If we were to pick one word that speaks to hope in 2020, it’s resilience. As the world faces a global pandemic, we’ve seen incredibly resilient people, enterprises, communities, and nations emerge as role models and heroes. Yet resilience is not new to social entrepreneurs. While these women and men continue tapping into their own resilience to confront COVID-19, they have also long fought to build resilience into the world’s impoverished communities, providing hope to our most vulnerable.
Resilience in the social enterprise ecosystem is about a community’s ability to absorb stresses and bounce back stronger in fighting poverty, systemic injustices, health crises, climate change, and more. As these entrepreneurs work tirelessly on the front lines of poverty eradication, racial and social justice, and climate resilience, they elevate those who are marginalized, particularly women and people of color, by providing equitable access to resources and opportunity. Miller Center is honored to accompany our social entrepreneurs worldwide to build resilient communities and architect a more just, humane, and sustainable world.
(Photo, Above) iKure, a Miller Center alum that delivers tech-enabled primary healthcare, wellness, and prevention services to underserved communities in India, has touched over 8 million lives. An emergency bridge loan, facilitated by Miller Center and Beneficial Returns, helped the social enterprise adapt to COVID-19.
Crisis Management Webinars
ranging from crisis cash-flow to talent management to scenario planning
Crisis Business Planning to navigate the pandemic and BounceBack for recovery and growth
Social Enterprises Supported
to help them withstand and recover from the pandemic
Thousand Dollars in emergency loans
facilitated with Beneficial Returns
Now more than ever
A Letter from Our Leadership
The past year has brought significant challenges, critical impact, and exciting changes to Miller Center’s work. We are forever grateful to Thane Kreiner, who recently stepped down as Executive Director, for leading with heart to build a resilient organization over the last 10 years that is serving us well during this unique and demanding time.
COVID struck a devastating blow to our alumni social entrepreneurs (SEs). As you can imagine, most of our alumni do not have sufficient financial resources to wait out the virus, and they operate in countries where the government cannot offer relief. With that, the Miller Center team felt a moral imperative to keep our positive impact on track by continuing to walk with our SEs.
We quickly prototyped and launched our 3-week Crisis Business Planning Program. We have since followed up with our BounceBack Program, which focuses on recovery and growth for our SEs. All of this is possible because of our talented mentors, generous funders, innovative program managers, dynamic digital platform, and gritty social entrepreneurs.
The team’s rapid response to the needs of our alumni community appropriately exemplifies this year’s annual report theme — RESILIENCE. As you read the stories here and more online, you will find resilience at the heart of the work our social enterprises, mentors, partners, and Santa Clara University students are doing around the world.
In the midst of the global pandemic, two more Global Social Benefit Fellows won Fulbright awards, bringing the program’s total to 12. We launched our women-led accelerator programs with 32 enterprises and grew our mentor cadre to 370 mentors. We also partnered with Beneficial Returns and some loyal donors to form the Truss Fund, an emergency loan fund for our alumni.
Thank you for your continued engagement and support of our work. This annual report is for you and honors the resilience we have all mustered during this unprecedented time in our history. Now more than ever, we must rise to the challenge of leveraging social entrepreneurship to tackle the scourges of racial, economic, social, and environmental injustice. Together we can achieve outsized impact.
Wishing health and safety to you and your loved ones!
Karen Miller | Benefactor
Jeff Miller | Benefactor, Advisory Board Chair, SCU Trustee
Brigit Helms | Executive Director
“We are beyond thrilled to have Brigit Helms join the team as our new Executive Director. With her extensive experience bringing private solutions to development challenges in over 30 countries, we are confident that you will be inspired by what lies ahead for Miller Center.”
—Karen & Jeff Miller
Trends in Social Entrepreneurship and Impact Investing Brigit's Line of Sight Podcast
Read Brigit's Blog
Scaling Our Impact
When I think about the triple pandemics of COVID-19, racial injustice, and environmental degradation, I can’t help but be grateful for the opportunity to join Miller Center.
Building Dreams, Empowering Communities
Smart Havens Africa
Safe, stable housing is foundational to resilience. Smart Havens Africa CEO Anne Rweyora learned this from an early age after her father passed and her mother had to prioritize rent over school fees. Anne and her co-founder Will Broad, whose family also struggled, built Smart Havens Africa to make the dream of homeownership a reality for low-income and women-led families in Uganda, where over 1.25 million women-led families rent indefinitely. They intimately understand that homeownership provides the foundation upon which education, health care, food security, and human dignity are built.
To create a sustainable and affordable pathway out of poverty, Smart Havens Africa
- Utilizes innovative, affordable technology to create interlocking stabilized soil bricks (ISSBs) with locally available materials that speed the construction process
- Employs and trains women to provide them access to the male-dominated fields of construction and engineering
- Builds communities to break down barriers between neighbors and bring families together in supportive environments
- Enables families to own their homes within 3 – 5 years through their accessible rent-to-own housing model
SHA has participated in two Miller Center accelerator programs — in 2018 and 2019. According to Anne, “The feeling that we have about the relationship and the impact that Miller Center has helped us create is beyond words. We became like family. They really hold your hand in building a scalable and impactful enterprise.” She and her team envision scaling in Uganda and Eastern Africa to help 1,000 people each year to achieve their dreams of a home.
“Smart Havens Africa has given hope to families who had lost hope of having their own home.”
—Anne Rweyora | CEO, Smart Havens Africa
Lighting the Way
“Born with a handful of solar lights, Pollinate Group has grown into a movement of changemakers, empowering women to lead their communities out of poverty to enable long lasting and deep-rooted impact.”
—Sujatha Ramani | CEO, Pollinate Group
In India and Nepal, where almost 200 million people live in extreme poverty, Pollinate Group empowers women through entrepreneurship. The enterprise trains women to sell solar lights, clean cookstoves, and other products that improve health and save time and money for families in some of the world’s most neglected communities. Pollinate has trained over 650 women who have reached more than 652,000 people — saving their customers $23 million and dramatically reducing their CO2 emissions compared to more costly and unhealthy alternatives like kerosene and candles.
The enterprise has participated in two Miller Center accelerator programs and hosted Santa Clara University students under our Global Social Benefit Fellowship. When our fellow, Samantha Bennett won a Fulbright-Nehru research scholarship, she spent eight months in India with Pollinate, where she studied women’s agency through entrepreneurship and clean energy solutions, until the pandemic cut her trip short. At home, Samantha reflected on her time in India and treasured “the incredible stories of women’s lives that were so beautifully shared with me — stories of hardship, tragedy, abuse, gender roles, education, empowerment, citizenship, and kindness. The stories are disparate, but the theme that connects every single story is resilience.”
With the outbreak of COVID-19, the company’s sales came to an abrupt halt, prompting Pollinate to join our Crisis Business Planning Program — an intensive 3-week, mentored program developed specifically to help Miller Center alumni weather the pandemic. “The game plan we developed was extremely valuable,” said Director of Philanthropy Biheng Zhang. “We were able to think 30, 60, 90 days ahead.” Through the process, the social enterprise accelerated a move to cashless transactions and received a $100,000 loan from the Truss Fund — an emergency loan fund developed by Miller Center and impact investor Beneficial Returns — to help Pollinate avoid layoffs.
Pollinate Group will continue to have tremendous impact — illuminating the power and resilience of women. The entrepreneurs that Pollinate empowers report gaining confidence and respect from operating their own businesses, taking on new leadership roles in their communities, and earning financial independence to care for their families and keep their children in school.
Achieving Strength through Partnership
Almost three years ago, Baltimore community development advocate Frank Knott reached out to Miller Center to determine whether our work with social entrepreneurs globally could be applied in an urban American setting. Frank and his team concluded that Miller Center was the right partner to help reduce Baltimore’s racial and wealth divide.
“Our partnership with Miller Center has been instrumental in our ability to hit the ground running and build a solid foundation for accelerating the impact we can have on Baltimore. The Jesuit ethos and Silicon Valley discipline is the ideal framework to lead with love and be laser focused on reducing race-based economic disparities.”
—Jay Nwachu | President & Chief Innovation Officer, Innovation Works
Launched in 2018, Innovation Works was founded with the goal of launching 250 social enterprises in 10 years that will employ 5,000 Baltimore residents and attract $100 million in investments to the city’s under-resourced neighborhoods. As part of IW’s strategic partnership with Miller Center, the two organizations have refined our industry-leading curriculum to meet the community’s needs and launched three joint accelerator programs to date, pairing IW mentors with our mentors. Together, we have worked with almost 70 Baltimore-based social enterprises, with many more to come. Innovation Works has also hosted three of our Global Social Benefit Fellows to perform action research that will help prove this partnership model and replicate it in other urban centers.
The Innovation Works team worked diligently from the start to connect with all of the social entrepreneurial activities happening across Baltimore, forge partnerships to fuel the ecosystem, and be mindful of not reinventing the wheel. This is evident in the quality of the social entrepreneurs and the Innovation Works mentors who have been recruited and trained with support from Miller Center.
We are proud to partner with the outstanding team at Innovation Works as they teach and accompany local social enterprises that create sustainable neighborhood economies and result in better family living, more resilient communities, and a safer, more vibrant city.
Pivoting to Withstand Crisis
“My mentors from Miller Center have been such amazing pillars since we started on this collaborative journey.”
—Kim Lim, CEO and Co-founder, PichaEats
Kuala Lumpur-based PichaEats grew out of a desire to empower and provide a sustainable living to refugees who live without legal status in Malaysia. The social enterprise identifies families who cook, then provides training, marketing, and logistics to deliver international foods prepared by Picha Chefs to clients. Since 2016, PichaEats has partnered with chefs originally from Syria, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine, and Iraq to serve more than 250,000 meals — impacting 125 individuals who are earning over 250% of minimum wage with 100% of their children receiving an education.
PichaEats was in the midst of Miller Center’s Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins (SEM) accelerator — for organizations serving refugees, migrants, and human trafficking survivors — when the pandemic struck, causing a drastic fall in its corporate catering business. CEO and co-founder Kim Lim knew she had to pivot the business to survive. The company quickly developed a new line of nutritious ready-to-heat meals for busy customers. PichaEats also launched enhanced health and safety measures to ease COVID concerns and a subscription model to generate a steadier income stream. Kim appreciated the support of her Miller Center mentors over the last ten months as she continued through the SEM program, saying, “My mentors were genuine and only wanted to see us succeed. I truly appreciate this experience and have benefited a lot.”
According to Kim, “We have been working with mothers from the refugee community over the past four years to create amazing catering menus. COVID-19 pushed us to innovate with a new product line and work with more mothers in a much deeper way to ensure our sustainability and longevity.” With resilience, decisive action, and compassion, PichaEats is emerging stronger and envisions growing its impact to help 1,000 refugees by 2023.
Growing a Sustainable Future
The National Union of Coffee Agribusinesses and Farm Enterprises (NUCAFE) is planting seeds for sustainable growth, both literally and figuratively. 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. “We want to empower smallholder farmers and help them capture a greater share of the coffee value chain,” stated Executive Director Joseph Nkandu. Today, NUCAFE works with 250,000 farming households of more than 1.5 million individual farmers who are organized in 200 farmer cooperatives — improving their livelihoods and providing a pathway out of poverty.
NUCAFE first participated in Miller Center’s 2016 accelerator program, and we have continued to accompany each other since. NUCAFE participated in our individualized Alumni Mentorship Program (AMP) accelerator and graciously hosted two of our immersion trips for staff and supporters to see our alumni’s real impact in the field. The organization also welcomed five of our student Global Social Benefit Fellows over two years to conduct action research in Uganda. Working with NUCAFE so inspired fellow Griffin Garner that he applied for and won a Fulbright Scholarship for a project to return. Although disrupted by the pandemic, Griffin hopes to begin his Fulbright in Uganda in early 2021.
When Miller Center joined the Association of Consecrated Women in Eastern and Central Africa (ACWECA) in launching the Sisters’ Blended Value Project to transform social ministries into social enterprises, NUCAFE signed on to provide apprenticeship opportunities to two congregations of Catholic sisters in Uganda. The sisters recently completed their apprenticeship to begin coffee farming as a social enterprise, during which they learned improved coffee planting, growing, and harvesting techniques. With expertise and guidance, the NUCAFE team is helping the sisters move up the coffee value chain to produce branded, market-ready coffee.
Like so many around the world, NUCAFE and their smallholder farmers were hard hit by COVID-19. The organization participated in Miller Center’s three-week intensive Crisis Business Planning Program and received an emergency bridge loan from the Truss Fund, which was matched by KIVA. The Truss Fund was developed by Beneficial Returns and Miller Center in response to the pandemic to provide high-risk capital to some of our most impactful social enterprises on patient and below-market-rate terms. This financial support allowed NUCAFE to continue facilitating the bulking, processing, and export of coffee from its network of farmers and preparing to meet international demand as coffee shops, hotels, and restaurants reopen.
NUCAFE is continuing to champion innovation and social entrepreneurship through its farmer ownership model. As the first coffee organization in East and Central Africa to install an industrial solar power plant at its coffee processing facility, NUCAFE is further demonstrating its commitment to sustainability. The resulting exports will be the first of their kind — Uganda Carbon Neutral Coffees. Mwebale emirimu!
“By creating shared value through our farmer ownership model, we are investing in our children. Because our children are our future.”
—Joseph Nkandu, Executive Director, NUCAFE
STUDENTS RISE IN THE FACE OF Uncertainty
Learning how to pivot is a fundamental skill for all social entrepreneurs, and our student Global Social Benefit Fellows have learned that through the necessary adjustments to our program this year. With international travel impossible this past summer, our social enterprise partners adapted their requests for practical research to projects that can be delivered remotely via WhatsApp and Zoom. Projects shifted toward more global research teams, with fellows and local social enterprise staff working collaboratively, and more social media strategy and marketing and communication projects.
We have remained true to our foundational principle of providing value to our social enterprise partners, but pivoted in how we deliver that value. Our partners’ work on the frontiers of sustainable development is needed now more than ever, and so too is the action research of our fellows.
Hear from 2020 fellows Ben Grundy and Jasmyn Burdsall about their pivots from planned summers in Uganda to projects via Zoom. And Santa Clara University alum Sammi Bennett describes her journey from Miller Center fellow to Fulbright scholar, and the abrupt end to her research in India as a result of COVID-19. Each of these young adults has risen to the challenges brought on by the pandemic to learn new lessons and create new opportunities.
Miller Center By The Numbers
Social Enterprises Accelerated
Million Lives Improved, Transformed, or Saved
Million Investment Raised Post-GSBI Accelerator
Student Fellowship Alumni
Women-Led Enterprises Accompanied
Million Dollar Goal
$4.9M raised to support our world-class accelerator programs (cumulative)
Million Dollar Goal
$5.7M raised to fund our award-winning student fellowship program (cumulative)
Individuals and Family Foundations ($50,000+)
Jon & Maria Aboitiz | Anonymous | Paul & Carolyn Barber | The Bisconti Family Foundation | Jeff & Julie Brody | Carsten-Ellis Fund | Howard & Alida Charney | Bob Derby | Jon Freeman | Conrad N. Hilton Foundation | Randy & Lisa Lamb | Holly Anderson Levow & Zach Levow | Agnieszka Winkler & Arthur K. Lund | Tim Haley & Ethna McGourty | Karen & Jeff Miller | John A. & Sue Sobrato | John M. & Timi Sobrato
Don't Stop Here
We welcome the opportunity to engage with you
Daily, we witness the transformative impact of social entrepreneurship in the fight to end poverty and build climate resilience within the most vulnerable populations around the world. We invite you to join us in supporting our amazing entrepreneurs who work tirelessly to build resilient communities every day.
Together we can achieve outsized impact!
(Photo, Left) In response to the pandemic, Miller Center alum Cycle Connect (2019) donated over 100 bicycles to healthcare clinics so nurses and other first responders could reach vulnerable patients in remote areas.