Transforming Uganda’s Coffee Value Chain

Transforming Uganda’s Coffee Value Chain

Courtesy of United Nations

Courtesy of United Nations

In celebration of the United Nations’ International Day of the Cooperatives on July 7, Miller Center recognizes GSBI® In-Residence accelerator alumnus, Joseph Nkandu, founder of the National Union of the Coffee Agribusiness and Farm Enterprises (NUCAFE), for pioneering the farmer ownership cooperative model in Uganda’s coffee value chain. Through the farmer ownership cooperative model, smallholder coffee farmers collectively own and operate their coffee farms, achieving scales that they could never reach as individual farmers — this is the transformative power of the farmer ownership cooperative model.

Joseph grew up in a coffee-growing family in Uganda. His family relied on coffee as a cash crop. His parents barely made enough money to pay school fees for Joseph and his siblings. Just like the six million smallholder coffee farmers in Uganda, Joseph’s family could hardly afford water, electricity, and education. The life of a smallholder coffee farmer was grim.

Joseph shared, “I asked myself, why were farmers always in crisis?”

He realized that smallholder coffee farmers received only a small fraction of the total value of their coffee beans. Because most smallholder coffee farmers cultivated an average of one acre of coffee bushes, they operated at small scales in a competitive market. This made it impossible to gain any market power. When smallholder coffee farmers had to cover basic necessities and family emergencies, they are forced to sell their beans before maturity. And without the scale, storage capacity and market knowledge, they could only sell at whatever price the middlemen demanded. The middlemen could, therefore, buy coffee beans from smallholder coffee farmers at a steep discount.

Joseph believed that if smallholder coffee farmers were organized into cooperatives using the farmer ownership model, they would gain a competitive edge in the coffee value chain.

Joseph wanted to help the 500,000 smallholder coffee farmers in Uganda who on average earned less than US$2.00 a day.

“To achieve economies of scale, to make a reasonable return on investment, you have to join up with other farmers to become big.”

In 2003, Joseph founded the social enterprise National Union of Coffee Agribusiness and Farm Enterprises (NUCAFE) in Uganda. Over the next fifteen years, Joseph formed two hundred farmer cooperatives with over one million smallholders.

“NUCAFE works with the leadership of each cooperative to ensure that farmers receive training in coffee farming, coffee family business management operations, social entrepreneurship, marketing and cooperative management; only then can farmers operate sustainable cooperatives — entities that are financially stable and democratically governed.”

Farmers around coffee tree Photo Credit: NUCAFE

Farmers around coffee tree
Photo Credit: NUCAFE

Once smallholder coffee farmers become members of a NUCAFE cooperative, NUCAFE facilitates value-added services to the smallholder coffee farmers. Cooperatives can store, grade and roast their coffee beans at NUCAFE’s centralized facility. These services increase the value of the coffee beans by thirty percent as the coffee beans are export ready. NUCAFE then markets the coffee beans to domestic and international buyers. Since 2009, for example, NUCAFE has been selling coffee to Caffé River, an Italian coffee roasting company that operates in Italy, Romania and Denmark.

NUCAFE charges the cooperatives a service fee for every kilogram of coffee marketed. Instead of buying the coffee beans from cooperatives, NUCAFE acts as the service provider. Cooperatives, therefore, have ownership of their coffee beans throughout the coffee value chain.

This service-fee model is transforming the coffee value chain of Uganda. In fact, the middlemen who traditionally bought unprocessed beans from smallholder coffee farmers are now adopting this model; rather than buying, the middlemen are providing processing services.

Photo Credit: NUCAFE

Photo Credit: NUCAFE

Hussien Walakira owns a processing factory in Uganda. He previously bought coffee beans from smallholder coffee farmers for processing. But Hussien’s factory was operating at just forty percent of its capacity: he realized that his business would go bankrupt if he did not increase the factory’s operating capacity.

Hussien turned to NUCAFE for advice and, consequently, changed his middleman role. Instead of buying coffee beans from smallholder coffee farmers to process, Hussien charged smallholder coffee farmers a service fee for his processing services. More farmers began to use his processing factory. As a result, Hussien’s factory now works at ninety percent of operating capacity.

“This is a win-win situation. Farmers and middlemen are both making money. This model is contributing greatly to the fact that aside from Ethiopia, Uganda is one of the only East African countries that is able to increase its coffee production.”

As the founder of NUCAFE, Joseph knew that more had to be done to catalyze systemic change in Uganda’s coffee value chain. NUCAFE worked with the government to influence the National Coffee Policy in 2013. And for the first time in the history of Uganda’s coffee value chain, the government is enabling smallholder coffee farmers to participate in all stages of the coffee value chain.

As NUCAFE continued to expand its operations, Joseph started to build regional training hubs for cooperatives. He needed to refine his business pitch to secure funding from investors. In 2016, Joseph participated in the Global Social Benefit Incubator (GSBI), an accelerator program based in the Silicon Valley at Santa Clara University.

“The beauty about the GSBI program is that you sharpen your skills in packaging your story and business plan, which becomes a dynamic tool when you interact with investors.”

With funding secured to continue constructing regional training hubs, NUCAFE is beginning to train Ugandan youth to become coffee entrepreneurs. Already, smallholders from NUCAFE’s cooperatives can afford to pay for their children’s education — a luxury that Joseph never enjoyed in his childhood.

Philip Muluya, a smallholder coffee farmer, from the Kabonera village said, “Had it not been for NUCAFE, my children would not be in good schools.”

Nazava Case Study




33 million people lack access to safe drinking water in Indonesia. 33 million! That’s almost four times the population of New York City. Imagine, four NYC’s without access to clean drinking water. In the United States we drink from the tap, even stick our faces right under the faucet, without hesitation.

In Indonesia things are different.

More than 36% of the population makes less than USD $4.00 a day, making safe drinking water financially out of reach for many. Oftentimes water purification practices also require valuable time. The rural population faces heightened difficulties obtaining safe drinking water, as more than 20% lack access to improved water sources. They are also especially susceptible because they lack education about the relationship between unsafe drinking water and health effects.

●      Boiling water
●      Purchasing purified water (gallon-sized jugs or small individual bottles)
●      Purchasing expensive water filters
●      Drinking impure water




Indonesia is made up of over 17,000 islands. Access to clean drinking water therefore varies across the country. Some islands are more remote than others, like Sabu Island in the East Nusa Tenggara region of Indonesia. Health workers on this island report that many citizens are unaware of the correlation between health and clean drinking water. Because of this, waterborne illnesses like diarrhea have been a persistent issue. On this little island there is a pressing need for education about clean water as well as an affordable means of accessing it. This is where Nazava Water Filters steps in.


Nazava is centrally located in Indonesia and sells its water filters throughout the country. The affordable water filters are sold with a social mission of improving consumers’ health, saving time and money for families, and reducing CO2 emissions. Specifically for Sabu Island, the local government has deemed Nazava its answer to the island’s need for purified water.




On Sabu Island, education about the need for clean drinking water is a crucial first step for selling filters successfully. Nazava implements this step through strategic employment. It hires locals to promote and distribute the water filters to those in need, and on Sabu Island Nazava works with a local health worker, Ibu Tri. This inspiring leader is personally dedicated to improving the health of Sabu Island’s residents. She recognizes key opportunities in which clean water education can thrive to touch those who did not have clean water.

Two of Ibu Tri’s most impactful strategies include:

●      Selling to schools where she can educate teachers and students. The knowledge then spreads to parents, who become interested in purchasing a filter for home.

●      Selling to village leaders and employing them as filter resellers. These locals lead village residents by example and heavily influence others’ purchasing decisions.


Nazava’s water filters use simple technology, which enables them to offer safe drinking water at an affordable price. Families on Sabu Island can purchase a filter for just under USD $20.00 total, and they can either pay upfront or make incremental payments through installment periods. Within one year, gaining access to Nazava’s water filters has noticeably improved the island’s health and reduced instances of diarrhea. The local government has noticed the impact and plans to pass a regulation that will require every school to install filters within the next few years.




Nazava was founded in 2009 by Lieselotte Heederik and her husband Guido Van Hofwegen.

Since then the social enterprise has reached over 250,000 beneficiaries, employed 60 resellers of the filters, and spread to 32 locations in Indonesia.

The water filters successfully lead to improved health for those who need it, as well as time savings and financial savings. Nazava discovered Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship in 2012, and participated in the GSBI Accelerator program. The company plans to continue expanding throughout Indonesia. It is dedicated to touching as many lives as possible, in both urban regions and last-mile locations like Sabu Island.

: 250,000 Indonesian citizens reached
2016: Lieselotte Heederik wins Ashden Award
2015: USD $180,000 income from sales
2013: Nazava wins $75,000 Silicon Valley Tech Award
2012: Participated in GSBI Accelerator program
2010: Business in Development Challenge Award from the Netherlands
2009: Nazava founded by Lieselotte Heederik and Guido Van Hofwegen

JUABAR Case Study

JUABAR Case Study

Imagine your life today. Every morning you wake up to the chimes and gentle buzz of the alarm on your cell phone. You use your mobile device to check the weather, the news, and to see if there is any traffic on your route to work. Your phone is your navigator, your entertainment, your camera, your planner, and your source for connectivity and communication. Now imagine your life with your cell phone, but with no electricity. Does your phone still serve you the same way?


In Tanzania, over half of the population owns a mobile phone, but only 14% of the population has access to electricity. Even in Dar es Salaam, the busiest, most electrified city in Tanzania, a single outlet and a few power strips becomes a hub for dozens of wire phone chargers, creating a knotted web of black cords used to power these mobile devices. Not only is this dangerous with so many exposed cords linking back to a single power strip, it is also incredibly energy inefficient.


Juabar, whose name is derived from the Swahili word, “jua” meaning “sun”, has a solution. Its product is a solar-powered kiosk that essentially runs as an electricity convenience store, charging up to 20 phones at once and creating business opportunities for its “Juapreneurs”. Juapreneurs lease these kiosks by a convenient pay-as-you-go method in exchange for solar-powered electricity. This creates a local and reliable place to charge cell phones in even the most rural areas. Juapreneurs even have the ability to make a commission by selling additional solar products to the community.


In this sense, Juabar is a product with a service. For the rural entrepreneur, a Juabar kiosk provides the opportunity for the operator to be elevated in the community as an important, trusted, and reliable clean-energy supplier. As a result, the Juapreneur gains a sustainable income to support his or her family. Juabar benefits the operator as well as the greater community.


Olivia Nava, CEO and resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, co-founded Juabar in 2012. Within one year, Juabar became an official establishment, raising over $60k, introducing its first kiosk in Tanzania, and holding four business trainings for its Juapreneurs. Nava’s vision to create “a place for communities to interact with, learn about, and create their own solar energy solutions” led her to Miller Center’s GSBI Online program in 2015, with the intention of gaining additional support for Juabar’s financial projections, as well as manufacturing and sales strategy advice. Since graduating from GSBI Online, Juabar has started working with Synovus Financial Corp (SNV) in Tanzania as a strategic partner for customer acquisition and training and was awarded the Seedstars “Tanzania winner” award.


In the long term, Nava plans to develop more kiosks and additional entrepreneurial opportunities for its beneficiaries. In addition to phone charging, for example, these kiosks will vend access to wi-fi, sell products to complement their service offerings, and provide additional income generating opportunities, like solar home products, airtime vouchers, and SIM cards. With its mission to develop profitable small business opportunities while meeting community energy needs, Juabar sits right at the intersection of women rising and climate resilience: a female CEO-led organization that creates clean energy solutions and provides people with the resources to power and benefit from their phones.

Organization: Juabar
Sectors: Energy
Established: 2013
Impact Area(s): East Africa (spef. Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda)
Staff Size: 6
GSBI Programs: GSBI Online
GSBI Year: 2016
GSBI Participant: Olivia Nava
GSBI Mentors: Melinda Griffith; Alina Adams

Key Awards:

2015: Seedstars “Tanzania winner”
2014: Fledge award
2014: Unreasonable East Africa
2013: SOCAP selected social entrepreneurs
2013: D-Prize
2012: Impact Award


2013: Raised $61,000 in convertible notes
2013: Sold first kiosks manufactured in Tanzania
2013: Held four business training workshops for Juapreneurs (solar operators) & interested parties
2015: Started working with SNV in Tanzania as a strategic partner for customer acquisition & training

Impact to Date:

-       6,600 Households with electricity access through mobile phone charging

-       Started 20 new electricity businesses in 20 villages in Morogoro and Pwani regions of Tanzania

-       Increased the income of Juapreneurs by 2-5 times the national per capita annual income

Jibu: A Water Solution

Jibu: A Water Solution



“Jibu: A Water Solution”

Rising above Kampala’s traffic-jammed streets, bustling sidewalks, and vibrant markets, is a sign printed with the word, “Jibu.” A word that means “solution” in Swahili.

But to the locals in Uganda, Jibu means the place to buy the highest quality and least expensive water around.


Behind this solution is Galen Welsch, a tall, native Coloradan with an infectious smile and the kind of welcoming enthusiasm and spirit one only expects from a camp counselor.

Galen’s story starts in Morocco, where he spent two years teaching English in rural villages with the Peace Corps. After finishing his commitment, he knew he could do more than provide the poor with better literacy; he could provide them with better lives.

And one of the most essential elements of human life is water.




There is an enormous need in the world for clean water -- 3.4 million die yearly, primarily children, making contaminated water the leading cause of disease and death in the world. Some estimate there is 450 million East Africans do not have reliable access to safe drinking water. It’s especially bad in cities.

The global water crisis has proven practically insoluble to donors and the international development community. Donor-funded clean water projects fail 50% of the time after 2-3 years, primarily because of a lack of community buy-in and local ownership on the beneficiary level. Well-intentioned projects, like treadle pumps, don’t integrate well in a local context, where, for example, women fear exercise on a bike will render them barren.

By starting a clean water initiative, Galen was entering a field with a pronounced history of failure.

But he wasn’t acting alone. His father, Randy Welsch, who spent his career with one foot in philanthropy and one in the private sector, provided the support and connections to match Galen’s pragmatic enthusiasm and determination to see the project through.


Given their status as muzungus (outsiders; literally translated as “those who spin around in the same spot”) and difficulty facing any water initiative, Galen and Randy knew it was imperative to include local entrepreneurs from the beginning.

Based on feedback from locals, they iterated and reiterated their business model. Galen and his team surmounted serious setbacks -- corrupt government officials and bureaucratic red tape, bogus import taxes, and entrepreneurs not aligned with the mission. However, leaning on the community’s support, they finally reached a workable solution.

●      Use a local distribution network of franchisees, who purify the water at the source and who put some skin in the game, which naturally brings out a higher order of problem-solving skills and grit.

●      Streamline the supply chain to cut out grocery stores, which act as a middleman

●      Recycle the bottles (like a propane gas exchange)

●      Sell water at a modest price point (50-75% cheaper than the bottled water at the store)

And it’s working. Or as Galen says with a chuckle, “At least, it hasn’t failed yet!”


Starting a business is one thing. Scaling it to reach the masses is another.

With each day’s success came organizational growing pains, Galen decided to apply to the Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) Online program, hosted at the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship on Santa Clara University’s campus.

This six-month mentorship program connects a Silicon Valley mentor with a social entrepreneur half a world away, who helps them develop, innovate, and test their product. In this case, John O’Keefe, a lifelong resident of Northern California, CEO and founder of Correctional Communications Corporation, a software development company which created proprietary communications and security platforms for use in jails and prisons. John also served as Pacific Bell’s Vice President of Operations, managing over 300 employees with a $20 million dollar budget, and the Vice President of Sales, bringing in annual revenues of $300 million. Needless to say, his advice packs a punch.

Without ever meeting in person, John and Galen held weekly calls, working through and applying the GSBI curriculum to every facet of the Jibu business model. The end result: a more robust, scalable model, and a rock solid working relationship. After graduation, John and Galen still keep in touch with monthly meetings. When the two met in person in Kampala, it was a heartwarming meeting.


Galen poured John his first glass of Jibu water. John instinctively swirled his glass and lifted the rim to his nose, as if it were a vintage Sauvignon Blanc. Then he laughed at himself: “You can take the man out of California, but you can’t take the California out of the man.”

That’s the power of the GSBI: Connecting entrepreneurs, locals or muzungus, with Silicon Valley’s best and letting magic happen.


Organization: Jibu

Sector(s): Health; Water

Established: 2012

Impact Area(s): Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Uganda

Staff Size: 20

GSBI Programs: GSBI Online

GSBI Year: 2014

GSBI Participant: Galen Welsch

GSBI Mentors: John O'Keefe

Key Awards:

2014: Unreasonable Institute Fellowship

2014: ANDE Membership, B-Corp Certification, SOCAP Entrepreneur Fellowship

2015: Sankalp East Africa Showcase : First Runner Up

2015: International Franchise Association (IFA) Next Gen Grand Prize

Value Proposition:

Jibu provides seed-financing and support to equip East African entrepreneurs with the materials needed to launch safe drinking water franchises. Jibu offers an opportunity for local entrepreneurs to make drinking water 75% cheaper than bottled water, at the same price as boiling water, but with the convenience of door-side delivery and the aspirational association with bottled water.


January 2014: Launched first franchises in Rwanda, Uganda, and DR Congo

April 2014: Launched first company-owned franchise in Rwanda

June 2014: Received local governments water quality certification stamps in all countries of operation

January 2015: Closed first round of equity investment

Impact to Date:

- 10 entrepreneurs equipped with skills and finances to own an enterprise

- 5,000 + people provided with access to safe drinking water

- 11 local, co-owned enterprises launched

Talking Book, A New Voice For isolated Communities

Talking Book, A New Voice For isolated Communities



Isolated societies lack new-age know-how:

In today’s internet-connected, mobilized world, it is easy to forget that over 750 million adults remain illiterate, and 800 million still live on less than a dollar a day. The obstacles standing in the way of literacy and community development are numerous; and perhaps surprisingly, may be partially attributable to geography. Many of these adults live in remote areas with only minimal contact from the outside world and without access to modern or consistent education.

Since many of their inhabitants can’t read, remote communities have relied upon word-of-mouth education for thousands of years.

While word of mouth has preserved and spread some knowledge, the lack of literacy in isolated communities creates difficult conditions like: endemic poverty, deplorable infant mortality rates, energy isolation, underdeveloped agricultural practices, and generally preventable health issues. Attempts to address these difficulties with visiting teachers or temporary aid only help these communities briefly. To truly institute long-term change, there needs to be a knowledgeable, sustainable, durable, and orally-orientated “teacher.”

Literacy Bridge brings a new voice to orally-based societies:



In 2007, Cliff Schmidt, experienced a call to action to use technology to address the problems of poverty and disease. He left his job as a software developer at Microsoft to go on a six-week trip to Ghana. Once there, he came to the realization that more often than not these problems had the same root cause: A lack of education. His research discovered that the Ghanaian government had a sixty dollar per year budget for a child’s education, ruling out his initial idea of providing children with cost-efficient laptops.

After returning from Ghana, Mr. Schmidt realized that the need for education was not limited to children: The tool he wanted to create needed to educate anyone -- whether they could read or not, on almost any topic -- a “Talking Book". Over the next year, Mr. Schmidt forged a new path by involving potential users of such a tool, approaching local organizations and communities to assess what they wanted to learn. This research led him to found Literacy Bridge and through it the “Talking Book”.

The wide variety of problems in rural Ghana meant that the Talking Book needed to have an array of features to ensure its greatest utility as well as simple directions to ensure its usability.

These features came to include:

  • User recording and sharing functions

  • On-demand access to over 250,000 pre-loaded lessons in local dialects

  • Upload abilities through a simple cell phone connection

  • Easy command pad complete with straightforward instructions

All of these features played an important part in the overall user experience, and by enabling internet uploading and local recording on the Talking Book, Literacy Bridge was able to attain feedback on the lessons and product usability.

Mr. Schmidt partnered with numerous local NGO’s and government programs to ensure a streamlined and complete product. Although there are other topics available, Literacy Bridge decided to focus on five core lessons:

These included:



  • Health and nutrition

  • Gender issues

  • Agricultural production

  • Financial practices

  • General education

Establishing and Testing the Talking Book:

In 2009, he tested the first Talking Book prototype in a small village in the Upper West Region of Ghana. After gaining traction and seeing the Talking Book’s benefits, Mr. Schmidt realized he had to develop a concrete business and distribution plan, which brought him to the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship GSBI program in 2010.

The Talking Book’s simplicity is its greatest achievement. In an oral culture where words carry so much weight, the simple benefit of a voice capable of repetition lends a unique and previously unattainable benefit to these communities.

After completing its initial Development, Literacy Bridge needed to scale:

In 2014, after demonstrating clear product alignment and demand, Mr. Schmidt returned to the Miller Center to participate in the GSBI Accelerator and prepare Literacy Bridge for scaling. Mr. Schmidt would go on to develop a distribution system that relied upon two primary things: women and trust.

In these underdeveloped and isolated societies where foreigners are rarely trusted, Literacy Bridge worked with local partners to establish women as the distributors, as well as the managers of the Talking Books. These women volunteers are trained to ensure that the community-focused Talking Books trade hands within the villages and maximize their social impact. Their presence creates trust between the local people and their new chatty little friend, Talking Book.

Since finishing the GSBI Accelerator, Mr. Schmidt has continued to scale, gaining international recognition and partnerships. When the Talking Book was launched, it reached 970 children and adults; in 2015, that number is now over 20,000 Ghanaians. This exponential growth is even more impressive when you consider that the audiences it reaches are geographically isolated. Talking Book continues to strive for even better service, updating its lessons and tips regularly through a combination of user feedback and updated training programs.


  • 2008: Designed and field tested first Prototype

  • 2009: Achieved strong pilot impact

  • 2010: Participated in GSBI program, sold devices region wide

  • 2011: Won contract with World Cocoa Foundation’s public/private partnership

  • 2012: Launched last-mile distance learning platform in 10 villages

  • 2014: Participated in GSBI Accelerator program

  • 2015: 175,000 Ghanaians directly benefit from the Talking Book’s lessons and tips every month

Further News:

Educate Girls Is Bringing India's Rural Children Back To School

Educate Girls Is Bringing India's Rural Children Back To School

The education crisis in India:

India’s girls could use some help: In 2015, 3.7 million eligible girls are out of school. In rural areas, girls receive an average of less than four years of education. And, India has the highest rates of child brides in the world.   

These metrics are indicators of the deeper issues that India faces, problems stemming from social and cultural norms. For India’s girls, education improvements will come by righting the wrongs of history. In order to solve the problems facing rural girls in India, an innovator needs a background in both education and an informed cultural perspective. Beginning in 2005, within the province of Rajasthan, an entrepreneur named Safeen Husain started to do just that.

Ms. Husain is intimately aware of the obstacles that face young girls in India, because she was personally subjected to some of those conditions growing up. Through perseverance and a devoted family, she forged a path past the adversity around her and ultimately went on to graduate from the London School of Economics. Since then, she has spent much of her career in rural and community developments throughout Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

Understanding the role gender plays in India’s education system:

Ms. Husain saw the endemic issues for rural girls’ education and decided upon three basic goals:

  • expanding the enrollment of girl
  • increasing student retention for girls
  • improving learning outcomes for all students.

Considering these goals, Ms. Husain appropriately decided to name her initiative Educate Girls.  Between 2005 and 2007, Ms. Husain and her fledgling staff began testing various methods to achieve these goals. She settled on Rajasthan as her testing ground, a district in Northwestern India, which at the time had a 77% male to a 44% female literacy rate. She started her testing phase with 50 local schools and communities.

To fully understand why girls were not attending schools, Ms. Husain recruited young, local, female volunteers from across the district who formed Team Balika. The team spearheaded Ms. Husain's program by visiting 1,067 villages in the district.

Team Balika found a number of different reasons for girls missing school, including: the necessity of a working daughter’s paycheck to her family, the fear of interference with marriage prospects, a pivot from traditional Hindu garb, and poor school conditions. After identifying these problems, the volunteers decided on a five-pronged plan to improve circumstances in Rajasthan's rural schools.

The points included:

  1. Community Ownership of schools by parents in the form of parent-led school management committees.

  2. Training teachers in creative and child centric learning techniques.

  3. Recruiting and training volunteers for the Team Balika program.

  4. Facilitating community enrollment plans.

  5. Forging more young female leaders through Bal Sabhas, (with open dialogue meetings for young girls).

Educate Girls's incredible growth and success through scaling:

Employing this five-point method over the next seven years, Educate Girls has seen its influence rise exponentially. After beginning with 50 schools in 2005, Educate Girls grew to 5,500 schools and influenced the education of over 500,000 children in three districts of India by 2013.

In 2012, after receiving investments from several firms in India as well as reaching agreements with the Indian government, Ms. Husain still felt she could do more. Ms. Husain and Educate Girls applied to the Miller Center for Social EntrepreneurshipGSBI Online program through which they would be able to: strengthen their business model, receive Silicon Valley mentorship, and prepare for more funding. The GSBI Online participant emphasized the core benefit of having a mentor in particular, "The mentoring I received was important for my success. The constant interaction with my GSBI mentor helped me think out of the box and look at my organization as an external person."

With aid from Miller Center and other sources, Educate Girls has continued to grow, marking a pivotal time in Educate Girl's development. This past January, Educate Girls made headlines by being awarded the prestigious, Skoll Foundation award for social entrepreneurship , which includes a three-year core investment of $1.25 Million. This prestigious award is given to transformative leaders who have demonstrated disruption of the status quo and are driving large-scale change.

Educate Girls’ goal is to educate half of India's gender gap districts and over 4,000,000 students by 2018.

For Ms. Husain however,  her biggest hope is not just the growth of her organization, but also in the girls themselves, "Every single girl I meet wants to go to school, and that for me is my biggest, biggest source of hope."

Educate Girls' history and future by the numbers

  • 2011: 4,425 Schools within Operation
  • 2012: Educate girls goes through GSBI Online program
  • 2013: 5,006 Schools in Operation
  • 2014-15: 8,000 Schools in Operation
  • Expected Expansion 2015-2016: 9,000 Schools in Operation

Empower Generation Helps Turn the Lights Back On In Nepal

Empower Generation Helps Turn the Lights Back On In Nepal

At 11:56 AM, April 25th, an earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale rocked Nepal. This earthquake, which occurred in Kathmandu Valley, located in the middle of the country, levelled cities and centuries old buildings alike, leaving thousands dead and hundreds of thousands homeless, living in darkness. 

The International community responded almost immediately, sending aid through a number of different channels. This aid was formulated from a wide variety of sources, from traditional relief organizations like the Red Cross to crowdfunding campaigns made on sites like Crowdrise, Indiegogo and GoFundMe. 

The problems Nepal faces from the earthquake's impact are extensive. Over a million Nepalese are living without shelter, clean water, and basic amenities. The mountainous geography of Nepal however has meant that bringing the necessary aid to those in isolated areas has been especially difficult. This terrain has also led to the fundamental issue of providing power to the people of Nepal, even before the Earthquake. 

Roughly 60% of Nepal's 27.8 million population will likely never be on the power grid, while those with access can experience daily outages up to 18 hours long.

Empower Generation, a social enterprise in the current GSBI Accelerator cohort at the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, believes they have a way to solve this dilemma.  

Founded in 2011, by Bennett Cohen, Empower Generation is a small non-profit that consists of a network of 12 micro-enterprises run by 16 women entrepreneurs across 10 districts of Nepal. Empower Generation's mission is to build clean, sustainable energy markets to tackle the causes of poverty. They boast a number of high quality products including d.light solar lanterns and home systems and BBOXX solar powered systems). 

Since the earthquake, Empower Generation's team has been working non stop to turn the lights back on. On day two after the initial earthquake, the Empower Generation team began distributing lights and creating charging stations for relief workers in Kathmandu. Over the course of the next two weeks, Empower Generation was able to distribute over 2,000 quality solar lights adding an additional 7,000 through their partners. These have helped restore light for more than 53,000 earthquake survivors; prompting CNN to recognize Empower Generation's efforts

After more than a month and another earthquake with a 7.3 degree of magnitude Empower Generation had distributed over 9,000 solar lights and mobile phone chargers. They likely would have distributed more had they not run out of stock. 

Despite their success, Empower Generation remains unsatisfied by their accomplishments striving for all of Nepal to have access to light, driven on by the responses of people like Subhadra Pyakurel.

Subhadra, a recipient of one of the new solar lights perfectly described the reason why light is so necessary for Nepal's recovery; "Having light in our home means feeling safe, secure, and becoming hopeful of leading a new life by leaving our past behind us, To me light makes me hopeful for the future."

You can support Empower Generation directly at

Changing the Paradigm for Girls

Changing the Paradigm for Girls



The Call To Make A Difference

During his childhood in rural Uganda, Richard Bbaale watched his sister miss school starting when she hit puberty. The issue: his sister had started her menstrual cycle but could not access sanitary pads. Millions of women in rural Africa use leaves or rags, or just stay home, because the products we buy in American drugstores are simply not available. While at university, Richard learned that dried banana stem fibers have superior capacity to absorb blood. Connecting the dots, he recognized a business opportunity to transform the circumstances of African women.

Richard founded a group through his university to tackle the difficulties Ugandan women faced in menstruation management. In 2010, this group registered under the name BanaPads. This social enterprise manufactures and distributes affordable, eco-friendly sanitary pads to keep girls in school and create local jobs. Richard adopted the “business in a bag” model for saleswomen, known as BanaPads Champions. Women purchase a bag with dozens of sanitary pads and sell them at schools and in villages, using a portion of their revenue to buy another bag. Richard knew that his enterprise was meeting social needs, but he had a hard time explaining how it could meet its own needs. He struggled to make payroll.

Partners For The Journey 

Richard Bbaale heard of the GSBI at the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship and applied to it in 2012. He believed in his vision, but wanted it to pay for itself. He did the preparatory work online from Uganda, and came to the Santa Clara campus for two weeks in August. He learned the nuts and bolts of growing a small business (logistics, unit economics, operations, a growth strategy) but more importantly, he learned how to pitch his vision. He credits the GSBI with helping him improve the management of his enterprise and leverage that into funding for expansion.

Richard returned to Uganda and made immediate changes to his business, and reached out to development agencies and investors. BanaPads partnered with local organizations to conduct education, and demand began to exceed supply. He identified an opportunity to expand into Tanzania. Funders came to share in his vision, awarding grants and making investments.  

A Pro-Woman Social Enterprise

To help BanaPads grow, Richard requested follow-up support from the Center.


  • In 2014, 3 Global Social Benefit Fellows spent 9 months working with BanaPads, including 7 weeks in Uganda. They shadowed Richard and his staff, carefully observing their daily work. They documented community outreach, the recruitment and screening of new Champions, their training, and enterprise operations. They created a series of manuals, available on our webpage.
  • The Fellows completed the manuals in time for Richard to include them with his August application package to the Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship (AAE), the premiere Africa-focused awards program honoring entrepreneurial leaders from around the continent. When Richard made the cut to become a finalist, he wrote, “Had it not been for you, Team BanaPads – Ty, Carol and Kaci – we wouldn’t have gone this far. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.”
  • In November 2014, Richard won African Social Entrepreneur of the Year. Afterwards he wrote, “BanaPads is only as good as like-minded people at GSBI make it.”
  • In January 2015, The Arthur B. Schultz Foundation made a grant to help BanaPads expand in Tanzania. Richard has requested another two teams of fellows in 2015 to help plan a marketing campaign, deploy a mobile app, and create a short documentary film.

 BanaPads is changing the paradigm of health and employment for East African women. The Miller Center is proud to be its partner. 

A Brighter Future for Rural Mexico

A Brighter Future for Rural Mexico



Manuel Wiechers was among the brightest of a new generation of young entrepreneurs in Mexico.  After graduating from college, where he studied renewable energy, in 2009 he started a social enterprise: Iluméxico. His vision was to provide solar power to the Mexicans who need it most: remote rural communities beyond the electric grid. These are mostly indigenous people, far from modern roads. 

 Iluméxico designs, develops and manufactures technology used for rural electrification. Iluméxico’s products include solar home systems, solar powered energy for community development, such as computer centers with satellite Internet for libraries and schools, and solar-powered water pumps for rural clinics. This company identifies the poorest customers, and tries to sell them the energy that most of us take for granted.  

While the technologies helped people, the enterprise faced significant hurdles. The Iluméxico office in Mexico City was a long way from its rural customers, living in jungles and on the sides of mountains. Reaching them was expensive, and it was difficult to know when, what, and why they would buy. 

Enter The Miller Center For Social Entrepreneurship– Partners For The Journey

Manuel applied to the GSBI in 2013 and reinvented his business model by opening rural energy distribution centers, known as Ilucentros

“We learned so much from our time at the GSBI. We built out our first financial models and we frequently use those models with investors. When we went through the GSBI we hadn’t even opened one center. Now we’ve opened four centers and are in the process of opening the fifth….We plan to open ten more, depending on investment. We have coordinators at each center and local technicians. My role has shifted to supervising and starting new projects.”

— Manuel Wiechers, Co-Founder and Director

For this plan to work, Iluméxico needed to understand the perceptions of its rural customers, so while he was attending the GSBI in-residence program at Santa Clara University, he requested help from Global Social Benefit Fellows to survey his customers. 

In 2014, Fellows spent 9 months studying this social enterprise, including 7 weeks in the field. The Fellows conducted over 250 interviews in rural Indigenous communities measuring customer satisfaction and helping Iluméxico anticipate future customer requirements.

Moving Up

What started as a dream in 2009 has evolved into a thriving company. Going through the GSBI exercises and investor presentations helped Manuel clarify his vision, crystallize his plans and tell people about his mission.  

  • Today, there are five Ilucentros serving 3,500 installed systems and 18,000 households, displacing 1800 tons of CO2 in the process. 
  • The Fellows’ reports endorsed the new distribution plan and the value of the Ilucentros as the basis for growth. 
  • “We recently received an ABC Foundation grant and the first investment from Banamex’s new impact investing fund, part of its corporate social responsibility program (Banamex is Mexico’s largest bank.) So next year is a huge growth year for us. We hope to close with 14 branches in total. We will be able to set up the structure and operations to expand--hopefully to Latin America.” 
  • In March 2015, Iluméxico received a variable payment option (demand dividend) investment from GDF SUEZ to help it reach more customers. “In five years, we want 50 branches to reach 50,000 families.”

Wiechers has also changed since the partnership. He’s become not just a visionary but also an executive. What was once an informal partnership has grown to a company with CEO and other executives. With the lessons learned from his time with the GSBI – and through hard work – Wiechers is more than a dreamer. He is a social enterprise leader.