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2018 Innovative Professor of the Year: Dr. Tonya Nilsson

2018 Innovative Professor of the Year: Dr. Tonya Nilsson

Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship is delighted to announce Dr. Tonya Nilsson as this year’s “Innovative Professor of the Year”. As a full time lecturer in Santa Clara University's Civil Engineering department, Nilsson regularly teaches Graphic Communication, Statics, Strength of Materials, Civil Engineering Materials, and Civil Engineering Professional Development.

Nilsson’s commitment to the field is reflected in her impressive academic and professional credentials. After studying for a Bachelors in Architectural Engineering from Cal Poly, SLO, she went on to earn a Masters in Structural Engineering from Stanford, and a Ph.D in Structural Mechanics from UC Davis. Prior to her time as a professor at SCU, she worked on structural engineering projects in industry and became a tenured Associate Professor at CSU Chico. Additionally, she has worked with and led SCEE’s ExCEED Teaching Workshops for 8 years.

The selection committee for the Innovative Professor of the Year award, made up of the 2017 Global Social Benefit Fellows cohort, recognized Dr. Nilsson for her effective and accommodating teaching style. From incorporating physical models into lectures to help students visualize key concepts, to mixing in both individual and collaborative problem sets, she caters to students of all learning styles, and fosters a classroom environment that encourages unique problem solving approaches and innovative thinking.

Even beyond her classes, Dr. Nilsson is thoroughly involved with the rest of SCU’s engineering community. As an advisor for Engineers Without Borders and the Society of Women Engineers, she has travelled with both clubs to apply her knowledge of engineering to communities in need. Additionally, she does a significant amount of work promoting best practices in education, currently serving as a board member for the Civil Engineering Division of the American Society of Engineering Education.

Her leadership both within and outside the classroom has made a lasting impact on her students, inspiring and equipping them to become leaders of their own:


“Dr. T inspires me to go out of my comfort zone, be a leader, and do what I think is right. She’s the perfect amount of encouraging, while also being honest about what she thinks is reasonable and fair. She’s one of the few professors that I can always count on to give honest and true advice, while also giving me the opportunity and support to pursue things I can’t convince myself to do on my own.”

-Shiyin Lim ‘19, Bioengineering

“Dr. T has been an invaluable mentor and role model…. She has a passion for teaching that is obvious in every interaction, and she is constantly pushing me to explore problems from different angles.… The example she sets through her humanitarian work inspires both myself and everyone else in Engineers Without Borders to explore how we can use our engineering skills to help disadvantaged communities.”

-Ben Lampe, ‘18, Electrical Engineering

Join us as we honor Dr. Nilsson at the Research with a Mission Open House & Expo at SCU's Locatelli Center on May 23rd. 

Addressing Issues in the Bay Area

Addressing Issues in the Bay Area

Miller Center announces new cohort in partnership with Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County for Bay Area-based social entrepreneurs

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Bay Area residents have enjoyed meteoric growth in the past few years, bringing in $781 billion for gross domestic product in 2016 alone. While this new surge of wealth may be beneficial for some people, the rise of incomes has been followed by a concurrent rise in inequality.

Fortunately, there is an abundance of social entrepreneurs and innovation working to reconcile the Bay Area’s breakneck growth with stable levels of income equality, with the ultimate aim of making a livelihood possible for every citizen.


Miller Center is excited to share that we are collaborating with Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County to run a Bay Area GSBI® Boost from July 24-26, a 3-day capacity building workshop engineered specifically for social entrepreneurs concerned with income inequality and its impact on the San Francisco Bay Area. These entrepreneurs envision a Golden State in which innovation and high standards of living for all residents are not incompatible ideals, but instead are complementary ambitions welded together as core values of the Bay Area.

Miller Center will leverage Silicon Valley expertise to equip these social entrepreneurs with the skills they need to address the challenges of domestic poverty and economic inequality. Specifically, Miller Center’s GSBI Boost workshop allows social entrepreneurs to gain valuable business knowledge, improve their strategic thinking, and articulate a business plan that demonstrates impact, growth, and long-term financial sustainability. GSBI Boost will also bring together social business leaders from the community for an unparalleled networking event.


The Catholic ethos of unity in faith and universality in mission harmonizes well with the historically welcome spirit of the Bay Area. Similarly, Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County helps individuals and families rise above economic barriers, regardless of their background. Miller Center will gild the GSBI Boost with the altruism of Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, channeling values such as humility and service toward those in need.

Selected entrepreneurs will take advantage of various opportunities in the GSBI Boost:

  • PROVEN PROGRAM.  Experience Miller Center’s structured, validated curriculum that has helped over 800 social enterprises attain operational excellence and prepare for investment.

  • EXECUTIVE MENTORS. You will be accompanied by Silicon Valley mentors with expertise in innovation and entrepreneurship who are your trusted advisors.

  • RELATIONSHIP BUILDING. Not only will you work directly with Silicon Valley mentors, but you will work alongside other leaders also trying to solve the problems faced in the Bay Area.

  • NO CHARGE.  All Miller Center GSBI accelerator programs are offered at no charge to selected social enterprises.

  • INVESTOR SHOWCASE*.  An opportunity to pitch your plan for scaling with a justifiable ask at an Investor Showcase in Silicon Valley. (*Available only to enterprises selected to participate in the subsequent GSBI Online accelerator program.)

We invite all social entrepreneurs who are delivering solutions to impact the vulnerable or low-income populations of the Bay Area to apply.

Global Social Venture Competition Features Miller Center Connections

Global Social Venture Competition Features Miller Center Connections

The Future of Social Ventures Conference that took place on Friday, March 16 at UC Berkeley featured several Miller Center Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) connections, including keynote speaker Carlos Orellana, CEO of the 2012 GSBI® alumni enterprise salaUno, and current 2018 GSBI social enterprise Untapped.

The Global Social Venture Competition (GSVC) is a pitch competition providing exposure and mentorship to aspiring social entrepreneurs, a model that complements Miller Center’s accelerator programs. GSVC focuses on finding innovative solutions in the social enterprise space, while Miller Center’s Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI) offers stage-specific support to social enterprises to help them scale.

Pictured (L-R): Richie Garner, Gavin Cosgrave, Lauren Oliver, Christina Harris, Will Paton, Marisa Rudolph

Pictured (L-R): Richie Garner, Gavin Cosgrave, Lauren Oliver, Christina Harris, Will Paton, Marisa Rudolph

Several Miller Center student employees attended, including Gavin Cosgrave and Richie Garner, and 2017 Global Social Benefit Fellows Will Paton, Christina Harris, Marisa Rudolph, and Lauren Oliver. The students networked with conference attendees, learned from successful entrepreneur speakers, and watched presentations from several of the competing teams.

Orellana kicked off the conference with his keynote speech about his path from a career in finance to pursuing degrees in business and public health at UC Berkeley. There, he learned about Aravind, and realized that a similar business could benefit Mexicans suffering from blindness. Orellana discussed the challenges he faced with adapting Aravind’s business model to Mexico, and how salaUno and Aravind have since worked together to achieve mutual success. Today, SalaUno is the leading provider of cataract surgery in Mexico City.

Next up, Miller Center student employees attended a workshop hosted by OpenIDEO titled “Circular Design for Social Impact.” OpenIDEO is an online community platform that hosts challenges around a variety of global issues, an excellent pipeline partner for GSBI programs.

Founder, Food 4 Education, Wawira Njiru   Photo credit: Food 4 Education

Founder, Food 4 Education, Wawira Njiru
Photo credit: Food 4 Education

Wawira Njiru, founder of the 2017 GSBI Accelerator alumni enterprise Food 4 Education, started her business through an OpenIDEO challenge for creating ideas to help urban slums combat climate change.

At the workshop, OpenIDEO staff presented on the potential for rethinking products and services to account for their whole life cycle, from manufacturing to disposal. Teams of conference attendees were given two options for imagining new solutions: repurposing material waste from Nike shoes to create new products, or creating a new venture around reducing food waste. Each team progressed through the design thinking process and presented elevator pitches for their ideas at the end of the short workshop.

Following the workshop, Samasource and LXMI CEO Leila Janah spoke about her journey founding the companies, and about the potential of social enterprises to reduce poverty. Samasource has employed almost 10,000 bottom-of-the-pyramid workers to complete data entry and machine learning algorithm work. Janah recently wrote a book, “Give Work” about the power of jobs to lift people out of poverty.

During the afternoon pitch competition, the seven Global Social Venture Competition finalists from the U.S. West Coast region pitched their ideas and fielded investor questions.

Second among the batch was current GSBI In-Residence enterprise Untapped, which provides a clean water and last-mile distribution platform for developing markets. Untapped creates water-treatment centers that double as local distribution hubs to reach remote villages. Although Untapped did not advance to the world finals in Milan, they will continue to hone their enterprise for the 2018 GSBI In-Residence in August.

New beginnings: Four Miller Center Global Social Benefit Fellows awarded Fulbright scholarships

New beginnings: Four Miller Center Global Social Benefit Fellows awarded Fulbright scholarships

I love April because many new exciting things begin!

We have begun teaching the new cohort of 18 Global Social Benefit Fellows! Fourteen of these will be working in Africa this summer, in Ghana, Rwanda, Uganda, and Zambia. We will be working with nine social enterprises, eight of them alumni graduating from the GSBI Accelerator in 2016 and 2017. Replication is a strong theme across the action research projects, with half of the projects testing and refining lessons for accelerating social impact in rural Africa. Half of the projects will evaluate and propose business model innovations with our social enterprise partners. Please come meet the new fellows at the Research With a Mission Open House and Expo on Wednesday, May 23, 2:30-4:30 pm, in Locatelli Center. 

April brings news for our alumni fellows and the exciting next stage of their journeys! I am particularly proud of four of our Global Social Benefit Fellows (GSBF) who have received prestigious Fulbright awards to continue researching social entrepreneurship in the developing world!

Please join me in congratulating Ericka, Carson, Athena, and Marisa!

Our alumni fellows are building the social enterprise ecosystem

We are proud of our alumni fellows starting graduate studies


Unless stated otherwise, photo credits: Santa Clara University

CocoAsenso: Reflections from Launching a Social Enterprise in the Philippines

CocoAsenso: Reflections from Launching a Social Enterprise in the Philippines

The rural Philippines: hot, wet, lush. Though I wasn’t exactly sure where I would end up after graduating from Santa Clara University and hiking the Pacific Crest Trail for 4.5 months, I’ve come to settle in at Paranas, Samar, my home away from home. Don’t get me wrong, living in the Eastern Visayas has not come without its challenges—never quite “fitting in”, sweating—always, and living to the cacophonous soundtrack of roosters—but behind the curtain of this small provincial town, innovation is brewing in the coconut industry, and I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of it.

Rice fields and coconut in Paranas, Samar

Rice fields and coconut in Paranas, Samar

For many of us, coconuts have begun to play a larger role in our daily lives over the last 5-10 years. We cook with its oil, munch on its dried meat in our snacks, moisturize our skin, and of course, bake macaroons. Despite its wonders, the journey of a coconut and its farmer remains mystery to most. Prior to beginning my work in the Philippines, most of my coconut related thoughts revolved around devising a strategy to best chisel open the outer shell without injuring myself, this generally required moving from the kitchen to my garage to select more appropriate tools.

For the more than 15 million Filipinos who farm coconuts for a living, the coconut is more than just a guilty pleasure. Throughout its 7,000+ islands, generations of farmers and their communities have harnessed coconuts to build homes, sweeten meals, create art, and generate income. Its many uses and frequent fruit production has led to the coining of its eternal name, “the tree of life”. And with the rise of globalized markets, more people are demanding its coconut products, yet, despite this growth, 9 million of these coconut farmers still live in poverty.


The Disconnect

Copra drying process

Copra drying process

Understanding this discrepancy begins at the farm. In Samar, most farmers lack access to higher-value markets for their coconuts and are thus forced to produce a low-value product called copra. In the Philippines, farmers spend long hours drying coconut meat to make copra. After the moisture content is reduced to the required maximum, farmers sell copra to village-level traders who then send it to regional oil mills for energy intensive processing. This ultimately creates a low-value coconut oil called refined, deodorized, bleached (RBD) oil, used primarily for cooking. Despite the intensity of their efforts, the average farmer in Samar earns around $620 per year from copra production.

Concurrently, producers of high-value virgin coconut oil (VCO) operate large, but costly processing facilities in more industrialized regions of the Philippines (Manila, Cebu, Davao). In these areas, many high volume, multi-million dollar facilities compete for expensive whole coconuts to be shipped from the closest farmers who are able to meet their demand. These heavy whole coconuts are costly to ship and are commonly processed into dried coconut flakes (desiccated coconut) before being expelled into VCO.

Large scale coconut processing facility

Large scale coconut processing facility


The Opportunity

It’s at this juncture where you might be thinking: why not produce desiccated coconut in rural areas and employ farmers in the processing? With this model coconut farmers could increase their incomes by forgoing the need to make copra and access employment at a municipal-level processing facility, at the same time, the large, multi-million dollar facilities could access less expensive desiccated coconut (DC), forgoing the need to ship whole coconuts, which are 7x heavier than DC.

This is what we are doing at CocoAsenso.

For the last 2 years our team has been assembling the necessary partners, funding, and equipment to begin creating high-value coconut products in the communities where coconuts are grown. Our next challenge: can we scale this innovation beyond our first facility to make a more equitable and efficient coconut industry in the Philippines? We think so.



After beginning my journey to social enterprise as a Global Social Benefit Fellow in early-2015, consulting Jibu during its early growth stages, and helping launch CocoAsenso since May 2017, I’ve assembled a few reflections to consider for those looking to create scalable ideas in the social enterprise space:

CocoAsenso’s first processing facility in Paranas, Samar

CocoAsenso’s first processing facility in Paranas, Samar


1. Let your community shape your model

The traditional model for starting a business or implementing a new innovation begins with the idea, then finds a financially capable market segment. While this may work for proven businesses that are trying to target established certain groups of people in new areas, new ideas seeking to solve social and environmental challenges in impoverished areas must understand its communities first. Some important questions to ask yourself during the brainstorming process:

  • How much investment is needed to carry out given solutions? How can I minimize investment while maximizing impact?

  • Has anyone pursued my idea? If yes, why didn’t it work or why couldn’t it scale? Was it a capital, human, or infrastructure problem? How will you overcome it?

  • What is the broader context I’m operating in? What resources are available locally, regionally, globally? How will I be disrupting the livelihoods of existing business owners, how vulnerable are these entrepreneurs? How will I give disrupted groups a voice?

  • What is my role in bringing this idea to fruition? How will I ensure my idea has local ownership and management?


2. Focus, with a broad vision

Coconut jerky during trial phases.

Coconut jerky during trial phases.

In the world of coconuts, there are hundreds, if not thousands of ways to extract value from this tree of life. Many are quite niche, and alluring along the long, lonely path to establishing a processing facility in a remote farming community. For CocoAsenso, coconut jerky caught our attention, but, ultimately proved economically infeasible. While exciting in the moment, exploring the feasibility of this products ultimately slowed our progress toward our core model.

  • In short: let your competitive advantage drive sustainable revenue, then expand into other areas once you know how to do what you do best.


3. Strategically target financial partners

While the social enterprise ecosystem is still young in the Philippines, impact investing is continuing to gain traction among NGOs and government. More impact-oriented capital is enabling social enterprises to scale with less reliance on traditional financial institutions. CocoAsenso has raised most of its capital through competitions and grants, largely from local and regional partners. We believe these sources will continue to play a substantial role in supporting our early growth stages. A few insights from our experience:

Opening day at our first facility alongside many of our partners.

Opening day at our first facility alongside many of our partners.

  • Build resilience in disaster-affected communities: As more NGOs look to fund capacity building, target organizations who may have left over or partitioned funds from disaster response efforts. Of course one should not predate funding which helps the most vulnerable bounce-back from a disaster, but in many cases, 2-3 years after a spike in NGOs have left a disaster affected community, there will be remaining financial support best suited for establishing social enterprise. CocoAsenso has been able to access capacity-building grants by working with farming communities affected by Typhoon Haiyan which damaged much of the Eastern Visayas in 2f014.

  • Find partners to widen your scope: While much government funding & support remains excluded from for-profit social enterprises, other groups who may share your same vision can work with you to carry out your idea in exchange for ownership or repayment. CocoAsenso was able to establish its first facility by partnering with a local farming association interested in our vision.

  • Access university resources: As more universities are directing resources and attention toward catalyzing social and environmental change off-campus, utilize their capacity to carry out your shared vision. The Miller Center’s Global Social Benefit Institute is a perfect example of this: a win-win for Santa Clara University and the enterprise. Other Universities, such as the University of San Carlos (USC) in Cebu City (a Miller Center partner), are even going a step further. With the recent announcement of their new Center for Social Enterprise (CSE), undergraduates will soon be required to enroll in social enterprise curriculum. USC’s CSE will also be working to target and launch enterprises in communities throughout greater Cebu.


4. Consider how to prioritize your impact model

Balancing impact and growth can be a difficult trade-off in social enterprise. Founders generally want to be as impactful as possible, but market and political conditions may limit their efforts. At CocoAsenso, we’re beginning to ask difficult questions that will have a significant impact on our model as we scale. While unique to our model and the local coconut market, these questions serve as a framework to think about other challenges:

Whole coconuts ready to be delivered to CocoAsenso directly from the farmer.

Whole coconuts ready to be delivered to CocoAsenso directly from the farmer.

  • How do we best compensate farmers for their coconuts? Do we pay farmers above market rate for their coconuts? Or generate more profit to enable faster scaling? While paying higher prices for locally sourced coconut may have more immediate benefit, this leaves less money for reinvesting, paying farmer employees or funding community development activities.
  • How do we protect tenant farmers from being kicked off their land? Many coconut farmers in our community do not own their land. Some operate under an agreement with the landowner and share the revenue from selling copra. With the establishment of our coconut processing facility, landowners have the opportunity to sell whole coconuts, freeing up the needed labor for copra production. Anticipating the potential for tenants (often the most vulnerable farmers) to be kicked off their land, we must establish protective measures that are fair for landowners and tenants. 
  • Who owns my enterprise? In an ideal world, new social enterprises will always be launched and owned by the most vulnerable and capable. In reality, many are launched by people who are better resourced, may come from another country or community, and have a vision for high level change. As a committed founder, spending time, energy, and passion, you must ask how best to balance fair compensation for your efforts while maximizing benefit to the people you are working to help. It’s here where the core of your company’s “why” lies.


The Road Ahead

While coconuts may not have been on the top of my mind amid my post-graduation job search, CocoAsenso has challenged me to better understand the role of social enterprise in global development. Upon my completion of Miller Center’s Global Social Benefit Fellowship, I’ve thought more and more about starting an enterprise of my own, but for now I’ll be in the Philippines, working with coconut farmers of Paranas, and dreaming about the road ahead.

To learn more about CocoAsenso, and its mission to improve the livelihoods of remote coconut farmers in the Philippines, click here.

To read more of Tom’s reflections and follow his upcoming Pacific Northwest Trail thru-hike, check out his blog:

Scale and adaption: the two sides of replication

Scale and adaption: the two sides of replication

Only 10% of Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) alumni achieve significant growth despite being cutting edge enterprises with mentorship from experienced Silicon Valley practitioners. This goes to show that growing and scaling a social enterprise is complicated and difficult.

The good news is that many of these social enterprises are having a tremendous impact in their locales, and some enterprises are starting to find ways to expand into new geographies, or what we term as “scale out”. Moreover, proven business models and technologies have a way of spreading, and entrepreneurs are naturally adopting ideas into new regions.

We launched Miller Center’s Replication Initiative in 2016 because we recognized the need and opportunity to support these efforts to replicate and scale proven social enterprises. In our view, their are two sides of replication: scale out of existing enterprises into new territories, and supporting the uptake and adaptation of business models to increase the likelihood of success.


Social Enterprise Scale-Out
As social enterprises validate their business and impact models, some entrepreneurs are testing expansion strategies by opening new branches, licensing core business features, exploring partnerships, or setting up franchises. These approaches are tools in a toolbox; often, a social enterprise will employ several strategies depending on market demands and opportunities.

For example, Hippocampus Learning Centers, which provides early childhood education to underserved children, utilizes several strategies to expand their business in different states across India by using a mix of branch and partnership approaches, while also licensing their management software and curriculum to other entrepreneurs like Hipocampus Mexico with the support of a replication venture-builder, Connovo.

Students at Hippocampus Learning Center (India). 

Students at Hippocampus Learning Center (India). 

Team members at Hipocampus Centros de Aprendizaje (Mexico).

Team members at Hipocampus Centros de Aprendizaje (Mexico).

There are other social enterprises focusing on franchising, which leverages small local businesses as franchisees of the parent company. Several enterprises pursue this model, such as Jibu providing access to clean drinking water across East Africa, or Nishant Bioenergy biomass pellet franchising in India and Africa. The franchising model is proving to work within very similar territories, but is challenging across different markets and cultural forces that may require organizational and business model variations. The University of New Hampshire’s Social Sector Franchising Initiative is doing some timely research on the social franchise sector, and have shared other success cases.

We want to see more social enterprises design their scale-out strategies to maximize impact. Our Replication Initiative has developed a Scale-Out guide for more experienced enterprises to successfully grow beyond their initial commercialization and into new territories and countries. This guide will be introduced as a master class in the GSBI In-Residence Accelerator, and we are experimenting with deeper support to GSBI Alumni seeking to expand. With an already high demand for these services, Miller Center wants to refine its approach and increase partnerships to reach more entrepreneurs.

Business Model Adoption
While these pioneering social enterprises strengthen their business models and experiment with expansion strategies, innovations naturally spread. Solar technology, clean cookstoves, water filters, and services in education and distribution are proliferating through the efforts of aspiring entrepreneurs eyeing an opportunity then starting their business from scratch. With this natural spread of innovation, many entrepreneurs are “reinventing the wheel”. This means that the hard-earned lessons from previous entrepreneurs are not shared with earlier-stage ventures.

There are, of course, examples of the impromptu uptake of proven business models that works. The growth of microfinance institutions across the globe is a well-known example of how a successful model can advance through a largely uncoordinated chain reaction. Harvey Koh, from FSG, a mission-driven consultancy, described in a Stanford Social Innovation Review article the similar adoption and innovation of low-cost sanitary pad enterprises.

These phenomena are welcomed in the social enterprise space, but we are also seeing slow growth and too many failed ventures. In our Universal Energy Access white paper, we argued that 2.5 billion people worldwide suffering from energy poverty represents a total market of 500 million potential customers for public and private energy supplies. We concluded that this problem can be solved with the growth of 7,000 to 20,000 local energy enterprises.

Without exemplary guidance from existing models, thousands of entrepreneurs are struggling to develop their businesses and gain market penetration. Thus, if the number of potential entrepreneurs increased, time to market was shortened, and new entrepreneurs were given a roadmap to success, then we can better equip startups to solve the energy access challenge.

Spreading Ideas with Playbooks
This hypothesis - that targeted support can decrease the time to market and increase success rates - hinges on new entrepreneurs adapting proven business models or partnering with existing social enterprises.

There is an opportunity to alter business incubation and acceleration to not only foster new ideas, but also assist entrepreneurs in using their creativity in the expansion and adaptation processes. Several organizations, programs, and platforms are emerging with the aim to support this thinking.

For instance, Connovo, a venture-builder in Mexico, replicates proven models in their incubation process. They developed a licensing partnership with a local entrepreneur to launch Hipocampus Mexico based on the original Hippocampus India model for early childhood education. This is just one example of the adaptation process they are pioneering.

There are also the likes of Enviu, another venture-builder dedicated to scaling solutions, and Spring Impact, a non-profit consultancy, supporting entrepreneurs scale-out their enterprises. The SEED Replicator is an initiative supporting the uptake of proven business models in Africa, and there are platforms such as Connect to Grow connecting enterprises from India to South Asia and Africa.

Miller Center is partnering with some of these organizations to coordinate replication efforts that spur a new type of incubation and acceleration of social enterprises. We are developing sector-specific playbooks, which identify, extract, and distill the best practices of exemplary businesses to help up-and-coming social entrepreneurs learn from the achievements and setbacks of those who traveled similar paths. We package these in a comprehensive set of tools, and deliver the playbook with the accompaniment of mentors assigned to each user.

Our vision is to share these playbooks with the ecosystem and work with partners to distribute and support the use of these business models. We believe this will lead to faster growth and impact, reduce the risk of investment, and help move the sector to better assist aspiring entrepreneurs solve common challenges across geographies.

What’s Next
Our first playbook on Last Mile Distribution has been well-received by a first cohort of entrepreneurs, and we will launch our second cohort shortly. We are partnering with expert organizations in last mile distribution like D-Prize, the Global Distributor’s Collective at Practical Action, and manufacturers and technology providers to improve our content and reach more entrepreneurs.

The aim is to continuously improve the Last Mile Distribution Playbook and build other playbooks on micro-grids, safe-drinking water, ag-tech, and other business models.
We will also provide deeper scale-out support to our GSBI Alumni as enterprises seek to expand their geographic reach and impact. It will take time to prove or disprove our hypotheses, yet we are confident that replicating and scaling what works is the way to exponentially multiply the number of successful social enterprises.

Photo credits: Hippocampus Learning Centres, Hipocampus Centros de Aprendizaje

Rwanda: Rising out of the Darkness

Rwanda: Rising out of the Darkness

Two days in Rwanda could not have been more different. On one day we saw all that went wrong and the very darkest side of this small African country. Twenty-four hours later we saw what the future holds for the 12 million inhabitants and the brightest side of Rwanda.

For 100 days in 1994 it is estimated that up to one million Tutsis were killed by the Hutus in one of the worst genocides ever. When Belgium granted independence to Rwanda in 1962 they placed the Hutus in power. Over time the President forced a divide between the once-friendly groups eventually causing a civil war and this massive atrocity. We toured the Rwandan Genocide Museum and saw graphic pictures of their dreadful history. I was amazed to see what people can do TO each other.

It was a disastrous time with so many Tutsis brutally killed, raped, or mutilated. Hutus were killing their Tutsi friends and neighbors, consequently people could no longer trust each other. For protection, many Tutsis fled to neighboring countries such as Burundi, Uganda or the Congo (a.k.a. Zaire).

That was the dark side. Unfortunately, this is the only thing that many people know about Rwanda. The citizens and the government are, however, making great strides to change this view and turn the country around. And, they are making tremendous progress.

The next day we were celebrating the bright side. Two years ago I started volunteering for Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship which connects Silicon Valley business executives who mentor social enterprise leaders. These mentors help leaders grow their businesses more effectively and solve problems of those living in poverty around the world. Since 2003, Miller Center has worked with 819 social enterprises which have impacted over 259 million people. One of those companies I worked with was All Across Africa.

All Across Africa & Miller Center Teams

All Across Africa & Miller Center Teams

Originally All Across Africa started out offering programs to re-build trust between Hutus and Tutsis but then saw an opportunity that could make an even greater impact. Founders Greg Stone and Alicia Wallace noticed many women had tremendous weaving skills. If they could organize a collective of artisans to create high quality baskets, those baskets could then be exported to more developed nations. A key part to growing an impoverished economy is introducing new money into the environment. Just teaching someone to offer different products (such as growing fruits and vegetables not currently available) only changes — but does not increase — how villagers spend their money.



Most women can earn $5 a month farming. As artisans they can increase their earnings over 400% to about $21 weaving baskets. And, they still have time to farm. That means a person’s income could go from $5 per month to $26 per month. This ‘new’ money gets spent in the community, thus allowing them to spend more on products and services in surrounding villages. And when that money is spent, other jobs are created such as teachers, nurses, or suppliers. For every artisan that is employed by All Across Africa, 1 1/2 more jobs are created from the additional $21 per month of ‘wealth.’ Locals are now seeing their standard of living increase, sending children to school, going to the doctor, buying other local products and services, and maintaining health insurance.

Some of the 2000+ Artisans

Some of the 2000+ Artisans

Each year All Across Africa invites their 2,000 artisans to a day-long celebration. We were fortunate to participate and experience this African party. It was amazing to see all these women dressed in their Sunday Best singing and dancing. They welcomed us with smiles, with hugs and with beautifully hand-crafted woven bowls which we will proudly display in our home.

Along with social entrepreneurs such as All Across Africa, the government is actively turning the country around with many of its polices. On the last Saturday of the month, all Rwandans are expected to clean up the streets or volunteer in their community. Even foreigners have to participate and will be fined if caught driving around during these mandatory volunteer days. Dictators can do that.

President Kagame, who has been in power since 2000 instituted this and many other programs with the intent to make Rwanda more like Singapore instead of like many of its continental colleagues. He is making progress. My wife and I visited Cambodia 30 years after its genocide and talked about how much further ahead Rwanda is after only 24 years. While many may condemn dictatorships, it is sometimes necessary in an undeveloped nation. Oxford Professor, Paul Collier, found “Rwanda to have the fastest reduction of poverty of any African country and equal to the best achieved globally.”


This blog post was originally published on March 14, 2018 on the Gillette family website. Mr. Gillette is the founder and principal consultant for The Summiting Group focusing on Executive and Leadership Development. He started up his practice after holding several executive human resource positions in an effort to focus on the type of work he is passionate about and spend time with the family he loves. Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship is privileged to have Mr. Gillette serve as a member its mentor network. 

Banka BioLoo: A Journey from Start-up Social Enterprise to IPO

Banka BioLoo: A Journey from Start-up Social Enterprise to IPO

2015 GSBI alumnus Banka BioLoo, a social enterprise that innovatively tackles human waste management, had its Initial Public Offering (IPO) on February 5, 2018. The enterprise operates in India, which is home to 60% of the global population that must defecate in the open due to not having access to toilets. Within the greater global context, data from 2015 indicate that only two out of five people were able to use safely-managed sanitation services. In light of the overwhelming reality of minimal sanitation services, Namita Banka began to examine sanitation infrastructure and started Banka BioLoo.  The enterprise began operations, as a for-profit social enterprise, in 2012 and is currently co-directed by Namita along with Sanjay Banka, Akhilesh Tripathi, and T. V. Rama Krishna.

While the conversation surrounding waste management is one that many shy away from, Banka BioLoo recognizes that the impact of inadequate sanitation services in India is much too grave to ignore. Poor water supply and sanitation problems in India have contributed to a serious risk of sanitation-related diseases, which particularly impact children under the age of five. Banka BioLoo seeks to provide solutions for those who do not have access to toilets, and for those that do, the enterprise helps in the process of treating and managing the waste. Distinctly, Banka BioLoo offers Indian defense-patented bio-digester technology, making it possible for users to manage waste onsite and reduce dependency on resource-consuming sewage infrastructure. Banka BioLoo also provides operations and maintenance of bio-toilets to Indian Railways, its largest client-partner. In 2015, Sanjay and Namita participated in the GSBI In-Residence accelerator program, where they were mentored by Daniel Kreps and Naresh Nigam.

Watch Sanjay Banka's presentation at Miller Center's 2015 GSBI Investor Showcase   here  .  PDF:  Banka BioLoo's 2015   Investor Profile   

Watch Sanjay Banka's presentation at Miller Center's 2015 GSBI Investor Showcase here.
PDF: Banka BioLoo's 2015 Investor Profile 

After the GSBI In-Residence, Sanjay shared, “GSBI has added many dimensions to Banka BioLoo since our immersion in the accelerator. It truly accelerated many things at our end, most notably my joining the company full-time. And I’m sure it’s the beginning of things to come.” 

The journey to IPO began in September 2017. Banka BioLoo pursued the Emerge platform offered by India’s largest stock exchange, the National Stock Exchange of India (NSE). Emerge, also known as the SME platform, is a marketplace that brings together seasoned investors and emerging or small and medium companies. It connects businesses that possess “exciting growth plans, innovative business models and commitment towards good governance and investor interest” with investors that can meet their financial needs. In the process of moving forward and growing as a business, maintaining Banka BioLoo’s social mission along with stable financial growth has always been at the top of the team’s priorities. The “triple bottom line [of people, planet, and profit] was an essential part of the discussion” when reaching out to investors, Sanjay says.

The Banka BioLoo team hit a major roadblock when two major investors backed out right before the IPO. Amidst that hectic event, the organization’s leaders were undaunted and passionately kept moving forward. Sanjay and the non-executive director Vishal Murarka spent two weeks in Mumbai, confidently and unwaveringly, pitching to investors. “We were left on our own,” Sanjay said. “[But] we leveraged our network and reached out to new investors through colleagues, friends, and family.”  Ultimately, due to the team pooling together their connections, resources, energy, and business prowess, Banka BioLoo pushed forward: the resulting IPO raised two million dollars.


Throughout the IPO journey, strong governance was a key anchor that kept the staff rooted in their mission and firm in their determination. “The IPO was fast,” Sanjay said. “[The team] was working long hours; the business had to be running smoothly simultaneously with the IPO details.  [Our] top management dealt primarily with the IPO process.”  Banka BioLoo’s CFO, T.V. Rama Krishna, had prior experience with taking a company public and played an invaluable role in successfully reaching this milestone only a small percentage of businesses are able to achieve. Sanjay described the whole process as a “mini miracle”.

In preparation for the IPO, Banka BioLoo was required to adjust the makeup of its board and added three independent board members to establish a solid governing team moving forward.  “One [independent board member] is an angel investor, another is an HR expert, another is an entrepreneur: eight members total are on the board. In Q4 2017 the transition happened, all of it a part of the going-public process,” Sanjay recounted. It is becoming increasingly popular for companies to make these major changes to their boards pre-IPO, in order to demonstrate their commitment to good governance.

With the capital raised from its IPO, Banka BioLoo is now able to take on larger projects — projects that they were originally hesitant to tackle — and continues to lead the fight in providing access to adequate, sustainable sanitation solutions in India.  Sanjay’s reflections on the imperfect, but strengthening and gritty nature of Banka BioLoo’s IPO journey, shed light on the hustle and heart that moving a business forward demands.


Seeking innovators supporting the marginalized 

Seeking innovators supporting the marginalized 

a message from Mark Correnti, Director of Impact Investing at Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship

I am writing to you from Cebu in the Philippines. I was invited to give a talk entitled, Leading the Innovation Challenge to Address the Needs of the Marginalized Through Social Entrepreneurship and Impact Investing for a business conference sponsored by the University of San Carlos. The trip afforded me air time to finish reading two books by Alexander Betts from the Refugee Studies Centre at Oxford University entitled Refuge: Rethinking Refugee Policy in a Changing World and Refugee Economies: Forced Displacement and Development. Last month, Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship announced a new accelerator cohort, Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins (SEM) focusing on migrants, refugees, and survivors of trafficking. In short, from Betts’s writings and our experiences at Miller Center, a solution set emerges to address the challenges and needs of the most marginalized and vulnerable.

This enterprise-level, bottom-up approach includes:

1. incorporating newer development practices to compliment a historically humanitarian-only lens

2. shared space for both refugees and citizens of host (haven) countries

3. the potential for private investment in special economic zones, and

4. the building blocks for all of the above, the social enterprise

Per Betts, “Gradually, UNHCR’s view of the roles of the private sector has become increasingly nuanced. It has started to recognize a range of ways in which business can play a role in humanitarian assistance, including through social enterprise….”

Less than 1% of forcible displaced people (refugees and internally displaced populations) obtain resettlement. While each emergency context is different, the vast majority of refugees don’t remain in camps but migrate to nearby peri-urban slums and forego further international assistance. Of those who do remain in settlements, 50% live there protractedly, as defined as 5 years or more. Most countries either do not allow or heavily restrict refugee employment and freedom of movement. Per UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, “In such [protracted] situations refugees, in particular women and children, become more vulnerable to various forms of exploitation such as trafficking and forced recruitment...which can lead to security and stability problems for the host state....”

Just 10 countries host 60% of the world’s unsettled refugees. Most of these haven countries are in the developing world, lack the necessary resources to support large population influxes, and in many cases, have not signed on to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. $75 billion a year is spent on the 1% that are resettled (or asylum seekers), versus just $15 billion on the unsettled. For every $135 dollars spent on a resettled refugee in Europe, $1 dollar is spent per refugee in the developing world. Resettled refugees also receive the vast majority of media coverage. Therefore, it is imperative that we support social enterprises and restore autonomy and dignity to those so marginalized.

Let’s take a brief look at the Syrian situation. A total of 11 million people are displaced, of which 4 million are refugees. Of these 4 million, less than 3% have been resettled and only 9% live in camps receiving international assistance. The remaining have moved to peri-urban slums seeking informal employment in informal markets to start enterprises. Found within the resettled 3% are half of all Syrians (in-country or refugee) with university degrees and about a quarter of those with secondary education. According to UNHCR, refugee education is a host country’s responsibility. At Miller Center, we have worked with a number of social enterprises whose impact models (energy access, last mile distribution, healthcare, artisanal and education) target individuals living within some of the world’s largest slums.

The benefits of our new accelerator cohort, Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins (SEM), include

All of the above is at no cost to the social entrepreneur. Applications are due by March 16th.

SEM has two primary goals. First and foremost, acceleration of individual enterprises and their respective impacts. This acceleration can be attributed to Miller Center’s theory of change and framework that includes improving an enterprise’s impact model, business model, operations, scalability, and, finally, “justifiable ask” to help acquire the appropriate capital to fuel impact. Second, assisting in the building of an ecosphere at the base of the pyramid for support of social enterprises by bringing together key stakeholders, funders and investors.

Most refugees face displacement due to conflict. But climate change is becoming an ever-increasing factor. It is important that we improve climate resilience within vulnerable populations. In 2017 alone, 1 million Somalians were displaced due to severe draught.

When taking into account restrictions on employment and movement, the quality of living conditions within camps and peri-urban slums, actual money and resources spent on unsettled refugees, and most importantly, security for women and children, a bottom-up enterprise-level approach is required. For those who have considered funding investments within these highly marginalized settings but have yet to identify specific opportunities, we hope this cohort of deserving social enterprises is the beginning of your support.

You can join us in this collaborative effort by sharing this information with social enterprises serving the marginalized and encourage them to take a look at our program. We will keep you updated on our progress.

Hewa Tele: Saving Lives One Breath at a Time

Hewa Tele: Saving Lives One Breath at a Time


You never really think about oxygen until you desperately need it. Yet, no matter where one lives, access to oxygen can be a matter of life or death. Having personally had an anaphylactic reaction, I know the discomfort and anxiety that one feels when having difficulty breathing. Moreover, in my work as an EMT on Santa Clara University’s campus, I carry and administer oxygen quite frequently. For us it’s routine and as members of the developed world, we often take access to medical oxygen for granted. But for millions of our fellow human beings, an unjust social equilibrium exists in which they don’t have this privilege.

I first realized the gravity of this health inequity when I spent two months working in a health setting in Uganda. As a 2017 Global Social Benefit Fellow for Miller Center, I spent last summer conducting action research in Nansana, Uganda at a health clinic run by a social enterprise called Nurture Africa. One weekend while in rural Uganda, one of the other fellows had an allergic reaction. I remember feeling so helpless because there was nothing we could do for him. We didn’t have Benadryl, oxygen or an EpiPen and we were in a small village, nowhere near a health facility that could handle such an emergency. Luckily his reaction was mild, but it still scares me to think about what could have happened had he had a more serious reaction and gone into anaphylactic shock.


Although this was an isolated experience, it opened my eyes to the fact that this is the way that most people in developing areas actually live. They live in a reality without access to lifesaving medication or any sort of emergency care. And even if one can get to a health facility, it’s likely the facility won’t have the means to effectively treat them. While in Uganda, I had the opportunity to visit a handful of medical clinics, but Nurture Africa, along with several other private clinics, did not have medical oxygen. Although the World Health Organization lists oxygen as an essential medication, lack of affordability leaves it difficult to find in health centers in the developing world.

That’s where HewaTele comes in, a true game-changer in health system development and delivery in sub-Saharan Africa. Based in Nairobi, Kenya, the mission of HewaTele is to provide a regular supply of medical oxygen at affordable rates to reduce delay in access to emergency healthcare. As a member of the GE healthymagination and Miller Center Mother and Child Program, HewaTele, along with the 14 other social enterprises in the first cohort, participated in a 6 month, online accelerator course. Through this program the social entrepreneurs strengthened and refined their business models, improved their strategic thought processes and planned for sustainable scaling. At the end of the program, each enterprise articulated their business plans, which demonstrated impact, growth and long-term financial sustainability, to potential investors and supporters.

A few weeks ago, I got the opportunity to speak with Dr. Steve Adudans, the Executive Director of the Center for Public Health and Development (CPHD), the organization that designed and developed HewaTele as a social enterprise. Adudans is actively involved in HewaTele’s operations and was the enterprise’s representative during the healthymagination program. Speaking with him was truly inspirational; he exudes passion and commitment and it was incredibly motivating to hear about the ways in which GE’s healthcare expertise and the Miller Center’s business acumen have positively influenced HewaTele’s operations and expansion plans.

HewaTele’s work exemplifies the power of collaboration to create systemic change. In 2014, HewaTele received $1 million in seed funding from the GE Foundation, the philanthropic branch of GE. After completing the in-depth mentoring and acceleration process through the healthymagination program, HewaTele received a $1 million grant from Grand Challenges Canada. Hewa Tele was able to leverage the Grand Challenges Canada funding to raise matching contributions from UNICEF and the Kenyan government. With this money, HewaTele opened two fully operational oxygen plants in Kenya in 2017.

Additionally, HewaTele has capitalized on connections made with other healthymagination enterprises and is currently in talks to partner with and provide medical oxygen to Lwala Community Alliance, Health Builders and Access Afya. Looking forward, HewaTele plans to build two new oxygen plants in Uganda and Tanzania, expanding their geographic reach and scaling their social impact. By working to reduce the health disparities evident in their societies, social enterprises like HewaTele engage and empower communities to live healthier, more fulfilling lives.


It’s inspiring to hear stories of the ways in which being a part of the healthymagination program has allowed enterprises to better articulate their business models and begin to execute their plans for sustainable scaling. I am confident that this collaborative effort by the Miller Center and GE has helped create a more interconnected ecosystem surrounding health enterprises and has consequently improved maternal and child health outcomes.

On March 1, 2018, the second cohort of the healthymagination program, consisting of 11 social enterprises, will be pitching to potential investors and supporters at the Sankalp Africa Summit in Nairobi.  Please join us at Sankalp to support the growth of our next class of health enterprises and show your commitment to improving maternal and child health throughout our global communities.

Photos courtesy of Santa Clara University and Hewatele

 GSBF Broaden UC Davis Students' Perspectives on Health Careers

GSBF Broaden UC Davis Students' Perspectives on Health Careers

By: Grace Krueger, Athena Nguyen and Will Paton (2017 Global Social Benefit Fellows (GSBF))

The term “pre-health” is typically associated with a certain set of traditional pathways: pre-medical, pre-physician’s assistant, pre-dentistry, pre-physical therapy, etc. These pathways encompass the well-known health careers that many undergraduate students gear their studies towards. The steps to enter typical health careers are well-defined, and universities provide a plethora of resources to prepare students to work in healthcare. Social entrepreneurship, however, isn’t a part of the typical pre-health advisor’s vocabulary. While it might not be one of the “traditional” pre-health pathways, health entrepreneurship offers students an innovative, while unconventional, path to positively impact the health of our global community. A small percentage of undergraduate pre-health students know that this option even exists. So, when given the opportunity to present our Global Social Benefit Fellowship research and lead a workshop on health entrepreneurship at the University of California Davis Pre-Health Conference, we could not have been more excited.

For over a decade, UC Davis has been hosting the nation’s largest pre-health conference. This year, 4,500 pre-health students from across the state of California came together to explore a variety of health professions through career and job fairs, keynote speakers, panel sessions and workshops. Miller Center staff Marie Haller and Karen Runde, Global Social Benefit Fellows, and Vrunda Rathod a Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI) alumni with InPress Technologies, all provided unique perspectives on health entrepreneurship and how to get involved. Participants also learned how other GSBI alumni Shanti Uganda, Nurture Africa, and Koe Koe Tech are having positive impacts in different arenas of global health.

Davis  Health photo 2.JPG

Health entrepreneurship has the ability to transform the ways in which we approach solutions to poverty and the health care disparities evident in our world. It acts as a tool with which we can upset unjust social equilibriums both domestically and abroad to ensure a healthier and more productive global community. While traditional methods of delivering healthcare remain important, the use of social entrepreneurship and  human-centered design offer promising opportunities to make positive, lasting impacts on health, in which the focus of impact begins and ends with the beneficiary. Through this workshop, we’re proud to have brought greater awareness of the Miller Center and health entrepreneurship to pre-health undergraduate students.

UC Davis Photo 3 .JPG

2017 Global Social Benefit Fellows
Athena Nguyen, Major: Public Health, Political Science
Grace Krueger, Major: Biology
Will Paton, Major: Bioengineering

Want to learn more about the fellowship? Click here.

About Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship
Founded in 1997, Miller Center is one of three Centers of Distinction, at Santa Clara University. Miller Center unites the world’s most entrepreneurial ecosystem with the Jesuit tradition of serving the poor and protecting the planet. To date we have trained 730 social entrepreneurs who have positively impacted the lives of 257M people and engaged 97 student fellows in transformative action research projects.

Want to learn more about GSBI and our social entrepreneurs? Click here.

Social Enterprise and Global Technology Company Partner to Foster Digital Opportunity

Social Enterprise and Global Technology Company Partner to Foster Digital Opportunity

By Kevin Kraver, Director of Business Development

At Miller Center, we think a lot about how social entrepreneurship can help solve the problems of poverty at scale. Given our Silicon Valley surroundings, we also think about the role of technology, and how corporations can partner to create greater impact. It is exciting and powerful when we experience all of these ideals coming together to serve the poor. Library For All, a recent alumnus of the Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®), and corporate partner, Equinix, provide a great example.

Library For All (LFA) is a small nonprofit organization that envisions a world without barriers to knowledge. Its mission is to make knowledge accessible to all, equally. LFA is leveraging mobile technology to provide the world’s poorest people with books and tools to learn, dream, and aspire to lift themselves out of poverty. Their digital library platform is specifically designed to work on available devices and allows users to access culturally relevant books in their mother tongue and international languages, at a much lower cost than building physical libraries.

Equinix, Inc. is a Fortune 1000 global interconnection and data center company serving more than 8000 customers in 41 global markets. Recognizing the role of technology in advancing positive change worldwide, the Equinix Impact Program focuses on creating Digital Opportunity, enabling people in need around the world to participate in and benefit from the digital economy.

With this great alignment in goals, Equinix has been proud to support Library for All in different ways, including grant support, employee engagement, and connections to valuable partners. Most recently, Equinix partnered with Miller Center to sponsor Library for All’s participation in our Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) Online accelerator program. Sujata Narayan, Equinix Director of Corporate Citizenship, commented that “underwriting the cost of the one of their leaders to participate in the GSBI is a targeted way to provide support beyond just writing a check.  It’s a way to say we really believe in you and what you’re doing, and we’re going to invest more deeply to ensure your success.”

GSBI programs are designed to help social entrepreneurs to achieve sustainability and scalability in their combined business and impact models and to best position them to attract capital investment to fuel their growth. This was a great fit for LFA who came into the GSBI program with some ideas and many questions around how to drive sustainable revenue to the organization. The GSBI program allowed the LFA team to take a step back from daily operations, and revisit their fundamental questions, challenges and goals. The lead participant in the program, Isabel Sheinman, Director of Business Development, expressed GSBI’s specific value to LFA: “The GSBI program provided us with both a strong framework in which to ask very hard, but very important questions about our organization, and also two expert mentors to help in the process… we are confident that we now have the right questions to ask, and more tools to help us answer these questions as we continue to grow and develop our organization.”

Now having successfully completed the GSBI program, LFA is looking ahead to toward strategic and scaling initiatives. In the coming months, LFA is launching a new version of its digital library app in Rwanda, which will give readers across the country access to high-quality Kinyarwanda, French, and English books. In Haiti, they are testing new models for content creation and distribution, including running local writer workshops for aspiring authors, illustrators and publishers to create original children’s books in Haitian Creole. Over the next six months, LFA is raising $250,000 to support these initiatives and to scale the reach of their digital library from 10,000 readers in Haiti, DRC, Rwanda, Cambodia, and Mongolia to 25,000 readers. At Miller Center we are confident they can reach these goals and beyond.

To find out more about Library for all or about how you can support them, visit

To find out more about the Equinix Impact Program and view Equinix’s latest Corporate Sustainability report, visit

To learn about ways your corporation can partner with Miller Center or with a social enterprise to create impact, contact me at