective Voices Beyond #MeToo” session on Thursday at SOCAP18,

Miller Center’s Karen Runde introduces panelists for the “Collective Voices Beyond #MeToo” session on Thursday at SOCAP18,

Anika Warren Chief Organizational Effectiveness and Talent Development Officer at Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation joined us from both the perspective of a funder as well as in her work as a psychologist working on intersectionality.  Anika shared the duality of power in both voice and silence around the world—-while tech can be a part of lifting voices, there is also a deep need for in-person connection.  While talk therapy is typically held up as a solution, it can also be retraumatizing. As funders in the space, it is important to take a nuanced response in our approach if we learn of sexual harassment or abuses of power within grantee organizations.  Simply cutting off funding would likely have the unintended consequence of silencing voices even further.

Finally, we were joined by Sara Schacht Principal Consultant at Smarter Civic who has one of the few public #MeToo stories in our community. Sarah emphasized the impact that these stories—-and going public—-can have on our careers.  Foundations do have a responsibility to understand when they are supporting a serial predator and rather than enabling, or even worse, actively creating additional harm to those who have already survived the victimization of assault.  

Sarah raised the point that there are other ways to track and see warning signs without requiring those who have been harmed to step forward.  Through simple data scraping of teams and tracking career transitions on LinkedIn, you can start to notice trends. “Why do women ages 24-30 only last less than one year on this team, but the same demographic is averaging 3.8 years on another team?”  Too often when women (and sometimes men) are harmed by harassment,they leave either the company or the entire field, if that is what is required.  This has a compounding impact on the earning potential of women who are unable to unlock the full growth potential that comes from growing a career over time. “When people leave it is the canary in the coal mine.”  Foundations would just have to ask for staffing lists and demographic data to be able to track these changes over time.

This was only the beginning of a conversation, and we recognize it can feel overwhelming. Thanks to the increased visibility from the press, it can feel like there are stories of harassment arising everywhere.  However, there is hope. There are new tools and resources available to individuals and organizations who are grappling with sexual harassment and assault including https://metoomvmt.org/ and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center and tools like Callisto.  Those who have experienced harm are coming together to support one another, and in hearing one another’s stories, we can draw strength from our shared experiences.

We can also each commit to better understanding the nuance and impacts of power in our relationships.  Are you an ally or an enabler? The system can only keep going when we enable perpetrators of harm to stay in positions of power.  Do you have power over who receives an interview? Who receives a promotion? Whose voice is heard in the room? By staying mindful of all the ways in which we have power in our lives, we can start to be more mindful and equitable in how we use that power.

Thank you to Karen and the team at Miller Center for bringing this conversation to the table, thank you to the organizers at SOCAP for including these conversations, thank you to our courageous panelists for sharing their stories and for our incredible participants for being open and engaging.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Avary Kent is a serial social entrepreneur with expertise in bringing ideas to life. She is the Founding Executive Director of Conveners.org building the impact ecosystem through more effective convening, accelerators, and mapping initiatives. She is a leader in experience design to support her clients in the development of participant focused events integrating human centered design techniques that deliver outstanding feedback and results. As an on-site facilitator she has worked with politicians, academics, cyber security experts, factory owners and workers, investors, and foundation leaders. She is adept at navigating challenging conversations and supporting groups towards productive dialogue and action. She has designed and led the Convening17 initiative to identify urgent, important, and actionable next steps to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. She was also the co-founder of ImpactAlpha, The Happiness Institute, and Puzzlebox LLC. She received a BS in Genetics and Geobotanical Field Ecology from George Washington University and an MBA in Sustainable Enterprise from Dominican University.

Banner photo courtesy of Santa Clara University

What are our Global Social Benefit Fellows up to now?

Some of our GSBF alumni are engaged in exciting international work!

Click on bolded fellow names and company names to learn more.

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Kaci McCartan (GSBF 2014, Bana/Mechanical Engineering) is in Ghana on a fellowship with Burro to develop frugal agricultural technologies.

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Lauren Oliver (GSBF 2017, Teach A Man To Fish Foundation/Civil Engineering) has accepted an offer from the Peace Corps to work with agricultural technology in Benin starting next year.

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Erika Francks (GSBF 2016 ONergy/Environmental Studies and Class of 2017 Valedictorian) begins her Fulbright research project on socio-economics of solar microgrids in Lesotho (South Africa) in December 2018.

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Athena Nguyen (GSBF 2017 KoeKoeTech/Public Health Science and Class of 2018 Valedictorian) is in Vietnam as part of her teaching Fulbright.

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Katrina Van Gasse (GSBF 2013, Solar Sister/Marketing) begins her Fulbright research on women and entrepreneurship in Fiji early next year.

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Marisa Rudolph (GSBF 2017, Farmerline/Environmental Science) is conducting research on women’s economic empowerment in Ghana’s agricultural sector.

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Katie Diggs (GSBF 2017, Sistema Biobolsa/Environmental Science) has a year-long internship with Impact Amplifier, a GSBI Network partner in Cape Town, to support their acceleration work with energy enterprises in Southern Africa.

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Nithya Vemireddy (GSBF 2017 Awaaz.De/Psychology) received a William J. Clinton Fellowship for Service in India from the American Indian Foundation, and has begun working at Chindu, a nonprofit focused on promoting capacity building.

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Carson Whisler (GSBF 2016, ONergy/Economics) is preparing to start Fulbright research on solar energy in Indonesia early in the new year.

#SheMeansEntrepreneurship - In Conversation with Manka Angwafo, Founder of Grassland Cameroon and Her Journey’s Challenges

#SheMeansEntrepreneurship - In Conversation with Manka Angwafo, Founder of Grassland Cameroon and Her Journey’s Challenges

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The hashtag in the title speaks for itself. But, I came up with this after an enlightening interview with our Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) alumna, Manka Angwafo, a member of the 2018 GSBI Online cohort and the founder of Grassland Cameroon. 

Grassland Cameroon is a premier grain-handling company in Cameroon. It works closely with smallholder farmers in the North West region of Cameroon to improve the lives of farmers, their families, and their communities at large.

Manka along with other female entrepreneurs know that entrepreneurship is a very lonely journey. There are challenges every step you take and it is not an overstatement to say that those challenges are multifold when you are a woman.

 Manka’s story is full of such challenges. One day she is struggling to have a seat at the table and other days she is being mansplained that she will never get married because of her career choice. 

I am constantly told that my job is a man’s job and that I won’t ever get married because of my business.
Manka Angwafo, founder of Grassland Cameroon and Miller Center GSBI alumna (‘18)

Manka Angwafo, founder of Grassland Cameroon and Miller Center GSBI alumna (‘18)

On some of the biggest challenges she faced 

There are countless women in this world working hard in their respective fields who are eager and able to make a difference as peers; but when it comes to representation, the table is “usually” full. Manka faced a similar challenge initially when she was working with an all-male advisory board and constantly doubted her potential. She had to fight really hard with her need to validate her decisions to the men.

“I think the biggest challenge I faced initially was not believing that I ought to have a seat at the table. Given the country/industry my business is in, and the type of operations we run, I had only male advisors to look up to, and male counterparts to work with. Subconsciously, it made me doubt every decision and plan I would come up with, and then go back to the same men for validation. As time went on, I started noticing my advisors asking me for my input and feedback on their business strategy and it helped me realize that I actually am able to think strategically, and I had, without any doubt, earned my place.

I think more female founders need to find that strength to keep believing in themselves, especially in fields that are male-dominated,” shared Manka.

Fundraising was not easy for her

Unsurprisingly, in June 2018, the Boston Consulting Group and MassChallenge published a report based on the study of 350 companies in total and found that startups founded or co-founded by women received an average of US $935,000 in investment. This figure contrasts sharply with the average US $2.12 million investment received by startups founded by men. Manka identifies with the reported disparities and believes the imbalances are not only limited to tech startups. She said, “I should also mention that fundraising is a bigger challenge for female founders than it is for male founders. The numbers on this are very stark. Female founders receive much less financing than males. I know that this topic has started to get more coverage, particularly in the tech world. However, as we are currently fundraising, I am realizing this disparity is across all industries.”

Let’s talk about Gender Bias

Photo courtesy of Grassland Cameroon

Photo courtesy of Grassland Cameroon

In our previous newsletter, I wrote a blog on challenging your unconscious bias and this week I am drafting an example of that bias. Manka and many other female founders are constantly being told that their job is a man’s job, that their chances of getting married are very low if they choose the path of entrepreneurship. All of this comes down to one word: discrimination. Society never questions the choices of our male counterparts and constantly nudge when a female does a similar thing. Manka had a similar story to share on this when I asked her if she ever faced any sort of discrimination during this journey.

“Absolutely. I am constantly told that my job is a man’s job and that I won’t ever get married because of my business. I obviously, don’t think either of this is true, and also feel it is really unfortunate that in 2018, society still places marriage as a woman’s definitive achievement (note no emphasis on happily married). As with all bias, I think the best way to deal with it is by outperforming everyone else and proving them wrong. I use that in business and try to extend that to other parts of my life,” she added.

advice FOR female founders

“Being a founder/CEO is a very lonely journey and, as such, is one that you should be ready for and in it for the right reasons. Seek out other female founders, regardless of their business sector. I stress on seeking out female founders because your female friends would never understand what you’re going through and the decisions you have to make every day. Your female founders will become your sisters and best friends. Create a tribe of unfailing supporters, and hold them close to you. This is what will keep you going through all the tough times.” 

Why Women’s Economic Empowerment?

Manka’s story tells us there is so much more work that needs to be done. At Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, we believe in women’s economic empowerment for a sustainable future and highly discourage gender bias within our center and programs. For the initiative and commitment-to-self, a new affinity group of women-led social enterprises has been introduced in our Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) programs. The goal for this affinity group is to bring more women, social entrepreneurs, onboard, refine and validate their business and financial models, provide a customized resource library with curated content specific to their businesses, match them with industry-relevant mentors, foster peer-to-peer connections with our alumni, and offer opportunities for their businesses to flourish.

 As Manka said, your female founders will become your sisters and best friends and, in their company, you will find a tribe of unfailing supporters. So let’s create a tribe of hard-working and talented women social entrepreneurs in the world and make this world an unbiased place to live.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Hira Saeed joined Miller Center in July 2018 through a partnership with the US Embassy in Islamabad and Atlas Corps. Hira works as a GSBI Women’s Economic Empowerment Fellow to implement  new  research,  initiatives,  and  projects  to  help advance women’s economic empowerment through GSBI programs globally and with a specific focus in the Middle East.

Banner photo courtesy of Grassland Cameroon

5 Lessons Learned from Creating a Sector-Specific Accelerator Program

5 Lessons Learned from Creating a Sector-Specific Accelerator Program

Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship accelerates the success of high-potential social enterprises all over the world. We have worked with more than 900 social enterprises through our suite of accelerator programs. These enterprises have raised more than $940 million, and impacted 320 million lives. While each of the enterprises that make up the Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) alumni are unique, many operate using similar business models, face common challenges, and employ common strategies for distribution, customer education, sales management and more.

With this in mind, Miller Center’s Replication Initiative works to understand the best practices of our most successful alumni and other pioneering enterprises in order to help early-stage enterprises grow more quickly. We created the Last Mile Distribution (LMD) Playbook, a comprehensive guide for distribution-focused enterprises, and designed a four-month program for the entrepreneurs. To create the LMD Playbook, the Replication team took Miller Center’s proven business model-centric curriculum and tailored the material to meet the needs and specific challenges faced by LMD enterprises. The LMD Playbook not only includes examples and advice from “Originators”— successful distribution-focused enterprises—it also incorporates several distribution-specific modules designed to help LMD enterprises recruit and train sales agents, manage inventory, and more. See Figure 1 for a full list of the LMD Playbook Modules.

Figure 1: Last Mile Distribution (LMD) Playbook Modules

Figure 1: Last Mile Distribution (LMD) Playbook Modules

Miller Center’s Replication Initiative has now successfully run two cohorts of the Last Mile Distribution Playbook program for a total of 20 early-stage distribution enterprises that sell a range of products from solar lanterns to water filters and agricultural inputs. After working with these entrepreneurs and testing the playbook concept for the first time, here are the five most important lessons we’ve learned:

1. Replication works

After the completion of the two cohorts, we sought to answer two core questions in our evaluation of the LMD Playbook and the program itself:

● Is the LMD Playbook program valuable for early-stage entrepreneurs?

● Are we achieving our goal of helping LMD enterprises launch and grow faster?

Through a series of phone and online surveys as well as analysis of the lives impacted, investment, and revenue data from the Originators, we found that the answer to both of these questions is a resounding yes. On a 10-point scale (10 being highly valuable and relevant) participants rated the program, on average, an 8.7. When giving feedback, participants frequently noted that they appreciated having the opportunity to learn from both the successes and failures of the Originators, followed by feedback and expert advice from their mentors.

Additionally, data collected from the participants and the Originators suggests that the LMD Playbook participants are, in fact, growing their social impact more quickly than the Originators did in their early years. Figure 2 compares the average “Total Lives Impacted” metrics of nine Originators to the Playbook participants, and shows the significant and enhanced growth of LMD participants. We also compared the Originator’s revenue and investment data to that of the LMD Playbook participants and discovered similar, positive results. However, this is data collected 1-8 months after program completion and we plan to keep monitoring the progress of the enterprises so that we can better understand how these early-stage enterprises continue to grow and develop, and what continued support they need to be successful.

Figure 2: LMD Program Participant KPI Data compared to Originator average

Figure 2: LMD Program Participant KPI Data compared to Originator average

2. There is no “one-size-fits-all” or “business-in-a-box” solution

The LMD Playbook program was designed to help entrepreneurs replicate the best practices of the Originators, but it has limitations. Even if LMD enterprises share several common traits with another, each will still face unique challenges that cannot be aided through replication guides. In fact, several of the entrepreneurs reported that some of the distribution-focused module content was too specific and could not be applied to their region and/or growth stage. For example, Module 7: Technology and Tech Requirements advises entrepreneurs to manage their business operations using software like Salesforce and QuickBooks. While these complex software packages may work very well for enterprises that have been operating for several years, three of the LMD Playbook participants reported that this module was not as valuable as others because the specific technology requirements suggested in the module are too sophisticated for their enterprises.

Feedback collected from the participants’ mentors also emphasized the importance of learning by doing, rather than learning by studying the LMD Playbook. For example, a new solar distribution enterprise in Kenya should understand the Originators’ business models and how successful enterprises segment determine their target markets, but the new entrepreneur should also be prepared to spend time in the field working with customers and defining their own unique target market. The LMD Playbook was designed to help entrepreneurs avoid some of the most common challenges associated with operating a distribution enterprise, but participants should still expect to make mistakes and learn from them.

3. The Playbook material was valuable for all enterprises, regardless of their growth stage

Figure 3: Cohort Growth Stage Breakdown

Figure 3: Cohort Growth Stage Breakdown

When recruiting participants for the first and second cohort, we tried to identify enterprises that we felt could derive the most value from the program. Based on the content of the playbook, we decided that enterprises in their pre-pilot, pilot, and immediately post-pilot growth stage were the best candidates. We analyzed the survey responses to determine how the experiences of the entrepreneurs varied depending on their growth stage.

We learned that all participants found the program to be valuable because it is focused on the specific needs and challenges of growing an LMD enterprise, but the enterprise’s growth stage dictated which modules the entrepreneur found most valuable. For example, entrepreneurs who have yet to launch their pilot found the first module, “Mission and Impact” to be especially helpful because it encouraged them to first clearly outline the problem they are trying to solve and how they are solving it. But, entrepreneurs who have already successfully completed a pilot found the modules on fundraising and modes of financing to be more helpful as they are looking to raise money to expand their operations.

Regardless of their growth stage, all of the entrepreneurs found the Financial Modeling module to be particularly useful. Several of the entrepreneurs reported that the financial modeling spreadsheet, also known as the “What-If Analysis” tool, was the most valuable aspect of the entire program, and several more plan to keep using this tool regularly. Participants also gave high marks to Module 4: Sales and Sales Agents as the module offered entrepreneurs advice on building and managing a network of sales agents, which is key to the success to any LMD enterprise.

4. Early-stage entrepreneurs working in the same sector value peer interaction and support

There was one key difference between the Cohort 1 program and that of Cohort 2: Webinars. After collecting feedback from Cohort 1, nearly all of the entrepreneurs suggested that future participants have the opportunity to communicate with each other during the program. In response to this feedback, we added a group collaboration component to the second cohort program. This collaboration occurred during scheduled webinars, a time when the entrepreneurs would all join on one call and review the most recent modules with each other and with the webinar facilitators (Miller Center staff).

The Cohort 2 entrepreneurs unanimously agreed that these webinars were one of the most valuable aspects of the LMD program. Several of the participants enjoyed the webinars because these meetings allowed the entrepreneurs to share vendor lists, grant opportunities, business advice and more with people working in the same sector. Participants also found intrinsic value in them, valuing the camaraderie of talking to like-minded entrepreneurs and knowing that they are not alone in the difficult challenge of growing an early-stage LMD enterprise. In this way, the webinars provided additional value to the participants by providing a space the entrepreneurs to support each other.

5. Focusing on a specific sector allows us to leverage the knowledge and expertise of partners

The LMD Playbook program would not have been possible without the assistance of expert partners. While Miller Center has worked closely with social entrepreneurs for more than 20 years, the creation of new sector-specific content required additional knowledge and resources. Therefore, Miller Center looked for partners with experience working in distribution who could add value to the content of the LMD Playbook, support recruitment efforts, and provide additional resources to the participants during the program.

The Replication initiative was fortunate to find and work with several organizations such as D-Prize and Global Distributors Collective (at Practical Action UK) , that share a similar mission and dedication to working in this sector; D-Prize provides grant funding to distribution enterprises and the GDC offers “support, information, and expertise” to last mile distributors. To create the LMD Playbook and run two successful cohorts, Miller Center worked closely with both D-Prize and GDC before and during the program. By focusing on distribution, the formation of the LMD Playbook created this opportunity to bring together like-minded partners who could offer their expertise. This collaboration with both organizations also created additional value to the participating entrepreneurs as D-Prize and the GDC provided distribution-specific support and resources to the participants.

With the success of the first playbook behind us, Miller Center’s Replication Initiative looks forward to creating more sector-specific playbooks for early-stage entrepreneurs. In a few months, we plan to launch both a new playbook and an accompanying program designed for Microgrid enterprises. Like the LMD Program, this new program offers participants the opportunity to learn more about operating a microgrid enterprise through a series of modules and the support of a trusted Miller Center mentor.

As we create new playbooks, we will keep helping LMD enterprises by incorporating the LMD Playbook content into Miller Center’s GSBI Accelerator program as an affinity group. For more information about applying to GSBI and the new affinity groups, click here. Applications are due November 2.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Lauren Oliver started working with Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship as a Global Social Benefit Fellow in 2017. For her fellowship, she worked with the Teach a Man to Fish Organization in Uganda researching social value products. Lauren is a Santa Clara University graduate who completed her Bachelor's Degree in Civil Engineering with a focus in Water Resources in June 2018 and plans to continue working in the social impact sector, ideally for an organization focused on improving access to clean water.

Banner photo courtesy of Empower Generation.

Miller Center and University of San Carlos Kickoff GSBI® Accelerator in the Philippines

Miller Center and University of San Carlos Kickoff GSBI® Accelerator in the Philippines

Twenty-eight local mentors gathered in Cebu City, Philippines to learn the methodology, skills, and best practices to provide effective mentorship to the inaugural accelerator cohorts of Philippine-based social enterprises. Andy Lieberman, Senior Director Growth and Innovation, Jeff Pilisuk, Manager, Growth and Innovation, and Michael Wray, a Senior Mentor with Miller Center’s Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI), were there to kick off the launch of two accelerator programs in partnership with the new Center for Social Entrepreneurship at the University of San Carlos (USC).

The Philippines consists of over 7,000 islands and has a population of more than 100 million people. Over half of the residents live in rural areas and, though poverty levels have declined in recent years,  about one-fifth of the population still live below the national poverty line.

In February, Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, the University of San Carlos, and sponsoring partner, the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc, formalized an ambitious 3-year partnership focused on building three key pillars of the local social enterprise ecosystem in the Philippines:

  1. University of San Carlos (USC) Center for Social Entrepreneurship: a center of excellence in Social Entrepreneurship that will develop courses and academic programs, facilitate field-based action research projects for faculty and students, and offer direct acceleration services to promising social entrepreneurs. A knowledge resource center for students, industry professionals, and entrepreneurs.

  2. Accelerating Local Social Enterprises:  a set of programs offering direct training and mentorship for promising social entrepreneurs, as well as the ability to proactively replicate/translate proven social enterprise operational models from around the globe into the Philippine island context.

  3. Locally-based Impact Investor Network: identify, engage, and educate current and potential impact investors and catalyze the local impact investor network.

Local Cebu mentors prepare to meet their mentees.

Local Cebu mentors prepare to meet their mentees.

Through collaborative partnerships such as this, Miller Center can share the Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI) Methodology for Social Entrepreneurship, build the capacity of partner organizations, and greatly expand our reach and impact well beyond what we can achieve on our own.

On Tuesday, the second day of our trip, 27 social enterprises gathered for the start of the Boost accelerator, a 4-month program based on an extended version of our GSBI Boost curriculum. This group of entrepreneurs was made up of small and micro businesses, including bakers, tailors, weavers, furniture makers, soap makers, retail shop owners, food and agriculture producers, and a nonprofit providing housing to underserved populations. It was an incredibly diverse group yet all demonstrated a commitment to begin the journey to strengthen their business and increase their social impact.

Entrepreneur (left) and mentor getting to know each other.

Entrepreneur (left) and mentor getting to know each other.

The following day, nine entrepreneurs, representing seven social enterprises, gathered in Cebu for the start of the six-month GSBI Online accelerator. This impressive group of mostly women-led enterprises included: Orgunique (organic food and teas), Kinamot Nga Buhat (handmade jewelry and crafts), Fishers & Changemakers (sustainable seafood products), LoudBasstard (passive speakers), Que Alegre (organic products and farming), Pestales Agriculture Cooperative (organic products and farming), and Green Enviro Management Systems (mango flour and other mango byproducts). You could literally feel the enthusiasm and energy in the room as these entrepreneurs sat together with their mentors and began digging into the fundamentals of their social impact and business models.

By the week’s end our visiting team, together with the local team from USC, had completed two mentor workshops and launched our first two cohorts of social enterprises in the Philippines. We met with local impact investor Rico Gonzalez, Managing Director of Xchange.com, who shared his experience and perspective on the social enterprise ecosystem in the Philippines. We visited with leaders from Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation (JPIC), a social ministry that has built new housing for scavengers living near waste disposal sites.  It was a busy and fulfilling week, punctuated by new friendships, food, and hard work. And this is only the beginning.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Jeff Pilisuk has more than 20 years experience developing new products and marketing programs, incubating new businesses, and advising and mentoring SMEs and entrepreneurs. Jeff currently manages Growth and Innovation programs at Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship.

Shifting the Paradigm

Shifting the Paradigm

What do you do when poverty stares you in the face? When it’s five years old, chasing you down the street with a basket full of maize and grabbing your hand? Or when it’s a hesitant smile from a villager, mustering up the courage to speak what’s on her mind? Throughout my time in the fellowship, I witnessed three differing responses to poverty that have radically altered the way I view the world and plan my future.

Kristi Chon conducting action research for NUCAFE as part of Miller Center’s Global Social Benefit Fellowship (Summer 2018).

First, the response of the privileged. The one who uncomfortably averts their eyes from poverty. The problem of poverty is something they don’t see on a day-to-day basis or are trained by society to ignore. This was me, and at last I lived day to day next to the problems my classmates and I have only read about, without a comfortable distance of a book in between us and the problem.  

Second, the response of the man or woman who has “made it out” yet fights to do everything he can to distance himself from the problem. My coworkers tell me of their friends who receive a western education and end up returning to Uganda, discouraged by the lack of employment opportunities and institutional support in their countries of education.

Third, the response of the man or woman who stays for the fight: the response that gives me hope. NUCAFE encapsulates this response throughout its entire organization. After interviewing farmers, my partner and I left deeply moved by the impact the organization is making in many lives and generations to come. We saw how farmers were able to grow financially through receiving higher and consistent prices, having access to trainings to transform their farming capabilities, and in general be united as a community through cooperatives.

NUCAFE was essential in providing this support to farmers when no other institutions had done so. Since the liberalization of Ugandan coffee in 1951, the cooperatives that had previously supported coffee farmers collapsed. Rather than the farmers having bargaining power in numbers, they found themselves isolated and targeted as individuals by middlemen and large multinational corporations that underpaid the farmers leaving them in a cycle of poverty.

However, after our time learning about NUCAFE, I left inspired seeing social enterprises challenge the first two responses to facing the issue of poverty in society. I look forward to exploring how organizations such as NUCAFE harness the third response to address poverty through a career in social impact.

 

About the Author

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Kristi Chon is a fourth year Economics major and Sustainability minor. Since her time as a Global Social Benefit Fellow working with the Ugandan social enterprise NUCAFE, she desires to pursue a career of social impact consulting. She currently works as a Program Assistant advancing Replication efforts at Miller Center.

The intersection of a movement and metrics

The intersection of a movement and metrics

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I am very happy to report a successful Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) Boost in Yaoundé, Cameroon! The Boost was organized on the campus of the Université Catholique d’Afrique Central (UCAC), in Yaoundé, Cameroon, on July 20-22. Local Jesuits animated a local team of excellent professionals. There were 30 social entrepreneurs representing 29 enterprises, drawn primarily from Yaoundé (the political capital) and Douala (the commercial capital on the coast). Of the 30, three-quarters of the participants are under 36 years old, and 17 of the 30 were women. Ten of the 29 enterprises have a focus on serving women, mostly providing other women entrepreneurs IT support and training. Several others worked with women farmers and artisans. There was also a strong emphasis on IT and creating local innovation centers. There is a strong interest in forming local support groups according to geography and interest. Fr. Bossou (one of our Jesuit partners), as well as local mentors, plan to visit these support groups, for reinforcement of key ideas. These groups will identify a representative, who will serve as a liaison with the local team of mentors. 

This group of social entrepreneurs was well educated, with many of them having completed BA degrees. There was a strong focus on creating employment, especially for youth. Cameroonians are much more forward than most Rwandans or Beninois, and the women are quite spirited. They are unafraid of speaking their minds. Bossou reminded me that we are next door to Nigeria and that explains some of the cultural dynamics. There is indeed a social enterprise movement here, but the principle of social impact, and the ideas about social impact measurement, appear to be new. I think that our GSBI Boost, with the ongoing efforts of the local team, will continue to resonate here after we leave. Despite Cameroon being a Francophone nation, most of the participants can read English and speak it with only some difficulty. Some are perfectly fluent in both languages. Many expressed interest in networking with the global social enterprise movement through Miller Center and our newsletter, and some expressed interest in applying. You can see photos from the Boost here.

This GSBI Boost was able to take advantage of the university’s resources. The four excellent Cameroon mentors are alumni of UCAC. They are the best cadre of mentors I have met in Africa. These four would bring great value to our programs, were they our mentors. Fr. Chris Ngolele, SJ (STL@JST/SCU 2016) pulled together an excellent team. Ivan Djossa is a tenured faculty in the management and social sciences school, and was so excited by the GSBI methodology that he was bouncing off the walls. He wants to integrate our methodology into the teaching he does, and to train his students to do action research with the SEs. I will continue this knowledge exchange by extending our action research materials to help Djossa start his own action research program. Aurel Tayou runs a local women rising IT incubator. She recruited several other women entrepreneurs, including one who will be in an accelerator in the Bay Area this fall. Yves and Krystal were also mentors. 

Jose Flahaux, as usual, was the star. He radiates enthusiasm while holding the bar very high. He draws out the best from these groups, and has a good time doing it. On this trip, I have learned a lot more about him, and appreciate his cross-cultural skills. Bossou is ever the fixer, and an essential teammate in helping us to navigate the vagaries of Africa. 

Here are a couple of innovations we developed for this GSBI Boost:

  • Jose got the participants to share one word in public each day, and then created a word cloud. You can see those, here. These allow you to get a sense of the emotional tenor of the sessions. 

  • Several of the social entrepreneurs (SEs) did not get the memo about bringing a computer, so Ivan Djossa gathered seven of his MBA students, who assisted the SEs with their own computers. This helped the SEs, and stimulated enthusiastic conversations among the students. 

  • Working with the local team, we developed a plan that requires each participant to submit their Pitch Deck and Financial Model to the local team and then to us before they can receive their certificate. This delayed certificate distribution is meant to help motivate the SEs to continue relations with the local team and Miller Center. This will not yield 100% of the deliverables, but this will also allow us to follow up, and communicate with them, and potentially report their impact. 

  • The local mentors are organizing regional support sub-groups with mentors acting as liaisons. Bossou will follow up with those in Douala, and the local mentors will follow up in Youndé and other locales. 

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On the Monday afterwards, Jose and I had dinner with Manka Agwafo a Cameroonian-American social entrepreneur in GSBI Online. She is a visionary, determined, warm, wonderful social entrepreneur trying to make the West African agrofood system more humane, sustainable and just. We gave her a bit of feedback on her deck for her upcoming pitch. She explained some of the difficulty we have observed with Cameroonian SEs articulating a clear sense of social impact and metrics. Manka is terrific person, and we want to see her succeed in her mission. I have introduced her to a few more resources for her mission. 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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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.

How Human-Centered Design Thinking is Transforming Lives Around the World

How Human-Centered Design Thinking is Transforming Lives Around the World

Cooperative leaders and micro-entrepreneurs gathering empathy at an innovation workshop in Kigali, Rwanda.

Cooperative leaders and micro-entrepreneurs gathering empathy at an innovation workshop in Kigali, Rwanda.

“Design thinking is just a fad.”  “We’ve been doing design thinking for the last 20 years–it’s just the same old process with fancy new words.” “People who use design thinking never follow through with their projects–it is a waste of time to generate ideas that never get implemented.”  These are examples of a few of the kinder critiques of design thinking. Detractors are suspicious, antagonistic, and downright hostile about design thinking and the types of promises being made about its integration into business and education.

In my own journey as an educator learning human-centered design thinking at the Florida Hospital Innovation Lab (FHIL) in Orlando under the tutelage of Dr. Karen Tilstra, I must admit the process seemed at best silly, and at worst absurd.  I kept thinking, “What is the deal with all those sticky notes and whiteboards filled with insights?”  But then I started seeing the results of design thinking firsthand. Teams of students came away from the innovation process empowered, and with an important tool to make social impact.  FHIL helps Florida Hospital save lives and money, while social enterprises use design thinking to serve the poor around the world.

In the last six years, I have been transformed from a doubter into an evangelist for human-centered design thinking.  I integrate it into every class I teach, and I am always thinking about new ways it can be used. Instead of depressing students with the problems of the world, I now teach them to use their knowledge of problems to come up with desirable solutions.

What is Human-Centered Design Thinking?

Human-centered design thinking (HCDT) is a helpful tool that guides interdisciplinary teams to create viable solutions to social and environmental problems.  At its essence, human-centered design thinking is an innovation mindset and a problem-solving methodology used in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. It is also increasingly taught in colleges and universities.  HCDT focuses on the needs of the end user or beneficiary and can be used to tackle any problem. The fast pace of change and the complex problems of our world demand new ways of innovating solutions, and HCDT is a game changer for social enterprises.

Makers Unite is an inspiring example of how HCDT is being used in the social enterprise space.  Makers Unite, a Global Social Benefit Institute enterprise based in Amsterdam, works with Syrian and African refugees and integrates design thinking throughout its business.  Refugees, called “newcomers,” are taught creative confidence and HCDT in a unique 6-week curriculum, and make products that are sold through e-commerce. Newcomers are then matched with appropriate employment or educational opportunities.  The founder of Makers Unite, Thami Schweichler, is a trained designer; he is always asking the end users how his enterprise can be more helpful and he constantly strategizes how Makers Unite can be financially sustainable and better able to scale.

Design Thinking at Santa Clara University

Human-centered design thinking is transforming the lives of students at Santa Clara University, and specifically at Miller Center.  Our Education and Action Research division trains and sends out interdisciplinary student teams to work alongside social enterprises in the developing world.  A year ago, student teams used HCDT to assist a rural cooperative in Mumeya, Rwanda, in building a business plan for a crop storage facility, and to provide insight to Pollinate Energy, a clean energy social enterprise serving urban slums in India.

Kelly Grunewald, Social Enterprise Intern, leading a design-thinking activity.

Kelly Grunewald, Social Enterprise Intern, leading a design-thinking activity.

Source: PICO International

This summer, working alongside PICO-Rwanda, a community-organizing nonprofit, Miller Center deployed six Santa Clara students to conduct “Business 101” and innovation workshops for rural cooperative leaders and urban women micro-entrepreneurs.  HCDT was at the heart of the preparation of the students and the content of the workshops.  Kelly Grunewald, Miller Center Social Enterprise intern, summed up the power of design thinking: “Human-centered design thinking is a vehicle for transforming the world into a more just and sustainable place.”  Kelly experienced firsthand how design thinking guided Rwandan leaders in framing their challenges and discovering solutions “on their own.” She remarked that it helped leaders “tackle big problems,” by making them “more manageable”. The foundation of design thinking is empathy–listening to others and getting to the heart of the challenge.

Michelle Stecker's innovation model, developed at Santa Clara University (2018)

Michelle Stecker's innovation model, developed at Santa Clara University (2018)

The HCDT method we use at Miller Center is called “The Innovation Journey,” which I developed this year with the help of Shagun Patel, illustrator; Caitlin Blohm, graphic designer; Allan Báez Morales, Director of Frugal Innovation Hub; and countless students, staff, and faculty, who were kind enough to give terrific feedback at all stages of iteration and refinement.  A class of engineering, business, and arts and sciences students, learning how to facilitate HCDT, inspired the model. The Innovation Journey focuses on the needs of end users and reminds us that the journey never ends. We now have teams of SCU students using HCDT for field research, Engineers Without Borders projects, student club challenges, and everyday life problems (like how to keep the kitchen clean!).  A team even used HCDT to create an innovation space in Nobili Hall for Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship employees and SCU students.

The PICO-Rwanda/Miller Center design-thinking innovation team at Centre Christus in Kigali, Rwanda.

The PICO-Rwanda/Miller Center design-thinking innovation team at Centre Christus in Kigali, Rwanda.

Human-centered design thinking transforms people.  Instead of being paralyzed or overwhelmed by the complex problems of the world, practitioners are trained to develop solutions while focusing on the spoken and unspoken needs of the end users.  HCDT is not a fad–it is here to stay, and it is a new tool in the hands of passionate change makers. There are innumerable examples of people around the world who are following through with HCDT projects that are changing lives.  Our Santa Clara students are living proof of how human-centered design thinking is transformative!

Note:  If you would like to help support the Global Social Benefit Fellowship or Social Enterprise Internship program, please click here or contact David Harrison at dmharrison@scu.edu.  These transformative programs are dependent on financial support from generous donors.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Michelle Stecker, PhD, Miller Center’s Director of Education and Action Research, teaches and designs social innovation and entrepreneurship curriculum and leads the effort to integrate human-centered design thinking into the College of Arts & Sciences at Santa Clara University.

Photo and image credits: Video produced by PICO International; all other images and photos property of Santa Clara University.

Why we need Women’s Economic Empowerment for a Sustainable Future

Why we need Women’s Economic Empowerment for a Sustainable Future

Fortunately, we live in a time where female entrepreneurs are gaining recognition for their innovative and socially impactful work. Miller Center alumni like Lesley Marincola (’11) and Shivani Siroya (’12) immediately come to mind.

But, even in 2018, with the proliferation of reporting fueled in this #MeToo and #TimesUp era, we are reminded that our ecosystem remains unequivocally male-dominated. While I will not be discussing the sexist remarks and gender prejudice that still prevails in our society (that’s a story for another day), in this piece, I want to call attention to how empowering women can lead to our sustainable future.

On the job, women make about 80 cents for every dollar as compared to what a man earns. This inequality is even more pronounced when it comes to fundraising. When female founders pitch their ideas to investors for early-stage capital, they receive significantly less—a disparity that averages more than $1 million—than men, according to BCG.

In contrast, according to the same research, businesses founded by women ultimately deliver higher revenue—more than twice as much per dollar invested—than those founded by men. Also on average, more than 11 million U.S. firms are now owned by women, employing nearly 9 million people and generating $1.7 trillion in sales, according to 2017 data from the National Association of Women Business Owners.

What can we do to scale up our work and boost economic gender equality?

Women’s Economic Empowerment as a catalyst for change

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 Women’s economic empowerment is the highest contributing factor to close the gender gap. It is the most impactful way to build a world where women can exercise personal choice and freedom to make their lives better. Given that women are a majority among economically disadvantaged groups, women’s empowerment is essential to opening doors for equal wage and investment.

According to the World Bank, addressing gender inequalities by focusing on women’s empowerment is not only essential to reduce poverty but is also “Smart Economics”.  Better gender equality enhances productivity and improves development and outcomes for future generations. Women represent 40% of the entire global labor force and more than half of the world’s university students. Increasing productivity is directly related to empowering women by making it easy for them to access education, develop competency in a skill set, and pursue opportunities to use their talents

Miller Center’s goal to bring gender parity

Gender parity is a human rights issue and a precondition for, and an indicator of, a sustainable future. As a part of Miller Center’s effort to bring gender-balanced cohorts, a new affinity group of women-led social enterprises has been introduced in our Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) online accelerator program. The goal for this affinity group is to bring more women social entrepreneurs onboard, refine and validate their business and financial models, provide a customized resource library with curated content specific to their businesses, match them with industry-relevant mentors, foster peer-to-peer connections with our alumni, and offer opportunities for their businesses to flourish.

 

From one woman to all women

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Out of all the sustainable development goals of the United Nations, Goal 5, gender equality, has been a major part of my life’s work. Coming from a patriarchal society like Pakistan, I have experienced male dominance first-hand in all spheres of my life. Women in rural, as well as sub-urban areas of Pakistan, have a subordinate position within their communities, even within their own households. Starting from the basic right of education through acquiring the skills needed to get a better-paying job, girls need to shackle multiple barriers to access what is given for granted to men.

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Joining Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship as a Women’s Economic Empowerment Fellow is close to my heart and closer to what I strive to do in my life: building countless opportunities for women all over the world. The idea is to set an example from one woman to all women so our future generations get to see the world where gender is just a classification of human biology.

Applications for our 2019 GSBI programs are being accepted through November 2, 2018 and women-led social enterprises are encouraged to apply. For more information, click here or email gsbi@scu.edu.

Let’s make it happen together!

 

About the author

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Hira Saeed joined Miller Center in July 2018 through a partnership with the US Embassy in Islamabad and Atlas Corps. Hira works as a GSBI Women’s Economic Empowerment Fellow to implement  new  research,  initiatives,  and  projects  to  help advance women’s economic empowerment through GSBI programs globally and with a specific focus in the Middle East.


Photo and image credits: Women empowerment artwork used under Creative Commons CC0; Planet 50-50 from UN Women; Group photo at Aman Foundation courtesy of Hira Saeed; all other images and photos property of Santa Clara University.

SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP AS SPIRITUALITY

SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP AS SPIRITUALITY

Over the summer, Miller Center accompanied over 150 social enterprises through our accelerator programs to help them discern pathways to scale their impact as they serve the poor, protect the planet, and economically empower women.

Bay Area Boost (June 2018)

Bay Area Boost (June 2018)

We worked with Jesuits in Cameroon and Benin to accelerate more than 60 community-based enterprises that support women farmers and artisans and provide IT training to women. In partnership with Catholic Charities, we ran a Bay Area Boost for 32 social services organizations and enterprises. For ten days in August, we hosted 26 entrepreneurs from 18 social enterprises on the Santa Clara University campus as part of our 9-month GSBI® In-Residence accelerator program. Over 150 “friends and family” welcomed them at Testarossa Winery, site of the historic Novitiate Winery, an enterprise of Jesuits in formation for almost a century. 240 impact investors, mentors, and guests attended our GSBI Investor Showcase and our social enterprises had on average 3.6 investor meetings each. Our 18 2018 Global Social Benefit Fellows returned from 7 weeks in Ghana, Uganda, Rwanda, India, and Zambia conducting action research for GSBI alumni social enterprises. Indeed, it’s been an amazing summer of walking with change leaders around the world.

2018 Miller Center annual report

2018 Miller Center annual report

Witnessing social entrepreneurs discern growth plans is a spiritual experience for me. Because their intention is for the greater good – to improve, transform, or save lives of people living in poverty, their work is powered by love and compassion. As we accompany them through this process, we see what more we can do to help others, a manifestation of the notion of magis. They are architects of hope, the theme of Miller Center’s 2018 Annual Report.

After I chaired a panel on mobilizing resources to help refugees at the Third Vatican Impact Investing Conference this summer, people asked me about my faith. Similar questions arose following my welcoming comments at our August GSBI events. I describe myself as spiritual, not religious, as you can witness from the story of my communion experience at St. Peter’s tomb. Because we are multi-dimensional and intersectional in our identities, so too is our spirituality. This I am sure of: social entrepreneurship is a core component of my spirituality.

Wildfire smoke blankets California  Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Earth Science Data and Information System (ESDIS) project

Wildfire smoke blankets California
Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Earth Science Data and Information System (ESDIS) project

The view from my home in Sonoma County is obscured by smoke drifting down from Mendocino County, Oregon, British Columbia; a hurricane hurls towards Hawai’i, where I have planned a brief dive vacation next week. Climate change is affecting our lives, but it affects the poor the most.

Refugees flee violence driven by hunger, thirst, political corruption, greed, power; many have nowhere to go, rejected by those who claim moral authority. There is much reason to lose hope.

Despite the smoke, I prepare for Friday afternoon yoga, putting on a soft t-shirt with a Jimi Hendrix quote: “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”

The opportunity to accompany architects of hope is proximity to the power of love, and that connects us all. We invite you to join Miller Center on this incredible journey.

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Implementation in action: one community advancing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals

Implementation in action: one community advancing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals

One community made up of 25 social business leaders, 63 executive mentors, and 18 social enterprises is tackling all but four of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals

This community formed in January, where it began its journey together through the GSBI In-Residence accelerator program. This August that journey culminated with 10-days at Santa Clara University where Silicon Valley’s best talents and teachings collaborated with the world’s most innovative social change makers to examine how to scale solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. Problems these social entrepreneurs have taken on by answering the questions:

How might we help the 4 billion people living in poverty get into the middle class?

How do we get affordable, clean energy to the 1.6 billion without electricity?

How do we provide clean, safe drinking water to the 750 million without?

At the end of our 10 days together, the entrepreneurs also had answers to the questions of: how do you create and track social impact, how does the business model work, what is the growth strategy, are the financials credible, and, how effectively are you managing the operations of your business?

If you are interested in their answers, I invite you to watch these powerful video presentations, and read these overview profiles.

The enterprises presented above carry the courage, brilliance, grit, and visions of the leaders, teams, and beneficiaries they represent. They also encompass the dedicated mentorship and guidance from professionals who accompanied decades of tacit knowledge into 18 audacious, infinitely important missions.

I invite you to join our network of 900+ social entrepreneur alumni by applying to our programs, 200+ executive mentors, 100+ student fellows, and growing community of supporters.

For those already on the journey with us, I thank you.

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Cassandra Staff
Chief Operating Officer
Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship

 

Solve Energy Poverty, Solve Climate Change?

Solve Energy Poverty, Solve Climate Change?

By the end of the recent GSBI in-residence program, I was feeling energized, appreciative, and – on one question – flummoxed. It was a fleeting, rhetorical question: Was my focus solving poverty or solving climate change? I’m a new apostle of simplified messaging, but on this point, ‘both’ still seems the right answer.

“The poor cannot afford poor solutions,” says social entrepreneur Runa Khan. In an era of climate change, none of us can afford poor energy solutions. Happily, clean energy is now nearly universally the most cost-effective way to generate electricity. We do not need to choose between cheap, high-quality and clean. They are the same.

I work in Haiti, building electricity systems in towns that have never before had grid power. I’m often surprised when people separate energy poverty from climate change. I get a good laugh out of my US clean energy friends when I gently tease, “It’s easier to build a ‘town-sized, solar-powered smart grid in rural Haiti than it is in [Washington, DC / Santa Clara / Insert any major grid-connected city name here].” They know it’s true. Of course, I face different challenges, but building something from scratch is always easier than disrupting the status quo. There is no incumbent infrastructure or utility business model in the towns where I work, so I get to collaborate with local and international partners to think through what the best system could be. Building self-contained off-grid utility systems, we get to face many of the ‘big grid’ challenges on a micro scale. Is 100% clean energy possible? Yes. Is storage essential? For solar microgrids, yes. Are clean energy microgrids exciting elements of resilient power systems of the future? Definitely.

First and foremost, building energy access is about solving poverty. Electricity is not sufficient for prosperity, but it is essential. In rural Haiti, families without electricity are spending 10% of their income on kerosene and candles for lighting. (In the US we generally spend less than 0.5% of our income on lighting.) Around the world, over a billion people have no electricity, with tragic consequences. Without electricity, there is very little opportunity.

Solving energy poverty can also help solve climate change. The two issues are linked. “Sustainable energy is opportunity – it transforms lives, economies and the planet,” reads Sustainable Development Goal 7. That Goal is summarized as “affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.”

Clean energy microgrids can directly reduce CO2 and black carbon emissions by replacing kerosene lamps and diesel generators. If electric cooking pilots are successful, they can also replace charcoal. Though wick-based kerosene lamps emit only modest CO2, they are significant emitters of atmospheric ‘black carbon’, a strong climate warmer.

EarthSpark takes a ‘  feminist electrification’   approach to energy access, intentionally leveraging the arrival of electricity to benefit women. Here, Rosane Jean-Jacques, a grid ambassador, sells electricity credits from a tablet.

EarthSpark takes a ‘feminist electrification’ approach to energy access, intentionally leveraging the arrival of electricity to benefit women. Here, Rosane Jean-Jacques, a grid ambassador, sells electricity credits from a tablet.

Clean energy microgrids can also chart the course for grid decarbonization. Ironically, important grid innovation may come from remote villages that have not yet seen electricity. Where there is no incumbent infrastructure, there is an opportunity to build energy systems with today's best technologies and business models. These models that leverage clean energy, storage, smart grid, and customer participation can be adapted to inform the evolving utility business models in established markets. For example, both Homer Energy’s microgrid software tool and SparkMeter’s low-cost smart meters were both initially developed for stand-alone microgrids and are now seeing applications in central grids.

Of course, solving energy poverty will not alone solve the climate change crisis. There are many levers we should be pulling simultaneously, only some of which are addressed by solving energy poverty. Indeed, Project Drawdown‘s list of 100 climate solutions rank “microgrids” a lowly #78. But an integrated electrification approach involves not only microgrids but also rooftop solar (#10), clean cookstoves (#21), LED lighting (#33), and empowering women and girls (#6). Economic development enabled by the arrival of electricity can also influence agriculture, forestry, and many other key solutions.

To be sure, if tackling energy poverty did not also address climate change, it would still be worth doing. Regions with high energy poverty, in general, have had almost no role in causing the current climate crisis.  Poor countries should not be saddled with solving global emissions problems, but, because distributed clean energy systems are now cheaper and faster to build than the alternatives, poor countries have the opportunity to leapfrog straight into smart, clean, efficient systems. It just doesn’t make sense to build 20th century power systems in 2018.

Though more and more are getting built, microgrids are not easy yet. From California to Puerto Rico to India, Africa, and Haiti, proponents of microgrids are struggling with technical, participant, and policy challenges. That, to me, is precisely why energy access microgrids are so exciting. Clean energy microgrids are early-stage, but they hold enormous potential. When we solve these challenges and start to mainstream microgrids, we will have made meaningful progress towards solving both energy poverty and climate change.

About Allison Archambault
Allison is president of EarthSpark International, a non-profit organization incubating businesses that solve energy poverty. EarthSpark has built a town-sized, solar-powered smart grid in rural Haiti and has spun off a smart meter company, SparkMeter, which now serves microgrid operators in 22 countries.  She previously worked on large-scale renewable energy siting and grid integration and with an early clean tech company combining distributed energy storage, solar PV, and energy management. She holds a B.A. (hons) from Tufts University and a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins. She is a member of the 2018 GSBI In-Residence accelerator cohort at Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship.

 


Banner photo (Les Anglais, Haiti): EarthSpark microgrids run on solar power and serve everyone from tiny households to pico-industry in rural towns.

Photo credits: EarthSpark International

Closer To Being Free: Rebuilding Lives of Human Trafficking Survivors

Closer To Being Free: Rebuilding Lives of Human Trafficking Survivors

Fifteen of us sat in a circle on the cool marble floor, drawing birds and flowers.  The girls ranged in age from a tiny seven-year-old named Jasminda with uncanny artistic abilities, to twenty-year old Rishi, who just started college and probably should have been studying, but she just couldn’t resist joining in the fun.

Leela stood alone in the corner, silently watching.  She looked about 16.  She wrapped her arms around her body, seeming cold despite the warm temperature. Her eyes were impossible to read.   Angry, afraid, yearning to join the group, depressed or completely detached?  I couldn’t tell.   She is in a safe place now, at the shelter for trafficking survivors built by Her Future Coalition last year near Darjeeling, India.  But until recently Leela was living a nightmare. Her existence is very hard to even imagine – used every night by 15-20 men on a filthy mattress without even a sheet. She was an outcast judged by passers-by on the street, betrayed by her family, controlled with physical violence, or worse, with shame. Shame is a tool her traffickers used with great skill, knowing it can be even more powerful than physical torture.

Leela had been rescued very recently.  She still showed physical and emotional signs of trauma and was not going to trust easily again.  The risk of hoping and being disappointed is too high.  But we have been in this situation before, many times with wounded girls like Leela who seemed impossible to reach.  At first, I despaired of them ever recovering.  But they did.  With love and time, their spirits came back into their bodies and they began building a new life.

I inched backwards until I was sitting near Leela’s feet.  Not looking her directly in the eye (too threatening), I gave her a sideways glance, inviting her to sit and draw with me.  She shook her head.  A younger girl came over and we drew together for a few minutes.  Eventually, Leela got tired of standing, or maybe it felt culturally inappropriate to remain looming over me, an adult.  She sat beside me, still unsmiling and remote.  We made the briefest eye contact.  I pushed across a piece of paper, and then my pencil. I gently pointed to an image in a book that I wanted to copy for the mural we planned to paint on the shelter wall.  She shook her head no.  I shrugged, that’s okay, no pressure.

But a few minutes later, Leela bit her lips, pushed the hair out her eyes, and began to draw.  She did so brilliantly - an exquisitely detailed peacock, a garden of flowers.  The others were called for lunch and the project came to an end.  Leela stayed on the floor, drawing for hours until we lost the light.

The next morning she was waiting at the shelter door when we arrived, eager to begin painting the mural.  On our last day, she cried the hardest of anyone.  But I know she will be okay.  She is a survivor.  She found the courage to come out of her isolation to sit on the floor with a stranger and draw a peacock.  Next she will learn a trade.  Perhaps she will choose to learn how to make jewelry and go through our two-year goldsmith training.  She could join the jewelry team at our sister organization, Relevée, and earn a good salary as a professional jeweler and designer. For now, it is enough for her to begin believing that not everyone is out to hurt or use her, that life can be sweet again.

-Sarah Symons, Executive Director of Her Future Coalition and Co-Founder of Relevée

“As we work to dismantle trafficking networks and help survivors rebuild their lives, we must also address the underlying forces that push so many into bondage. We must develop economies that create legitimate jobs, build a global sense of justice that says no child should ever be exploited, and empower our daughters and sons with the same chances to pursue their dreams. This month, I call on every nation, every community, and every individual to fight human trafficking wherever it exists. Let us declare as one that slavery has no place in our world, and let us finally restore to all people the most basic rights of freedom, dignity, and justice.”

-Barack Obama, 2013

 

Sarah Symons is the Founder and Executive Director of Her Future Coalition, an international nonprofit helping survivors of gender violence to rebuild their lives, and Co-Founder/CIO of Relevée, a social impact fine jewelry business participating in Miller Center's GSBI® Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins cohort..

Over the past ten years, Sarah and her team have helped over 2500 women and children in India, Nepal, Cambodia and Thailand to build safe, independent futures through innovative shelter, education and employment programs.

Previously, Sarah worked as a composer of TV music and as a recording artist. 

Her book, This is No Ordinary Joy, is available on Amazon.com

 

Mobilizing for Migrants, Refugees, and Slaves

Mobilizing for Migrants, Refugees, and Slaves

Click on image to access the encyclical

Click on image to access the encyclical

The third Vatican impact investing conference will convene in Rome next month. It seeks to mobilize capital to address pressing, interconnected, global problems: migrants and refugees, climate change, youth underemployment, and health. In his encyclical Laudato Si’, Pope Francis notes the “tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation” (25) and notes “interdependence obliges us to think of one world with a common plan.” (164).  I am honored to be the invited moderator of a panel on Migrants, Refugees, and SMEs.

In January, when Miller Center decided to launch the SEM accelerator program for social enterprises serving or led by refugees, migrants, or human trafficking survivors, we wondered how many and what kinds of these ventures existed.

We were surprised when many of the over 100 applicants told us the SEM cohort is the first they’d encountered focused on helping them scale their impact, as Program Manager Marie Haller notes. Their business models include impact sourcing, entrepreneurial support, and skills training. Technologies including blockchain and AI are part of the solutions they offer to refugees and modern-day slaves.

We had hoped that launching the SEM program might reveal entrepreneurial solutions to serve the most marginalized among our common human family. The quality and quantity of applicant social enterprises and their profound passion in our pioneering program amazed and heartened us. Convening this group of social entrepreneurs has built momentum among a variety of stakeholders interested in finding new solutions for these global crises.  

Vodafone Americas Foundation, The Chao Foundation/Transparent Fish Fund, and Skoll Foundation have stepped forward to provide Miller Center financial support as we accompany the SEM social enterprises; we are grateful.

ImpactAlpha recently ran a story entitled Entrepreneurs and investors mobilize to tackle challenges of refugees, migrants, and modern day slaves, identifying a growing “market” of the forcibly displaced and enslaved and consequent growing pools of capital. We are thrilled that this story names four of the twenty-one social enterprises in our Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins (SEM)cohort and humbled by the Reuters headline, California executives mentor businesses helping migrants and slaves.

When journalists and foundations use phrases like “stock the pipeline” of investment-ready social enterprises, and “an emerging ecosystem”, it suggests a bigger movement is afoot to define an impact sector focused on the needs of the displaced and enslaved.  

We need it now more than ever. Tomorrow, June 20, is World Refugee Day. We hope you’ll join us on this journey to discern a common plan that affords refugees dignified livelihoods and eradicates modern-day slavery.  


Photo credits: banner image by geralt on Pixabay.com; screenshot of Pope Francis from laudatosi.com; UNHCR, image from UN Refugee Agency post embedded from Facebook by Markel Redondo)

Collective Voices Beyond #MeToo in the Social Impact Ecosystem

Collective Voices Beyond #MeToo in the Social Impact Ecosystem

I, like many women, have followed the cultural shift spurred by THE hashtag currently sweeping the world with ever-increasing intensity. Every tweet (this one is a personal favorite), and every article that shows up in my news and social media feed with mention of the now ubiquitous #MeToo grabs my attention and I can’t help but feel growing levels of satisfaction and resolution. Because what this means is that we are finally feeling encouraged and empowered (underscore underscore) to speak up and call out forms of behavior that are no longer deemed appropriate. From an even broader perspective, the #MeToo movement is challenging us to take another lens through which to view the world, to rethink behavior, and hold ourselves accountable as well as to a higher standard.

To most it probably comes as little to no surprise that the bulk of public accusations of sexual harassment and assault have by and large emerged from Hollywood and political arenas and, even in the culinary world as my cousin Misa Shikuma so aptly wrote in her piece, Male Privilege in the Kitchen. What is probably more surprising is that sexual harassment and assault is also prevalent in the social impact ecosystem.

We, myself included, often assume that because we work in the social impact industry, everyone is “well intentioned,” because we actually care about creating a world where poverty is eliminated, everyone has access to clean water and sanitation, and every girl and boy has equal access to education. In other words, creating a world in which all 17 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals are achieved.

CEO and Co-founder Ayla Schlosser

CEO and Co-founder Ayla Schlosser

But what is important to point out is that the world of social entrepreneurship is inextricably tied to the world of fundraising and the fundamental role of power dynamics between those seeking funding and those granting funding cannot be denied. Sexual harassment derives from an underlying imbalance of power as GSBI alumna, Ayla Schlosser of Resonate calls out in her article Fundraising While Female.

So where does that leave those of us working in this space? How do we as conveners, accelerators, social enterprises, and impact investors move forward in light of #MeToo? First and foremost, the very notion of calling out when power dynamics are at play is crucial. Second, we must work together collectively to apprentice the problem because it is vital that all perspectives are heard and everyone at the table has equal agency. We at Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University are taking steps to discern a path forward having drafted a Code of Conduct and Ways of Working that outlines the importance of working together and to celebrate everyone’s dignity.

We are the first to admit, however, that simply having a written document is not enough, and that there needs to be further guidance around solutions. It is time for an open conversation and collective actions and the work needs to be done by women and men; the environment has to change. Miller Center, in collaboration with our friends and partners at Conveners.orgEchoing GreenResonateDraper Richards Kaplan Foundation, and Skoll Foundation, are working together to propose a two-part session for this year’s 2018 SOCAP Open. In view of the #MeToo movement, we are proposing sessions that will create and establish a collective voice on behavioral norms in the social enterprise and impact investing communities as well as an exploration of how to balance zero tolerance and restorative justice. #TIMESUPNOW

You can help participate in this collective voice by upvoting our session proposal at SOCAP. Vote here and here by June 29.

 

Photo and image credits: banner image from Today Testing; Sustainable Development Goals courtesy of United Nations Department of Public Information; photo of Ayla Schlosser courtesy of Resonate.







 

Behind the scenes: Takeaways from our cohort selection process

Behind the scenes: Takeaways from our cohort selection process

Mentors have been carefully selected and introductions have been made to the 21 social enterprises joining Miller Center’s new cohort, Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins (SEM). After spending January through April recruiting these entrepreneurs from a pool of over 100 applicants, it feels exciting to finally start learning and collaborating together.

Through the recruitment process, I heard from many folks that this was the first program they’d found supporting entrepreneurs focused on working with refugees, migrants and human trafficking survivors. It was surprising news given the unprecedented numbers of people who are currently displaced from their homes globally. We began to realize there is a large opportunity here to bring together innovators and other stakeholders from all over the world to learn from each other and change the way we support the most marginalized in our communities.

Photo credit: Makers Unite

Photo credit: Makers Unite

As the interviews unfolded, we learned more about the types of solutions people are creating to fill in the gaps that humanitarian aid doesn’t cover. We ultimately selected a cohort of 21 organizations that have impact in 24 countries globally, with the most businesses working regionally in Southeast Asia, East Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. A quick scan of the headlines should make it clear why those are the hotspots, including Europe. We heard from several members of our cohort, such as Refugee Company and More than One Perspective,that the large number of refugees who were resettled in the EU, in 2015 inspired them to help these newcomers build community and livelihoods.

Despite this global distribution, the strong majority (14 out of 21) of the organizations are focused on job or entrepreneurial training programs and/or job placement services for people who have been displaced and need support rebuilding their lives. It seems clear from this data point alone that this is a big challenge in the current system that needs to be solved creatively. Many of these entrepreneurs are working on it, with models clustered around 3 primary areas:

  • Digital skills – “Impact sourcing” organizations and coding schools that train displaced people and human trafficking survivors to gain transferable skills and do digital work remotely. Cohort participants refugees{code}, Regenesys BPO, and WorkAround are enterprises doing work in this area.
  • Entrepreneurial Support – Providing refugee entrepreneurs with education and direct investment for their start-ups. SEM participants doing work in this space include African Entrepreneur Collective, and Five One Labs.
  • Learning a trade – Organizations are training and hiring migrants, refugees, and human trafficking survivors in industries as varied as coffee, high-end artisan crafts, solar energy, fine jewelry and many others. 1951 Coffee Company, Destiny Reflection, and Relevee are SEM enterprises doing transformational work in this way.
Photo credit: Talent Beyond Boundaries

Photo credit: Talent Beyond Boundaries

Over the next 6 months, we hope to learn a lot more alongside these organizations about what alternative, sustainable solutions could look like that help restore dignity for people who are displaced or forced into modern-day slavery. During the virtual kick-off last week, we had cohort members asking when and how they can start collaborating, as well as saying hello to other entrepreneurs in their region that they’ve met before. We’ll be bringing them together virtually through “office hours” over the next few months and in-person October 19-23 to share their expertise with each other and catalyze systemic change within the sector. We hope you’ll join us for the showcase on October 23 to hear directly from the entrepreneurs about their progress and the impact they’re making on the ground.

You don’t have to search hard to find news headlines detailing this global crisis we are all facing, but hopefully it won’t be much longer until we see more headlines showcasing new types of solutions that work for everyone.  

 

Banner photo courtesy of African Entrepreneur Collective