Last year, Miller Center launched a partnership with the Association of Consecrated Women in Eastern and Central Africa (ACWECA) a regional body composed of National Associations of Catholic Sisters from 10 countries. The Association represents national bodies, which cumulatively represent 301 congregations of about 35,000 Catholic Sisters (Consecrated Women). The Association requested a partnership with Miller Center to transform its social ministries, including schools, health ministries, orphanages, and homes for the aged into social enterprises.
On January 15-25, 2019 I guided two delegations of Sisters to visit a dozen of our GSBI social enterprise partners–in Kenya and then in Uganda. These congregations share a mission to serve the poor and vulnerable in their communities, and several of them have a dedicated focus to helping the girl child. Every social enterprise enthusiastically welcomed us and perceived the potential for expanding or partnering with the Sisters. In East Africa, the Sisters have an excellent reputation for dedication to their communities. They carry significant moral authority, and are seen as key influencers. About one third of the enterprises are ready to partner with the Sisters right now, and another third indicated that they would like to partner with the Sisters, should the Sisters decide to do so.
The following is a travel journal of my time on the road with the Sisters and visiting social enterprises.
Kenya, January 15-19
Wednesday January 16
Greetings from warm and sunny Nairobi. Because I will be visiting 12 social enterprises (SEs) in Kenya and Uganda with 15 Catholic Sisters over the next 1.5 weeks, I thought I would try to provide very brief reports.
This morning we visited Wawira Njiru. Her Food4Education (GSBI 2017) is thriving. She has continued to scale her impact, expanding her kitchen capacity, and now opening a second, much bigger kitchen closer to Nairobi. She is committed to bringing down her per meal cost, and when we visited her, she was discussing with some Fintech consultants how she could move from coin payment to Mpesa airtime. About half the Sisters have been teachers, so this was a very compelling SE for them to visit first. They asked many practical questions about how the enterprise cooks and distributes the food, and partners with school districts.
This afternoon we visited two clients of Sistema Biobolsa/Kenya. SB expanded to Kenya is 2017, and in 22 months has sold 1500 units and employs 50 people. Kenyan animal farmers have bought many biodigesters that have failed, but the word is out that SB has a quality product, followed up with service. We were hosted by Carlotta, the first SB employee in Kenya, who took us to two farms, where we received very compelling testimonials from happy farmers. The potential of an innovative technology delivered in an entrepreneurial way to foster human dignity and protection of Mother Earth was not lost on the Sisters. They asked many down and dirty questions about manure management, but were impressed by how the economics and financing packages paved the way for making sales.
Thursday, January 17
Today we visited Access Afya, an alumni of the first GE cohort. It provides frontline clinic services in slums. We met Melissa and Daphne, who provided an overview, and then visited one of their storefront clinics, offering ultra-low pricing, and appropriate referrals. They work in some tough slums. This enterprise is scaling aggressively with six clinics opened, and one to open every month in Kenya this year starting in March. All of the congregations of Sisters on this field trip have hospitals and clinics, and they asked lots of well-informed questions of Daphne. We had some preliminary conversations about Congregations in other East African countries partnering with Access Afya to expand, and create a strong referral relationship, which would help their hospitals.
In the afternoon we visited Matt of Eggpreneur (GSBI Online 2017). Eggpreneur trains rural women to become poultry farmers with improved hens, and sets them up with laying hens, and then markets spring chicken and eggs on their behalf. These services have transformed hundreds of women’s lives, and some of them are now becoming rural micro entrepreneurs in other sectors. Matt has a truly remarkable personal journey, and is a most inspiring presenter and host. He has a Masters in Public Health from a Canadian university, but returned to Kenya to start an antipoverty enterprise. He lived for a while in Eldoret (Western Kenya), where two of the participating congregations are based, and they discussed the possibility of hosting him to give training workshops, and starting a branch of Eggpreneur there. Many of these Sisters are farmer’s daughters, and they loved the chickens. Sisters bought two sets of chickens plus a flat of live eggs to take back to their motherhouses, since they really liked the improved varieties.
Friday January 18
Well known to us and having passed through at least two rounds of GSBI, Livelyhoods is an ideal partner for hosting site visits. It now hosts visitors for a 5-hour experience with their street sellers, with payment through AirBNB. The sales meeting that started the day was like most sales meetings, but doing it in a slum setting made the uplifting messages and testimonials more meaningful. A group of Sisters accompanied several rather green sales agents as we walked through Kawangware. Several of the Sisters tried out their hustle on the locals, but expenses from the holidays had put a crimp in local wallets. The Sisters discovered the challenges of being a street seller, for sure.
Some of them commented on how inspiring were the stories of the Livelyhoods sellers. Livelyhoods has branches in Mombassa and Eldoret, where some congregations have houses, so there was some discussion of how they might forge partnerships. I had the chance to visit with Claire Baker of Livelyhoods about a GSBF project this year, in which fellows will evaluate pilot expansion to Uganda.
After lunch we visited with Daniel Waithaka of Wisdom Stoves, which competed GSBI Online in 2014, and is about to start GSBI TECh cohort 2. He described a multi-year process of technology innovation and market testing that has brought him to this point. He realized a few years ago that he had to adopt a gender lens on his sales, and now markets to rural women’s saving groups, with good success. The Sisters liked his stove, but were concerned that he had not achieved break-even yet, and we discussed the role of impact investing, and why he is going to go through GSBI again.
We returned to Subiaco Retreat House, engaged in a shared reflection and discussed how the Sisters will develop a 1 page concept note for a social entrepreneurship initiative within a month. This will prompt them to discuss and plan among themselves, and the various notes will help Pamela, Thane, and me to develop the program.
A shout out and huge thanks to Alex Pan for laboring diligently with me to identify, cultivate and persuade our partners to host us. That part was much more work than I expected. But the Sisters were inspired and motivated by the experience. I am now off to Uganda, and will drive up to Fort Portal/KadAfrica on Sunday.
Uganda, January 20-24
Monday, January 21
We had just finished introductions and KadAfrica was in the process of explaining its mission and impact when Sister Goretti, the Superior General of the Teresian Sisters (based in Fort Portal), interrupted and stated that she wanted her vocational school to partner with KadAfrica and start such a program on their land. Just before, a young woman in the KadAfrica program ran up to embrace her, since she had been Sister Goretti’s pupil some years ago. A few minutes later, the KadAfrica young women in training each picked a Sister, took them by the hand, and showed them their new passion fruit plants, which they would cultivate through the life of the training program. Dispersed across this fertile field, the women young and old exchanged stories, laugher, and dreams of dignity.
The Ugandan Sisters seem to be even more agriculturally oriented than the Kenyans, with all the congregations speaking about working their land. Two of them grow coffee commercially. Fortunately, we spent the whole day with KadAfrica, discussing what it would take to replicate the model (with possible GSBF projects), and will spend all Thursday with Joseph Nkandu of NUCAFE.
Tuesday, January 22
We all recognize the feeling when sparks fly: there is an electric-like charge exchanged, a kind of connection, an illumination of one’s forward path. Yes, yes, these are the feelings when one falls in love, but I love being a teacher because I get to witness people learning about real world opportunities to fulfill their passions. The local ENVenture team of Julius and Robert provided a fabulous overview of social entrepreneurship as a social service/social change strategy for marginalized rural communities. Julius spoke with such clarity and conviction that I could see the Sisters’ eyes opening. He gave the most eloquent presentation on the potential of the Sisters Blended Value project yet — without knowing the name of this program. The scale of the Sisters reach into the kinds of target communities that ENVenture serves gave Julius and Robert pause, because it could represent a significant partnership for that GSBI (2018) social enterprise.
On our trip into Kampala this morning we stopped and visited a local faith community organization in Kyenjojo: Utopia. This local organization bundles community education for health and sustainability with clean cookstoves, solar lanterns and water filters purchased at wholesale from ENVenture. Sister Jacinta, of the Teresian Sisters who hosted us in Fort Portal, is a nurse, and serves on the advisory board of this local org. Utopia was having a community fair today, so we had the chance to meet with them, and learn about ENVenture from their perspective. Thus, we traveled the value chain upstream from the grassroots to Kampala HQ, and the Sisters learned a new entrepreneurship concept — enriching their journey!
Wednesday, January 23
Nurture Africa (NA) provided another dynamic, inspiring model of a social enterprise for the Sisters. They completed our first GSBI GE accelerator cohort in 2016, and hosted fellows in 2017. In both cases, NA wanted to work on transitioning its clinic from a charity model to a social enterprise model. This transition was begun in early 2017. Will Paton and Grace Krueger conducted action research on this, with the mentoring of Aimee Brown and Brian Haas. The transition was not well executed, and the fellows were skeptical it could work. I am happy to now report that Nurture Africa’s clinic now operates 24/7 and brings in revenue from patients up to $5000 monthly. NA replaced its circumcision clinic with a birth clinic. It provides free ante-natal visits, and charges ~$12 per birth. This was opened six months ago, and has grown to 50 clean (HIV free) births per month. Both the country director and clinic director waxed eloquent about the value of Miller Center’s program to NA and to them personally because they valued the transition to social enterprise thinking. They also toured their vocational training programs for the Sisters. Because Nurture Africa is a diversified human services provider, the Sisters were inspired by all is programs, and we had to emphasize that it was 15 years in the making. NA said it would be happy to provide mentoring for the Sisters in a new initiative that could draw on its experience, but we agreed that the Sisters need to develop a plan at the March social enterprise workshop in Nairobi.
This afternoon we visited Teach A Man To Fish Foundation (GSBI 2009/GSBF 2017), which was eager to partner with the Sisters to establish social entrepreneurship models in their schools. All these congregations have schools, and they all have students who struggle with attendance for lack of fees. Teach A Man To Fish accelerates school-based social enterprise initiatives, but it also provides basic business management coaching for schools, teachers, and student clubs. Several congregations would subsequently request partnerships with TAMTF to help their schools become more financially sustainable
We concluded with a visit to Jibu, and played “what if a congregation wanted to open a franchise?”. The Sisters were initially surprised to think of a social enterprise using a franchise model, but the visit stimulated them to think more broadly about this field.
Thursday, January 24: Joseph Nkandu and NUCAFE
The Sisters were astonished by what NUCAFE has been able to accomplish. NUCAFE represents 200+ local coffee coops/associations. It hosts an impressive processing facility, and is expanding its warehouse. Joseph walked the Sister forward through the coffee value chain and his Farmer Ownership Model to explain how NUCAFE promotes rural wealth creation. The training center is under construction. Joseph is actively seeking to replicate his model in other commodity systems. He is working with the GSBI Scale Out initiative to share his Farmer Ownership Model though international development organizations.
Joseph is a prince of a man, and commands everyone’s respect based on knowledge, experience, and impact on the common good. He and Deus were incredibly gracious to the Sisters, and they see the Sisters as powerful influencers in their local communities to engage more farmers. After we visited the factory, they hosted us for a wonderful celebratory meal at Cafe Omukago. Several Sisters expressed a kind embarrassment because, they said, I had to travel all the way from the United States to introduce them to a network creating passports out of poverty right in their home country of Uganda. I assured them there was no shame, since so much of this was new, and that what is important is to apply this knowledge in service to their local communities. Two of the congregations grow coffee — which they use to pay for their Sisters formation, and they wanted to join NUCAFE on the spot. One of these congregations might provide a younger sister interested in coffee to work with the fellows in their field work.