A Year-End Reflection on Our Connectedness


The holidays are one of my favorite times of the year. Yet, as my work has taken our family all over the world, we’ve had to come up with some less traditional family traditions. For example, we always head to the beach for Thanksgiving, whether in Indonesia, Seattle, Mozambique, Washington, D.C., or this year, California.

For me, the holiday season also brings a time of both connection and reflection. As I look back on the year — another weird and difficult one, to be sure — I’m reflecting most on our remarkable interconnectedness. COVID has certainly highlighted our global connectedness as the pandemic continues to jump oceans and timezones. But it’s also apparent in our shared humanity. I’ve traveled extensively throughout six continents (all except Antarctica) and I’m continually struck by how much more alike we are than different, even when it doesn’t always feel that way. And I’ve seen my own deep-seated desire to connect with people reflected in the faces of those I’ve met throughout my journeys and back here at my alma mater, Santa Clara University.

It’s our shared humanity that gives me hope for the future and inspires my work at Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship. Here are some of my favorite highlights of connecting through Miller Center in 2021.

Empowering Women to Connect Communities

We know that empowering women has ripple effects extending beyond their immediate families — lifting entire communities’ living standards and well-being. So this year at Miller Center, we deepened our commitment to helping lift women out of poverty around the world, launching our first Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) Accelerator. The program takes a multidimensional view, focusing on empowering women as leaders, employees, customers, and value chain contributors. Twenty-five social entrepreneurs graduated from our inaugural cohort, reporting greater confidence in their leadership and better preparedness to scale their businesses and raise investment. Our next WEE Accelerator launches in January.

We also published our white paper, How Social Entrepreneurship Can Advance Women’s Economic Empowerment: Toward a More Inclusive and Equitable Economic System.

Integrating the Voice of Our Customers

At Miller Center, we envision a world where all people are architects of their own futures. Yet, we acknowledge a need for more diverse and representative voices in our decision-making. So, in the spring, we introduced a Social Enterprise Advisory Council to elevate the voices of local leaders in frontier and emerging markets to provide input on Miller Center’s governance, programs, and services. Our inaugural cohort’s eight steller social entrepreneurs hail from Cameroon, India, Kenya, Mexico, and Uganda, with their reach also extending to Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, Tanzania, and Nigeria. All are working to alleviate poverty among the communities they serve through sustainable solutions: Ayzh, Banka Bioloo, Extensio-Acceso, Food4Education, Grassland Cameroon, Husk Power, NUCAFE, and Someone Somewhere. And in August, five of these leaders traveled to the U.S. to spend two days sharing their perspectives and wisdom with our Advisory Board, mentors, and staff.

Elevating Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

As a social impact organization working globally, Miller Center has long sought to integrate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) into our work and lives. But last year’s horrific murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Abrey, Breonna Taylor, and too many others and the rise of hate-driven violence against members of Asian American, Latinx, Muslim, and LGBTQ+ communities caused us to examine our own reality and opportunities for improvement and allyship. Earlier this year, I wrote an article on How the Impact Space is Meeting the Moment and Embracing Anti-Racism. And we are deeply committed to putting our words into action. Some examples from the year include:

    • Continuing support for our DEI working group and monthly social justice forums
    • Developing internal marketing guidelines for using anti-racist, anti-colonial, and inclusive language and photos in our materials
    • Sharing our photo guidelines through the blog, Are Your Images Telling the Right Story?
    • Implementing new diversity hiring practices
    • Facilitating unconscious bias training among our staff and mentor network
    • Participating in Center-wide training to designate Miller Center an LGBTQ+ Safe Space at Santa Clara University (SCU)
    • Scheduling certification in 2022 for the UndocuAlly training to support SCU’s undocumented community members
    • Fostering an inclusive environment for staff through multicultural celebrations

Above all, in service to our mission of accelerating social entrepreneurship to end global poverty, we aim to create equitable access to resources and an inclusive community of belonging for all of our stakeholders.

Connecting in the Office

In September, Miller Center moved into its new home in the stunning new Sobrato Campus for Discovery and Innovation at SCU. More importantly, we came together again as a team — collaborating in person, celebrating holidays and milestones together, brainstorming in the hallways, and chatting about our weekends. And we fully expect our 3:00pm 60-second plank exercise break to become the stuff of legend in our building. Of course, returning to campus is not without its challenges as we navigate COVID scares, hybrid meetings, long commutes, and more.

Check out my blog, Ruminations on Returning to the Office, about the excitement and complexities for Miller Center after a year and a half of working remotely. My colleagues Keith Warner and Eli Latimerlo captured Miller Center staff engaging with members of our campus community in their recent Photo Essay: Welcoming Santa Clara Friends to Our New Home.

Connecting Across Campus

In 2020, the Miller Center team crafted a plan to weave social entrepreneurship into the DNA of Santa Clara University. Our goal is to reach 500 students per year through direct engagement opportunities and by leveraging the influence of our faculty to reach more students. In 2021, we hit the ground running by

    • Fully funding our Miller Center Lewis Family Fellowship (formerly Global Social Benefit Fellowship) to support our award-winning, immersive undergraduate program in perpetuity
    • Providing remote opportunities for 47 students to intern with social enterprises around the world through our new internship program
    • Delivering a 4-day faculty development workshop for 20 faculty across 12 academic departments to introduce social entrepreneurship, share resources for curriculum development, and co-create meaningful research projects
    • Awarding Miller Center’s first three Faculty Fellowships to support new research in our field
    • Partnering with the Leavey School of Business MBA and Executive MBA programs to engage 51 graduate students in consultancy projects

There’s an exciting buzz in the air as our team strategizes with faculty and staff across campus to create new learning and research opportunities. Stay tuned for more exciting developments in 2022.

To Quote Melinda Gates…

“Deep human connection is…the purpose and the result of a meaningful life — and it will inspire the most amazing acts of love, generosity, and humanity.”

As we close out 2021, I wish you all meaningful connections with the people in your lives and with those less fortunate whose lives you may touch through your most amazing acts. Happy holidays!