A Note from Executive Director, Brigit Helms
On a family trip to Washington DC this summer, I was struck by this quote at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial:
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr.
We live in an increasingly interconnected world, and that’s never been more evident than over the past year and a half with the dual scourges of the global pandemic and racial violence. Without a doubt, this has been one of the most difficult years many of us have faced in our lifetimes — obviously far worse for the most marginalized and vulnerable among us.
Yet, that interconnectedness also provides opportunities for meaningful change. Together we can weave the fabric of impact so that our “single garment of destiny” becomes one of strength, resilience, and inclusiveness. Social entrepreneurship is doing just that. Social enterprises globally have stepped up to face our collective challenges, fostering livelihoods, dignity, and wellbeing for those they serve. Miller Center is proud to be a part of the solution — accelerating social entrepreneurship to end global poverty and create a more humane, just, and sustainable world.
To that end, the Miller Center team engaged in a strategic visioning process during FY21, building on our past success to scale our impact. Interestingly, the pandemic actually enabled us to include a broader swath of stakeholders in our strategy-building process. Working in the Zoom-osphere, we involved nearly 100 stakeholders from around the world.
As a result, we aspire to literally double down — to achieve the same depth of impact by 2025 that we have attained over our 18-year history via four core approaches:
- Focus on locally-led, scalable and replicable social enterprises tackling women’s economic empowerment and climate resilience
- Leverage impact investment, partnerships, technology, and Santa Clara University resources to multiply and amplify our impact
- Diversify the voices and perspectives we take into consideration at all levels of the organization with an ardent commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion
- Learn by continuously interrogating what works and applying this learning
These strategies build on our strong foundation and are interwoven into a self-reinforcing virtuous cycle. For example, building climate resilience has an enormous impact on women who are often most vulnerable to the climate crisis. Focusing on diversity and inclusion helps us more effectively support local leaders who are best positioned to solve problems in their communities. Engaging with significantly more Santa Clara University students supports the growth of social entrepreneurs worldwide while also cultivating the next generation of changemakers. And those are just a few examples.
The stories shared in this annual report provide a glimpse into how we are bringing together the strands of our strategy to create a stronger whole. We invite you to join us in weaving the fabric of impact.
Warmly, Brigit Helms, Executive Director
Empowering Women through Sustainable Aquaculture
Although Kenya occupies only about 5% of Lake Victoria’s shoreline, Angela Odero, Director and Co-founder of Rio Fish, remembers an abundance of fish when visiting her grandmother’s lakeside village as a child. However, Kenya’s fish supply has plummeted sharply due to unsustainable fishing practices, pollution, and changing climate conditions. Since men control fishing in Kenya, this scarcity has led to a practice known as “jaboya,” where fishermen demand sex from women traders in exchange for fish allocation.
Angela co-founded Rio Fish to tackle these interconnected problems of scarcity of fish and sexual exploitation. Through sustainable tilapia farming, the enterprise is not only increasing local food and nutrition security, but protecting women, restoring their dignity, and fostering their economic empowerment. Launched in 2014 as a family-run business, Rio Fish expanded by recruiting the community’s women and youth into fish farming and trading to improve their livelihoods.
The company has continued to grow and innovate — creating a central market for fish that also provides safe and easy access to fish for the traders and consumers. The enterprise has developed independently owned franchise outlets run under the Rio Fish brand with standardized pricing and quality control. In addition, its mobile app supports climate-smart initiatives and data-led smart farming by helping the farmers monitor their fish farms, reduce post-harvest losses, and connect with suppliers and traders.
Angela was one of 14 social entrepreneurs to graduate from Miller Center’s African Food Systems Accelerator in March 2021, which focused on enterprises building climate resilience through tech-enabled agriculture. She credits her Miller Center executive coach with teaching her invaluable management skills and her mentors with helping to provide business clarity and improved investment readiness. According to Angela, “Participating in the Food Systems accelerator is the best thing that has happened to us since we started as a company…It’s like something that lives with you forever.”
At the heart of its operations are environmental and economic sustainability and community empowerment, especially for women and youth. Of the company’s 35 employees, approximately 80% are women. Rio Fish also oversees eight outlets in the region — all women- or youth-owned — supporting 200 fish farmers. And 500 women traders safely source their fish from Rio. As Angela notes, “Rio Fish is dedicated to supporting sustainable livelihoods and increasing food security in the region. Our business model acts as a rising tide for the aquaculture community."
Literally Weaving the Fabric of Impact
Someone Somewhere is literally weaving the fabric of impact — working with artisan weavers and embroiderers in Mexico to retain their traditional crafts while providing sustainable livelihoods. According to CEO Antonio Nuño, “Our mission is to contribute to the welfare of artisans by integrating their traditional work in innovative products that generate consistent and equitable labor opportunities.”
Launched in 2014 by Antonio and co-founders Fátima Álvarez and Enrique Rodríguez, Someone Somewhere is a digitally native lifestyle brand for global adventurers. Through their ecologically balanced, culturally sensitive products, the company connects artisans with conscientious consumers throughout Mexico and the US — generating one hour of work for every seven visitors to their website. These artisans have seen a 300% increase in their monthly income and report improved skills, self-esteem, and family wellbeing.
Antonio first connected with Miller Center at one of our social entrepreneurship workshops held in Mexico in 2015. He has since participated in two of our accelerator programs, commenting that, “Through Miller Center’s support and mentorship, we have become more resilient and more prepared to overcome every challenge.” While COVID has hit hard everywhere, the company has remained strong. According to Fátima, co-founder and Chief Impact Officer, “Since the pandemic began, we have generated more than 100,000 hours of work for rural artisans.” And Antonio was recently recognized as one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business 2021 for Someone Somewhere’s rapidly growing B2B business.
This year, Antonio joined Miller Center’s Social Enterprise Advisory Council to share his expertise and insight as a successful social entrepreneur and local leader with our team. We are proud to partner with this innovative organization as they create meaningful impact, lifting artisans out of poverty. As Fátima articulated, “the hundreds of Mexican artisans we work with are the heart and soul of our products.” Likewise, social enterprises like Someone Somewhere are the heart and soul of Miller Center’s work. ¡Tú mejoras el mundo!
Read Someone Somewhere’s Impact Report 2020, which includes a prologue by Jeff and Karen Miller.
Scaling Dignified Livelihoods: A Journey to a Million Dreams
Before co-founding SAI-Sustainable Agro, Jitendra spent much of his career in leading international development projects to help marginalized communities in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. He shared, “Many of those projects were wonderful but short-lived and unsustainable. The benefits of the many projects could not be carried forward. I wanted to build a self-sustaining and self-managed model, managed by local people.” He and his wife, Shivani Sinha, co-founded SAI in 2013 to do just that.
SAI's agroforestry model addresses the two plights that tribal and marginalized farmers face: poverty and land alienation. By partnering with farmers, SAI helps them reclaim their degraded land and ensures sustainable income and nutritional security for them and their families. The model combines planting regenerative trees in paired rows with intercropping of traditional food crops. Pulpwood from the trees provides income stability through SAI’s partners in the paper industry, and the intercrops provide nutritious food and additional seasonal income.
Much of the land owned by smallholder farmers is degraded. Agroforestry revives barren lands and helps combat climate change. To date, 2,200 SAI-trained farmers have cultivated over 3,500 acres of previously unproductive land and planted 2.5 million trees that contribute to carbon sequestration of more than 125,000 tons, thus contributing to a reduction in global warming.
As a first-time entrepreneur, Jitendra is grateful for the support of Miller Center over the years, beginning with the 2015 cohort. “I had the passion and was touched by the farmers’ lives and what they had to do to survive. Miller Center helped me build the skills, tools, and confidence to realize my dream.”
As the social enterprise grew, Jitendra envisioned scaling into Asia, Africa, and Latin America. He connected with Rob Shelton, Miller Center executive fellow and Scale Out program architect, in 2018. Rob notes, “The Scale Out program helps entrepreneurs work through potential barriers to scale and prevent costly mistakes. For Jitendra, one of the considerations for scaling meant finding suitable crops for differing climates and market demands.” The program also helped him think through his expansion model.
Today, Jitendra has successfully scaled into Ghana, South Africa, and Uganda by replicating SAI’s model through local social entrepreneurs. SAI offers up to 18 months of pro bono mentoring followed by ongoing field implementation support. Further, Jitendra is working to attract investment to these local social entrepreneurs. His mission is to impact one million marginalized farmers and family members through sustainable agroforestry by 2030. And he’s on his way — bringing dignity to farmers and life to degraded lands.
Recognizing that people living in poverty are disproportionately vulnerable to the climate crisis, Miller Center focuses on solutions that most directly address the nexus between environmental disasters and vulnerability among people living in poverty. According to the World Bank, climate change has not slowed down, and its connection with human wellbeing and poverty is increasingly visible. Unchecked, it will push 132 million people into poverty over the next ten years, undoing hard-won development gains.
We support social enterprises focused on reducing disaster risk and/or mitigating and adapting to the climate crisis to improve lives and alleviate poverty with solutions focused on:
- Clean energy — providing access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy
- Safe water — ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation
- Climate-smart agriculture — implementing sustainable food production systems and resilient agricultural practices to increase productivity and production
In June, we announced the 2021 Miller Center Climate Resilience Asia Pacific Accelerator, supported by Chevron through a $250K grant. Eleven social entrepreneurs from Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam are participating in the six-month online program that combines our proven curriculum with immersive mentorship from global business leaders. Our partnership with Chevron, highlighted in this video, aligns with our ambition to eliminate global poverty and supports an affordable, reliable, and lower-carbon future.
Pictured: Easy Solar provides safe and reliable solar products to low-income rural households in Western Africa. With COVID disruptions, a Truss Fund loan in September 2020 provided a vital bridge that allowed Easy Solar to avoid furloughs and service disruptions while awaiting a large equity infusion from FMO.
Women’s Economic Empowerment
Social entrepreneurship offers some of the most compelling hope for women’s economic empowerment — as founders and leaders, customers, employees, and value chain contributors. Miller Center is committed to advancing women in all aspects of business by supporting social enterprises that create models of success for women.
In November 2020, we graduated our first cohort for women-led social enterprises, with 24 stellar entrepreneurs participating. Then in March 2021, we launched our largest cohort to date and first-ever Women’s Economic Empowerment Accelerator — taking a robust and holistic approach to helping women thrive economically. The 31 selected enterprises span Angola, Bangladesh, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Africa, Spain, Uganda, the US, Vietnam, and Zambia.
Our WEE program also offers one-on-one leadership coaching, gender inclusion training hosted by Value For Women, and an invitation from Santa Clara University’s Silicon Valley Executive Center to access its online leadership and management certificate course, Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team.
To highlight the interwoven possibilities that social enterprises offer for women, Brigit Helms authored a series of articles published in Times of Entrepreneurship.
Miller Center is committed to helping break the cycle of poverty for women, who, in turn, lift the living standards and wellbeing of entire communities.
Pictured: SAI Sustainable Agro. SAI provides opportunities for young women to stay in their communities rather than having to leave in search of work and risking exploitation.
Miller Center has a long history of ongoing support for social enterprises after completing one of our accelerators. Our new strategy builds on that support with a new robust set of offerings that include continuing resources, extra levels of customized support, and fostered and facilitated relationships — peer-to-peer, specialized mentoring, and external partnerships.
Among our alumni programs, we launched our Africa and Asia Leadership Circles. This 9-month program is a peer-to-peer forum that provides a mentored CEO support system to work through challenges, get impartial feedback, and become more confident decision-makers. We also developed an Impact Model Short Course to help our alumni further refine their impact model and metrics. The first course launched in August 2021.
Our new Social Enterprise Advisory Council, introduced in this video, is a vital part of our strategy — helping to inform our decisions with the voices of our customers and bring about our most ambitious outcomes. The eight outstanding entrepreneurs on our inaugural council hail from Cameroon, India, Kenya, Mexico, Uganda, and the US, with their impact also extending to Columbia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, and Tanzania. Each enterprise addresses women’s economic empowerment or climate resilience (often both), with businesses in sustainable farming, women’s health, water and sanitation, food security and nutrition, empowering artisans, and energy access. All of them are improving lives and lifting people out of poverty.
Pictured: Joseph Nkandu, founder and executive director of NUCAFE and member of our Advisory Council, welcomes Miller Center supporters on a tour. NUCAFE helps smallholder Ugandan coffee farmers earn higher prices by providing training, end-to-end processing, and direct access to better markets through the collective power of cooperatives.
Miller Center aims to be the go-to partner on the demand side of capital — through programs and partnerships across the capital spectrum — to ensure our social enterprise alumni have access to the right capital at the right time in their growth trajectories.
In response to the pandemic, Miller Center partnered with Beneficial Returns to launch the Truss Fund in spring 2020, providing emergency bridge loans to selected graduates of our accelerators. By fall 2020, we had awarded loans to ten of our high-impact social enterprise partners, all of which are still operating, with a few having grown. For four enterprises that were severely affected by subsequent COVID waves and lockdowns, we restructured loans to give them more time to recover. Approximately one-third of the funds lent have already been repaid.
We launched Truss Fund 2.0 in May 2021, with more than 20 Miller Center supporters already committing $1.6 million toward our $4 million goal. By the end of June, we had funded two social enterprise alumni, Doselva and True Moringa, with All Across Africa approved. Four more enterprises have advanced to the due diligence stage.
For All Across Africa, Santa Clara University students played key roles in advancing the organization to due diligence. Miller Center Intern Quinn Carr SCU ‘21, a Finance and International Business major, worked with Truss Fund staff to write the investment memo. And when the credit committee had questions about All Across Africa’s impact, research conducted by Fellows Christina Harris SCU ‘18 and Haley Harada SCU ‘18 during their fellowship provided answers by demonstrating the social impact of increased income on the enterprise’s artisans.
Our new Impact Investing Analyst Internship will provide Santa Clara students, like Quinn, with unique learning opportunities to apply investment analysis to help deploy real capital to social enterprises. And to help our alumni boost their investment readiness, we partnered with Duke University to incorporate its CASE Smart Impact Capital online training program into our accelerator curriculum.
Read our blog on the investment hurdles that social enterprises face and Miller Center’s approach to help connect them to appropriate capital.
Pictured: Manka Angwafo, founder and CEO of Grassland Cameroon and member of our Social Enterprise Advisory Council. Grassland leverages innovative financial tools and critical training to help farmers improve their productivity — increasing their yields and connecting them to preferred markets. With help from a Truss Fund loan in 2020, Grassland Cameroon has been able to grow during the pandemic.
Santa Clara University Engagement
To cultivate the next generation of changemakers, Miller Center is weaving social entrepreneurship into the DNA of Santa Clara University. We are engaging greater numbers of students and faculty in meaningful research and learning opportunities with social entrepreneurs while further incorporating social entrepreneurship into curricula across departments. By 2025, we aim to engage approximately 500 students per year through fellowships, internships, classes, and research.
In January 2021, 16 fellows graduated from our award-winning Miller Center Fellowship (formerly Global Social Benefit Fellowship), working remotely last summer for the first time due to the pandemic. Although travel restrictions required adjustments to the program, the fellows successfully completed high-impact projects and engaged deeply with eight social enterprises in East Africa and the US. Watch this video highlighting five key lessons learned by two of these fellows.
We also introduced the Miller Center Internship Program to provide students with relevant, hands-on projects — extending the value exchange with our social enterprise partners. In FY21, six students participated in our pilot. Kenji Ma SCU ‘22 interned with Baltimore-based social enterprise StreetWell, noting, “The Miller Center Internship was a great opportunity to apply the finance principles I’ve learned in the classroom to help solve real-world social issues that I’m passionate about.”
Engaging and supporting faculty is central to our student engagement goals. Faculty serve as a vital resource for students interested in social enterprise — exposing them to new ideas, theories, and purpose. Miller Center offers faculty grants, specialized programs, and opportunities to co-create research and curricula. In FY21, we developed a Faculty Innovation Workshop, delivered for the first time in July 2021 to 20 Santa Clara faculty members.
Our SCU engagement strategy aims to grow the Center’s tradition of action research excellence and service to others, and help develop leaders of competence, conscience, and compassion.
Pictured: During her 2019 fellowship with Eggpreneur, Avery James SCU ’20 learned about sustainable egg farming from founder and CEO Matt Dickson. Eggpreneur is working to reduce childhood malnutrition and increase household income for rural women in Kenya to break the cycle of poverty.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Miller Center is committed to increasing our capacity to support social justice by embracing a growth mindset and intentionally building diversity in our networks, equity in our processes, and an everyday comfort with challenging our assumptions and biases. Beginning in summer 2020, we embarked on a deep and reflective exploration of our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) practice. We formed a DEI working group to keep our center accountable, progressive, and on track.
To date, the Center has enacted new diversity hiring practices, developed and implemented inclusive language and image guidelines, and facilitated biweekly social justice forums, with our entire team to increase our knowledge and awareness. Over the first year, we held two racial justice workshops and 17 social justice forums collaborated on unconscious bias research, and published a Medium article on anti-racist efforts in the impact space. We are also focused on increasing the diversity of our team, advisory board, and mentor network.
Miller Center aspires to actively promote inclusiveness in our programs and within our culture. But we humbly recognize that DEI is a lifelong commitment, and the work is a continuous climb.
Pictured: The remarkable women social entrepreneurs, mentors, and staff of our 2019 In-Residence Accelerator cohort. Six of the eight women-led enterprises have participated in a subsequent program and/or hosted student fellows in 2020-2021. All continue to be part of our alumni network.
Impact Measurement and Management
As social entrepreneurship and impact investment continue to grow, so has demand for accountability in measuring social impact. Yet impact measurement and management (IMM) can be particularly challenging for intermediary organizations like Miller Center that don’t create impact directly but enable others to do so. We aim to increase the rigor of the impact we report by understanding and measuring the added value Miller Center contributes to social enterprises and their work. Read our IMM blog on the challenges for intermediaries and our approach.
Measuring our impact requires that we collect accurate data from our social enterprise alumni. To this end, we are developing better integration of IMM into our programs and post-program support. We are integrating an impact tracking platform into our programs, making this capability available to social entrepreneurs on an ongoing basis. This platform will allow our social enterprise alumni to manage and communicate their impact to their funders and other stakeholders. Their dashboards will then roll up into the Miller Center dashboard that we use to track and report the cumulative effect of our acceleration programs, providing seamless integration into our knowledge base.
We have partnered with Sopact, a technology-based social enterprise committed to helping organizations measure impact by directly involving their stakeholders. Using ImpactCloud, their cloud-based platform, they are helping Miller Center implement an end-to-end impact measurement and management process, with two pilot projects launching in the first half of FY2022.
Pictured: Women entrepreneurs with Empower Generation, now part of Pollinate Group. Pollinate empowers women as leaders of change to distribute household products that improve health and save time and money for some of the world's most neglected communities. Building on Pollinate Group's long history with Miller Center, CEO Sujatha Ramani recently completed our first Women's Economic Empowerment Accelerator.
Join Us and Be Part of the Solution
Daily, we witness the transformative impact of social entrepreneurship. We hope you are inspired by the stories in this report.
With the world at an inflection point, our work is more important than ever — accelerating social enterprises to end poverty and build climate resilience within the most vulnerable populations around the world.
We invite you to join us in being part of the solution.
- Become a donor. Your gift is an investment in solving the world’s most pressing problems and cultivating the next generation of changemakers.
- Become a mentor. Share your expertise as a trusted advisor to accompany remarkable social entrepreneurs in growth.
Together we can achieve outsized impact!