As an MBA student at Santa Clara University in 2009, I was drawn to social entrepreneurship because it represented a novel approach to old, seemingly insurmountable challenges — business leaders solving the problems affecting the most underserved and underrepresented in traditional markets. While nascent, the sector still holds tremendous potential for real, scalable solutions for creating climate resilience across communities and economic empowerment for the most marginalized.

While I joined the Center to participate in the potential solutions to poverty — countermeasures to the broken systems in and around international development, capitalism, globalization, and climate change— in doing so I also learned how injured and in need of repair all of the systems around us are. White supremacist and patriarchal ways of working and being are stronghold vestiges throughout Silicon Valley, corporations, institutions of higher learning, nonprofit teams and their boards and funders, local and international governments, and likely, most households. Wealth accumulation continues to deepen economic inequality in every community. And in the same way we call attention to the broken systems of international aid and traditional entrepreneurship and say, “we can do better,” we must also recognize the way in which the systems of white supremacy, patriarchy, colonialism, and broken markets are being manifested all around us and challenge that, too.

Until we recognize there is a problem, we cannot attempt to change and improve. We must listen to each other when we call attention to these problems and attempt to understand and try new approaches. We should not accept the status quo and assume it exists in such a way because somebody smarter or more accomplished knew better, or that it should be, or let our imposter syndrome stand in the way of challenging things and asking for more. And if we say the system is working, we should ask ourselves, who is it working for? We are the change we have been waiting for. So let’s bring a fresh take on all of it.

Lessons Learned

After nearly 12 years at Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University, running accelerator programs for social entrepreneurs around the world, I’ve learned these things to be true…

Love is everything.

Whenever I’m asked, “what do you enjoy most about working at the Center?”, or, “what has kept you at the Center for so long?”, I answer honestly, “It’s the people”. The Center brings together some amazingly generous, well-intentioned, smart, accomplished, and hopeful people. People who I aspire to be more like, people I want to work alongside, people who inspire me, and people who share and expand my vision for what the world should be like. I’ve witnessed first-hand the power of individuals, small groups, and communities to make a difference. It’s impossible to say exactly how much closer we are to “ending poverty and protecting the planet” than 12 years ago. But I know for sure that the people who have come together to support and take part in the mission at Miller Center have changed each other’s lives for the better, and that as a result we are better humans to those around us, doing better work, and that in turn has created small ripples of goodness that will continue permeating throughout our communities in immeasurable, positive, and magical ways. Miller Center has amplified love. While I can’t measure that or express it in a KPI, I’ve felt it through and through. And I agree fully with the wise Antoine de Saint-Exupéry when he wrote, “The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched, they are felt with the heart.”

The status quo is broken.

If the idea that the status quo is broken sounds wrong to you, consider this data:

Last year, the World Bank reported ”Between 88 million and 115 million additional people will be pushed into extreme poverty in 2020, bringing the total to between 703 and 729 million living on less than $1.90 a day. The extreme poverty rate will be 9.1 to 9.4 percent, taking us back three years to 2017 levels. An additional increase of between 23 million and 35 million in 2021 could bring the total number of new poor to between 110 million and 150 million.”

“America’s top 10 percent now average more than nine times as much income as the bottom 90 percent, according to data analyzed by UC Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez. Americans in the top 1 percent tower stunningly higher. They average over 39 times more income than the bottom 90 percent. But that gap pales in comparison to the divide between the nation’s top 0.1 percent and everyone else. Americans at this lofty level are taking in over 196 times the income of the bottom 90 percent.” —Inequality.org

As reported in the Guardian, “A white founder is 47,000% more likely to be funded in Kenya than in the US, the Seattle-based author and entrepreneur Roble Musse calculated based on 2018 disclosures. White people make up less than 1% of the population. He discovered that 65% of expatriate founders – mainly from the US, the UK, Italy, Denmark and Germany – had not even lived in Kenya before they started their companies.”

“The presence of a female founder on the team actually increases the amount of funds raised, but only when the company is led by a male CEO. On the other hand, companies led by female CEOs consistently raise substantially less funds than firms led by male CEOs. Silicon Valley was one of few geographies identified where the presence of a non-CEO female founder correlates with lower funding outcomes than male-only teams, suggesting a higher than usual gender bias in the San Francisco Bay Area.” —Maya Ackerman, Assistant Professor, Department of Computer Science and Engineering at Santa Clara University

Mentorship makes a difference. 

Wisdom is passed between people over generations and through cultures — this is how we survive and evolve as a species. The specific attention and detail shared from one person to another through a thoughtful approach backed by experience is a manifestation of the same thing. Miller Center’s accelerator program was created initially by Silicon Valley folks who participated in a culture of mentorship, the sharing of tacit knowledge that cannot be searched for or looked up, certainly by busy entrepreneurs doing brand new things. It’s how the Valley was built, and the hope of Miller Center’s founders was to use mentorship to help build the social entrepreneurship sector as well. Since 2003, over 1,300 social entrepreneurs have tapped into mentorship to help propel their missions forward, and program after program, mentorship is what program participants identify as the biggest benefit of Miller Center. More than the curriculum, introductions, webinars, events, and press, it’s the dedication of one’s time and attention towards the dreams and challenges of another over an extended time that makes our programs stand out. And as a recipient of the care, listening, curiosity, expertise, and finesse shared by our unparalleled mentor network, it truly accelerates one’s personal growth and capabilities and provides a psychological safety that doesn’t always exist in the headspace of a leader. Simply put, the dedication of oneself through the passage of interest, curiosity, wisdom, and expertise towards another person creates lasting, meaningful impact.

To the community connected through Miller Center’s mission, my heart thanks you. As I move on from Santa Clara University and Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship as an employee, and into another mission-driven organization working to end homelessness in Silicon Valley, Destination: Home, I know we remain connected through our collective efforts to repair what is broken, help others, and love generously.