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Learning to Use my Voice for Good

Learning to Use my Voice for Good

I was born into the loving home of compassionate, patient, and resilient parents. Growing up in Uganda during the time of Idi Amin, my father could never have predicted that he would end up falling for my mother, who grew on the outskirts of New York City. On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, my mother yearned for someone with a greater perspective for the world. Raised in a wealthy white American neighborhood, ignorant residents alienated my mother for viewing everyone as equal, and she in return despised the judgmental environment she grew up in. The two eventually would meet in Boston College’s School of Social Work and would go on to raise two girls, my sister Sarah and me. My parents raised us to speak up and use our voices for good, and as result, it has shaped who I have become.

I was raised in Arlington, Massachusetts, just six miles outside of Boston. The town of Arlington was predominately white and it impacted my experience as a young biracial girl. I developed many insecurities, the biggest being the texture of my hair. Since my mom wasn't familiar with styling black hair, my dad took charge--and he was great. He would decorate my hair with beads and braid in patterns that when I looked into the mirror made me feel beautiful. But when I went to school, that beautiful feeling quickly disappeared when people would touch my textured soft hair and pull out my beads. Not only did I feel like a zoo animal, but it was distracting and bothered me. One day I came home and told my dad that I didn't want him to do my hair anymore. He looked upset and asked me why. It was hard to tell who liked my hair more, my dad or me, but he knew that something had happened. He asked if what bothered me was kids playing with my hair, and I nodded as tears rolled down my checks. Then he said something I will never forget. He told me, "If you don't like something, you can tell someone to stop.” Later, with my mom, the two explained to me that I had to speak up when something was happening that I didn't like or feel comfortable with--so I did. The next day I went to school and a classmate tried to touch my hair.  I said, "Please don't do that. I don't like when you touch my hair.” She stopped and looked surprised, but I didn’t dwell on it because, finally, I felt comfortable.


Being able to use my voice and speak up became a way for me to realize what I wanted, and what I wanted more than anything was to see more of the world. I was eager to look outside the one perspective my town offered, which led me to spend every summer in Uganda where my dad’s side of the family lives. I developed a cultural competence early on and began to see things through multiple lenses. The culture, music, and people being so different from what I was used to in Boston was refreshing. I embraced and cherished all the unique values--some of which I like more than America--and as I got older, each summer became an opportunity to do more meaningful work, like helping my grandma with her nonprofit, the Makula Fund.  

When I came back from summer vacations, I was frequently met with judgment about Africa. My friends would ask me if there were any lions by my house and assume that it was a dangerous place to be. I was puzzled. Why would they think Africans would be okay with having lions running around a city? Didn't they know Africa has cities and not all countries in Africa have lions? If it wasn't safe, why would I be there? It took me a while to realize that they asked me questions because they were curious. They had pre-existing views of entirely false depictions of Africans. 

I felt that, as a friend, I should speak up and use my voice to break down their views. I wanted to start an open and honest dialogue about it, but I was nervous. I didn't want my friends to feel attacked or shamed for asking these questions. In addition, it was hard to speak to my friends because I wasn't sure how they would react. I went to my mom to seek advice because as a therapist, she knows a lot about the best way to communicate to people about things they don't understand. After all, she had to do a lot of that growing up. She told me that if they were true friends they will want to listen and learn. If they didn't want to change their opinions, then it was their loss. Ultimately, with the help of my mom, I found that I If I spoke to them instead of at them then they could not only understand my experiences better but gain an interest in something I loved.


When picking colleges, Santa Clara University stood out to me for its commitment to service and education. I am a major in Psychology and Sociology and am fascinated by people and groups. I am passionate about learning why people do things and how people and communities can create meaningful change. It was my desire to learn and drive to make a positive impact on the world in a sustainable way that led me to apply for the fellowship. During my first year at Santa Clara, I was faced with many challenges, all of which led me to where I am today. The biggest challenges gave me a new outlook on life and were the result of a traumatic event. After it happened, everything was altered in the blink of an eye. I was lost, confused, down, and broken. With time I started telling others what I had gone through and continue to face as a trauma survivor. What happened to me was awful and shouldn't happen to anyone, but as I struggled to overcome my trauma, I learned that I was not alone in my pain. As I healed and shared my story, peers, friends, and even family entrusted me with their similar narratives. I realized that my voice was powerful and evoked a common thread among many who otherwise felt alone. It was a challenge trying figure out how I could use my voice to inspire, motivate, and comfort others, but I found and am still finding that empathy is the best way.  Empathy, through listening, validating, and understanding people, can encourage others to pursue their voice and passions in return.

Over time, I have come to realize the power that my words have. Being a woman, it is easy to be complacent in the face of numerous barriers. It took numerous challenges for me to realize my inner strength, but with amazing opportunities that have come my way like the Global Social Benefit Fellowship, I have learned to use my voice for good. More importantly, I have learned that empathy is something that I not only want to continue to practice in my relationships, but also in the projects I undertake while discerning my vocation.

Learn more about empathy and how to apply it to a wide variety of real-world situations on Ashoka’s Empathy 101 resource page.



I am half Ugandan and proud of my multicultural background. While I was growing up, I was fortunate enough to travel to Uganda every summer. Spending time with people who have different life experiences than my own instilled me with values of compassion, consciousness, and cultural competence, that have guided my career choices and activities tremendously. While studying psychology, sociology and ethnic studies at Santa Clara University, my mentors and peers have challenged me to think creatively in response to problem-solving.

Programs at my school that are passionate about social justice have helped me discover that I love learning in new cultures and being pushed to grow. Through my fellowship program, I became a project manager for a community organizing nonprofit in Rwanda. It was there that I realized sharing and listening to experiences has the power to change how we see and interact with those around us. Now I strive to empower, strengthen, and engage underserved communities so that our world becomes a just place for all.

Wawira Ngiru and her Vision to Feed the Future with Food4Education

Wawira Ngiru and her Vision to Feed the Future with Food4Education

With only 1 kitchen in 2012 that used to feed 25 kids, Wawira has come a long way with her passion to feed 1 million kids in the next 10 years.

Wawira Ngiru is one of GSBI alumni who participated in GSBI online accelerator in 2017. She is the founder of Food4Education, an enterprise that sources fresh food directly from farmers and uses a central kitchen model to deliver nutritious, heavily subsidized meals to students in urban public primary schools in Kenya. Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship had a chance to catch up with Wawira for a lunch this past month.

Wawira Ngiru and Miller Center staff

Wawira Ngiru and Miller Center staff

Shortly after completing her education, Wawira struggled to find an answer to one question that lingers in many budding entrepreneurs’ minds; Is entrepreneurship a right path for me? She received her higher education from the University of South Australia where she nurtured a passion to become a nutritionist. After graduation in 2014, Wawira returned to her home country Kenya and started Food4Education with just one kitchen that fed 25 kids. In 2016, Wawira received her first grant, started managing Food4Education full-time and hasn’t looked back since. In 2018, she managed to serve 250,000 meals in total.

Wawira’s Vision for a Better Kenya

While growing up in Ruiru, Wawira witnessed the rampant education and health problems firsthand and saw many kids who did not have access to healthy meals, let alone regular meals. As a result, many kids stopped going to school and begged on the street as an alternative means to access food. Even those who did have access to meals scored low in exams and later had very fewer opportunities in life. She started Food4Education to feed those very kids healthy and nutritious meals so they could concentrate in class and excel in life overall. Her initial target was to feed 25 kids at Ruiru Primary School and then expand to other schools.

The Process to provide a meal at a subsidized cost

Students with lunch from Food4Education

Students with lunch from Food4Education

Wawira first consulted with pastors, chefs, and school principals to identify the roots cause of this systemic problem in order to identify how to keep kids in school. Her team found a simple process to make it easier for kids to get healthy and nutritious meals. Her team sources fresh, raw, ingredients including vegetables and fruits directly from farmers and uses their own central kitchen to make meals for kids that are healthy and are served at a subsidized cost. All ingredients used in the meals are locally grown which makes it cost-effective for her team and the farmers.

The impact of Food4Education

Food4Education was initiated in 2012 and ran a successful pilot program to feed 100 children. With little or no support from government institutions, the organization still managed to achieve their goal in 2014. The schools showed an improvement in attendance ratio by 96% as compared to the national average of 87%. During that time, 100% of the students who purchased meals from Food4Education also scored 250/500 marks in KCPE compared to 49.1% nationally.

Food4Education interface

Food4Education interface

Payment and Adaption of Technology

A recent development in Food4Education was the adaption of an NFC payment system, #Tap2Eat, to log the payments of purchased meals. A small smartwatch gadget was given to the kids to use as payment for meals without the involvement of cash. Parents pay for subsidized lunches through MPESA and the amount is automatically credited to a digital wallet linked to an NFC smartwatch and students just TAP TO EAT in less than 5 seconds.  

According to Wawira, the adaptation of technology and convincing the parents to use the bands instead of cash has been a challenge. Her team is still testing the method by providing training to parents and kids in order to make them comfortable with the new payment technology. The payment system will be another milestone for Food4Education in making meals accessible and easy for all kids in Kenya.

The Role GSBI played in Wawira’s Journey

“After coming to GSBI, I learned the methods and language of Silicon Valley which I wouldn’t have learned otherwise”, said Wawira Ngiru. The GSBI Accelerator program helps the organizations with their business potential and equips them with the necessary resources and tools that they can use to run their business successfully. According to Wawira, it was GSBI that taught her not to underestimate her business potential and made her reconsider her justifiable ask. “Before GSBI, I was underestimating our justifiable ask. The mentors helped us look at the bigger picture and made us reconsider our pre-conceived notions about the investment world” Said, Wawira.

Students with lunch from Food4Education

Students with lunch from Food4Education

Barriers, Bias, and Doubts

Like every other entrepreneur, it wasn’t just all success for Wawira. During her entrepreneurial journey, she faced countless “No’s” before that one “Yes.” According to her, she had a hard time convincing people with her idea and passion. Due to her age and young look, she faced countless rejections and was labeled as someone who is just doing it as a passion project and not involved in it seriously.

In the end… Persistence is the key

When asked about her secret sauce of success, Wawira mentioned “persistence”. According to her, the path of entrepreneurship is easy to walk on but it is really difficult to stay there. The one who stays persistent wins the race. “I still doubt my decision every day. I still think I should leave everything and do a corporate job that pays well. The feeling doesn’t go but I promise myself each day to stay persistent and stick to the mission I started”.

Wawira hopes to see a world where children don’t miss school because they are hungry or because they cannot afford healthy meals. With Food4Education, she wants a future which is open and inclusive to the needs of all vulnerable communities in Kenya and beyond.

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.

Banner photo courtesy of Food4Education

“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.

A Call for Philanthropic Risk Capital for Refugees: Lessons Learned from the Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins Accelerator

A Call for Philanthropic Risk Capital for Refugees: Lessons Learned from the Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins Accelerator

SEM Cohort with Thane Kreiner and Marie Haller

SEM Cohort with Thane Kreiner and Marie Haller

Miller Center’s Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins (SEM) accelerator program graduated a cohort of 18 organizations in December 2018 that are all serving and/or led by refugees, migrants, and human trafficking survivors. As we accompanied the entrepreneurs leading these organizations over the past year, we learned more about the needs of social enterprises serving these marginalized communities that were formerly supported solely through humanitarian aid. In order to share our learnings and encourage other stakeholders to join us in this work, Miller Center convened and facilitated a panel at SOCAP 2018, presented at the December 2018 ANDE Network Update, and is now publishing a report, “SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP AT THE MARGINS Helping Refugees, Migrants, and Human Trafficking Survivors Reclaim Their Futures”.

An important tension that surfaced throughout the SEM accelerator program is the gap between the funding needed by each enterprise to grow its impact and the minimum investment current refugee-focused funders are able to deploy. This disconnect emerged onstage at our SOCAP panel discussion featuring 4 SEM program alumni and 3 funders including Omidyar Network, Open Society Foundation, and KOIS Invest. Experiences of the SEM accelerator social enterprises confirm a gap between what social enterprises in the emergent sector need and what funders seek.


Impact funds for refugee-focused entrepreneurship are seeking organizations with earned revenue in excess of US$1 million. Our panelists shared that typically seed-stage funding for start-ups comes from friends and family. Many refugee-focused social enterprises haven’t yet attained $1 million in earned income, however, in order to implement their growth strategies, need more funding than can reasonably come from friends and family.

I wondered: how would an entrepreneur who is also a refugee have a network of friends and family with money to fund her start-up? How can entrepreneurs looking to fill in the large gaps left by humanitarian aid change a broken system with only donations from friends and family?

The ideas put forth by Anand Giridharadas in his book Winners Take All, and referenced in his own talk at SOCAP resonate, “I once heard a quote attributed to Archbishop Desmond Tutu addressing a room full of philanthropists, ‘Your job’ he said, ‘is not to make the poor more comfortable in their chains. Your job is to break the chains.’ The question I would ask those of you who seek to change the world through capitalism [...] is whether you are really breaking the chains or making them more comfy?”

This is an essential question for those pledging to fund the creation of new systems that can better support our world’s most vulnerable communities. Is reserving both philanthropic and impact investment capital for only those enterprises that are able to scale to US$1 million of earned revenue really helping change the broken system that is leaving millions of people in refugee camps for decades? Is it even making refugees more comfortable?

WorkAround showcase.jpg

In this same speech, Giridharadas calls on philanthropists to provide the capital to “serve as the start-up incubator for government action [...] test things in the quiet of philanthropy and then seek to mainstream them into our laws and institutions and systems.” Using philanthropic capital to propagate emerging, more socially responsible systems, is not a new idea. Monitor Group and Acumen Fund’s “From Blueprint to Scale - the case for philanthropy in impact investing” talks explicitly about the idea of “enterprise philanthropy” and how, “philanthropy is the essential but often overlooked catalyst that unlocks the impact potential of inclusive business and impact investing.” The urgency and scale of the refugee crisis demands impact capital solutions across the entire spectrum of available options. Philanthropic capital is a key part of the equation, and could be the vehicle that ensures the nascent social enterprise solutions that support refugees are able to flourish and exceed  that magical–some might argue arbitrary–million dollar revenue mark. Natasha Freidus, co-founder of Needslist and a Miller Center SEM program alumni, agrees, “I find it disappointing that philanthropic institutions who frankly, can afford to take the risk, are not investing in early-stage startups or providing philanthropic capital to help cover the 'pioneer gap'."

Miller Center and other stakeholders, such as the Refugee Investment Network, are working diligently to try to connect the seemingly disparate needs of entrepreneurs whose passion is to change a broken system and impact investors who are averse to risking capital in new and untested ways. There is no impact without risk. You can read more about our findings from working with our initial Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins cohort in our report: SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP AT THE MARGINS Helping Refugees, Migrants, and Human Trafficking Survivors Reclaim Their Futures. We look forward to hearing from you about how we can work together to build new and better systems that allow everyone in our human family to thrive.

Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins: Helping Refugees, Migrants, and Human Trafficking Survivors Reclaim Their Futures

Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins: Helping Refugees, Migrants, and Human Trafficking Survivors Reclaim Their Futures

Marie Haller.png

Marie has been working as an educator for 10 years. After discovering the concept of social enterprise in 2012, she has been focused on learning about and supporting the growth of the ecosystem through running various education programs at Impact Hub San Francisco and more recently with Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship. Inspired by her Miller Center work with maternal and child health organizations in east Africa, Marie has also recently trained and now practices as a birth doula through the SF General Hospital volunteer doula program.

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.

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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

Miller Center 2018 Holiday Gift Guide

Miller Center 2018 Holiday Gift Guide


Every time I come to work at Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, I get a daily dose of inspiration and hope. I consider this one of the perks of the job. The sheer scale of social impact by Miller Center Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) alumni is impressive and gives me hope that positive progress can prevail when it comes to addressing poverty. Another perk of the job is discovering the premium products from Miller Center social enterprise alumni. As the holiday season begins, we’ve curated an assortment of products from some of our alumni and compiled a gift guide from us to you. Click on any of the images below to be linked to the product page or continue to read below to learn more about each selection…and even some exclusive Miller Center friends and family savings! We hope this guide offers you some inspiration and hope knowing that you’re able to make a positive social impact this gift giving season.

1. 734 Coffee (CODE: MILLERCENT)

Coffee is almost an absolute staple here at Miller Center. 734 Coffee is providing a special offer on coffee beans for Miller Center friends and family! Purchase any medium roast coffee beans and receive 15% off all orders over $20 with the code MILLERCENT before December 7, 2018. Coffee from the Gambela region is lauded for its rich flavor—medium bodied with hints of caramel, spice and berries with a smokey chocolate aftertaste.

About 734 Coffee (Miller Center cohort: 2018 GSBI Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins)
734 Coffee is more than a number. It is a place of refuge. 7˚N 34˚E are the geographical coordinates for Gambela, a region in Ethiopia, where over 200,000 displaced South Sudanese citizens now live after fleeing war, atrocities, drought, and famine in South Sudan.

Our coffee is harvested by growers right in the Gambela region, and after it is brought to the US, 80% of sponsorship dollars go to educational scholarships for refugees of Sudan.

Our mission is simple: make great coffee for the greater good. With your support, we can make 7˚N 34˚E not the end of the story, but the start of something wonderful.

2. All Across Africa/KAZI Goods (CODE: MILLER30)

Looking for a new centerpiece for your coffee table? Check out the lovely handwoven Small Lake + Peach Pink Hope Basket from KAZI Goods. Enjoy 30% off this basket with the code MILLER30. Baskets carry their own symbolism in Rwanda because friends give them to celebrate major life events such as weddings, births and graduations, baskets are proudly displayed as symbols of wealth of friends, family and life. The sunburst pattern on these baskets is known as the “hope” design. Reflected on the Rwandan flag, this sunburst images stands for the county’s collective hope for a new dawn and brighter future. This design means a lot to the weavers as each basket they sell increases their chances for a better life.

About All Across Africa/KAZI (Miller Center cohorts: 2016 GSBI In-residence Accelerator, 2018 GSBI TECh)
We endeavor to bring to life your vision of home and style with artful craftsmanship that does good.

When you purchase and enjoy our handcrafted goods, you are creating opportunities for men and women across Africa to thrive.  It’s that simple. Inspired living, opportunities to thrive. Go ahead, take in your love for the world every day and share in the delight of connecting with African artisans. It’s what we do every day at KAZI.

Our business model reaches deep into rural villages in the developing world and provides training and fair wage jobs that restore dignity and promote self-sufficiency—we see it as the way forward for sustainable development in Africa.

3. Kiva

This holiday, create hope around the world by giving Kiva Cards. For just $25, your loved ones can make a loan in the country of their choice and extend a hand to entrepreneurs and those in need. When those loans are repaid, they can use their funds again and again to make an even greater impact. Best of all, Kiva Cards can be emailed or printed at home, so you know they’ll arrive on time.

About Kiva (Miller Center cohort: 2006 GSBI In-Residence Accelerator)
Millions of lenders have come together to support entrepreneurs, farmers and students around the world on, collectively funding more than $1.2 billion in impactful loans.

4. Rebel Nell

A perfect gift for the fashion forward and socially conscious person on your list, Rebel Nell’s Sterling Silver Post Drop earrings are handcrafted, one-of-a-kind pieces made out of repurposed layers of fallen graffiti paint. The earrings are crafted in Detroit, Michigan and have a sterling silver bezel and backing, as well as resin and graffiti paint. Every piece sold directly supports the women employed at Rebel Nell. These earrings are priced at $80 and are available online.

About Rebel Nell (Miller Center cohort: 2016 GSBI Online Accelerator)
Rebel Nell exists to employ, educate, and empower women transitioning out of homelessness in Detroit. We repurpose fallen graffiti, revealing the beauty underneath each layer. Forged through fierce determination, our jewelry is a testament to the woman who created it.

5. Relevée

Relevée’s Icon earrings represent the label's geometric approach to style with a hidden meaning inside the symbolic design. In ethically-sourced recycled Sterling Silver, these earrings have a sleek design, with an arrow pointing upwards encompassing the meaning behind Relevée—“to rise”. This upscale gift is priced at $85 and makes a beautiful gift for the sophisticated someone on your list.

About Relevée (Miller Center cohort: 2018 GSBI Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins)
Relevée is an international socially conscious fine jewelry brand. Our mission is to empower women through beautiful designs that elevate not only the wearer and beholder but the designers themselves. Our passionate jewelry team is guided with the ideology of "feeling beautiful inside and out". In part, our collection is inspired by purposeful designs featuring classic meets modern, day-to-evening styles that are foundational pieces in your personal jewelry collection. Every Relevée piece is simple and elegant with extraordinary attention to details. With precious materials strictly chosen through ethical channels and a global initiative to uplift the world's most marginalized women, we aim to deliver nothing less than perfect to our customers. Inspiring beauty inside and out.

6. Someone Somewhere (CODE: MILLER CENTER FRIENDS)

This holiday you can expand your wardrobe while supporting artisans from Mexico’s five poorest states. Someone Somewhere’s Confetti t-shirt pictured above is a playful cotton t-shirt with hand embroidered details made by artisans from the Northern Sierra of Puebla, Mexico. This is a great and impactful gift for both men and women. The retail price is $37 but with the special code MILLER CENTER FRIENDS, you can purchase this whimsical piece for $33!

About Someone Somewhere (Miller Center cohort: 2017 GSBI In-residence Accelerator)
Someone Somewhere works with hundreds of indigenous artisans, combining their traditional handcrafts with products that are carefully designed for the modern world. Each product is hand signed by the artisan involved in its creation. Click here to learn more.

7. Moringa Connect/True Moringa (CODE: MILLERCENTER15)

This holiday season, think global and shop local with a collection of True Moringa’s favorite Boston-based brands that care deeply about ethical and sustainable sourcing from around the world. Each Holiday Gift Box includes Taza Chocolate's Peppermint Dark Bark, your choice of MEM Tea's Moroccan Mint or Lemon Chamomile Tea, and the signature True Moringa Oil for Face, Body and Hair. This gift box is regularly priced at $35, but you can receive 15% off and free shipping in the U.S. using the code MILLERCENTER15.

About True Moringa (Miller Center cohort: 2017 GSBI In-residence Accelerator)
True Moringa works directly with over three thousand small farming families throughout Ghana to cultivate our cold-pressed moringa oil. To date, we have planted over two million moringa trees.

8. Yellow Leaf Hammocks (CODE: MILLERCENTER)

If you visit our Miller Center office on the Santa Clara University campus, you’ll discover that we have three comfy hammocks from Yellow Leaf Hammocks set up in our Innovation Space. They are the softest, most comfortable hammocks I’ve ever had the opportunity to lounge in. Now you can get your very own with a 20% savings using the code MILLERCENTER until December 17, 2018. The Montauk hammock, which is featured above, is one of Yellow Leaf Hammocks’ best-selling products at a great gifting price-point!

About Yellow Leaf Hammocks (Miller Center cohort: 2017 GSBI In-residence Accelerator)
Yellow Leaf Hammocks is breaking the cycle of extreme poverty through sustainable job creation. Our artisan weavers and their families were previously trapped in extreme poverty and debt slavery. Now they are empowered to earn a stable, healthy income through dignified work (we call this a "prosperity wage"). This is the basis for a brighter future, built on a hand up, not a handout.

9. Vega Coffee (CODE: MillerCenter)

Vega Coffee’s roast sampler is the perfect gift for office colleagues, party hosts, and any coffee lover in your life. You will receive four 6 oz bags of exclusive, curated coffees, one in each level of roast. The four bags of coffee will represent a range of high-quality microlots from Nicaragua and Colombia, making it the perfect gift for anyone who drinks coffee (everybody?). The price is $30 and comes with a note card and information about the farmers that grow the coffee. Enter code MillerCenter for 20% off any item purchased on the website!

About Vega Coffee (Miller Center cohort: 2017 GSBI In-residence Accelerator)
Vega Coffee reinvents the traditional coffee supply chain by empowering women farmers to earn four times more than through typical export channels. Vega connects farming communities who roast their own coffee to customers worldwide.

About the author

Sally Park is a fourth-year Web Design and Engineering major with minors in Communication and Computer Science and Engineering working towards a Master of Science in Engineering Management and Leadership at Santa Clara University. She is currently a Community Facilitator (Resident Assistant) with the Cyphi Residential Learning Community helping many first-year students transition into college. In her free time, she is working on a project to help animal shelters simplify the adoption process.

What You Give is What You Shall Receive

What You Give is What You Shall Receive


Lots of laughter. And lots of love.

Lots of laughter. And lots of love.

When I look back on my summer fellowship in East Africa, I can't help but think of the first memory that I have from there. Walking out of the airport in Uganda, I remembered feeling an overwhelming sense of what I can only describe as home. It is the same feeling that I get when I walk out of the Islamabad airport in my home country of Pakistan. And it feels like a wave of peace has washed over you. As if the arms of the universe are cradling you and welcoming you back to your true nature.

My trip to East Africa made me think a lot about my "true nature". When I speak of my "true nature", I am referring to the part of me that connects with others on a level outside of the superficial. In Pakistan and in East Africa, no one cared what university I went to. No one knew about my extracurricular activities. My value to others did not stem from any superficial forms of success that I had attained. Instead, people cared about who I really was as a person. They cared about how genuine our interactions were. We often engaged in conversations that I find so difficult to have here in America. In Uganda, we often conversed about the hardships of political corruption or the complex nuances of Western charity work in Africa. In Rwanda, I bonded with many of my friends and co-workers over discussions of the shared genocidal history of Rwanda and of Kashmir (my mother's homeland). I've gotta say: things just felt so much more real in East Africa. I didn't feel like I had to put on a front. Though people on the streets often referred to me as a mzungu because of the color of my skin, engaging them in conversation made us realize that we had more in common than I often feel like I have with people in America.

In East Africa, people cared about the love we shared and the laughter we bonded over. They cared about what we could learn from each other's lives and shared experiences. And it never took too long for me to engage in genuine conversation with anyone. It was as if I could finally throw away the rose-colored glasses I often feel pressured to wear in the US and actually immediately dig at what I wanted to know most about people: how they engage with life, what they genuinely struggle with, what brings them joy and what brings them pain, and what they really care about doing with their lives.

Our incredible Rwandan translator, Agnes, sending us off at the airport.

Our incredible Rwandan translator, Agnes, sending us off at the airport.

People in East Africa were so open to being genuine and spreading love. And it was evident in everything they did. People often went out of their way to be kind to us. To be generous. Women in the villages we visited would often make us food or bring us water bottles they had gone out to buy for us, even though water was a scarce resource in their village. I remember getting really sick at one point during our trip in Rwanda. We made a visit to the office at some point and, upon mentioning in conversation that I had a sore throat, the country manager, Benon, left the office in the middle of work just to buy me Amoxicillin from the local pharmacy. Agnes, our translator and good friend in Rwanda, went out of her way just to drive with us to the airport so she could send us off before our flight back to Uganda.

One particularly memorable moment was when some of the lovely staff at the Uganda office surprised us on our last day in Uganda by making an impromptu visit to our hostel just to squeeze in one last goodbye to us before we left the continent altogether. What made this moment so memorable, was the fact that we'd had the loveliest goodbye party full of cake and dancing and pictures the day before. We had so woefully said what we thought would be our last goodbyes the day before, but were absolutely thrilled to find that half the staff had piled into the company van just to see us off one last time.

We were so thrilled to find the staff from the Uganda office waiting for us downstairs on our last day at Bushpig!

We were so thrilled to find the staff from the Uganda office waiting for us downstairs on our last day at Bushpig!

Even the staff at Bushpig (the hostel we stayed at in Uganda) along with Father Innocent and the guards at Centre Christus (the Jesuit center we stayed at in Rwanda) were so beyond hospitable and loving towards us. From having long and lovely chats at breakfast with some of the waitresses at Bushpig's breakfast (who would later sneak some extra fruit onto our plates) to playing cards at midnight with the security guards at Centre Christus, everything about East Africa just felt so fun and so homey. It was little moments like these that made me realize that the people there truly understood the value of making others feel welcome like family. 

I think more than anything, what my trip to East Africa made me realize is that what you put into life is what you get out of it. What you reap is what you sow. If you spread love and kindness and are genuine with others, you will receive it in your own life. If you live a life where you choose to be generous to others, the universe will find a way to bring that generosity back to you. If you go forth into the world seeking a means to make it a better place, life will find a way to make itself better for you. Life is about choosing to embody certain values in your interactions with the world. And whatever you embody, life will embody that back for you. 

All smiles and good times at the weaving center in Rwanda

All smiles and good times at the weaving center in Rwanda

A snapshot from our goodbye party at All Across Africa's Ugandan office.

A snapshot from our goodbye party at All Across Africa's Ugandan office.

We live in a culture where we can often get lost in attempting to increase the importance of our own individual journeys in the grand scheme of things. This can lead to high rates of depression, anxiety, lack of self worth, and endemic self doubt. I find that the East African culture can inspire a lot of positive change in our lives if we choose to let it do so. From both East African culture, as well as many other Eastern cultures, I find that the West can benefit from learning the value of community building and choosing to live a life beyond ourselves. Uganda and Rwanda are by no means perfect. Decades of government corruption in Uganda as well as the ghosts of the genocidal past that haunt Rwanda make it clear that both countries still have a lot of work to do for their citizens, as do all nations. Any success stories from both of these nations, whether they came in the form of women empowering one another to develop financial livelihoods outside of depending on their husband's income, such as the weavers in both nations did, or whether they came in the form of people from conflicting backgrounds choosing to put aside their differences to work together, all stemmed from the basic value of prioritizing community needs over individual desires.

I think that if we work together as a nation on creating a culture that fosters more of this, we will be so much happier for it at the end of the day. If we focus on improving the lives of others, on spreading happiness and love wherever we go, and on fostering more genuine interactions with others, we will come to find our own lives improved, our own happiness skyrocketing, and our own sense of self strong and secure. We will find strength in places we never knew we could rely on before. We will climb mountains higher than we think we could, and we will boundlessly open new doors. We will break barriers that lie in our relationships between each other and connect deeply on levels beyond what we had once perceived. For what you give to this world, is what you shall receive. 


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Huda Navaid is a fourth-year Political Science major and Creative Writing minor. After college, she aims to pursue a gap year before applying for graduate school. In her gap year, she intends to travel and do research on how culturally-competent mental health care policy can be implemented across the world. She is currently working on writing her first book and is jumpstarting a PAUSD student mental health initiative called The Palo Alto Project. Huda also runs a blog where she reflects on life, discusses cultivating life skills, and talks about developing organizational skills. She also posts her own music, poetry, and short stories on her Instagram page.

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

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.

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, 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.




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.

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  These transformative programs are dependent on financial support from generous donors.



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.

The audacious goal of energy access

The audacious goal of energy access

Over the last decade, I have worked directly or indirectly with dozens of social enterprises tackling energy access. Solar lights, biomass-powered chillers, and solar pumps are just a few of the well-known technologies that have been proven to dramatically improve quality of life for the global poor and often pay for themselves in as little as a few months. The challenge remains getting them out to everyone who can benefit from them.

Chasing the 2030 Goal

We understand that it’s more than a distribution problem, aspects of which Miller Center originally documented in 2015 in Universal Energy Access: an Enterprise System Approach. There remain persistent business model and financing challenges, which we have explored in our latest paper, Closing the Circuit: Accelerating Clean Energy Investment in India, written in partnership with the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan.

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Progress has been made, as evidenced by the number of people lacking modern lighting dropping from 1.5 billion in 2009 to 1.1 billion in 2018. We are moving in the right direction, but not fast enough to meet United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal #7 of affordable and clean energy for everyone on the planet by 2030.

Optimism Prevails

I go through periods of optimism and pessimism about achieving anything close to such an audacious goal. Logic dictates that the easiest to serve are being reached first, so progress will get harder instead of easier. Sure, I am optimistic when I hear about new technologies, business model innovations, and new investment funds focused on energy access. But I also become pessimistic when I talk to brilliant, committed, focused entrepreneurs who are spending more time fundraising than running their businesses.

Right now, I’m optimistic, having spent last week in Delhi for events including the National Dialogue on Distributed Renewable Energy and an Energy Access Practitioner’s Roundtable. These events culminated Miller Center’s work over the last three years with New Ventures to implement the USAID-supported Energy Access India program, providing accompaniment to a portfolio of 30 social enterprises and developing relationships with key investors.

Much of the optimism comes from spending time with dear colleagues including the New Ventures India team, our advisors, Rakesh Rewari and Harvey Koh, and many of the social entrepreneurs we have worked with. There have been wins for many of the entrepreneurs in the program, including major investment into Cygni and Husk Power Systems.

Yet, lack of capital is holding companies back. $275 billion dollars of investment are needed to provide enough off-grid and mini-grid systems to achieve SDG #7. The best that social entrepreneurs can do for themselves is develop a solid business plan, a justifiable ask, and seek out capital that is aligned. But I am now convinced that ever larger numbers of capable social enterprises with strong business plans alone won’t unlock capital.

To many of us working at the ecosystem level, it is clear that there are many excellent entrepreneurs that are not getting funding, or are getting funding, but not in a timely and efficient fashion. Why is that?

The Risk/Return Spectrum for Clean Energy Investments

One of the biggest areas of learning for me during this project was to better see the energy access challenge from the investors’ point of view. I had the privilege of working with investor-minded colleagues like Mark Correnti (now of Shine Campaign, a co-sponsor of Closing the Circuit) and directly with insightful investors. Through them, I have learned much about what unlocking capital truly means.

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Investors face their own sets of constraints that guide how they deploy capital. In our research for the paper, we detected opportunities for investors to consider alternatives in credit risk assessment to increase access to affordable, short-term debt and to develop a more realistic risk/return spectrum for clean energy investments (especially in India). Progressive investors such as SunFunder are proving that such investments can work. We hope these models will be built on by others.

Of course, it’s easy to write these ideas here and much harder to implement them. Yet, given the proven clean energy solutions we have at hand and the knowledge that energy access is an enabler for so many quality-of-life improvements, shouldn’t we all continue our push to support the intrepid energy entrepreneurs who are at the forefront of this movement?

About the author

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Since joining in 2008, Andy Lieberman has been a driver in developing Miller Center's strategy, programming, and curriculum. He is also responsible for many of the efforts to formalize Miller Center's knowledge into whitepapers and presentations.




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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The lasting impact of the GSBI® In-Residence accelerator

The lasting impact of the GSBI® In-Residence accelerator

Photo from 2017 GSBI In-Residence accelerator Investor Showcase

Photo from 2017 GSBI In-Residence accelerator Investor Showcase

Tomorrow, eighteen social entrepreneurs making impact around the world will showcase their work in front of an audience of investors and will highlight the hard work they have been doing over the past 10 months in the GSBI® In-Residence accelerator program.

To me, this event is one of the most inspiring days of my year and it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the potential for these enterprises to scale their impact and truly help change the world. But the skeptic inside me also wonders how many of these ambitious social entrepreneurs will deliver on their promises and projections? Have we at Miller Center done our job and equipped these entrepreneurs with the tools they need to scale and to become architects of hope?

Looking back at the 2017 GSBI In-Residence accelerator lends us some insights and I am happy to report that our alumni’s ambitions are matched by their ability to deliver.

Out of the 14 social entrepreneurs that pitched at last year’s showcase, over 50% of them were successful in meeting or exceeding their justifiable ask or the investment request they and their mentors think is “justifiable" based on their financial model and ability to meet their operational growth targets.  As a cohort, they have raised a median of ~$500,000 and a cumulative total of over $12 million.

Raising investment is one thing, but are these enterprises able to utilize this capital they receive to grow their social impact and serve more people? Happily, the answer here is a resounding yes! Last year’s cohort on average doubled their impact in the 12 months since graduation and some have seen growth in the 5x range.

Photo courtesy of Food 4 Education

Photo courtesy of Food 4 Education

One of last years’ Social Entrepreneurs who has had transformational success since last year’s showcase is Wawira Njiru, CEO of Food 4 Education. In Kenya, where food for education works, 1 in 5 children are developmentally stunted due to malnourishment. Food 4 Education provides high quality, nutritious meals to students in Kenyan public primary schools to improve their nutrition and education outcomes. They use a social enterprise model that caters healthy and convenient meals to Kenyan corporates and private institutions and uses the profits to provide the nutritious lunches that keep children in school, improve their learning ability and opportunities to use education as a means to break out of the cycle of poverty.

Photo courtesy of Food 4 Education

Photo courtesy of Food 4 Education

When Wawira joined the GSBI program in 2016, Food 4 Education was one of our earliest stage enterprises; they had raised less than $100,000 in investment and had served only 2,500 school children.

Since graduating from the GSBI accelerator, Wawira has attracted some of the most influential partners in the impact investing space.  Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation invested shortly after Wawira completed the program, and Mulago Foundation recently named her as one of the fellows in their newest class.

Food 4 Education has now grown their investment from $100,000 to $550,000 and has utilized this investment to more than double their social impact from 2,500 children served to over 6,000.

Food 4 Education is just one example of the many social enterprises that have grown their impact dramatically since last year’s showcase and we would invite you to review their progress on our GSBI Alumni Database.

This retrospective gets me even more excited to be working with this 2018 class of GSBI In-Residence accelerator social enterprises. When I am watching the pitches tomorrow, I will be inspired by not only the audacious ambition of our social enterprises to create change, but the data that gives me faith that they will be successful in meeting their goals.

Please join us at the showcase or watch through our livestream. I look forward to connecting you with any of the social entrepreneurs you’ll see pitching.


Cover photo courtesy of Food 4 Education

How GSBI Online Validates Business Models: Meet the 21 members of the GSBI Online Cohort

How GSBI Online Validates Business Models: Meet the 21 members of the GSBI Online Cohort

Every year, up-and-coming social entrepreneurs from around the world complete the rigorous GSBI Online accelerator curriculum, and the 21 social enterprises of Cohort 13 are some of the most promising alumni yet. In the culmination of six months of transformative mentorship, these organizations have truly risen to the challenge, emerging with tangible growth so that they can better accomplish sustainable social change. For these social enterprises that have already been serving their target beneficiaries for one to five years, the Online accelerator helped strengthen and validate their:

  • Impact and Business Model
  • Growth plan
  • Financial model
  • Funding plan

With their tools of market success refined, these social entrepreneurs can achieve maximum potential and maintain a sustainable business model while keeping their social impact missions the driving force of their enterprises.

The social entrepreneurs in Cohort 13 are achieving impact in a variety of sectors, but whatever their focus and wherever they work, they are tackling deeply rooted problems, asking the hard questions, and breaking unjust equilibriums.

Education is often identified as a root cause of systemic change, which might be why six of the cohort members are focusing on education in their respective regions. Each of them takes a different and unique approach to the identified needs of their beneficiaries. Edupay is making quality, low-cost primary education accessible to the rural poor in Ghana, and accessibility is also a key focus of i-Saksham Education and Learning Foundation, which serves youth in India. Accelerated places emphasis on coaching teachers so that they can lead more effective and engaging classrooms in Ethiopia. Coschool moves beyond traditional educational techniques to foster Colombian students’ social and emotional well-being alongside leadership training and camps to build character. Bodhi Health is also education-based, expanding the accessibility of quality medical training through e-learning.

Many of these social enterprises tackle a combination of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in different ways. Miyonga Fresh Greens addresses environmental issues by reducing food waste through agro-processing, but also empowers local farmers by making certification more accessible to smallholder farmers, reducing poverty, and growing local businesses. Discovered not only addresses the economic growth of artisans’ small businesses in emerging countries, but advances gender equality as many of these artisan entrepreneurs are women.

Photo courtesy of Extensio

Photo courtesy of Extensio

Photo courtesy of Elevated Honey Co.

Photo courtesy of Elevated Honey Co.

Cohort 13 realizes the importance of understanding the specific context of unjust systems in place, engaging directly with the people they serve so that culture and way of life of those impacted are considered. A great example is Extensio, a social enterprise which found that Mexican farmers could greatly benefit from a digital field agent. The cell phone application communicates best agricultural practices, among other information that helps these farmers to increase productivity and standard of living. Elevated Honey Co., based in China, has identified a need for working to improve the honey industry, highlighting the need now more than ever for empowering rural beekeepers.

The global reach of a few in Cohort 13 is remarkable. VIA Global Health and GOODdler are both online platforms that do a world of good: VIA works towards universal access to the tools that enable quality healthcare in underserved markets, and GOODdler maximizes the impact of humanitarian assistance.

These are just some of the incredible social enterprises that completed the GSBI Online accelerator in Cohort 13 – every one of the 21 social entrepreneurs are already making lasting change. Check out all of their Investor Profiles, and view their final presentations to find out more about the work they’re doing to change the world.

Perhaps the most uniquely beneficial part of the GSBI Online accelerator is the close mentorship from Silicon Valley professionals, who commit to providing insightful advice to their mentees each week. Chris Bravo had the opportunity to mentor Extensio, and he shared with us a brief look into his experience:

Even though, I have mentored before; since it was my first time with GSBI, it was very helpful to be paired with Michelle… On a few occasions, I had the opportunity to visit the team, get to know them in person, and have very productive chats with them. Diana and all of the Extensio team was very open to learning and to receive feedback. Providing online mentoring brings up the challenge of how much, and how to push the entrepreneur… The GSBI curriculum provided a good guide for the weekly discussions, and we should not be afraid of revisiting items here and there to revise the business model.
Photo courtesy of Bodhi Health Education

Photo courtesy of Bodhi Health Education

The GSBI Online accelerator provides a challenging yet rewarding experience for participants, and over the past six months of collaboration and mentor accompaniment this year’s cadre of social entrepreneurs have proven that they have truly put in the work to get the most out of the program and have graduated with validated business models that will further serve the poor and protect the planet.

Apply for the next GSBI Online accelerator cohort here.


Cover photo courtesy of Accelerated

The Justifiable Ask: Realities of Raising Impact Capital

The Justifiable Ask: Realities of Raising Impact Capital

Entrepreneurs often say that capital, or lack of it, is the biggest obstacle to business growth and cause of enterprise failure. In reality, there is much more to it.

The new cohort of 18 social enterprises (SEs), from 11 countries around the globe, is arriving to Silicon Valley next week for the 16th annual Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) In-Residence accelerator program. The goal for the SEs is to refine their capitalization and scaling strategy, connect with investors, and present them with exciting opportunities.  

Photo from 2017 GSBI Investor Showcase

Photo from 2017 GSBI Investor Showcase

The SEs in this year’s cohort are working on a variety of solutions–from last-mile distribution of essential goods in Sierra Leone, to preventing newborn deaths in India, to improving earnings potential and livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Zambia.

Since February, these entrepreneurs have been working with experts and mentors to hone in their business models, growth plans, and capital needs, in order to scale their businesses and impact. As many entrepreneurs observe, much of their efforts come down to raising capital – identifying the different types of capital available to their business, the best way to deploy it within the company to position it for success, and the kind of expectations they can set for investors in getting a return on their capital (an impact and/or financial return).

In turn, an enterprise that has a clear and attractive business model, impact, and a Justifiable Ask is more likely to obtain the needed capital quickly and have investors knocking on their door. It is most often not about connections, but rather about attractiveness of the business to an investor, a reasonable capital ask given the enterprise needs and what it can deliver in return, and a thoughtful approach to the right partners.  

The Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) In-Residence Accelerator program has a comprehensive approach to investment preparedness that aims to help entrepreneurs put their best foot forward in attracting the right type of capital for their businesses.

When we talk about a Justifiable Ask, we think about the interrelation between these key items:

Photo from 2017 GSBI Investor Showcase

Photo from 2017 GSBI Investor Showcase

  • Growth strategy and strategic initiatives,
  • What resources are needed to achieve these,
  • How much capital do those resources translate to and over what time horizon that capital would be deployed,
  • The return the company may be able to provide an investor given their financial performance to date, the potential of the business (forecast) and the inherent risks,
  • The type of capital that is available and appropriate given the aforementioned factors.

By helping develop, then reviewing financial models, we help identify gaps and challenges that an investor may see–often pushing back on how realistic assumptions are, what key drivers of growth, profitability and cash flow may be, and help entrepreneurs paint a clearer picture of their growth opportunity, effect of capital infusion and return potential for that capital to investors.

During the ten-day In-Residence at Santa Clara University, the entrepreneurs are grilled on various topics related to their business with specific feedback on operations, impact metrics, internal finances, and growth strategy, among other topics. Although that feedback is sometimes difficult to receive as the panelists may shoot down exciting ideas, question reasoning or a new strategy, this exercise helps the entrepreneurs develop much stronger cases for their conversations with potential investors and partners. The SEs, with support of their mentors, then have to build the adjustments resulting from the feedback into their forecast and translate it to their capital need.

The result of the process, is an inspiring group of enterprises with diverse business models, working across the world towards solving important social and environmental challenges in their communities and globally.  Their capital needs are as versatile–from debt and equity to convertible notes and blended capital needs, including grants, debt and equity, to innovative structures such as a Security Token Offering (STO) and revenue sharing mechanisms.

You can see these entrepreneurs present their vision to scale and create a lasting impact on the world on Wednesday, August 15 at the 2018 GSBI Investor Showcase or via live stream, hosted by Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship. If you are an investor and would like to schedule a private meeting after the Investor Showcase or connect online with any of the SEs, don’t hesitate to contact us!


Anastasiya’s expertise is in providing catalytic capital and advice on financial strategy to businesses ranging from early stage start-ups to multinational corporations. While Anastasiya serves as Miller Center’s GSBI Funding Facilitation Lead, she also actively manages a consulting practice supporting scaling social enterprises in raising capital, and investors in evaluating and structuring deals.

Prior to starting her consulting practice, she was the Director of Investor Relations & Financial Innovation at Agora Partnerships–facilitating over $50M in capital flow to social enterprises in Latin America and designing new funding programs. She is also a former Portfolio Manager of RSF Social Finance, a US-based impact investor with $100M AUM. Anastasiya began her career in Corporate & Investment Banking at Wells Fargo in San Francisco and New York City, providing capital markets advisory and other financial services to a portfolio of Fortune 500 corporates.

Anastasiya holds a Master’s in International Finance and Economic Development from the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics, and a B.S. in Finance from Santa Clara University. She is originally from Ukraine and enjoys visiting friends around the world, dancing, yoga, and rock-climbing.

Recasting Church ministries to mobilize financing

Recasting Church ministries to mobilize financing

Embracing social entrepreneurship at the Vatican’s third annual impact investing conference

“To create a more just, humane, and sustainable world” – a mission that underpins our work at Miller Center supporting social entrepreneurship. For over 700 years, the Catholic church has created income solutions for the poor through ministries that provide jobs. These activities continue today and are largely donor-supported enterprises. A call by Pope Francis in 2014 introduced secular work on social enterprise to the Church practitioners of Catholic ministries. Following the publication of Evangelii Gaudium in late 2013, the Vatican hosted the first Vatican Impact Investing Conference (VIIC) in June 2014. Pope Francis recognized the common values shared by both the Church ministries and social entrepreneurs who were building companies from within underserved communities globally. In a statement issued during the conference, the Pope declared,



“A sense of solidarity with the poor and the marginalized has led you to reflect on impact investing as one emerging form of responsible investment. 


...Impact investors are those who are conscious of the existence of serious unjust situations, instances of profound social inequality and unacceptable conditions of poverty affecting communities and entire peoples. These investors turn to financial institutes which will use their resources to promote the economic and social development of these groups through investment funds aimed at satisfying basic needs associated with agriculture, access to water, adequate housing and reasonable prices, as well as with primary health care and educational services”

John Kohler presents Sources of Capital and the Enterprises in Which They Invest at VIIC 2014

With VIIC 2014 as the introduction to the theory of change held by social enterprise and impact investing, VIIC 2016 was the start of a “cross-walk” from Catholic ministries to social enterprise. Miller Center was asked to lead a 2 ½ day pre-conference workshop for Catholic leaders to examine social enterprise, profit and loss operations, impact measurement, and the commonalities between secular work with social enterprise and the Catholic mission.

This month, the third Vatican Impact Investing Conference was held in Rome and was attended by more than 160 people. The content was dense and the conversation lively. A marked change was evident: instead of practitioners explaining impact investing and social enterprise, the voice in the room was from Church practitioners who were already embracing the thesis that some of their ministries could be recast as eligible social enterprises to impact investors.

Areas of focus identified at VIIC 2018 include Sustainable Development Goals  3, 8, 10, 13, 16,  and  17.

Areas of focus identified at VIIC 2018 include Sustainable Development Goals 3, 8, 10, 13, 16, and 17.

Areas of focus identified for the conference were: Youth - increasing access to jobs; Health – scaling healthcare access for the poor; Migrants and Refugees – financing SMEs owned by or serving the displaced; and, Integral Ecology – climate change and development

More directly aligned commentary was also heard from some of the impact investor community. An example was a social impact bond created by KIOS Invest (Belgium) aimed at economic support to migrant communities.  Other BoP–tailored investment solutions were highlighted by MacArthur Foundation, Investisseurs & Partenaires (France), Social Finance US, Sahel Capital (Nigeria), and Aavishkaar-Intellicap Group. They described specific investment initiatives that are aimed at communities and geographies consistent with priority areas the Vatican had identified.

Miller Center Executive Director Thane Kreiner lead a panel on using impact investing to help solve global problems of human trafficking, migrants, and refugees.

Miller Center Executive Director Thane Kreiner lead a panel on using impact investing to help solve global problems of human trafficking, migrants, and refugees.

There was also a strong emergence from Sister organizations within the Church. Orders of Sisters run many of the Catholic ministries in service to the poor and the Sisters have been looking for help to create more sustainable enterprises. In describing their commitment, Sister Eneless Chimbali, Director General of the Association of Consecrated Women of Eastern and Central Africa, declared “the Sisters are always there!” with the poor and the enterprises that support them.

On the second full day, parallel sessions were held to create a “deep dive” exploration of the four focus areas and then folded the conversations into how conference participants can take action to support what is immediately needed or in the development of further solutions. Unlike many other conferences, the engagement and participation by attendees was nearly 100% even at the final sessions of the VIIC.

Positive comments and commitment were roundly evident as the VIIC came to a close. Now for action!

Pursuing Scale: New program offers advanced content and mentorship for Tech Awards Laureates and GSBI Alumni

Pursuing Scale: New program offers advanced content and mentorship for Tech Awards Laureates and GSBI Alumni

Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship has launched a new partnership with the James & Rebecca Morgan Family Foundation and Charmaine and Dan Warmenhoven to re-engage and support past recipients of the Tech Museum’s Tech Awards with a mentored acceleration program that combines Miller Center’s proven curriculum emphasizing  business fundamentals along with advanced content focused on investment facilitation, leadership, and governance support.  We call this new program GSBI® Technology Entrepreneurship for Change (TECh) Accelerator.

Since 2003 GSBI has accelerated the impact of over 893 social entrepreneurs by delivering world-class accelerator programs that connect global social enterprise leaders with Silicon Valley business executives to develop more sustainable, scalable market-based solutions to the problems of those living in poverty around the world.  In this time we have realized that our alumni social entrepreneurs continue to benefit from mentorship and acceleration even as they transform from start-ups to mature social enterprises.  This program represents Miller Center’s core value of accompanying our entrepreneurs beyond the formal bounds of a GSBI program - committing to provide continued support in order to help them reach scale.  

mc_tech_pms (1).png

Miller Center has selected 14 social enterprises to participate in this new five-month program. The program starts with a refresher on business fundamentals, including impact model, business model,  financial model, and growth strategy. It then advances to a personalized curriculum consisting of master-classes taught by industry experts on some of the most persistent barriers to scale: navigating the impact investing ecosystem, techniques to effectively structure and manage a board, strategies for becoming an effective manager and leader, and building a high performing team.

A powerful component of the program is active accompaniment through the investment process for which Miller Center GSBI® programs are renowned. Miller Center staff help to open doors for program participants, and provide mentorship on new topics including outreach tactics, due diligence, and deal structuring.
Since 2001, 296 social enterprises with “technology benefiting humanity” working in the fields of Environment, Education, Economic Development and Equality have been honored by The Tech Museum. Over 40 of the Tech Award Laureates are also GSBI Alumni. Miller Center is eager to re-engage these Laureates and Alumni and help them scale their impact. 

A profile of the 14 social enterprises in this cohort can be found below.

The organizations will benefit from the proven GSBI accelerator curriculum, Silicon Valley mentors who accompany them and serve as trusted advisers, and the collective wisdom gained from accelerating over 800 social enterprises in 65 countries.

Thanks to the support of the James and Rebecca Morgan Family Foundation and Charmaine and Dan Warmenhoven, this cohort will be the first of three annual GSBI TECh Accelerator cohorts. 

“I support the GSBI Technology Entrepreneurship for Change(TECh) led by Miller Center. My enthusiasm comes from decades of experience with Santa Clara University’s culture and successful support for social entrepreneurship when Father Locatelli was forming the Center, “ said Jim Morgan of the James and Rebecca Morgan Family Foundation. “It is exciting to see the Tech Laureates and others getting opportunities for investment facilitation and networking, plus management and financial coaching that can be so helpful.”
Each cohort will consist of up to 15 social enterprises utilizing technology to benefit people living in poverty and protecting the planet. These enterprises will have had a solid track record of success, but are now looking to break through to a new level of scale.
“Over the years, Dan and I have been incredibly impressed and inspired by the amazing work accomplished by The Tech Laureates. To help give them the opportunity to continue, and scale their endeavors to benefit humanity is a privilege.  We look to this program to help them in their quest to bring impact and change to our world," said Charmaine Warmenhoven.

TECh Cohort: 

All Across Africa employs local artisans.

All Across Africa employs local artisans.

Organization Name: All Across Africa
Headquarters: United States of America
Enterprise Type: Hybrid
Description: All Across Africa brings artisan crafts to modern products and styles that utilize local renewable materials and generate global demand.
Countries Impacted: Burundi; Ghana; Kenya; Rwanda; Uganda


Organization Name: Amplio (formerly Literacy Bridge)
Headquarters: United States of America
Enterprise Type: Non-profit
Description: Amplio makes it possible to share knowledge through its Talking Book audio device and monitoring and evaluation services. Talking Book is designed to help development organizations, governments, and businesses amplify their work and share knowledge on-demand with people who are cut off from traditional sources of information.
Countries Impacted: Ghana


Organization Name: AREWA24, LLC
Headquarters: Nigeria
Enterprise Type: Hybrid
Description: AREWA24 is Nigeria's first all-Hausa-language satellite television channel produced locally by and for northern Nigerians. 


Organization Name: Awaaz.De
Headquarters: India
Enterprise Type: For-profit
Description: Awaaz.De develops cost-effective, easy-to-use communication and data collection tools that work on mobiles and landlines, breaking language and literacy barriers, to make information, connectivity, and communication accessible for everyone.


Organization Name: BeeLine Reader
Headquarters: United States of America
Enterprise Type: For-profit
Description:  BeeLine Reader is technology that makes reading on screens easier and more accessible. It helps readers of all ages and skill levels, but it is especially helpful for ELL readers and readers with dyslexia, ADHD, and vision impairments. We build B2C tools and also license our technology to nonprofits and for-profits that want to make their platforms more accessible.


Organization Name: Circ MedTech Ltd
Headquarters: Israel
Enterprise Type: Hybrid
Description: Circ MedTech Ltd. develops, manufactures, and markets PrePexTM - the first and only medical device to facilitate a safe and virtually painless non-surgical male circumcision (MC) procedure available for all ages.
Countries Impacted: Zimbabwe, Zambia, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, Rwanda, Malawi, Lesotho, Kenya, Indonesia, Botswana


Organization Name: Grupo para Promover la Educación y el Desarrollo Sustentable, A.C.
Headquarters: Mexico
Enterprise Type: Other
Description: Grupo para Promover la Educación y el Desarrollo Sustenable, A.C. provides hands-on learning to build ecotechnologies that satisfy water, food, house, energy and waste management needs. We train people and supervise the self construction of the ecotechnologies.


Approximately 99.99% of bacteria can be netted and destroyed by the ceramic filtration technology owned Nazava.

Approximately 99.99% of bacteria can be netted and destroyed by the ceramic filtration technology owned Nazava.

Organization Name: Nazava Water Filters
Headquarters: Indonesia
Enterprise Type: For-Profit
Description: Nazava Water Filters is a for-profit social enterprise, targeting the 1.8 billion people that do not have safe drinking water from their tap. Our mission is to provide safe and affordable drinking water to everyone, everywhere. We enable low-income households to filter their well, tap or rainwater without the need to use unrenewable fuels to boil or use electricity. Nazava filtered water is 3x cheaper than boiling and 9x cheaper than buying bottled water. As Nazava replaces the need to boil water, we also reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save time for women seeking fuelwood. 
Countries Impacted: Burkina Faso; Maldives; Mozambique; Philippines


Organization Name: Pollinate Energy
Headquarters: India
Enterprise Type: Hybrid
Description: Pollinate Energy distributes life-changing products, ranging from solar lights to clean cookstoves and medicated mosquito nets using a women-centric salesforce. 


Organization NamePotential Energy 
Berkeley, California
Enterprise Type: Nonprofit
Description: Potential Energy manufactures and distributes the Berkeley Darfur Stove, an energy-efficient stove for rural, refugee families.


Organization Name: SAI Sustainable Agro
Headquarters: India
Enterprise Type: For-profit
Description: SAI Sustainable Agro works with smallholders in their abandoned agricultural land through an innovative, system-changing model. Farmers grow leguminous crops along with tree farming that increases their income, as well as provides social and ecological benefits.


Organization Name: Solar Ear
Headquarters: Canada
Enterprise Type: Hybrid
Description: Solar Ear's mission is to serve the hearing impaired in developing countries using a unique model of manufacturing affordable, solar-powered hearing aids with local deaf workers who are trained to perform at a world-class level.
Countries Impacted: Botswana; Brazil; Mexico


Organization Name: We Care Solar
Headquarters: United States of America
Enterprise Type: Non-Profit
Description: We Care Solar saves lives in childbirth by advancing the use of solar electricity in under-resourced health centers. Their award-winning Solar Suitcase is a compact solar electric kit for medical lighting and communication that enables timely and appropriate emergency care in maternal health facilities and settings without reliable electricity.
Countries Impacted: Afghanistan; India; Liberia; Mexico; Nepal; Nicaragua; Nigeria; Rwanda


Organization Name: Whirlwind Wheelchair International
Headquarters: United States of America
Enterprise Type: Hybrid
Description: Whirlwind endeavors to make it possible for every person in the developing world who needs a wheelchair to obtain one for a chance of reaching maximum personal independence and integration into society.
Countries Impacted: China; Philippines; Morocco; Republic of Georgia; Vietnam; Canada; South Africa; Mexico


Banner photo: Solar Ear founder Howard Weinstein.

Social Enterprises Merge in Search of Scale

Social Enterprises Merge in Search of Scale

“Scale” is a nebulous and elusive concept in the social enterprise ecosystem. However, if the community is to make any tangible progress toward the social impact objective it seeks to achieve, like energy access for all, or access to clean water and sanitation, scale is an essential topic for us to wrestle with. The recent merger of Pollinate Energy and Empower Generation, two of our Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) alumni social enterprises, provides a look at a new and rarely seen avenue toward scale.

Click here   for more details on Sustainable Development Goal 7: Affordable and clean energy.

Click here for more details on Sustainable Development Goal 7: Affordable and clean energy.

Since 2003 GSBI has accelerated over 893 social entrepreneurs by delivering a  world-class accelerator programs that connect global social enterprise leaders with Silicon Valley business executives to develop more sustainable, scalable market-based solutions to the problems of those living in poverty around the world. Over the past 15 years, we have seen that there is no single “right way” to scale. However, we have seen some themes emerge.

In search of scale, GSBI alumni have perused a number of distinct paths. Some entcerprises are able to leverage their proof of concept and record of success into large investments that will afford them the possibility of dramatic expansion. This was the case with GSBI alumni Husk Power Systems, who recently raised over $20 million to add an additional 300 mini grids in India and Tanzania and bring energy access to over 100,000 customers.

Founded in Mexico, Sistema Biobolsa has replicated operations in Kenya.

Other alumni, like Sistema Biobolsa, see replication as the most promising avenue toward scale. Sistema Biobolsa, worked with the GSBI Replication Initiative to package its business model and technology and cultivate international partnership that can replicate its success in new geographies.

But what if there are already a number of social enterprises that utilize a similar model? Organic expansion becomes difficult because the competitive landscape reduces the potential addressable market, and replication becomes challenging, as replicating organizations may face significant challenges from their more established local counterparts.

While many may seen  a challenge, GSBI alumni Alexie Seller of Pollinate Energy, and Anya Chefneff of Empower Generation saw an opportunity.

Pollinate Energy and Empower Generation both aim to increase last mile distribution of socially beneficial products (solar lanterns, clean cookstoves, etc) by training and employing women (and men) who live in under-resourced and under-served communities.  Pollinate works in India and Empower Generation in Nepal.

Empower Generation’s model and impact to date is impressive. Launched in 2011, its distribution network includes 20 women-led businesses that manage over 250 sales agents, working as village-level entrepreneurs and earning an income with every product sold. As of December 2017, the network has distributed 57,000+ clean energy products, saving Nepalese families over $2,737,000 AUD in household energy expenses and displacing 12,861 tons of CO2 by replacing kerosene and candles. Empower Generation has impacted the lives of 294,626 people by providing them with cleaner, safer access to power, light, and cook stoves.

Pollinate Energy has also had an impressive track record and has reached over 130,000 individuals in over 1000 communities throughout India. In sum, Pollinate has helped to save over 4 million liters of kerosene- offsetting almost 10 million kgs of CO2 emissions. They have also helped to save Indian families over 215 million rupees.

Stronger together: by merging, Pollinate Energy and Empower Generation anticipate an accelerated path to scale (Source: Pollinate Energy)

Stronger together: by merging, Pollinate Energy and Empower Generation anticipate an accelerated path to scale (Source: Pollinate Energy)

Alexie and Anya first met through a connection made through GSBI.  “We Immediately saw that there were significant similarities between both of their models, as well as highly aligned leadership values and ambitions. There was the right set of raw ingredients for a strong collaboration,” said Cassandra Staff, Chief Operating Officer at Miller Center.

By merging, the two organizations will be able to leverage their increased size for greater purchasing power and economies of scale. They will also be able to amplify each other’s strengths and distinct advantages.

For example, one organization had more a sophisticated operational system; leveraging these systems across the newly-merged organization will streamline processes, supply chain, data collection and analysis, sales force recruitment, and leadership.  On the other hand, the other party had much more advanced skills-development programs for their staff and sales agents. By integrating these trainings, the talent at Pollinate Energy will have the skills needed to scale with their organization

“One exciting development for India will be adopting Empower Generation’s rural-based sales approach. This will allow us to reach remote families who are currently missing out on accessing our life-changing products. Together, we will reach millions faster and more efficiently, and be better placed to empower women to play a central role in the development of their communities and their families. This is critical when our model still currently relies on the support of generous donors to support our growth,” says Alexie Seller, who will remain as CEO for the new merged organization.”

While there are obvious advantages of leveraging each other’s strengths, the process of identifying those strengths and determining the practicality of merging was not without its own challenges.  In order to help facilitate the merger process, Miller Center Executive Fellow, Steven White accompanied both of these organizations throughout the process and provided strategic advice on how to navigate this process.


Source for banner image: Sustainable Energy for All. Click here to view the recorded announcement of the merger between Pollinate Energy and Empower Generation.