On a warm day during the rainy season in Accra, seven Warc Africa team members and two Miller Center staff gathered around a long table at a coworking space called buro. The agenda was simple: take advantage of being in-person together, get to know each other, and see how we can create additional value exchange between Warc and Miller Center. Basic introductions turned into open and honest check-ins, and the generous discussion that ensued was bursting with ideas, lightbulb moments, vulnerability, and peer to peer connections around leadership challenges. One round of Jamestown Coffee Company drinks later, what started as an impromptu meeting quickly became a fully fledged workshop complete with a Leadership Circle style roundtable and a mini-course from Miller Center’s curriculum. It’s amazing what can happen when you gather in-person with an incredible social enterprise team motivated by a common mission, and add a sprinkle of Miller Center methodology.
Serving over 8,000 farmers in the Upper West Region of Ghana through community-based Trading Hubs, Warc is transforming rural livelihoods and turning farmers into climate heroes. The organization is now rapidly scaling after their most successful and impactful year to date. With folks in the room who work in projects, sales, procurement, human resources, and finance, we decided to use Miller Center’s Operational Gap Analysis mini-course as a discussion framework for the Warc team to identify gaps in seven operational categories and prioritize closing these gaps as they scale. At Miller Center, we typically work with the CEO or equivalent of our social enterprises, and so it was a rare gift to meet so many other team members, especially in-person! After graduating from the Food Systems accelerator in 2021, CEO Chris Zaw completed the Fall In-Residence in 2022. Reconnecting in-person in Ghana and meeting more of the team was a great opportunity to see how Miller Center can provide additional support at an opportune moment of growth for Warc.
Relationships with the social entrepreneurs that we serve are truly the heart of Miller Center. During the one short week that Paul Belknap and I were in Ghana from June 11-16, a main focus, and a source of great joy, was reconnecting with social enterprise teams who are based in Accra or who were in town for the Sankalp West Africa Summit.
It was wonderful to meet up with Kwami Williams of Moringa Connect (DBA TrueMoringa) over Ghanaian pancakes, hear all about life outside of work, and catch up on the organization’s journey since they graduated from the In-Residence back in 2017 and hosted Miller Center Fellows in 2017 and 2018. TrueMoringa has emerged from significant challenges stronger than ever, through the steadfast support of those who have remained by their side through the most difficult times. By treating their greatest hurdles as an opportunity to redesign their model to better serve their farmers, TrueMoringa has both deepened and expanded their impact to serve 5,000 women and family farmers and sequester over 21,000 MT of greenhouse gas in Ghana to date. Their organic regenerative solar powered farm is the largest of its kind in West Africa, and now they are scaling their regenerative agroforestry model.
As social enterprises grow and scale and their needs change, we have the opportunity to show up for them in new ways. Five years after their previous touchpoint with Miller Center, we are delighted to re-engage with TrueMoringa, explore alumni opportunities that can support the organization at this next stage, and even recruit Kwami to sit on the other side of the table as a mock investor.
Nike Apeji is one of the social entrepreneurs currently completing the mock investor meetings in the accelerator. Fielding questions from the panelists left and right, and incorporating detailed feedback into the pitch deck and financial model between sessions is no easy feat, but Nike’s positive attitude is infectious. Her business Renee Golden Multi-Ventures improves the livelihoods of peanut farmers in Nigeria, increasing productivity and income by processing their produce and providing market access. Nike’s passion for women’s economic power is evident even over Zoom. Meeting in-person, we got to learn more about the history of KuliKuli as a culturally significant snack, the circular production process that turns peanut shell waste into fuel, and Nike’s drive to help others as an entrepreneur and mentor to young students in her community.
Meeting Derrick Sarfo and Bevelyn Dartey of DercolBags over lunch, after a year of corresponding over Zoom and email, was wonderful as we got to hear more about their passion for reducing single-use plastic waste across Ghana and the lasting impact of their experience with Miller Center. They graduated from the accelerator in 2022, and described the program as a “mini MBA,” challenging but transformative for the business, particularly the focus on financials. Still in touch with their mentors and leadership coach, they described how their mentors’ and coach’s dedication and hands-on approach helped them develop practical skills that they carry forward with them into their leadership, business, and impact today.
The lasting impact of mentorship became a theme as we reconnected with other alumni, including Diana Sierra of Be Girl, who shared that her leadership coach from the accelerator changed her life. Be Girl uses design to build a world where all girls own, understand, and love their bodies, beginning with menstruation. To date, Be Girl has put over 500,000 quality period products in the hands of adolescents in emerging markets and reached almost 250,000 people with workshops on menstrual health. As the social enterprise continues to significantly scale their impact, Diana remains open about the challenges she has faced along the path to success. Speaking on a panel titled, “I’m Still Standing” at the Sankalp West Africa Summit, Diana highlighted the resilience needed as an entrepreneur, the importance of having a mentor or coach, and the support gained from engaging with peers in the broader social enterprise ecosystem through programs such as Miller Center’s accelerator.
These were just some of the amazing folks that we had the privilege of meeting during our time in Accra. The social enterprise ecosystem in West Africa is robust, resilient, and full of innovation and opportunity. Sharing Miller Center’s entrepreneur-centric approach and emphasis on sustainable development, Sankalp provided a valuable forum for meeting with partners, investors, and social entrepreneurs local to West Africa. The two-day conference provided ample opportunity to meet with key players in the local social enterprise space, and investigate ways to collaborate to amplify each other’s impact in pursuit of a common mission.
We had the opportunity to lead an interactive workshop titled “Startup Fundraising Reality Check: Am I Chasing the Wrong Investors?” which used Miller Center’s Justifiable Ask methodology to help participants identify the specific type or combination of impact capital that best aligns with their enterprise, define what amount of capital they actually need, and target the right investors with a well-designed, compelling funding “ask.” After a presentation by Paul Belknap, participants broke out into one group for each main type of capital, facilitated by investors from Acumen, IETP, and AlphaMundi who gave practical feedback on drafts of funding asks.
Our partners at Sankalp also graciously co-hosted Miller Center’s Social Enterprise Mixer, a networking opportunity for social entrepreneurs, impact investors, and others working in the social enterprise space. It was exciting to see our social enterprise alumni connect with each other at the mixer, some of whom are working in the same sectors and regions but had not had the opportunity to meet yet and explore ways to collaborate. It was great to catch up with Farhat Kunmi-Olayiwola, Head of Strategy at AFEX, a social enterprise that graduated from Miller Center’s Food Systems accelerator in 2021. AFEX is enabling the transition from production to transaction for agricultural commodities, with over 730,000 lives impacted to date through their work with smallholder farmers.
In addition to reconnecting with local social enterprise alumni, we were able to meet social entrepreneurs working throughout West Africa who are new to Miller Center, and share more about our accelerator program and other resources to take their business and impact to the next level. With over 55 attendees, the mixer was an opportune forum to convene folks in the social enterprise ecosystem, and meet social entrepreneurs who are doing impactful work that we can support. We are consistently impressed with the social entrepreneurs we meet whose innovative solutions are deeply rooted in their communities. We hope to see some of them join the Miller Center family by participating in the accelerator program in the future!
Paul and I continue to carry forward the positive energy, momentum, and value from this trip into our work in impact investing and alumni solutions at Miller Center. Others from the Miller Center team will return to Ghana in September for ANDE’s Annual Conference, which is focused on strengthening entrepreneurial ecosystems and will provide a valuable opportunity to continue to build relationships with local partners in West Africa. These types of in-person, local engagements continue to be part of our strategic focus at Miller Center. We have seen first hand how they help us reach more amazing social entrepreneurs for our accelerator program, reconnect with alumni to provide additional customized support, and collaborate with partners and investors for a value exchange that allows us to better support social entrepreneurs and scale our impact. Catch us in Ghana, India, Kenya, Mexico, Guatemala, and more in the coming year!
We hope to visit your business on our next local trip; let us know what would be exciting to you the next time we’re in your area. We are always looking to re-engage more of our stellar social enterprise alumni, and encourage you to visit our alumni landing page to find opportunities that may be a good fit for you.
- Warc Africa and Miller Center meet at buro. in Accra, Ghana. Pictured left to right: Millicent Mensah, Jeff Anachinaba, Naa-Adoley Pappoe, Avery Rissling, James Owusu-Ansah, Paul Belknap, Cathrin Schriever, and Omar Dayeh.
- Pictured left to right: Paul Belknap and Avery Rissling with featured speakers Chris Zaw of Warc Africa and Kwami Williams of TrueMoringa at Miller Center’s Social Enterprise Mixer at the Sankalp West Africa Summit.
- Paul Belknap, Avery Rissling, and Nike Apeji of Renee Golden Multi-Ventures meet at the Sankalp West Africa Summit.
- Derrick Sarfo and Bevelyn Dartey of DercolBags meet with Paul Belknap and Avery Rissling in Accra, Ghana.
- Diana Sierra of Be Girl speaks at the Sankalp West Africa Summit.
- Paul Belknap presents Miller Center’s Justifiable Ask methodology during the Startup Fundraising Reality Check workshop during day two of the Sankalp West Africa Summit.
- Avery Rissling with Jerry Parkes, CEO of Injaro, and Farhat Kunmi-Olayiwola, Head of Strategy of AFEX, at Miller Center’s Social Enterprise Mixer.