Executive Director, Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship

September 8, 2015

“The Global Social Benefit Institute Accelerator program is better than an MBA.” So said Jonathan Mativo of Kenya, Executive Director of ICT For Development, a social enterprise delivering community-based and computer technology (ICT) and job training in three countries in East Africa.

Jonathan was one of the 15 social entrepreneurs in this year’s GSBI Accelerator program who on August 20 pitched their business plans to an audience of impact investors and members of the social entrepreneurship community. The Investor Showcase, the culmination of the 10-day in-residence portion of the GSBI Accelerator program, provides a perfect reminder of why we all do the work we do.

After the morning of presentations by the 15 social entrepreneurs – working in India, Haiti, Nepal, South Africa, Kenya, Pakistan, Mexico, Bangladesh, Nigeria, and the United States – a number of people came up to me to say what an amazing cohort it was and how compelling the presentations were.

Even more important, however, the presentations accomplished their practical goals, resulting in at least 45 individual meetings between impact investors and social entrepreneurs. And that is exactly what we try to facilitate with the Investor Showcase: connections between investment-ready social enterprises and impact investors who have the appropriate forms of capital for those social enterprises.

Who are the entrepreneurs behind these social enterprises? Here are a few examples:

  • In Haiti, Carbon Roots International converts agricultural waste biomass into renewable green charcoal cooking briquettes. With 98 percent of the country deforested, Haiti is locked in a cycle of poverty and dependence on charcoal for cooking. “Everyone deserves to live in a world where they don’t have to choose between food and fuel,” says Eric Sorensen, CEO and co-founder.
  • Practice Makes Perfect, based in New York, provides a summer enrichment program for low-income students that reverses the “summer slide”: a loss of proficiency that results in students falling further and further behind in their learning. “We’re narrowing the achievement gap, one summer at a time,” says Karim Abouelnaga, CEO.
  • “We empower women to power the world,” says Anya Chernoff, Executive Director of Empower Generation. The social enterprise trains rural women in Nepal as energy entrepreneurs – selling safe, affordable solar lights – while building clean energy distribution networks.
  • The Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA) is reducing maternal and infant mortality by providing age- and stage-based vital health information to new and expectant mothers across the developing world, directly into their mobile phones.

The latest version of the program, MAMA 2.0, “will allow us to reach 40 million women in 20 countries, providing the glue that will bond fragmented health systems together,” says Executive Director Kirsten Gagnaire.

  • Banka BioLoo in India offers affordable, sustainable sanitation to the half of India’s population – 600 million people – who lack access to toilets and therefore must practice open defecation. Following the GSBI Investor Showcase, Managing Director Sanjay Banka wrote: “GSBI has added many dimensions to Banka BioLoo since our immersion in the Accelerator. Every GSBI team member left a strong mark on us and stole our hearts.”

Watching the presentations and meeting the latest GSBI Accelerator cohort, I was reminded of what makes the GSBI approach different and important:

  • We’re located in the heart of Silicon Valley, by any measure the world’s most successful entrepreneurial ecosystem. Our Silicon Valley location gives us access to an incredible network of executives who have decades of experience taking ideas and building them to scale.

From this pool of executives we draw our GSBI Mentors, who accompany the social entrepreneurs as they go through the 10-month GSBI Accelerator program. The mentors help the entrepreneurs discern their business models so they can sustainably deliver their goods and services to have an impact on the poor.

  • We’re a Jesuit university, so we have both strong intellectual resources and a pervasive humanistic and social justice orientation. This ethos is imbued into the entire GSBI methodology. The focus is on poverty eradication and protecting the planet, but the way that we help social entrepreneurs is akin to the way that we help students become future leaders.
  • We offer different programs for social enterprises, tailored to stages of venture development. Our three-day GSBI Boost program, delivered in-country, is for early-stage enterprises at the ideation or blueprint stage.

Our six-month GSBI Online program, with one entrepreneur matched to one mentor, is for enterprises validating their business models.

The GSBI Accelerator program lasts 10 months; it’s mostly online except for the 10 days in residence at Santa Clara University. Two Silicon Valley mentors work with each entrepreneur to delve into more advanced curriculum: go-to-market and get-to-market strategies, supply chain logistics, economies of scale, customer acquisition and support, governance, and so on.

We also take a rigorous approach to everything from the selection of GSBI Accelerator social enterprises to friendly but intensive mock investor due diligence meetings with the Accelerator entrepreneurs. Everything we do is designed to move us, and them, toward our BHAG—Big Hairy Audacious Goal (a term coined by leadership expert Jim Collins and his co-author Jerry Porras in their 1994 book Built to Last) – of positively impacting 1 billion poor people worldwide by 2020.

The 2015 GSBI Investor Showcase was one more indication that we’re moving in the right direction toward achieving that bold goal.