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Women's Empowerment

Be It Women In Tech Or Women In Social Sector, The Call For Change Is Same

Be It Women In Tech Or Women In Social Sector, The Call For Change Is Same

With my background in tech journalism and recent experience of working with Miller Center, where I lead our women-led affinity group that has 25 women running their social enterprises, I had a chance to reflect on the issues, problems, and opportunities of both sectors.

Last month, I attended The Next Web Conference in Amsterdam and represented Miller Center For Social Entrepreneurship at their The Next Women track. The conference brought together 12,500 attendees and 3,500 companies from all over the world. For me, it was a delightful experience to meet and greet women from the tech sector, women social entrepreneurs who are using tech to solve social issues, and other stakeholders who all share the vision to make this world a better place to live.

The conference also hosted 2019 Chivas Venture – a social startup competition that gives away $1m in no-strings-attached funding to businesses who blend profit with purpose to have a positive impact on the world. From 20 global finalists, Mexico’s Xilinat walked away with the largest amount of funding, receiving $310,000, following a live pitch at the conference.

Xilinat is on a mission to convert agricultural waste into a natural sugar substitute that looks and tastes like normal sugar yet is low in calories; helping tackle obesity while providing a sustainable alternative for diabetics and the health-conscious. 

During multiple discussions with social entrepreneurs who pitched at the conference, investors and general attendees, I curated some high-level conclusions of the problems and issues after that conference. 

Women Representation in Social Sector is Far Better

The serious underrepresentation of women in the tech industry is always in the news. All big companies in Silicon Valley are fighting for it but the stats are much better for the social sector. The social enterprise or non-profit model has women representation in ever-greater numbers: 38 percent of social ventures are now led by women, while there are more than twice as many men than women in conventional business. In other news quoted by Independent, More than 90 percent of companies that are tackling social problems have at least one woman on their leadership team, as opposed to almost half of small or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that have all-male directors. 

The numbers are not surprising, though. Due to their compassionate and empathetic nature, women tend to start a business that is close to their heart, have more passion involved and/or tackle any global or local issues of their country or community. These traits are certainly not gender-specific but they create a pattern. 

By leveraging women representation in the social sector, we can also fix the gender gap in the tech industry. More technological solutions to solve the world’s problems is just one way to do it.

Access to Capital

As per Kauffman Research, women entrepreneurs face three challenges for their firms: a lack of mentors, their view of success and failure, and a financing gap. Access to capital in both sectors is an issue. It’s not just in the United States— last year, in Europe, 93% of technology investments went to all-male founding teams. On the other hand, despite the fact that women tend to run more social enterprises with a non-profit model as compared to men, a significant issue has been overlooked – namely, investment in women-led social enterprises. According to studies, 45% of women entrepreneurs report access to capital as one of the major barriers to sustaining an enterprise, compared with 36% of men.

Over the years, impact investors and gender-lens investors emerged as strong beneficiaries to help women entrepreneurs raise the capital but the gap is still too big in both sectors.

Access to Mentors and Role Models

While having a candid discussion with representatives of Startup Genome who released their Global Startup Ecosystem Report based on primary and secondary data from over 10,000 founders and more than one million companies across over 150 cities worldwide, we discussed the barriers on why women representation is still a question mark in many countries and sector. 

One of the highlights of the discussion was the inaccessibility of mentors and role models in respective industries. You don’t become what you don’t see. In the United States, only 43 percent of managers are women and less than 19 percent of corporate board members are women. The mentorship comes from someone who has been through the journey and the leadership gap is one of the main barriers for women entrepreneurs to access mentorship and role models.

Having men mentors in your entrepreneurial journey is not wrong but having role models and mentors who have been through the same journey, helps them get acclimated and gives a feeling of being connected on a level where they can bat around strategies and also get some counsel on their personal and professional goals.


This issue takes us back to where we all started gaining knowledge about things, i.e, childhood. As a kid, girls have always been pinkified with the gifts that sometimes only include dolls, dollhouses, make-up products, cutlery sets and what not. Whereas, the gifts boys get are toy cars, hoverboards, and gadgets. Psychologically, men are pushed from an early stage to ‘be a man’ and take risks whereas girls are taught to ‘act like a girl’ and be more submissive.

All these psychological conditioning have impacted the way we see entrepreneurship trends these days where self-confidence is a major issue faced by women entrepreneurs. Women founders see themselves less capable of running a company and hold themselves off many times. Whereas, Men tend to grab more risk-oriented business opportunities, are more likely to start a business with profits in mind, and have higher expectations for their business in terms of money, size, and rate of growth. Thinking big and embracing risk is more common among male entrepreneurs.

Social entrepreneurship still has a better rate of women entrepreneurs gaining momentum as compared to the tech industry because women often launch their businesses to gain growth instead of wealth. Women social entrepreneurs prefer lower risk opportunities, smaller returns with better impact, and a more localized customer base.


The more I talk to entrepreneurs (men and women) from both sectors about the issue of gender equality and bias, the more I stand firm on the point that it is an issue regardless of which sector you work in. The call for change in both sectors is the same hence the collaboration between them is necessary. In some countries, women entrepreneurs are only mentored but not funded. In some parts of the world, access to funding and funding itself is nowhere to be found.

If we increase the share of women representation in leadership positions in both sectors, make funding accessible and easy, create a strong pipeline for mentors access and last but not the least, make our girls bold, brave and risk taker from an early age, we will see tangible rewards that will benefit not just women but the entire society.

About the author

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.

“Converting” Catholic Social Ministries

“Converting” Catholic Social Ministries

Social enterprise workshop participants

Social enterprise workshop participants

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

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

Sisters in social entrepreneurship

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

Keith Warner OFM and Sisters

Keith Warner OFM and Sisters

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

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

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

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

Activating Jesuit networks

Pamela Roussos workshop

Pamela Roussos workshop

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

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

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

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

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

Agnieszka Winkler at Jesuit workshop in Nairobi

Agnieszka Winkler at Jesuit workshop in Nairobi

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

Winnie Wan, Pascalia Sergon, and Vedaste Nkeshimana SJ

Winnie Wan, Pascalia Sergon, and Vedaste Nkeshimana SJ

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

Lisa Fullam and Elphege Quenum SJ

Lisa Fullam and Elphege Quenum SJ

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

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

About the Author

Keith Douglass Warner, OFM, PhD directs Miller Center’s education, fellowship, grants and action research activities. He directs the Global Social Benefit Fellowship, which provides a comprehensive program of mentored, field-based study and research for SCU juniors within the Center’s worldwide network of social entrepreneurs. With Thane Kreiner, PhD, he designed the fellowship and wrote the grant that funds it.

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.”


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.



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.

5 Social Entrepreneurs and VCs share why Gender-lens investing is important for the ecosystem

5 Social Entrepreneurs and VCs share why Gender-lens investing is important for the ecosystem

The term ‘gender lens investing’ coined in early 2009, is now being used heavily in the VC world. Throughout the years, women-owned businesses have suffered due to lack of capital, funds, support, and resources. According to an Ashoka global survey, 9% of their fellows reported experiencing gender-specific challenges while attracting funding and investment for their businesses.

In 2005, when Valeurs Feminines fund, created by the French money-management firm Conseil Plus Gestion, started investing in women-owned and women-led European businesses, it led to many other venture capitalists joining the league. Now, some of the famous gender lens portfolios include Morgan StanleyMerrill LynchGoldman SachsRoot CapitalVeris Wealth PartnersIlluminate VenturesTrillium Asset ManagementGray Matters CapitalGolden Seeds, and the Calvert Foundation.

Gender lens investment yields many benefits to the ecosystem and also contributes to our sustainable future. As times are changing and if we look back, the return on investment or equity of women-owned or backed businesses has never been low. Over a five-year period (2011-2016), U.S. companies that began the period with at least three women on the board experienced median gains in return on equity (ROE) of 10 percentage points and earnings per share (EPS) of 37%.

What other benefits does gender lens investing bring to the table? I had the opportunity to talk to five social entrepreneurs and VCs to share their opinion on it. Let’s hear it from them.


Reema Shah - Investor and Managing Director, Golden Seeds

“Gender investing is absolutely necessary for the ecosystem since women entrepreneurs have been tremendously underfunded around the world, whether it is in Silicon Valley or in an emerging market. Yet, research has shown that companies consisting of at least one female senior executive are more likely to have favorable outcomes than those with an all-male senior executive team. It is also important from a societal impact perspective to invest in women entrepreneurs, as they are significant contributors to innovation and economic growth.”


“Any serious shift towards more sustainable societies must include gender equality. At Green Box, we really believe it is high time to fully invest in ‘her’. Integrating a gender lens in social and corporate businesses can empower women especially young girls in developing countries. We need to remember that they are key to critical, sustainable development challenges: talent acquisition, workplace culture, and the need for holistic innovation.”


Renata George - Managing Director, Zenmen VC fund; Founder, and

“As a tech VC investor, I can say that many of my fellow colleagues have been missing out on the opportunity of getting better returns from women-led businesses. On the one hand, we cannot blame the men for not having any clue about what women need. However, that brings us to the other issue - the lack of female venture investors who are more than capable of recognizing high-potential tech solutions targeting females that can provide good returns.

Having women investors don’t necessarily automatically lead to a proportional increase in funding for female entrepreneurs because the ratio of them among all entrepreneurs is still low. So unless the investment theses mandate funding female entrepreneurs, the organic share of startups with at least one female founder in a portfolio won’t exceed 15-20%, however, VC firms with female investors do have better chances of attracting female entrepreneurs to their portfolios. It is a fragile structure that needs to be carefully built by all the participating parties with a great share of attention shown to it over time.”


“Less than 10% of venture capital goes to women founders. This system-wide failure presents a huge opportunity for capital deployment. Women founders, while being underestimated, are working on innovative solutions and building scalable products. Polyvore, Glossier, Canva, and Houzz are great examples of companies that were started by women to solve a need in the market that no one else was tackling. If we don't invest in women and LGBTQ founders, while building emerging ecosystems, we're essentially defueling the rocketship of change as it's trying to take off.”


Asma Salman Omer - Co-founder, Marham

“For the last 3 years, Marham grew exponentially as a healthcare startup in Pakistan and one of the core reasons behind it is women. The power and passion of women on our team has moved mountains. Do you know who has benefited the most? Those women who couldn't find the right treatment for themselves. And who played the role in our massive organic growth and word of mouth? Those women who were helped and wanted to help others. What I know for sure is, women can grow and catalyze everything - from revenue numbers to the impact we created - I must say if we want to grow, gender lens investing is a decision every investor should make to thrive in the ecosystem.”



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.

Miller Center’s Top 10 List of 2018

Miller Center’s Top 10 List of 2018

As the end of the year quickly approaches, I look back over these past twelve months and am humbled by our community’s progress and accomplishments. The urgency to advance and accompany the social enterprises that our Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) programs serve was undeniably powerful this year.

I start each day scanning streams of social media and news outlets. This routine has unsuspectingly become my daily dose of hope. There is an abundance of stories that are at once poignant and energizing. One morning I’ll come across an approach developed by a Miller Center GSBI alum to help refugees earn respectable livelihoods, the next day I’ll read a fiery piece from a female-led enterprise that invokes my personal commitment to social impact. One of my favorite parts of my day is sharing these updates across our channels and amplifying the work of our Global Social Benefit Fellows, GSBI alumni, partners, mentors, and my Miller Center colleagues.

As a marketer, I appreciate that these stories–all this “content”–also offers context about you, our readers. With the help of Marketing Associate Alexis Tong, we collected and analyzed a year’s worth of media mentions, website analytics, click-throughs from our bi-monthly newsletters, and social media engagement across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn to inform the composition of this Top 10 list. We generated an algorithm that ranked each news story, blog, and social media post to discover which were most engaging.

Serendipitously, this data-derived list authentically aligns with what the team agrees as our 2018 highlights. Here are the results:

10. #MeToo at SOCAP

In October Miller Center joined 20,000 participants at SOCAP (Social Capital Markets)–a gathering of impact investors, entrepreneurs, and cross-sector practitioners focused on increasing the flow of capital toward social good. Our staff and Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) alumni participated on a variety of panels, including Tools for Scaling Social Ventures, Pioneering Social Enterprise Solutions for Refugees and Trafficking Survivors, and Creative Tensions: Investment & Impact. Yet, it was Senior Program Manager Karen Runde’s submission of Collective Voices Beyond #MeToo that was granted both a panel session and a workshop to explore the topic within the social impact ecosystem. The sessions at SOCAP explored restorative justice, the paradox of power, and even inspired this post-event blog by Avary Kent, Founding Executive Director of

Senior Program Manager Karen Runde introduces panelists participating on Collective Voices Beyond #MeToo Part 2. (Santa Clara University)

Senior Program Manager Karen Runde introduces panelists participating on Collective Voices Beyond #MeToo Part 2. (Santa Clara University)

9. Social Entrepreneurs, Mentors, Impact Investors… Oh My!

In August we welcomed 25 social business leaders, 63 executive mentors, and 18 social enterprises to the Santa Clara University Campus for our GSBI In-Residence accelerator. The gathering is an intensive 10-day convening of changemakers focused on scaling their innovative solutions that address the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.  Journalist Catherine Cheney of Devex met with a number of entrepreneurs in the cohort at the Investor Showcase and reported [h]ow grants can help for-profits and nonprofits alike fund pathways to scale. Visit our YouTube channel to view the pitches from the showcase.

Miller Center Chief Operating Officer Cassandra Staff hosts the 2018 GSBI In-Residence Accelerator Investor Showcase. (Chuck Barry)

Miller Center Chief Operating Officer Cassandra Staff hosts the 2018 GSBI In-Residence Accelerator Investor Showcase. (Chuck Barry)

8. Mastering Scale Out

Replication can significantly decrease the time and resources spent on getting a social enterprise up and running. In fact, replicated enterprises present reduced risks for impact investors. Associate Director of Replication Neal Harrison’s Scale and Adaption: The Two Sides of Replication and Global Social Benefit Fellow Lauren Oliver’s 5 Lessons Learned from Creating a Sector-Specific Accelerator Program make Miller Center’s Replication Initiative #8 in our Top 10 List of 2018.

Screen Shot 2018-12-10 at 3.16.53 AM.png

7. From Fellows to Fulbrights and Beyond

The accolades abound in 2018 for Miller Center’s Global Social Benefit Fellows (GSBF). Poets & Quants recognized Haley Harada as one of 2018’s Best & Brightest. Nithya Vemireddy received a William J. Clinton Fellowship for Service in India from the American Indian Foundation. Five of the fellows were awarded Fulbright scholarships, one of whom, Erika Francks was also named a Rhodes Scholar Finalist. However, the GSBF story that took top honors in 2018 was the announcement that Athena Nguyen was not only awarded a Fulbright but was also named Valedictorian for the Class of 2018.

Santa Clara University Undergraduate Commencement, Class of 2018. (Santa Clara University)

6. Alumni in the Headlines

There was an abundance of news and updates from the social enterprises that make up our GSBI alumni network. For the first time, two GSBI alumni made a pivot to partner, forging a stronger path to scale. Vava Coffee, Neopenda, 734 Coffee, and Good Nature Agro were named by Conscious Company as Social Entrepreneurs to Watch in 2018. KadAfrica was one of four winners of the 2018 Roddenberry Prize. Of note, the alumni story that had the greatest reach in 2018 took place just over one week ago on stage in Johannesburg at the Mandela 100 Global Citizen Festival. Recording artist Usher and Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins presented GSBI alumna Wawira Njiru, Founder of Food for Education, with the Youth Leadership Prize and $250,000!


5. Bay Area Boost

This summer Miller Center joined forces with Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County to offer a three-day capacity building workshop specifically for social entrepreneurs that are impacting the lives of those in need in the Bay Area. Journalist Heather Adams of the National Catholic Reporter covered the collaboration and Miller Center’s Chief Innovation Officer Pamela Roussos and Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County’s CEO Greg Kepferle wrote this op-ed. "The university brings intellectual capital; Catholic Charities brings social capital," Kepferle said. "Marrying them both helps us address the reality of poverty in innovative ways."


4. The Power of Partnership: Addressing Maternal and Child Health

In partnership with GE, Miller Center ran its second cohort of the Healthymagination Mother and Child Program. Eleven social enterprises participated in the program and in March presented to impact investors in Nairobi. One of the eleven cohort participants, doctHERs, connects female doctors in Pakistan to underserved communities such as refugees. doctHERs was in Rome last week as one of the top 13 companies to be recognized by the Laudato Si’ Challenge.  

Robert Wells, Executive Director, New Growth Markets and Business Innovations at GE featured on CNBC Africa.

Robert Wells, Executive Director, New Growth Markets and Business Innovations at GE featured on CNBC Africa.


3. Ending Poverty Takes Energy

There are 1.2 billion people worldwide who have little or no access to electricity. This lack of access perpetuates a poverty trap and that’s why we are so focused on accompanying social entrepreneurs who make clean energy affordable and available.  Energy Access India was a program run by Miller Center and New Ventures from 2015 to 2018, with the support of USAID, which helped 30 renewable energy companies raise $40 million of investment and provide clean energy to over 2.5 million Indians through a customized capacity development and investment facilitation program. Andrew Lieberman, Miller Center’s Senior Director of New Programs, together with Colm Fay of William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan, and Mark Correnti of Shine Campaign, published the research paper Closing the Circuit: Accelerating Clean Energy Investment in India.

The report analyzes business models and strategies, identifies barriers, and offers actionable recommendations.

The report analyzes business models and strategies, identifies barriers, and offers actionable recommendations.

2. Impact Investing: Positioned to Accelerate Impact

It may come as no surprise that the blog most read in 2018 was The Justifiable Ask: Realities of Raising Impact Capital written by GSBI Funding Facilitation Lead Anastasiya Litvinova. Lack of capital can be the biggest obstacle to growth. Bringing on the right investors can be course defining. Case in point is Miller Center GSBI alum Husk Power Systems–raising $20 million in equity investment in January, making it one of the largest investments in the mini-grid sector.

GSBI alum Husk Power Systems closed $20 million in funding in January 2018. (Husk Power Systems)

GSBI alum Husk Power Systems closed $20 million in funding in January 2018. (Husk Power Systems)

1. Accelerating Solutions At The Margins

Miller Center launched an experimental cohort named Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins (SEM) in January: could the lives of refugees, migrants, or human trafficking survivors be improved at scale through social entrepreneurship? In his blog Mobilizing for Migrants, Refugees, and Slaves, Miller Center Executive Director Thane Kreiner wrote about the third Vatican impact investing conference that convened in July. It sought to mobilize capital to address pressing, interconnected, global problems, including migrants and refugees. Of the final 13 winners of the 2018 Laudato Si’ Challenge, four are Miller Center alumni, three of which are from the SEM cohort (Five One Labs, Leaf Global Fintech, and Workaround).  From the accolades and media coverage surrounding the cohort to growing commitment to unlock the power of refugees, the 18 social enterprises that made up the SEM cohort captured our attention throughout the year and tops our list for 2018.



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Karen Paculba had the privilege of serving Miller Center in 2018 as its Senior Marketing Manager. With an eye for the nitty gritty and a natural curiosity for the big picture, Karen enjoyed the breadth of programs and sectors supported by Miller Center accelerator programs. Karen is continuing her career at Santa Clara University and will kick off 2019 as the University’s Director of Social and Digital Strategy.

Banner/thumbnail image photo credit: Instagram/Wawira Njiru

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


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.


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.


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.”



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

Click image to visit

One of the reasons I was asked to join this conversation came from a conversation we hosted with our members of 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

Click image to visit

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 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.



Avary Kent is a serial social entrepreneur with expertise in bringing ideas to life. She is the Founding Executive Director of 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

#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


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.



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

Recognizing and Questioning Unconscious Gender Bias

Recognizing and Questioning Unconscious Gender Bias

Every day we make decisions that are unconsciously biased. This means that you don’t realize the moment you make the decision that you are being biased. The decision can be a reflection of multiple reasons or situations which may or may not be your fault.

Image credit:

Image credit:

By definition, unconscious bias is the term used to define the concept that individuals have preferences for objects and people at a subconscious level that unintentionally influence their behavior and decision making

According to the Harvard Business Review, “Most of us believe that we are ethical and unbiased. We imagine we’re good decision makers, able to objectively size up a job candidate or a venture deal and reach a fair and rational conclusion that’s in our, and our organization’s, best interests. But more than two decades of research confirms that, in reality, most of us fall woefully short of our inflated self-perception.”

Why does it happen?

It’s natural. As humans, we tend to make decisions based on the given knowledge about a subject. That knowledge comes from the people we meet, the books we read, the places we visit, the events we attend and many other situations and scenarios. All these events create a set of information in our brain for the purpose to create certain opinions and make decisions. Most of the times,  our brain creates shortcuts and uses past knowledge to make assumptions. This is when you start forming opinions which are biased towards one race, one ethnicity, one cast or one “gender”.



Realizing unconscious gender bias to question it

While this applies to both genders in our society bias towards women and their ability to perform a certain job is alarming. Most of the advocates of gender equality do not realize the unconscious gender bias they have towards women because even before you question your bias, the first step is to come to this realization that you have one. When we become aware of our biases and watch out for them, they are less likely to blindly dictate our decisions.

A study through the Clayman Institute of Gender Studies concluded that the total of women musicians in orchestras went up from 5% to 25% since the 1970s–a shift that happened when judges began auditioning musicians behind screens so that they could not see them.

Some superficial biases we need to debunk right now



Your unconscious belief system leads you to think in a certain way, that after some time, seems correct to you. Unconscious gender bias makes you ignore the ability of one person and start hindering it with the pre-conceived notions that society fed you. Some of these superficial biases that I’ve observed include:

  • Women can’t do business because of their personal commitments.

  • Women let their business and clients suffer because of their emotions.

  • Women’s emotions dictate their decision-making ability.

  • Women are bad with numbers, hence they can’t project the ROI of an investment.

  • Women entrepreneurs tend to avoid the technical aspect of the business.

  • Women will leave their professional careers when they get married or have a child.

Challenging the unconscious bias so it doesn’t affect your decision

Getting rid of the unconscious bias is not cookie-cutting in real life. After realizing that you may be making unconsciously biased decisions, the next step is to challenge it and start questioning it. In the same way as questioning others, you can question your own unconscious assumptions and biases as well.

Whenever you notice yourself making an assumption without the evidence to support it, remember to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is this true?

  2. Is it always true?

  3. What evidence do I have?

If the answer is no to any of these questions, reconsider your thought and trace this assumption or association to challenge it for future.

Gender parity and unbiased inclusion for the better world

At Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, we envision a diverse and inclusive world for all. We also believe that it’s high time we all start questioning our gender bias and walk towards a future that is free of gender discrimination because when you bring diversity and inclusion to the table, it benefits all.

While programs at Miller Center equip both men and women with tools and practices that help them become successful social entrepreneurs, we support more social enterprises’ focus on women and girls as customers and beneficiaries. Why? Because we reckon that conversation-led-actions around gender-bias should be started by stakeholders and conveners like us and this is why we also put our trust on women economic empowerment for a sustainable future. Our new affinity group of women-led social enterprises in our Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) online accelerator program is  one step toward the same direction. Applications for our 2019 GSBIⓇ programs are being accepted through November 2, 2018, and we encourage women-led social enterprises to take a step forward and apply.

Should you have any questions, click here for details or email



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.

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


 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


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.


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

Let’s make it happen together!


About the author


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.

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


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.