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If I Knew Then...

If I Knew Then...

Originally posted on Crain's Silicon Valley

The Mistake:

My mistake was I wasn’t fully showing up for work. I was not allowing myself to do that and I was working in a place that didn’t allow me to do that.

The first 10 years of my career I spent at a company that was a large mainframe designer that competed against IBM. I started right out of college as a software engineer there. It was a really good company.

I was climbing the corporate ladder. I started off as a software engineer and I became a software development manager and then a director. I was doing all the things that look good on paper and represent what you are “supposed” to be doing in your career.

But one day I had this clear vision as I was walking across the parking lot into a company building, I had this mental picture that I was taking parts of me out and putting them into little Ziploc bags. So, I took a little piece of me out and put it into a Ziploc bag, and then another piece and then another piece. 

So, walking into this building, there were just parts of me that weren't showing up.

Then, after working and leaving the building I would start opening up the Ziploc bags and start putting parts of me back in. And then the next morning, I had the same mental picture.

And what that said to me was my whole self wasn’t showing up. It was only parts of me that were showing up, the parts that had a place at the company. So, my whole being, who I am, didn’t really have a place there. There were pieces of me that didn’t really agree with everything that was done or said.

Did I go against the grain and fight the good fight against it?  No, I did not. I went along because I felt like I needed to do that in order to push my career forward and be a good employee.

Here’s an example of what happened: On Sundays, I would watch football and remember all the scores and all that stuff so on Monday morning I could walk into meetings and keep up with all the talk about what had happened the day before. I didn’t care about football. But I did it to fit in.

The Lesson:

Fast forward to now, working at the Miller Center, and all of me is showing up.

And I am so deliciously happy with my work and the people I get to work with. I wake up in the morning so full of gratitude. This is the way you really should be. You spend so much of your life at work and you should be able to show up complete.

Certainly, this comes out of me being a woman, but I don’t think that this is just a woman’s experience. When you try to follow this image of what you are supposed to do, when you follow the path you think you’re supposed to follow, you give up things that represent who you truly are.

Now I am very conscious about showing up as who I am. I’m happy doing what I’m doing. I’m not trying to follow the next path and I’m not trying to figure out the next thing I should be doing.

I’ve given up on what success is supposed to look like and instead am focusing on what  success feels like. I’m focused on just being happy and working with people I want to work with and doing what I want to do.

It’s not about chasing after the Joneses. It’s not about chasing after something that society says you are supposed to do. Instead it’s about asking, “Am I happy being where I am right now?” And the answer is, “Yes. Okay. I’m good!”

How One Boy's Mystery Disease Could Hold the Key to Solving Our Biggest Health Threats

How One Boy's Mystery Disease Could Hold the Key to Solving Our Biggest Health Threats

Originally posted on Wired

2011, Jimmy Lin was working at Johns Hopkins University mapping the genetic mutations linked to cancer when he met a child who would change the course of his career. The boy was wheelchair-bound, afflicted with a rare disease that had withered away his muscle control. His parents came to the university seeking insight into his mysterious condition, but it was so rare that Lin and his colleagues had to tell them there was no viable test available yet to diagnose it.

For Lin, this was a turning point. “We thought, wait, can we do the same things we do to map cancer genomes, to also map rare genomes?” he recalls. “That’s when we decided to take all the newest technologies from cancer [genomics] and think about how they could be applied to rare diseases.”

This became the catalyst for the Rare Genomics Institute (RGI), a non-profit biotech company that Lin founded with colleagues from Harvard and Yale in 2011, to directly connect people suffering from rare and undiagnosed diseases with practitioners of cutting-edge genomics research.

Since its inception, more than 400 rare-disease patients have used the Institute to seek diagnoses and treatment from its expansive network of doctors and researchers. RGI’s inbuilt crowdfunding platform has also helped fund bespoke research projects into a number of rare genetic disorders, such as the neuromuscular Dystonia disease.

“We have patients who have started new cell lines and new research all across Canada and the US,” says Lin, who also “wears a second hat” now in his primary job as the chief scientific officer for oncology at Natera. Today, Lin’s Rare Genomics Institute is a successful example of a project that bridges the gap between academia and social entrepreneurship.

While social entrepreneurship — a field that tackles social problems with real-world, applicable solutions — used to be the exclusive turf of traditional start-up companies and entrepreneurs, now scientists are moving into this arena as they recognise the huge potential impacts of their research. It’s a growing trend, especially in places like Silicon Valley where researchers are easily connected with industries, companies, and investors.

Several universities in the Valley now have dedicated centres for this—like Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, or Stanford’s Center for Social Innovation. Others like Duke University’s Social Entrepreneurship Accelerator leverage innovation in global health research. And with the backing of organisations like the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corp — which encourages its grantees to find applications for their research beyond the lab — the role of academics in this field is bound to expand.

“To any academic, the question of whether to focus on the theoretical or spend time applying what they’ve learnt in a real-world context, is a constant battle,” says Mark Clayton Hand, who researches social entrepreneurship at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin. “The structure of [academic] institutions incentivises people to continue to research and publish. So those academics that step out of that incentive structure deserve a lot of credit, I think.”

In Lin’s case, his foray into social entrepreneurship was motivated by the realisation that he and other researchers were in a position to help plug a significant medical gap. “Initially there were very few, if any, commercial offerings of genome sequencing for rare diseases,” Lin says. “So we were working with research institutions to set up new methods to help these children.”

Now, four years on, the RGI has a raft of go-to researchers at esteemed institutions including the Mayo Clinic and Scripps Research Institute, and it has built up a vast repository of patient data. It’s led to several successes — like the case of Harrison Snow, a boy with an undiagnosed muscular disorder that undermined his ability to talk, swallow, and even breathe. In 2015, RGI connected Snow’s family with researchers at Scripps who diagnosed him with an exceptionally rare subtype of the congenital Myasthenic Syndrome. This allowed them to put give him a tailored treatment that has since enabled him to speak, swallow, and breathe more freely, which would not have been possible without the initial diagnosis. “What we do is so multifaceted, because the needs of every patient are so different,” Lin says.

Elsewhere, scientists are pooling their expertise into companies that are channelling research directly into the development of new treatments and therapies—like San Francisco-based neuroscience company Alector. Its band of researchers are currently developing new treatments for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s that they’ll be testing in clinical trials in under two years.

Clearly, social entrepreneurship in science is now in vogue. But could it also be nudging academics into a realm they’re not suited to? “If we push academics too hard to be practical, then the part of their work which is really important—which is asking questions—may get lost in that,” Hand says. But if social entrepreneurship is carried out in the scientific tradition, in which trial-and-error is the main approach, he believes science can continue to make its impact in this field.

“I view entrepreneurs as constantly attempting to build hypotheses and then test them. Actually, that lines up really well with the way that academics operate.”

New CRS Deal Marks First Foray Into Impact Investment

New CRS Deal Marks First Foray Into Impact Investment

Originally posted on Devex Impact

Global humanitarian organization Catholic Relief Services announced on Monday it will invest in Lafaza, a U.S.-based agriculture company that sells vanilla sourced directly from smallholder farmers in Madagascar.

The $500,000 investment marks the first impact investment for CRS — part of the Roman Catholic community in the U.S. — after several years of exploring the issue. It’s the latest signal in a trend Devex identified earlier this year of international nongovernmental organizations making or considering impact investments, those made with the intention of generating measurable social and environmental impact along with a financial return. It also comes on the heals a high-level conference on the subject hosted by the Catholic Church at the Vatican in June.*

The deal was years in the works, beginning as an informal partnership in 2013, then evolving to a CRS grant about a year later to support capacity building among the farmers Lafaza was buying vanilla from. Now, the investment will take that work to the next stage by helping Lafaza expand the number of farmers it buys from and extend its reach as an international supplier, according to Lafaza CEO Nathaniel Delafield.

“This is very important enabling financial support so we can achieve short to medium-term deals,” he said, adding that it will likely also help set them up for future investments.

The yearslong collaboration has helped leaders at Lafaza evolve their approach to business and the way they work with farmers, and Delafield said he’s hopeful that his company can continue to benefit from CRS’ knowledge and partnership as it continues to expand in Madagascar and elsewhere.

The investment is seeking financial returns but is also targeting a number of impact factors — such as number of farmers reached, the premium they are paid, and the impact on farmer livelihoods and communities, including health care and education. Root Capital, an agricultural impact investor that has worked with CRS in the past and gave Lafaza a working capital loan earlier this year, is administering the investment.

This investment is an example of how blended capital — or capital of different types or at different stages — all play a part in one eventual deal. In this case, it involved a grant from CRS, a working capital loan from Root Capital, a loan guarantee from the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Development Credit Authority, plus investments from both CRS and the MGR Foundation.

The USAID guarantee was especially significant, Delafield said: “It was an important backstop to us being able to access larger working capital loans.”

That guarantee combined with crop insurance helped to derisk the deal, which fits well into the CRS “pathway to prosperity” strategy through which the organization assists people, helps them out of crisis situations and helps connects them to markets, said Sean Callahan, who will take over as president and CEO of CRS on Jan. 1.

CRS has been looking at impact investing for a few years and sees its engagement in three ways: investing part of their endowment in pooled impact investment funds, investing in smaller organizations to help them do a greater level of impact investing and investing to help develop enterprises working at the local level, he said.

While this is the first investment of its kind, CRS is looking to expand this approach with more investments in 2017 as they identify different organizations — some that they may already be working with — that can help them link farmers to markets, Callahan said.

For CRS the investment comes alongside other work the organization has done or is doing to build capacity among farmers, and while it is aimed at creating a more sustainable funding stream, it’s also designed to show local communities that to achieve growth they need to be connected to and operate in the commercial world, Callahan said.

“We need to make sure we reach out quicker to a larger population and are self sustaining because it’s likely there will not be enough development dollars to give grants and this way resources are much more productive,” he said.

John Kohler, the senior director of the impact capital program at the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University, praised the investment, but he also had some advice for CRS.

“There could be ways for CRS to fast forward their work,” he said.

One typical problem among new impact investors is that they often take a long time to make a decision because they’re still getting used to how things work, Kohler said. By learning from other organizations, such as Cordaid, who have been doing this work for a long time or partnering with investors such as Root Capital, they can accelerate their investments and their impact, he said.

A New Kind of Beauty: Feeding Hungry Children Through Cosmetics

A New Kind of Beauty: Feeding Hungry Children Through Cosmetics

Originally posted on Huffington Post

When he immigrated to the U.S. more than 20 ago, Tony Mangat took a job as a truck driver to feed his family. Slowly but surely, he worked his way up the ranks and eventually built his own trucking business shipping freight across the country.

Back in his small home province in India, Mangat had witnessed true poverty firsthand. It’s why every year he looked for new ways to give back such as by building a school back in India for impoverished kids. Then, he launched he a program to help low-income families afford eyeglasses.

Still, it didn’t feel like enough. What Mangat really wanted was a business with the charitable element built right in—something that would allow him to give back every day of the year, simply through the sale of a product.

“I thought to myself, what’s something that people will spend a decent amount of money on, that they buy over and over again,” Mangat asked. “I thought of my wife, and the answer came to me almost immediately: beauty products.”

It was an unlikely avenue to go down. After all, Mangat’s business expertise lay in trucking and logistics, not cosmetics. But after talking the idea over with a few trusted friends, Mangat knew he was onto something.

“My partner and I were attending a trade show, and we met a gentleman who developed cosmetics for a living. It was like fate,” Mangat said. “We hit it off right away.”

Working with his new friend in the beauty world, Mangat and his partners fleshed out a creative concept: a high-end skincare serum that gives to charity with every bottle sold. They called their product ‘OUR Skin Cares,’ and Mangat had the perfect charity in mind to support.

Food for the Poor does amazing work around the world. They put God first, which was important to us, and more than 95% of all funds collected go directly to hunger relief programs.”

Food for the Poor is one of the largest aid groups in the country, providing not only hunger relief, but secure housing, clean water, healthcare and emergency. Since its launch in 1982, the organization has provided some $11 billion in aid to the poorest people in 17 countries around the globe.

Every bottle of OUR Skin Cares’ anti-aging serum feeds a child in need for a month—three meals per day, every day.

“As a woman, I feel best when I’m confident in the way I look,” said Eizel Yap, a friend of Mangat’s and early supporter of his line. “At the same time, there’s nothing that compares to the feeling of giving back to someone in need. I love Tony’s idea because it offers me both.”
OUR Skin Cares is part of a growing business trend known as social entrepreneurship; it’s when a company uses its position in the free market to implement solutions to social, cultural and environmental issues.

According to the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, social enterprises are on the rise and will continue to tick upward for the next five to ten years thanks in part to a shifting business mindset among millennials, as well as the unprecedented access to connective technology.

All of this, Mangat hopes, will come together in favor of Food for the Poor and other groups like it.

“It’s the way of the future,” he said. “People are changing. They want to make a difference in the world, and they want to support companies who do that as well. We’re proud to be a part of it.”

To learn more about Mangat’s venture and Food for the Poor, visit OUR Skin Careson the web.

Ding Dong, Women Calling

Ding Dong, Women Calling

Originally posted on Ms. Magazine

By Pamela Roussos, Chief Innovation Officer

The Avon Products company holds a coveted spot in American history, having hired women to sell perfume, toiletries and makeup door-to-door, woman-to-woman, 34 years before women could even vote. The very first Avon Lady, Mrs. Persis Albee, reportedly was able to use her earnings to help save her family’s home from foreclosure.

Today, more and more businesses around the world are using the proven Avon-style business model to similarly revolutionize opportunities for women—many of whom have as few job opportunities today as did American women during the horse-and-buggy days. In developing countries, this traditional business model is alive and thriving. Women who have long networked informally and still spend days close to home are finding lucrative and life-changing opportunities selling home-to-home.

Leveraging the infrastructure of businesses with names like Solar Sister, Bana, LivelyHoods and Living Goods, these modern “Avon Ladies” increase their social status, financial security, educational opportunities for their children and even the safety of their community through the products that they sell.

In almost all cases, the products being marketed by these women aren’t perfume or toiletries, but rather tools and products to lift their customers out of poverty or life-limiting situations: solar lanterns for those who have no electricity or use toxic kerosene lamps for lighting, clean cookstoves that replace open fires, malaria treatments, water purifiers or sanitary napkins that enable girls to stay in school all month. Women make the best sales people and the best customers—because it is they who are dying in the kitchens without these products, or in distress for their children who can’t study or suffer severe health problems because of toxic fuel or unclean water.

In Nepal, Empower Generation was started by Anya Cherneff, who grew discouraged in her work with human trafficking victims—realizing that joblessness made the problem never-ending. She and her husband started a company that capitalized on the fact that women in patriarchal Nepal are nonetheless the household “energy managers,” buying or scrounging for fuel. They both feel the most pain from energy poverty, and stand to gain from affordable solutions. Men can sell products or work in other ways for Empower Generation, but only women can be “Solar CEOs”—including mandatory company registration and bank accounts in their own names. CEOs receive business and technical training, discount product pricing and admission to a coveted networking event, Entrepreneur Cafe, where senior and junior CEOs meet. The 23 women who have so far become Solar CEOs have been invited to sit on local governing committees or micro-finance groups, and to participate in far higher level conversations than before they earned this business distinction.

Thanks to Empower Generation, since 2011, more than 269,000 people in the community now have solar lighting instead of dim, toxic, and costly kerosene. Cumulatively the company has saved $1.98 million on household energy (kerosene, candles) and displaced 10,834 tons of carbon dioxide.

Likewise, the fast-growing African company Solar Sister—which operates in Uganda, Tanzania and Nigeria—has hired more than 2,000 women who have become respected leaders in their communities by selling solar products door-to-door. A report by the International Center for Research on Women found that the company has had “profound effects” on the lives of women and their families, including empowering women, increasing their income and financial stability and making communities safer.

Bana of Uganda employs 400 women entrepreneurs to sell locally sourced sanitary pads—called BanaPads—to over 50,000 women and girls who otherwise use unreliable pieces of cloth and often stay home during menstruation or even drop out of school due to inconvenience or embarrassment. The female sellers, “BanaPad Champions,” are known for their confident sales and health seminars as well as their bright yellow tee shirts. They are not only destigmatizing menstruation in their communities; they are role models who build strong bonds among women they often recruit to become fellow Champions. Many use their earnings to start or expand other businesses or to pay fees to keep their children in school.

Kenyan company LivelyHoods focuses on both youth and women, and has created 900 jobs and sold 13,000 products in slums where the median income of sales agents is now $700—twice the norm for the area. Among the products that are distributed daily to a sales force that goes door-to-door to lean-tos and tents in slum neighborhoods with no formal addresses are clean cookstoves, solar lights, water filters and even irons.

Like Avon in its prime, each of these businesses is turning around the lives, living standards, and social standing of women in the eyes of their communities, families, and children. Runa of Empower Generation is a classic example.

Runa is a widow, which puts her shockingly low on the social hierarchy in Nepal. She has three children to feed, clothe and shelter. Shut out of the few “10-to-5 jobs” available for women, Runa toiled for years on a family farm plot—making less than $1 a day to keep her family fed. When she became a Solar CEO  for Empower Generation, her income and her social status began to change. Her customers were impressed that she had the respect and backing of the professional Empower Generation staff who would come into town every so often from Kathmandu to train her orkers, and appreciated that her products were of better quality—and came with a warranty—compared to the cheap storefront products being peddled by competitors.

Another Empower Generation seller—a former teacher named Urmila—said that even though she had always been employed, she had never had an independent identity before Empower Generation. As a teacher, she said people would say, “oh look, there’s Urmila, so and so’s teacher.” In her community, “oh look, there’s Urmila, Mahesh’s wife.” Now, she says, what she hears is much different.

“Oh,” people say as she walks by, “there’s Urmila, the business woman.”

Impact Convening Information, Tools, Practices, and Outcomes

Impact Convening Information, Tools, Practices, and Outcomes

Originally posted on

SOCAP’s annual gathering of mission-focused investors, entrepreneurs, and social impact leaders is always a highlight for As an organization with a mission to support the diverse ecosystem of impact-focused conveners and accelerators, we recognize the transformative power that convening has to positively change the world, and SOCAP is a great example of meaningful convening.

During this past conference, we co-hosted three sessions over three days, bringing together diverse segments of the social impact community.

The week kicked off with an all-day pre-conference session in support of one of our signature programs, Accelerating the Accelerators (AtA). With our co-hosts, the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship and SOCAP, we brought together 35 accelerator program managers from 28 unique accelerators, representing 12 countries around the world to explore how to move collaboration into action. During the week we also met with leaders in the impact mapping community to share initial ideas on developing a new Mapping the Mappers initiative, an effort currently underway. We then wrapped up the week by celebrating our third birthday with our Convening the Conveners (CtC) community, a membership community of conveners who are dedicated to advancing ecosystem-wide impact through collaboration. Below are outcomes from the three sessions and information on how you can get involved.

Accelerating the Accelerators

In partnership with the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, we co-hosted the third annual Accelerating the Accelerators @SOCAP day-long workshop. A continuation of conversations from years past and similar workshops hosted by community leaders, including Ian Fisk of the Mentor Capital Network, the session served to further build the field for stronger accelerator network ties and more frequent and meaningful peer-to-peer exchanges.

The morning segment focused on gaining a better understanding of how one another’s programs work, what each program does well, and where each program could benefit from support. The afternoon segment was organized as an unconference, with participants sourcing conversation topics that were of the most interest to them, and then creating an agenda to break into small group discussions. These conversations included:

  • Sustainable business models/revenue generators for scaling accelerators
  • Supporting non-selected entrepreneurs
  • Getting entrepreneurs investment
  • Best practices in getting comparison groups
  • How do you measure the impact of your accelerator and the businesses you accelerate?
  • Curriculum best practices

The workshop concluded with the group identifying opportunities to continue exploring topics throughout the coming year through three new AtA Collective Impact Projects run by Collective Impact Projects (CIPs) are working groups that focus on a specific topic, for a defined period of time, with the objective of creating a new industry resource, solution, or tool. The new CIPs sourced from our sessions at SOCAP include one focused on impact measurement, which has a Slack group going and is open beyond those who signed up at SOCAP; another CIP centers on the support that can be given to entrepreneurs who are not accepted to an accelerator program, and will launch in January; the third CIP is focused on providing feedback for a new initiative called the Accelerator Selection Tool which will get started in Q2 of the new year.

To read more about these unconference sessions, including key takeaways from each conversation, click here. And if you’re interested in joining a Collective Impact Project, send an email to

Convening the Conveners

Convening the Conveners (CtC) is a membership program for organizations that use the powerful tool of convening to advance positive change. The program was born at SOCAP13 when Topher Wilkins, CEO of Opportunity Collaboration, organized a gathering to discuss a radical idea: that greater coordination, cooperation, and collaboration among conveners would lead to greater collective impact.

In January 2015, we formally incorporated as and we haven’t looked back since — co-hosting sessions around the globe, building out our membership website, supporting collective impact projects, and establishing a strong team to serve our members.

At SOCAP this year, we celebrated our three-year anniversary and continued the conversation of how best to convene for impact.

Mapping the Mappers

In the spirit of convening, took a popular quarterly call series called Mapping the Mappers (MtM) and hosted an in-person gathering at SOCAP16 to discuss the formalization of a program on how to generate efficiencies in social ecosystem mapping efforts.

The purpose of the gathering was to coordinate efforts, avoid the trap of re-inventing the wheel, and learn what technologies and approaches have worked well for mapping peers. One outcome of the meeting was the creation and launch of a Mapper Directory, as well as the launch of an MtM Google group, and the setup of a follow-up call in December to continue the conversation and collaboration.

If you’re interested in learning more about this and other initiatives, send us an email at And make sure to connect with us next year at SOCAP17!


A registered 501(c)(3) not-for-profit, advances industry-wide practices that foster system-level progress and drive collective impact at scale. We manage two flagship programs, Convening the Conveners and Accelerating the Accelerators, through which we offer knowledge, tools, and resources that support the growing ecosystem of impact-focused conveners and accelerators, and enable coordination, connections, and conversations that change the world.

We work with such organizations as SOCAP, Skoll World Forum, Social Venture Network, Mentor Capital Network, SRI Conference, Social Enterprise Alliance, Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, ANDE, World Affairs Council, Echoing Green, and Opportunity Collaboration.   

USAID Extension Grant Propels Carbon Roots International in its Mission to Improve Lives, Livelihoods, and the Environment in Haiti

USAID Extension Grant Propels Carbon Roots International in its Mission to Improve Lives, Livelihoods, and the Environment in Haiti

This is a guest post from Eric Sorensen, CEO, and Co-Founder of Carbon Roots International

Originally posted on Your Mark On The World

What does a $500,000 award extension made possible by the generous support of the American people through USAID mean to Carbon Roots International? More predictable and efficient production of green charcoal for cooking in Haiti, with even less environmental degradation—and acceleration of our mission to create jobs, reduce deforestation, and improve lives in Haiti.

This infusion of capital into our organization is more than just a significant vote of confidence by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which is the main U.S. government agency working to end extreme global poverty and helping democratic societies worldwide to reach their potential. It also enables Carbon Roots to purchase, install, and operate new equipment to expand and automate our innovative process for turning agricultural waste into charcoal for cooking. It also puts Carbon Roots on the path to financial sustainability.

Fuel from Agricultural Waste Instead of Trees

Carbon Roots is already the largest charcoal producer in Haiti. While most of us in the United States associate charcoal with backyard barbecues and a pleasant, often festive, alternative to cooking in the kitchen, in Haiti charcoal is serious business. Nine of out 10 households there depend on charcoal or wood for all their cooking, and the reliance on tree wood has turned Haiti into one of the world’s most devastatingly deforested landscapes.

Carbon Roots has developed a process for producing green charcoal briquettes from agricultural waste instead of tree wood. The green charcoal has the added benefits of burning hotter and cleaner than traditional wood charcoal and costing less—without requiring Haitians to change their stoves or cooking methods.

Early in our development, Carbon Roots received valuable guidance and direction from Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship. As participants in their Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) program, Carbon Roots was able to refine and improve our business plan, business model, and financial structures.

We sell green charcoal briquettes to customers directly, through wholesalers, and via independent women retailers that Carbon Roots recruits and trains. In addition to the health, cost, and environmental advantages of using green charcoal in their own homes, the women who become retailers learn valuable business skills—plus, they have the opportunity to earn incomes exceeding most other income-generating activities available to women in Haiti.

Taking the Green Charcoal Process to the Next Level

Although Carbon Roots is already helping to combat deforestation and boost the livelihoods of many Haitians—especially our network of independent women retailers—we still lacked a way to improve the efficiency and predictability of the first step of the green charcoal briquette production process: carbonizing the agricultural waste into charcoal dust. That’s where the USAID award extension comes into play.

Now Carbon Roots can afford to purchase and install one Big Char pyrolyzer unit from its Australian manufacturer, Pyrocal. This Big Char unit will serve as a proof of concept to potential investors, who will be needed to fund the purchase of the additional five units we will require for full-scale production.

The Big Char continuous carbonization technology:

  • Automates previously manual steps
  • Provides a steady source of heat that eliminates the need to sun-dry the charcoal dust
  • Can operate even in rainy weather, a serious advantage in monsoon regions such as Haiti
  • Produces less smoke than manual methods

Working with our Miller Center GSBI mentor, we were able to determine how best to proceed with acquiring the Big Char pyrolyzers—starting with a single unit for the pilot program, funded by the USAID grant; moving to full production with multiple pyrolyzers, funded through a mix of debt, lease, and a variable payment option (VPO) investment instrument; and eventually opening a second production facility, funded through a mix of debt and equity.

Our GSBI mentor also helped us refine our financial projections. We determined that two production facilities would produce sufficient internal cash flow to sustain one new factory every year for 10 years. That translates into saving 7 million trees and generating in excess of $50 million in income for poor Haitian women and their families.

As a result of its greater efficiency and ability to operate more days per year, the new Big Char pyrolyzer will allow Carbon Roots to increase our annual volume of green charcoal production while reducing both costs and emissions.

The demand for our green charcoal already outstrips our ability to supply it, and the problem isn’t lack of business resources, our business model, or resistance to our products. The limiting factor has simply been financial resources. We are extremely grateful to USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures for this generous extension award, which will enhance our ability to benefit our wide range of local stakeholders: farmers who monetize waste streams by selling agricultural residues to Carbon Roots; women charcoal retailers who enjoy higher incomes and greater autonomy; and poor Haitians who have access to a cleaner, cheaper, sustainable cooking fuel.


Spurring the replication of eco-inclusive enterprises – towards a collaborative integrative support approach

Spurring the replication of eco-inclusive enterprises – towards a collaborative integrative support approach

Originally published by Mirko Zuerker on Inclusive Business Hub.

Authors: Mirko Zuerker & Lina Frank, SEED jointly with Neal Harrison, Global Social Benefit Institute

At the 2016 SEED Africa Symposium in Nairobi Ligia Noronha, Director of the UNEP Division of Technology, Industry and Economics, underlined that “Replication is a key theme to foster green growth and sustainable development”. But replication demands targeted support at every stage, which calls for collaboration between diverse support providers and a strong ecosystem.

Replication as a key path to leverage impact…

SEED Award Winner Karibu Solar Power makes energy available at the price of kerosene in Tanzania. The business model is based on a pay-as-you-go model: shop owners buy the “business in a box” kit and end consumers recharge batteries by paying “rent-to-own” fees which will eventually make them solar independent through the ownership of the solar charging panel.[1]

Karibu Solar Power’s successful business model can serve as a blueprint for eco-inclusive enterprises in other developing countries. Jon Freeman, Advisory Board Member at the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship emphasises the point: “Social entrepreneurs are more likely to build successful enterprises if they can start with a blueprint or proof of concept that has already been developed and confirmed somewhere else in the real world.”[2]

… but not without support!

Imagine, that Karibu wanted to replicate its business model in Uganda, where people also lack access to clean off-grid energy solutions. Both Karibu and the potential adopters would need support to successfully go through the process of replication.

Information Potential adopters in Uganda need to know that a successful model like Karibu exists and has been proven, and which parts of the business model are adaptable to their context. Karibu, the originator, needs market information to identify business opportunities in Uganda as well as a channel to disseminate business model information. Support providers can help make available information for adopters and originators.

Resources Karibu would need financing or personnel resources to document and disseminate the business model. Adopters in turn need financing to implement the adapted business idea, as well as skills to adapt and implement Karibu’s business model. Both need a space to share experiences, learn from each other and cowork. Tailored financial support and capacity-building is needed at a very early stage for the adopters and at a later stage for the business model dissemination by the adopters.

People Karibu would need to find appropriate replication partners in Uganda. On the other hand, adopters would need the right people to work with in their local context and suitable business development services and advisors. Accordingly, support providers need to facilitate the process and bring together originators and adopters.

The gap in replication support services

Sure, there are tons of organisations and programs in the inclusive business field that offer all kinds of support. But only very few focus explicitly on business model replication. In our recent SEED White Paper on Replication Support, we looked at the support needs around replication and what is already offered in the field, in order to identify where there is room for action.

It seems that many organisations offer support for scaling of eco-inclusive enterprises, but not for the open dissemination of business models. Similarly, quite a few organisations foster the transfer of technologies. The business model that provides a marketable and revenue-generating solution is often left aside. Although support resources and efforts are out there, there is a critical need for a collaborative approach from support providers to bridge the gap between these services.

Connecting the dots: collaboration beyond organisations’ boundaries

What if actors as different as a university, an investor, a business incubator and a government agency collaborated to enable proven solutions such as Karibu’s to be replicated elsewhere? The university could run immersive training programs and contribute to building a talent pool in the adopter’s region. The investor could provide a replication-tailored financial product and link peers with each other. The incubator could provide a physical coworking space, help disseminate business models and connect the enterprises with business development services. The government agency could facilitate the organisation of a networking event and support local market research. All those complementing support activities taken together could form a quite comprehensive replication support approach.

But ecosystem actors are often specialised in their own support approach. There is a pressing need to engage in a dialogue to identify the support areas and eventually build a common understanding for an integrative support approach. This could be achieved through the connection of different services and actors with each other and through enabling the right support for every stage of the replication process. Learning from each other’s experience and sharing knowledge will allow support providers to combine their activities and create synergies to be able to push the eco-inclusive business sector to unlock its full potential through replication.

Collaboratively contributing to a comprehensive replication support approach

The Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) programs from Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship and SEED take on a similar approach to support replication: the focus lies on the dissemination of business models with a more open replication approach. Or, as Thane Kreiner, Executive Director, puts it: “[…] To meaningfully address the pressing problems of poverty, we need to amplify the scaling process by working on multiple successful business models in parallel, reproducing and launching them in other geographic regions.”[3]

The overlap in GSBI and SEED programs reveals the huge potential for collaboration to offer integrative and attractive replication support by taking advantage of synergy opportunities and combining our expertise and core activities. Although some organisations are taking significant steps on the path of enabling replication, there is room for more collaborative effort in the support ecosystem to scale impact by effectively exploiting the potential of existing eco-inclusive solutions.

Are you curious to learn more about the gap in replication support services? Do you want to explore a mapping of service providers in the replication support system? Get inspired on how we could unlock the potential of collaboration between replication support providers. Read our new publication on Replication Support “White Paper – Collaboration for Impact: Building the Ecosystem for Replication Support Services” here.


This blog is part of the November 2016 series on Scaling and replicating inclusive business models, in partnership with DFID and SEED. Explore with us the key ingredients of a pathway to scale, debates and new ideas on replication, and look at what small companies, large companies and ecosystem actors can do.




Local Perspectives, Global Application: Global Lessons from Impact Investing in Central America

Local Perspectives, Global Application: Global Lessons from Impact Investing in Central America

Originally posted on The Practitioner Hub for Inclusive Business

By Brooke Latham, GSBF Alumni

The Latin American Impact Investing Forum for Central America and the Caribbean (FLII CA&C) was hosted in Antigua, Guatemala by Alterna Impact and New Ventures on November 16-17th. The conference focused on leveling the playing field to bring all relevant actors on same page to advance impact investing in the region.

In one of the final panels, Perspectivas Globales y la Relevancia Local (Global Perspectives and Local Relevance), speakers from ANDEMiller Center for Social EntrepreneurshipI-DEV InternationalDAI and CeroUno shared their social entrepreneurship experiences in Africa, Asia, and other parts of the world, as well as how these lessons can be applied to Central America.  Important advice and lessons for the region were addressed. Market lessons learned in Africa can help Central America. But the concerns addressed are not specific to the region but to the whole sector.

After reflecting on the conference, I realized issues facing Central America are not solely isolated to the region. For example, greenwashing, lack of education, lack of consistency in language and terminology, and ensuring that we are not merely implementing venture capital tools into emerging markets are all pressing issues in the global impact investing sector. So yes, Central America can learn from global perspectives but in the same sense that it engages in the same learning process as the rest of the developing world. 

So what is the future for Central America and how can these lessons be expanded globally? The actors, the ideas energy, and collaboration were all present at FLII CA&C. The playing field has started to be “leveled,” so how can we continue this theme into action in the region? Beyond the immediate success of an event, the true success of FLII CA&C will come from action, future investments, and growth in the region. 

Next steps:

Education is key

Education is a broad concept when applied to social entrepreneurship, but it is one of the most powerful tools to activate change. Raul Pomares, Founder of Sonen Capital, in his opening keynote speech stressed that education is key to expand impact opportunities and knowledge about impact investing. To integrate traditional investors into the sector education is needed and people need to be informed of the growing resources about impact investing. For instance, companies like Acumen are creating free databases of information to expand knowledge on impact investing. Also from successes and failures, the sector can learn how to maximize impact and capital within their portfolios. Additionally, teachers, parents, advisers need to educate the rising generation of entrepreneurs to create knowledgeable global citizens. The sector needs to provide the right tools and knowledge for enterprises to raise capital and to be financially stable. To expand the ecosystem, we need education.

Avoid Greenwashing, keep impact as the focal point

A common theme addressed during the conference was the fear of greenwashing. As Corporate Social Responsibility continues to grow, so does the concern of greenwashing. A company may be investing in an enterprise, but is the impact or the returns that motivates new actors such as banks and corporations to enter the sector? If impact is not a focal point, the social change will not happen. To avoid greenwashing we must truly understand the impact of the company and have supporting data. Therefore, data measurement is extremely important to ensure that the social impact remains at the center. As Sasha Dichter, Chief Innovation Officer of Acumen, mentioned, we need see people behind the numbers to gauge if the change is truly benefitting the customers. Beyond all the due diligence, we still need to ask if it is creating a better livelihood for a person or is striving to eliminate poverty. Capital returns should not be compromised, but we need to ensure that investments categorized as impact, truly have a sustainable impact. Sticking the title ‘impact’ on a deal to write off CSR or to be perceived, as a ‘green’ or ‘social’ company does not benefit the two billion people in poverty. Although greenwashing is a general concern, actors in the impact sector are cautious and trying to take the preliminary steps to ensure that mission of impact investing is not lost. This initiative was clearly shown during FLII CA&C. Brigit HelmsIDB, in her keynote speech, voiced that investors need to ensure they do not solely apply venture capital tools to emerging markets and call it impact investing. Instead, they need to take the power of investments and create innovative tools to help social businesses scale and become financially stable. 

 Innovate tools

One of the biggest issues Central America faces is that a majority of its enterprises are seeking early stage seed funding, but most investors are looking for a higher ticket size due to the high risk associated with early stage investments. This is the typical issue of the Pioneer Gap, which other regions have faced over the years. Collaboration, co-investments and partnerships will allow the region to successfully grow and hopefully provide solutions to close the “the Gap”. The partnership between Enclude, Agora, and the Bank of Nicaragua is a prime example of collaboration between commercial banks, impact investors, and capacity developers. All resources need to be pooled together to help generate more regional investments. Partnerships expand the network, provide more access for entrepreneurs, and strengthen the ecosystem. Additionally, innovative tools and collaborations also provide a different approach to investing to assure we tailor traditional investment tools to the specific markets and truly listen to the needs of the market.

Impact Investing in Central America may not be as established as other regions; however it continues to grow with great potential using lessons can be applied globally.

How NGOs Are Turning to Impact Capital to Achieve Long-Term Goals

How NGOs Are Turning to Impact Capital to Achieve Long-Term Goals

Originally posted on Devex Impact

As NGOs look to explore how they can work in the emerging space where business meets social good, John Kohler, the director of impact capital at the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, writes about the three critical features their experiments need to have to succeed. 

An increasing number of international nongovernmental organizations, faith-based social ministries, and aid organizations are beginning to incorporate impact investing into their operations.

By now, there’s enough evidence in impact investing to see the benefits of applying money and building markets to foster entrepreneurship and prosperity from within underserved communities around the world. Unfortunately, evidence also shows that the last 60 years of foreign aid has yielded scant long-term results, apart from things like disaster relief, where foreign aid is crucial.

Those involved in programmatic support recognize the broad failure of a top-down aid approach in addressing long-term, systemic issues such as poverty, health, education and environmental degradation. That’s why they’re interested in approaches that have more persistent results.

Social entrepreneurship, fueled by impact investing, is about the creation and growth of ongoing businesses that can become self-funded, or where the market pays for the goods and services that the businesses deliver.

Social enterprises exist at the intersection of the public, social and private sectors — along with emerging corporate engagement and mission-based business efforts to serve the poor.

International NGOs and faith-based organizations such as Heifer InternationalOxfam, Humanitarian Aid Commission, Christian AidCAREMercy CorpsCatholic Relief ServicesBRAC, and ACDI/VOCA are beginning to experiment with new ways to achieve sustainable impact through the support and funding of businesses arising from within local communities.

In other words, they’re experimenting with social enterprise solutions fueled by impact investment.

As NGOs look to explore how they can work in the emerging space where business meets social good, their experiments will need to have three critical features:

1. “Points of presence” — i.e., staff, facilities, projects, partners — local to the problem that deeply understand the context of the problem, both culturally and systematically.

One way NGOs can begin is by evaluating the programs and partners at existing points of presence and asking if any of them are fundable. This might mean observing that an NGO purchased a sewing machine for a poor woman making garments to earn income, then using some of the proceeds to buy more sewing machines for more women — eventually building a profitable garment shop. It might mean expanding relationships with local farmers into the creation of agricultural-based businesses, such as bakeries or wineries. Or it might be as ambitious as meeting some or all of a village’s electricity needs through community solar systems or solar products distributed by networks of community members.

Points of presence can also be offices, staff, church parishes and NGO program partners that are embedded into the communities being served. In these cases, the points of presence can provide valuable local context for fundable enterprises.

2. Capital along with the knowledge of what it takes to run a successful business — otherwise known as capacity development.

Once fundable points of presence are identified, the next step is identifying sources of capital. The traditional routes of grants and donations are giving way to some flavor of impact investing. That’s because applying for grants, soliciting donations, and managing how the funds are spent consumes enormous amounts of energy and staff resources. Because grants are highly focused and short-lived — a particular program might be funded for only two or three years — it’s almost impossible to sustain momentum toward any particular impact goal.

Plus, grants and donations are by definition one-way trips for capital: from the funder to the recipients.

What if instead of spending their time writing and managing grants, NGOs instead spent that time investing in social enterprises? They wouldn’t have to see market-rate returns or even profits to come out ahead financially. Making back the money invested with no profit — i.e., seeing their capital make a round-trip journey — would mean they could take that same capital and invest it over and over again.

Achieving round-trip returns on investment requires that the social enterprises be successful as businesses. It also requires a different form of investment vehicle that can “self-liquidate” over time. Such vehicles are beginning to appear and are attractive to some NGO investment funds being set up. In addition, social entrepreneurship accelerators and business-savvy mentors become important for this step, to help shift mindsets from aid and grant-funded processes to solid business fundamentals.

3. Innovation, which means new ways of breaking open a problem to solve it.

The final piece needed here is innovation. Are there new ways of breaking open the problem of how to achieve long-term social and environmental impact in a way that’s sustainable and rewarding for everyone involved, including investors? How can we address issues in ways that are different from the old ways that haven’t worked, despite a surplus of good intentions?

Helping the world’s poor to enjoy a more developed, self-sufficient, prosperous, and dignified living space is the goal here. Empowering NGOs through social entrepreneurship and impact investing can play an important role in achieving that goal.

John Kohler is the director of impact capital at Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship.

Top 5 Things You’ll Learn At a GSBI Accelerator Program

Top 5 Things You’ll Learn At a GSBI Accelerator Program

Originally posted on Your Mark On The World

By Cassandra Staff

Entrepreneurship is challenging! Being an entrepreneur means being tested and pushed beyond reason. This is especially true for social entrepreneurs—those offering market-based solutions to the poor that address a social need, such as selling affordable, safe drinking water.

Social entrepreneurs must navigate the already turbulent startup waters with the added challenges of operating in widely uncharted territory. They likely work in an environment with little infrastructure (physical or economic) while traversing a young, confusing ecosystem. Plus, they must build their team, develop their business strategy, seek funding, and keep a laser focus on the social impact they intend to achieve.

The Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) programs at Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship exist for one reason: to help social entrepreneurs help more people by filling resource and information voids and providing in-depth mentorship. The GSBI offers business model-focused programs tuned to social businesses at their particular stage of development. The best part is that each program participant is paired with at least one Silicon Valley business executive mentor throughout the entire 6- or 10-month duration of the programs.

I talk to social entrepreneurs often, and my favorite question is, “How can GSBI help me?” Let me count the ways!


GSBI mentors are successful business leaders with decades of experience and connections who volunteer to work intensively with social entrepreneurs.

Mentors are selected carefully. Besides strong business acumen and operational experience, mentors need the interpersonal skills to interact and empathize with someone from a different culture, who is often struggling with minimal resources and funding.

GSBI mentors become “trusted advisors” who—through their education, background, and experience—know the fundamentals of business planning and the challenges of executing on those plans. And because Miller Center is part of Santa Clara University, mentors share SCU’s mission to create a more just and sustainable world. While not necessarily experienced in Base of the Pyramid (BOP) markets, mentors must have experience in international business environments, able to work in a variety of cultural, legal, and market environments.

The primary role of the mentor is not to provide answers or act in a consulting capacity, but to support the entrepreneur in asking the right questions and using a variety of resources to find the right answers.

Sustainable Growth & Scalability

The GSBI believes that helping organizations achieve sustainable growth and scale involves four crucial factors: the impact model, business model, operations, and financing, or investment readiness:

1. Impact Model

The impact model has to be clear, showing value to beneficiaries, how that value is measured, and the ability to convey these details to impact investors.

GSBI programs work toward five milestones demonstrating the strength of an organization’s impact model:

  1. Clear mission statement
  2. Problem statement based on the beneficiaries’ input
  3. Validated products or services that are compelling to the poor
  4. Formalized metrics that prove impact
  5. Documented impact metrics demonstrating superiority to alternatives

2. Business Model

A social enterprise’s business model and its associated metrics must show how the business model works, in detail. Throughout a GSBI program, entrepreneurs are encouraged and supported to better articulate their business models. They identify:

  1. Clear target market
  2. Unit economics with margin per product/service
  3. Value chain, including customer ROI
  4. Customer acquisition methods and market development plans
  5. Partner relations

The overlap between impact and business models is the most critical piece: When a business grows, it helps more people. With increased impact comes more revenue. The overlap area essentially defines the value proposition. When the business and impact models are complementary and integrated, the business can grow economically while scaling its positive impact on the poor.

3. Scalable Operations

Scaling means creating efficiencies to achieve the profit margins and cash flow necessary to fund growth Scalable operations require building:

  1. Management team
  2. Operational budget plans able to compare to actual results (e.g., KPIs)
  3. Process manuals for quality control and repeatability
  4. Strategic initiatives for multi-year, sustainable growth
  5. Integrated KPI/strategic initiatives with financial metrics

4. Investment Readiness

Investment readiness includes a broad set of elements related to the financial components of the business, including:

  1. Audited financial results
  2. Multi-year financial projection for baseline business and strategic initiatives
  3. Breakeven analysis, profit, and cash flow
  4. Justifiable ask
  5. Complete due diligence folder

The “justifiable ask” that we help entrepreneurs formulate includes:

  1. How much funding is needed
  2. What form of capital is being sought (debt, equity, grants, etc.)
  3. The use of the funds and how it’s tied to the strategic initiatives and expansion plans
  4. The ROI for the investor, either as social impact, financial returns, or a combination

In the end, Miller Center GSBI alumni can articulate a great impact model, a solid business model, efficient operations, and a clear financial ask.

If this sounds valuable to you, apply to our programs at We have a rolling application, and applications received before October 21 will be considered for GSBI Accelerator and GSBI Online programs starting in January 2017.

Beyond Imagination: GE, Miller Center Helping Keep Moms, Children Healthy

Beyond Imagination: GE, Miller Center Helping Keep Moms, Children Healthy



Originally published on Next Billion Oct. 4, 2016

By Marie Haller

It’s hard for those of us who grew up in relative comfort here in the United States to imagine the childhood of Kajira Mugambi, born in a Kenyan village. Some days, when there wasn’t food to eat, he drank a lot of water. It filled his empty stomach, but it also flooded his body with water-borne pathogens. Inevitably, he became sick.

Kajira remembers, barely able to put one foot in front of the other, walking with his mother five miles to the nearest medical clinic. Years later, after Kajira earned a degree from UCLA’s School of Law and became a member of the faculty, he never stopped thinking about the lives of the mothers and children in his village. He returned to found Village HopeCorps International, a public-health microenterprise that serves communities in rural Kenya.

The problem that Village HopeCorps International is trying to solve is similar to the problems addressed by all the social enterprises that gathered this summer in Nairobi for a three-day workshop – actually a kickoff event for a pilot called healthymagination Mother and Child. The pilot accelerates much-needed medical innovations in nine countries across sub-Saharan Africa. It is a partnership between Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, where I work, and GE, the multinational corporation. GE is investing $20 million in the joint venture.

The 17 members of the healthymagination Mother and Child Program cohort are from Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Nigeria, Zambia and Uganda. All, like Kajira, are leading social enterprises that address the region’s discouraging rate of child deaths from preventable causes.

Although their enterprises are viable and already making a difference, the entrepreneurs joined the Mother and Child pilot because, as one of them told me, “We need help organizing the work in a way that our enterprises can grow.” And we can help them do that.


Santa Clara University is in the heart of Silicon Valley. We take advantage of our location among legendary tech companies to recruit outstanding executive mentors to work with social entrepreneurs around the world.

In Nairobi, we introduced the entrepreneurs to our Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI) methodology and mentoring style. Over the ensuing seven months, the healthymagination entrepreneurs will work with Silicon Valley executive mentors who will help them scale their social enterprises for greater impact. They will work on managing every aspect of their businesses: from mission statement, impact, business model, to financials and operations.

Simultaneously, experts from GE Africa will train the entrepreneurs in the use of medical products and services aimed at improving maternal and child health.

At the end of the mentoring phase, the entrepreneurs will be ready to stand before potential investors and make their case for funding.


GE has been doing business in Africa for more than 100 years, but this is a first-of-its-kind social enterprise accelerator program.

You might wonder how tiny Miller Center was able to partner with giant GE for this program.

Sue Siegel, CEO of GE Ventures, was a member of our advisory board. She was aware of Miller Center’s track record working with social entrepreneurs. Siegel introduced us to GE’s healthymagination team, which creates initiatives like the Mother and Child Program.

When I joined Miller’s GSBI this past February from my previous job running an even smaller social-impact accelerator, GE and Miller Center had already forged the informal agreement to go with the program. I jumped in to work on it during my first week on the job, before the agreement was even signed. And a few short months later, there we were in Nairobi with a full cohort of entrepreneurs, ready to begin the program.

I want to point out how unusual it is to recruit excellent candidates and start a program that fast. Typically, we have a longer lead time – at least two-and-a-half months. For healthymagination Mother and Child, it was only three weeks.

The heathymagination team got down into the weeds with us and started gathering referrals. We approached other accelerators, as well as funders, impact investors and foundations. And we received referrals from the GE team in Africa.

We wanted to build a cohort of impact-focused enterprises that addressed health problems of sub-Saharan mothers and children living in poverty. Our definition of health issues was fairly broad. (For example, we looked at an organization educating people about malaria prevention with mosquito nets.) And we considered a number of business models: for-profit, nonprofit and hybrid. We accepted some early-stage organizations and some older enterprises, but they all have the potential to scale to reach larger numbers of people than they do today.

One of our very connected partners in Nairobi told me he was shocked that we got such a large and broad applicant pool, including some organizations he’d never encountered before. To me, that meant we had done a great job of unearthing some worthy groups that have been flying under the radar.

The GE heathymagination team understands that philanthropy has its place, but it’s not the only way to do good in the world. In my mind, social entrepreneurship – supported by big companies – is going to become more mainstream and less of a niche approach. Many corporations already have a corporate social responsibility arm that is focused on philanthropy. Through supporting social enterprises using those same funds and human capital, corporations can continue to make a positive impact in the world while simultaneously advancing their business goals. It’s also a win for organizations looking to retain employees through offering a way to use their skills for good. The healthymagination program is just one example – Miller Center has also engaged with Seagate Technology employees as mentors for a program with social entrepreneurs in Thailand and Sephora’s recent accelerator pilot has similar motivations.

It’s exciting to watch a large corporation like GE “get” it, and really walk the talk.

$20-Million Women's Health Initiative Kicks Off with Training in Nairobi

$20-Million Women's Health Initiative Kicks Off with Training in Nairobi



Originally published on HavenAfrica Sept. 9, 2016

By the end of 2015, roughly 99% of the world’s maternal deaths had occurred in developing regions with Sub-Saharan Africa accounting for two-thirds of that number. Added to this alarming statistic is the fact that the risk of a child dying before reaching five years of age is seven times higher in Africa than in Europe, according to the World Health Organisation.

The need to improve the quality, access and affordability of healthcare around the world presents a challenge that GE sees as an opportunity to make lasting changes with initiatives such as the Healthymagination Mother and Child Programme. This initiative was launched by GE and Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship in March to accelerate much-needed medical innovations in nine African countries. The primary objective of the $20-million joint venture is to address maternal and child mortality by supporting social entrepreneurs operating in the health sector across Sub-Sahara Africa.

After a rigorous evaluation process, 17 social entrepreneurs from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Nigeria, Zambia, and Uganda were selected to participate in the programme’s first cohort. The candidates attended a three-day workshop in Nairobi, Kenya, where senior Miller Center mentors and GE business leaders trained them on business fundamentals to improve their strategic thought processes, and to develop business plans that demonstrate growth as well as long-term financial sustainability.

Organisations, which were considered for the programme, met the following criteria:

  • had been in operation in Sub-Saharan Africa for a minimum of three years,
  • were involved in delivering health care services to mothers and children,
  • had experience in distribution, training, use and maintenance of medical equipment for pregnant women or children,
  • developed products or technologies that improved knowledge and/or access to care, such as telemedicine, mobile technologies, data analysis or image interpretation,
  • provided infrastructure services or facilities associated with needs arising from pregnancy to paediatric care, and
  • were for-profit, non-profit, or hybrid enterprises.

This training and mentoring program combine Silicon Valley entrepreneurial principles with the Miller Center’s Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI) methodology, which has been refined through 12 years of working with more than 570 social enterprises worldwide.

The overall goal of the programme is to ensure that women have access to high-quality health services during pregnancy and childbirth by addressing problems such as the availability of screening tools as well as potentially fatal conditions such as pregnancy-induced hypertension.

“Social innovations and entrepreneurs in the health sector have in recent years yielded sustainable solutions to some of the world’s biggest health challenges,” said Jay Ireland, GE Africa president and CEO.

“It is for this reason that the healthymagination Mother and Child Programme is focusing on training and mentoring social entrepreneurs working on increasing the quality, access and affordability of maternal and child health in sub-Saharan Africa, thereby enabling more women and children to experience better health,” said Ireland.

A six-month online accelerator programme follows the initial workshop where Silicon Valley-based executives — who have also completed rigorous mentorship training with Miller Center — coach the entrepreneurs on developing an action plan, operational and social impact metrics, a presentation deck for investors, and an investment summary document. The programme will culminate in February 2017 with a premier pitch event in Africa where the 17 participants will present their respective enterprises to an audience of potential investors.

5 Essential Lessons For Social Entrepreneurs by Pamela Roussos

5 Essential Lessons For Social Entrepreneurs by Pamela Roussos



Originally published on by Pamela Roussos


The world needs social enterprises to succeed. That might sound melodramatic, but our global challenges are serious, and social entrepreneurship is increasingly recognized as an important pathway to address these challenges.

I spend a lot of time traveling the globementoring social entrepreneurs, helping to train others as mentors, and attending and speaking at conferences on social entrepreneurship, impact investing, and innovation.

Whether I’m in Brazil or Ghana or India, I see certain threads that run through every successful social enterprise.

Here are five lessons learned during some of my recent travels that I hope will help aspiring social entrepreneurs everywhere—and those working with them.


1. Begin with passion for solving a real problem

Make no mistake, social entrepreneurship is not easy. It’s really hard, and some days it might feel impossible. Follow your passion—because that’s where the drive to persevere and thrive comes from.

Your passion will carry you through the difficult days.

But passion for what, exactly? Connect with a problem that you want to solve and that you believe you can address. The better “feel” you have for the product you’ll deliver and the market you’ll serve, the higher your probability of success.

Take it personally as well as seriously. For example, those of us in the United States might take seriously the threat of global climate change, but there’s no way we can take it as personally as the young woman I heard at a the Skoll World Forum in London earlier this year.

Selina Leem, an 18-year-old student and a citizen of the Marshall Islands, speaks simply and eloquently about how her nation is likely to disappear as ocean levels rise in the next few years. While not a social entrepreneur, she has become a powerful voice for the urgency to address global climate change. She demonstrates the kind of passion I’m talking about.


2. Listen to your customers

You know the old saying that the customer is always right? If you’re a social entrepreneur, you should really take that saying to heart.

Your customers (and future customers) will have answers beyond what you already know. They will likely also ask questions you haven’t considered.

Customers will provide you with a fuller perspective on your offerings.

While social entrepreneurs understandably focus deeply on the details of the products or services they offer, pay attention to broader considerations, as well. These can include everything from the kinds of product distribution and pricing that makes your offering attractive to customers, to subtle cultural or community attitudes and practices that might help or hinder acceptance of your products or services.


3. Think strategically about how to scale your social enterprise

Scaling a social enterprise can mean expanding your business to new geographic regions (scaling horizontally, in breadth) or expanding the range of offerings within your existing communities (scaling vertically, in depth).

In either case, don’t try to scale too early.

So many social entrepreneurs who are passionate about solving a problem feel like they need to do it quickly. Moving too fast can be a death knell for an organization.



As an example, if you want to get a medical clinic up and running, make sure you have the right services and pricing, and that you understand the needs of the customers you’ll serve. Only when your first clinic is operating well should you open a second one.

And don’t expect the second one to be identical to the first; I guarantee that you’ll discover new things with each new clinic. If all is still going well with your two locations, then consider opening a third.

When you see all three growing in success, increasing revenue, and customers, you might be ready to start scaling, at least into a similar environment. For instance, if your clinics are in urban areas, don’t try to start scaling into rural areas, because the dynamics will be totally different.


4. Don’t try to go it alone

Remember that no enterprise, social or otherwise, operates in isolation. Build a strong network to support your business.

Ask yourself: What partners could help me improve my offerings, or reach customers better, or operate more efficiently or effectively throughout the entire value chain?

You don’t need to do everything yourself.

Instead, select partners to help you succeed. Think about where you can find mentors to strengthen all your business skill sets, and who you can invite to join your board of directors or advisory board.

When establishing your board, especially in the early days, choose people who will roll up their sleeves and work with you. Don’t make the mistake of chasing big celebrity types. Even if you land them, they are unlikely to provide the support you need.

Think of your board as an extremely experienced, free resource. Just as you want the very best employees who will help you create huge impact, you want board members who will do the same.

Over time, as your enterprise evolves and becomes more mature, the role of the board will evolve, too—becoming more of a strategic and visioning partner, in addition to minding its fiduciary responsibilities


5. Be prepared and smart about fundraising

Become familiar with the range of fundraising options available to your business, fromequity investments and grants to loans and crowdsourcing.

Calculate your justifiable ask with solid data and financial models to back it up. If you’reseeking investments, what is your exit strategy—or how do you plan to repay your investors?



Whatever form(s) of capital you decide to seek—such as grants, equity, or debt (loans)—be sure to choose funding partners that are aligned with both your financial and your social impact goals.


Helping social entrepreneurs thrive

Of course, there’s much more to successful social entrepreneurship than what I’ve outlined here. But when I presented these best practices at the O Melhor da Inovação (“The Best of Innovation”) conference in São Paulo earlier this year, the presenters that followed referred back to my presentation throughout the day.

That tells me that these points resonated and might not be self-evident.

My work with the Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI) at Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship exposes me daily to the positive impact that social enterprises can have in the world today. But they can achieve positive impact only if they succeed in their business goals. For all our sakes, let’s do whatever we can to help social entrepreneurs thrive.


This article has been edited and condensed.

Pamela Roussos is Senior Director, Global Social Benefit Institute, Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University. Pamela has worked with and for early-stage software companies as a business and marketing strategy leader, helping founders create, refine, and execute their business strategy and go-to-market plans. She also serves on the board of Pact, an international NGO that benefits communities by promoting healthy lifestyles, decent livelihoods, and sustainable natural resources; and as as board chair for Livelyhoods, an organization that creates jobs for youth in slums. Connect with @MillerSocEnt on Twitter.

Five Social Entrepreneurs Impacting India Among 14 in the 2016 GSBI Investor Showcase

Five Social Entrepreneurs Impacting India Among 14 in the 2016 GSBI Investor Showcase



Originally posted on

More than a dozen social entrepreneurs throughout the world, including five with ties to India, will pitch their business plans to a roomful of investors during the 2016 Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship’s Global Social Benefit Institute Investor Showcase at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, Calif.

The showcase comes six months after the 14 social entrepreneurs — ranging from countries including India, Egypt, Kenya, Mexico, Myanmar and Rwanda — began working individually with Silicon Valley executive mentors to hone their business plans.

The five companies looking to tackle issues in India include Awaaz.De, CareNx Innovations Pvt. Ltd., engageSPARK, Noora Health and Pollinate Energy.

Awaaz.De, co-founded by Neil Patel and Tapan Parikh, develops inclusive mobile solutions that enable organizations to achieve last-mile connectivity for social impact. It develops customizable mobile technology solutions for its 500,000-plus users in six countries.

Patel believed communications platforms driven by basic phones and the medium of voice could overcome basic barriers of literacy and language to both disseminate content and collect data.

Parikh helped push him to start a company to scale the impact the system could have in rural communications.

CareNx, founded by Shantanu Pathak and Aditya Kulkarni, develops technologies to quickly deliver healthcare services to remote patients using mobile platforms.

One product, CareMother, offers mobile pregnancy care through its portable solar-powered kit along with an app, which can be used by health workers for early diagnosis of high-risk pregnancies.

To date, the company has sold dozens of kits to hospitals, performed 10,000 tests, reached more than 60 villages and cared for more than 3,000 mothers.

engageSPARK, founded by Ravi Agarwal and Avner Mizrah, is an easy-to-use platform for non-government organizations and businesses to engage their customers in any country using Voice IVR and two-way SMS interactions. With no technical expertise required, organizations can build and launch interactive campaigns in minutes.

They allow for organizations to instantly get local inbound phone numbers for receiving calls and SMS messages.

The company's vision is a world where any motivated person has the economic opportunities they need to step out of poverty and reach for their dreams.

It boasts it will build a conglomerate of nonprofits that directly or indirectly impact the lives of the poor. These businesses, it added, will sell products, provide services, and create fair jobs.

Noora Health, founded by Katy Ashe, trains marginalized patient families with high impact health skills to improve outcomes and save lives.

By turning waiting rooms into classrooms and nurses into trainers, Noora Health sends families home from hospitals and clinics with the skills they need to succeed with their condition.

All told, the company has trained roughly 50,000 family members and activated 25 hospitals.

Its impact has been felt by those people, as well, with about a 24 percent reduction in re-admissions, 6 percent reduction in anxiety and 36 percent reduction in post-surgical complications, it said.

Pollinate Energy, founded by Emma Colenbrander, Alexie Seller and four others, trains and empowers local entrepreneurs to establish sustainable micro-businesses that provide clean energy solutions to India's urban slums.

They provide employment opportunities for locals while improving quality of life in slum communities.

By transitioning families from kerosene to solar, they improve health and safety, create work opportunities, save money, improve study conditions for children, reduce carbon emissions and dramatically ease the burden of women’s household tasks.

Its impact in India includes nearly 16,000 systems installed, which has benefitted roughly 72,224 people. It has serviced about 2,000 communities, saving roughly 86.5 million rupees, 1.64 million liters of kerosene and 3.96 million kgs of CO2 emissions.

An invite-only event, the fourth annual GSBI Accelerator Investor Showcase Supports President Barack Obama’s and Pope Francis’ social entrepreneurship efforts.

The hope behind the social entrepreneurs is to tackle some of the world’s challenges. This year’s event comes just months since President Obama hosted the seventh annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Silicon Valley, where he talked about similar objectives. Additionally, Pope Francis led the second Vatican Impact Investment Conference in June, which aims to bridge the worlds of impact investing and Catholic social ministries serving the poor, according to a SCU statement.

“Miller Center is aligned with the goals of both the Obama administration and the Vatican conference, supporting social entrepreneurs who are striving to solve the world’s largest problems — the elimination of poverty, the advancement of women and girls, and climate resilience in the face of global climate change,” said Miller Center executive director Thane Kreiner. “Hosting the GSBI Accelerator social entrepreneurs here in Silicon Valley is significant because this region has that special ‘jet fuel’ for entrepreneurs that you can’t find anywhere else.”

Miller Center puts special emphasis on social enterprises working to empower poor women and girls – particularly those in areas affected by climate change. Of the social enterprises in this year’s GSBI Accelerator cohort, eight are women-led or specifically benefit women, and six focus on resilience to climate change.

The Keys to Good Mentorship for Global Entrepreneurs by Catherine Cheney

The Keys to Good Mentorship for Global Entrepreneurs by Catherine Cheney



Originally published on by Catherine Cheney

Since the launch of Y Combinator, which wrapped up its Demo Days Wednesday, there have been many iterations accelerator and incubator models.

Given the growing acknowledgement that global entrepreneurship is essential for global development, and the role that accelerators are playing in helping founders all over the world to scale their startups, the global development community is likely to invest more heavily in those programs, which often have a mentorship component.

While efforts are underway to determine the effectiveness of accelerators, and best practices are emerging, it is becoming clear that the key to good mentorship is the depth of the relationship.

The best relationships are those that continue

Bob Macdonald, a technical program manager at Google, watched, nodded and applauded with other members of the audience as each of the entrepreneurs stepped into and out of the spotlight at the investor showcase hosted by the Global Social Benefit Institute last week. But his face really lit up when a man stepped on the stage to talk about his software technology company that aims to turn farmers into entrepreneurs. Macdonald, who has been a mentor with this accelerator based at the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University for the past 10 years, has spent the past eight months working with Farmerline cofounder and CEO Alloysius Attah.

Over the past decade, GSBI has developed a litmus test for mentoring chemistry. The program seeks mentors with strong business and operational experience who will maximize what amounts to 300 hours of individualized support per entrepreneur over the course of 10 months. The best mentors, according to GSBI program staff, strike the right balance of challenging and encouraging entrepreneurs. They are humble and respectful and active listeners. They work with entrepreneurs to find the right answers rather than thinking they have all the answers.

The most effective mentors become trusted advisors, and Macdonald has evolved into that role for GSBI entrepreneurs from years past, providing an example of why the best mentoring relationships are those that continue.

“The GSBI leadership look for matches where this company could really use help, in driving sales or in expanding their supply chain or in figuring out distribution, and try to make those assignments in a way that the two mentors working with the entrepreneur bring complementary backgrounds to the table,” Macdonald told Devex. His work with Farmerline builds on his experience mentoring entrepreneurs with businesses that are either headquartered in Ghana or using phones to make transactions more efficient.

“A good mentor is somebody that knows how to listen and to give advice, based on his or her experience, when it's applicable,” Aldo Aguirre, who directs Techstars startup programs in Latin America, the United States and Canada, told Devex via email. “A good mentor makes sure that they understand what the entrepreneur is trying to accomplish, and that his or her actions and plans are consistent and congruent and will help them get to the point they want to.”

The value of a serial entrepreneur

Whereas some accelerators tend to see inherent value in mentors who have worked with big companies, what matters more is how the experiences mentors have might add value for these startups, said Sonali Mehta-Rao, co-founder of the India-based mobile phone solutions and services company Awaaz.De. Plus, some accelerators will list big name mentors without any guarantees that they will make themselves available to entrepreneurs in the program, she said.

“The archetype we look for in a mentor is a serial entrepreneur, someone who has done it over and over again, and from a high level can provide guidance and strategy,” said Will Butler, who oversees mentorship at the Unreasonable Institute, an international accelerator headquartered in Boulder, Colorado. “They may also have domain expertise, like scaling a clean energy company, but in general these are people who know how to launch businesses and have done it time and time again.”

At the center of any strong mentoring relationship is empathy, Butler said, also emphasizing what a change it makes when mentors see their role not only as giving, but also gaining, from a relationship that evolves into a real partnership.

“I see the relationship more as a two way dialogue and learning between two mission-aligned human beings passionate about bringing positive change to the world and learning from each other,” Radhika Shah, co-founder of Stanford Angels and Entrepreneurs, said of her mentoring relationships.

A common line among emerging market entrepreneurs is that mentorship is more valuable than money. But Vava Angwenyi, founder and “chief coffaholic” at Vava Coffee in Kenya, who said she appreciates any offers of mentorship, also explained that she has limited time and bandwidth and can only pursue those mentoring relationships that can help her get what she really needs. At this point that is funding.

The pitch is only a small part of it

Mentorship networks are demonstrating their value in helping young professionals in developing countries realize their full potential, what emerging market entrepreneurs often seek in mentorship driven accelerators is help turning connections into capital.

“It's all about building and growing great businesses that solve real problems, generate and recuperate value,” said Techstars’ Aguirre. “The pitch is just a small part of it. It's learning how to adequately share what your business is, how it does it, and why it's a great opportunity for investors and others to join them somehow.”

The GSBI curriculum, which guides mentors and entrepreneurs through modules of the program, outlines how startups should ask for funding. The pitch has to make sense in terms of the type and amount of capital being sought and the ask must be justified by a financial model and growth plan. And over time those guidelines have evolved into encouraging entrepreneurs to ask for the appropriate capital to meet the needs based on the stage of their startups.

“We are guiding them to ask for the appropriate capital for where their business is, and not just throwing equity out there when they have the chance of getting equity or talking about a grant when they really should be looking for debt capital,” John Kohler, the director of impact capital at the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, told Devex.

One of the investors in the audience last week was Michael MacHarg, who serves as senior advisor to the social ventures team at the global humanitarian agency Mercy Corps, which is part of a coalition of more than 45 NGOs engaging in or exploring impact investing. MacHarg explained that while some people tend to dismiss grants as gifts rather than investments, grants that go into organizations that will eventually be sustainable are what he calls high performing grants.

While Kohler emphasizes that all kinds of funding, including grants, are investments in a social enterprise, he wants organizations to look to grants, and consider NGOs as partners, in order to scale to the point where they can build an earned income side of what they do to in order to be sustainable.

Going beyond constructive criticism

A week before the investor showcase, Michael Lwin, the co founder of Koe Koe Tech, a social enterprise that creates websites and applications for the health sector in Myanmar, met with his mentors to go over his presentation on the maymay app, which provides information on maternal and child health.

His mentors made the most of every minute. They did not let a single bullet nor slide go by without commenting on ways to improve upon them, even if that meant removing them entirely, as Lwin made live edits. Throughout the meeting, they pulled out their iPhone calculator apps, or scribbled in their notepads. They emphasized the importance of sequencing, moving from the problem to the theory of change to the opportunity. They eliminated distractions and emphasized differentiators.

“For lack of a better term the communication culture in and around Silicon Valley is fairly unique,”Jeff Miller, who started as a GSBI mentor then gave the university $25 million to support its efforts to apply innovation and entrepreneurship to global development challenges, told Devex. “It is very direct and it is not necessarily for the faint of heart.”

Leading up to the investor showcase, Miller sat in on the business model review, mock investor presentation, and operations review for Koe Koe Tech, where he drew on a communications style he developed in his time at Intel: “constructive confrontation.”

“We would ask Michael a straightforward question and get about a ten minute answer,” he said, about Koe Koe Tech’s Lwin. “I told Michael, ‘One of your issues is you know too much. You’re too smart.’ He looked at me like, ‘How are those bad things?’ I said, ‘We can’t take it all in. Tell me what I need to know at a high level. I don’t have enough context to handle all the detail. But you need to make me understand it in one or two sentences.’”

“I just got steamrolled,” Lwin told Devex, laughing as he reflected on the model of mentorship that prepared him for his presentation at the investor showcase.  “But for me that is the value. Don’t be nice. I have friends who can be nice to me.”

The strategy worked. Following Lwin’s presentation, Devex caught up with Tim Morgan, an impact investor with TriLinc Global in Manhattan Beach, California, whose immediate takeaway was that he was impressed with how the global entrepreneurs had learned to speak the language that Silicon Valley investors are used to hearing.

In a recent report on best practices in startup acceleration, Village Capital executive director Ross Baird advised entrepreneurs to ask accelerators who their mentors are and what they will be doing rather than taking their word on mentorship being central to their programs.

“We are not seeing the expected relationships between time spent with mentors and program outcomes,” he wrote. “If I had to place a bet on where this research will go in the future, I would say that who we recruit is extremely important, and that entrepreneurs will want to know how we plan to expand their networks during our programs.”

14 Noteworthy Social Ventures Looking To Scale - by Devin Thorpe

14 Noteworthy Social Ventures Looking To Scale - by Devin Thorpe

Originally published on by Devin Thorpe

The Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University runs the GSBI Accelerator for social entrepreneurs from around the world. The ten-month program culminates in a few weeks on campus in Silicon Valley, ending with a traditional entrepreneurial demo day. The Center hosted me so I could meet their 14 entrepreneurs.

This is an impressive crop from almost every corner of the globe working around the developing world. From selling water in Mexico to selling weather reports in Ghana, the enterprises came not with business plans but with history and data to support their impact.

The ventures come in a variety of forms, some structured as nonprofits, others as for-profit ventures while some have set up hybrid structures. All have achieved sufficient scale to suggest the potential to impact a lot of people. Typically, they have a vision of reaching at least ten million within ten years.

Here is a quick run down of all 14 ventures based on their presentations and my interviews with each one of them.

All Across Africa

We imagine artisans in the developing world toiling away at their trade to earn a living selling one basket at a time. The trouble is, that is a crummy way to earn a living. All Across Africa, a for-profit social enterprise, uses US-based designers to conjure products that major corporations buy by the thousands. The company sources the products in Africa using artisans producing exactly to the design standards who then receive consistent work and income. Now, that’s a great way to earn a living.

Koe Koe Tech

Myanmar doesn’t fit all of the stereotypes of the developing world. The country had virtually no functional cell phone network before 2014. As a result, when one was introduced, virtually everyone bought a smart phone. Unlike other markets in the developing world where most people are limited to feature phones or have smart phones but can’t afford data plans, people in Myanmar use their smartphones. In part, this results from the Facebook “Free Basics” program that gives low income people access to free data and a set of apps pre-installed on the phones. Michael Lwin, a Myanmar American lawyer, saw the situation and paired it to a national travesty, an infant mortality rate that was the worst in the region, about ten-times worse than the U.S. (which, by the way, isn’t the gold standard for infant mortality). He created Koe Koe Tech to help mothers track their pregnancies and care for their children for the first two years of life. Just launched less than three months ago, the app already has 40,000 users, representing about 5 percent of the pregnancies in Myanmar.

Pollinate Energy

Unbelievably, some people in India are considred by aid organizations to be too poor to help. While millions of Indians live in slums with poor infrastructure, questionable title to their tin-roofed homes and jobs that fail to provide for basic incomes, millions more aspire to such a lifestyle. The poorest live in slums where the residents live in tents, have no access to electricity and no prospect for getting title to the land where they are squatting. No one, it seems, would help them until two young women from Australia created Pollinate Energy to sell them solar powered lamps–on credit. It turns out, these people no one would help, pay their bills 99 percent of the time and the business is thriving. This powerful lesson could be a boon to millions of people, but it certainly is good for Emma Colenbrander and Alexie Seller, the founders of Pollinate Energy.




Tania Laden, a Stanford grad working in Kenya, realized there was a problem in Kenya when 75 percent of those engaged in post-election violence were deemed to be unemployed youth. She knew that young people their age in Silicon Velley were doing things like launching businesses while young people in Kenya had no prospects. Initially, they tried teaching youth entrepreneurship and even financed startups. Ultimately, they learned that most of them didn’t want to entrepreneurs; they just wanted jobs. She’d committed to stay in Kenya for three months; five years later she’s still there helping to run LivelyHoods, a nonprofit that now hires youth to sell solar products in slums, providing employment opportunities for young people and enhancing the lives of the consumers who buy their products. With twelve branches in two cities, they have created over 900 jobs with plans to triple that by 2020.

Vava Coffee

Vava Angwenyi loves coffee. She is especially proud of the coffee in her native Kenya. She launched Vava Coffee to buy and export some of the country’s finest coffee from small-holder farmers who have traditionally lacked access to fair markets. These vulnerable people have been victims of the market as much as particpants in it. Vava works with them to assure them a fair price for their coffee and proudly exports it.



NUCAFE (National Union of Coffee Agribusinesses and Farm Enterprises)

Joseph Nkandu was born on a coffee farm in Uganda and grew up watching his parents struggle to keep the family fed and him in school. Now a university graduate, he leads a national effort to give small-holder farmers the ability to earn a fair living from growing coffee. Small farmers are often forced to sell their crops at deep discounts while still on the plant. Joseph’s NUCAFE is a national association of farmers who now own a processing plant that may completely change their lives, The plant could allow them to pay fair fees for preparing their coffee for export. Soon they will be able sell a finished product at the top of the value chain, capturing most of the difference.


What does a serial entrepreneur do after he’s made a fortune? Ravi Agarwal, who was born and made his fortune in Boston, spent time volunteering in Africa before deciding to create a global technology business to serve the base of the pyramid, the world’s poor. Without access to the internet, no one had an effective or affordable way to reach 5 billion people. NGOs and others wanting to communicate with the people they serve can’t. At least they couldn’t until Ravi created engageSpark to allow everyone affordable access to effective ways to engage with people whose only way to communicate is talking or texting via old style feature phones with no internet access. The new low-cost interactive voice response and texting service allows NGOs to help people more effectively.


Imagine running an NGO that serves rural people living in low income villages in the developing world. How would you communicate with your customers? Most do not have any access to the Internet. While a few have smart phones, they can scarcely afford the data plans to use them., meaning to “give voice” offers a low-cost communications platform that enables SMS and interactive voice response system that enables nonprofits to reach the people they serve effectively. Now, an nonprofit providing maternal healthcare services can send appointment reminders, nutritional coaching and get health data in response from the women it serves.

Cantaro Azul

What if there were a way to deliver clean drinking water to more people who lack it while creating a business opportunity for disadvantaged women at the same time? Cantaro Azul asked this question and found the answer was “yes.” By producing the clean water in small facilities closer to the people they serve in rural and suburban Mexico, and employing women to sell it, they can undercut market prices by 20 to 40 percent. The lower price allows the company to reach more people. As they do so, the sales force earns a living at the same time communities benefit from improved health.


What do you do when saving lives becomes more important than finishing your PhD. Shantanu Pathak started his PhD in Public Health shortly after a friend, Shilpa Munda, almost died from pregnancy-related hypertension. He realized that something must be done to improve maternal health outcomes. He created a kit that could be used at the doorstep to monitor basic maternity metrics using a smart phone. His kit, which fits in a small briefcase, can be carried door to door and allows a modestly trainer user to check vital signs, measure the fetal heart rate and even do a spot check with a urine sample to help doctors screen for high-risk pregnancies. In a pilot with just 20 door-to-door health workers, over 1500 pregnancies were tracked–including 700 high risk ones–with an increase of high-risk pregancies identified of 23 percent, suggesting that some lives may already have been saved. Pathak hasn’t officially ended his studies, but told me, “My prof is like, I know you’re not going to do it, but see if you can.”

Noora Health

There is a proud professor at Stanford, I suspect. Katy Ashe was taking a design course there that included a class project in India. She and a few classmates went to Bangalore and spent time in a hospital observing and talking to patients and staff. They observed an interesting dichotomy. Hallways and grounds were overrun with family members of patients waiting for short visitation windows and then to take their loved ones home. At the same time, the hospitals were understaffed. To add insult to injury, patients were often sent home with limited–if any–home-care instructions, resulting in lots of complications, return visits to the hospital and some deaths. Ashe and her colleagues conceived that during the hospital stay, the family members could be effectively trained to provide required home care. The executed a low-budget proof of concept. After a dangerous stint in South America, Ashe returned to Palo Alto only to learn that her project had proven so effective that the hospital was clamouring for her to return. She did, creating Noora Health to formalize and extend the training provided to family members. They have now trained over 50,000 family members, reducing 30-day complication rates by 71% and saving countless lives in the process. Let’s just say, I hope Ashe got an A on her project.




Will illiterate small holder farmers living in Ghana pay for access to weather information, agricultural tips and market pricing data? Alloysius Attah thought they would, provided that the information were provided in an accessible manner. Because they can receive calls for free, Attah created a system that would call the farmers with the information they need. At just $7 per year, Farmerline can provide its full three-tiered service with weather, tips and market data. Farmers report increasing their profits by 50 percent, easily justifying the annual fee.

Attah, it turns out, was raised on a farm but hates farming. He taught himself to code in college while studying natural resource management. He’s always wanted to get away from farming. Perhaps it was that fundamental desire that enabled him to create a tool that will make farming easier and more productive for his fellow Ghanaians.


“You can’t get anything out of frustrated young people but revolution,” says Mohamed El-Kamal, managing director of Alashanek ya Balady (roughly translated as “For you, my beloved country”). The nonprofit organization survived the revolution in Egypt, giving the organization an even greater sense of purpose as the country struggles to recover. The organization works with young people ages 21 to 35 to help them become more self-reliant. Over the years, 35,000 people have been trained, 8,000 have obtained jobs and 22,000 have started businesses with help from AYB. El-Kamal says that he is working to create systemic change. El-Kamal says that when young people find employment, they contribute more to their families, their communities and their country.


If you can read this article, it is likely hard to imagine life without electricity. We completely take it for granted. Despite its importance in our lives, Marc Henrich was surprised when he had the opportunity to introduce solar lamps to off-grid villages in Central America. He quickly learned from the villagers what should not shock any of us: having access to electricity was life changing. Before long, Henrich abandoned his crowdfunding website and created Solubrite to distribute solar powered lamps and other products to people without access to power. Partnering with microfinance institutions, he sells everything from individual lamps up to commercial freezers (that double a store’s profits, he says) in Nicaragua and Panama, already reaching almost 50,000 people.

Devin Thorpe, Champion of Social Good, is a new media journalist and Forbes Contributor who covers social entrepreneurship and impact investing. He is also author of five books on using money for good and a popular speaker. Learn more at

Bridging two worlds at the 2nd Vatican conference on impact investing

Bridging two worlds at the 2nd Vatican conference on impact investing

Originally posted on by John Kohler 29 July 2016



It’s not often that discussions of earned income share space with discussions of faith-based missions to help the poor. Yet bridging the worlds of impact investing and Catholic social ministries was the goal of the recent second Vatican Impact Investing Conference. And while that linkage and the entire field of impact investing are still evolving, this conference demonstrated that some real progress is being made.

The VIIC was preceded by a two-and-a-half day pre-conference workshop designed to help top-level Catholic Church leaders become steeped in the language (i.e., jargon) and concepts of impact investing, social enterprises, and business in general. So, when the VIIC itself began, it was easier for all the participants to delve more deeply into impact investing details as they related to the conference theme: celebrating the Extraordinary Year of Mercy.

Catholic social ministries often already operate as businesses

What may come as a surprise to some, is that Catholic bishops, cardinals and nuns know considerably more about business concepts than they are given credit for, according to a survey of pre-conference attendees designed by conference hosts Catholic Relief Services and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. They might not know how to define working capital or what free cash flow means, but they were mostly aware of basic accounting principles such as profit and loss statements.

The survey also revealed that many organizations operating as Catholic social ministries could also be considered businesses, though they sometimes operate in disguise. Their stated purpose is to administer social teachings on the ground, but in fact they often are engaged in profit-generating activities that are financially self-sustaining.

For example, one bishop from the Middle East described how he had bought a sewing machine, given it to a woman, taught her to sew, and hired her to provide sewing services in the community. The woman received a regular livelihood, fulfilling the Catholic social mission of helping the poor and empowering women — and the bishop’s mission generated enough profit to buy another sewing machine and add another woman to the operation. They continue to add more profit, and more women to their sewing services operation. By any definition, this is a social enterprise.

Social ministries find common ground with impact investing

Traditionally, Catholic social ministries have taken the view that their contributed income donor models are fundamentally incompatible with business-based approaches and earned income.

But impact investing, which means investments that consider social and environmental impact alongside financial return, engenders considerable enthusiasm within the Catholic Church. In an audience with VIIC participants, Pope Francis praised the idea of impact investing.

“The logic underlying these innovative forms of intervention is one which acknowledges the ultimate connection between profit and solidarity, the virtuous circle existing between profit and gift,” Pope Francis said.

Church leaders also discovered common ground with impact investing in the metrics they use to measure social impact. Beneficial outcomes ascribed to Catholic social ministries map closely to the IRIS index, the catalog of generally accepted performance metrics used by impact investors to measure social, environmental, and financial performance.

From there, it’s a small sidestep to see ways to apply IRIS metrics to Catholic social ministries in the field. Both address the same needs — poverty, advancement of women, and environmental challenges, particularly the negative effects of climate change — and measure beneficial outcomes in terms of favorable social and environmental impacts.

It’s still a work in process

Despite the recognition that the objectives of the Catholic Church’s social ministries and of impact investors are more convergent than divergent, one of the things not discussed at VIIC is the largely unspoken friction between purpose and profit.

As Mike Quinn, the Group CEO of African financial technology business Zoona said at the conference: “Purpose and profit are not opposing forces, but purpose must come first.” Or at least, it should come first if Catholic social ministries and impact investors are to work together effectively to serve the poor.

Catholic social ministries need to learn more about the ways in which impact investing can not only can be compatible with their missions, but can also fuel their effectiveness. And the impact investing field — which is still in its infancy — needs to clarify the balance between purpose, or the positive social and environmental outcomes they are measuring, and profit, which is necessary to sustain any viable business enterprise.

Progress will not be easy. Obviously, most people working in Catholic and other faith-based social ministries throughout the world did not attend the Vatican conference. Reaching them with these new ideas will take time and concerted effort.

One next step is to identify social ministries that could potentially benefit from impact investing. CRS, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, and many other organizations are working to do that.

Looking at each of the thousands of social ministries, we can ask: Is this something that could move from contributed income to earned, sustainable income? Can it grow — and does it want to grow? Would it benefit from impact investment, or is it happy being a bakeshop in a local village and providing income to a handful of women?

These are all important questions that I hope will be raised at future conferences and discussions between the Catholic Church and impact investing communities. We’ve begun to build the bridge, but it’s still shrouded in a kind of mist. Our task is to dispel the mist as we continue to build and strengthen the bridge.

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