Written Articles

Guest Blog

Weaving Stories and Tradition

By Giancarlo De León Argueta, Marketing Intern

I’m a sophomore English major at Santa Clara University. In my role as a marketing intern for Miller Center, I had the pleasure of interviewing Antonio Nuño, CEO of Someone Somewhere. He visited Santa Clara for the April In-Residence to receive Miller Center’s Impact Excellence Award, where I had the opportunity to talk to him about his company’s sustainability and employment efforts during the pandemic. Antonio is down-to-earth and incredibly passionate about his work — focused on giving local artisans in Mexico the tools and chance they need to retain their traditional crafts while boosting their incomes. I appreciate the company’s brilliant work and am thankful for being able to share their story. I hope you enjoy it just as much as I did.

Launched in 2016 by longtime friends Antonio Nuño, Fátima Álvarez, and Enrique Rodríguez, Someone Somewhere has integrated environmentally conscientious and traditional techniques into beautiful and sensitive cultural products that generate sustainable work for its 400 artisans in Mexico’s poorest states. As Antonio states, “Our mission is to contribute to the welfare of artisans by integrating their traditional work in innovative products that generate consistent and equitable labor opportunities.” And that’s what Someone Somewhere is doing. A certified B Corporation on a mission to improve artisan wellbeing and empower its workforce of 98% women, Someone Somewhere’s creative and sustainable use of traditional techniques has brought rural artisans into the global market and provided labor opportunities for artisans in Puebla, Oaxaca, Chiapas, Hidalgo, and Estado de México. These opportunities provide steady and diversified income and improve local economies — increasing artisans’ monthly income by 300% and dedicating 30% of the product cost to their payment.

Someone Somewhere’s research and design teams work closely with the leaders of artisan communities to supply the artisans with quality materials — creating gorgeous and sustainable products whose utility doesn’t compromise their cultural significance. Artisans also report improved well-being, including increased self-esteem, reduced stress, and greater educational opportunities for their children. The B Corp’s commitment to creating a positive social impact for its workers and consumers also appeals to the conscientious millennial market. Antonio describes, “We are focusing on a particular lifestyle of exploring the world and connecting with the people of the world. This creates a good circle: the more you travel, the more you connect with the problems that exist.” Someone Somewhere’s approach to sustainability also contributes to its appeal. This year, the company joined other B Corps in committing to becoming carbon neutral by 2030. It has also integrated recyclable bags in stores to reduce its carbon footprint.

Someone Somewhere continued its positive impact during the pandemic. The company established an emergency fund for its artisans and expanded its B2B business to provide consistent work while keeping its workers safe from harm. Since 2020, Someone Somewhere has generated over 100,000 hours of work for its artisans and recently landed a contract creating environmentally-friendly amenity kits for Delta Airlines which will benefit more than 1,000 people from Mexican communities.

Antonio first connected with Miller Center in one of our 2015 social enterprise workshops in Mexico and has since participated in two accelerator programs and joined Miller Center’s Social Enterprise Advisory Council. This year, Someone Somewhere was awarded Miller Center’s Impact Excellence Award for its many contributions to alleviate poverty and build climate resilience. When discussing Miller Center, Antonio shared, “Miller Center’s constant support has been amazing. The quality of their mentors is really good. It’s people you’d normally never have access to, but here they give you a lot of their time, connections, and resources to help you build your brand and your company.”


Funding Women Entrepreneurs: From Bias to Bonus

Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship and the School of Engineering’s Frugal Innovation Hub collaborated to explore the challenges (and a few viable solutions) for women and people of color raising capital for their businesses. Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship is the premier university-based social enterprise accelerator in the world, combining the innovation of social entrepreneurs, accompaniment of executive mentors, and passion and enthusiasm of Santa Clara University students to create proof points for business as a driving force for positive change. Frugal Innovation Hub engages Santa Clara University students and faculty in technological and humanitarian projects through partnerships and programs.

Guest Blog

The Impact Investment Gap in West Africa

In summer 2021, Father Bossou Constant SJ, Miller Center Jesuit-in-Residence, spent time working with social enterprises in West Africa. These enterprises are all alumni of a 3-day Boost workshop that Miller Center delivered in partnership with West African Jesuits in 2017 and 2018. In conversation with Keith Warner, Miller Center’s Chief Learning Officer, Bossou shares his research and reflections. This is the third and final in a series of 3 articles. (Read the first 2 articles: Social Entrepreneurs Distinguish Themselves in West Africa and Navigating Social Entrepreneurship and the Pandemic in West Africa)

What is the state of impact investment in West Africa?

There are nearly no local impact investors in West Africa. The culture of impact investment is not even present in the understanding of social entrepreneurship in the region. Many social entrepreneurs don’t even see themselves as social entrepreneurs until someone explains to them that what they are doing is social entrepreneurship. Thus, they don’t seek impact investment for their social ventures.

They mostly, like any other entrepreneur in the region, turn to banks for loans. Unfortunately, those loans usually carry high interest rates (up to 15%). Most of the entrepreneurs I spoke to this summer have all tried to get bank loans. The bank requirements for getting loans do not allow some to get loans. Those that do get these bank loans get them with an interest rate that ranges from 10% to 15%. The best enterprises as rated by banks in West Africa can get as low as 7%, but rarely less than that. As an example, Africa Global Recycling, the Togolese social enterprise that specializes in collecting and selling plastic waste with average annual revenue of $260K, is in the process of securing an Ecobank loan with an interest rate as low as 7%.

Social entrepreneurs are rarely able to secure grants for their projects within their regions. Those who manage to get grants do so through international grant-making companies. Of all the alumni in West Africa, none of them have been able to secure a grant for the social impact they are making.

The concept of shareholding and equity investment is still at a baby stage in West Africa, probably because many social entrepreneurs in the region do not like the idea of sharing their companies with others. Only Foufoumix, our multi-million dollar company alumnus in West Africa was contemplating the idea, but later got an important loan instead.

What role might Miller Center play in this context?

Given the current focus on working with more advanced social enterprises, I recommend identifying those social entrepreneurs in West Africa who also speak English and working with them. Many social enterprises in West Africa are naturally women-led and/or organic agriculture/production related. They can benefit from the training offered by Miller Center and mentorship to connect with impact investors.

Training social entrepreneurs in West Africa is not the only solution to social entrepreneurship capacity development in West Africa. Impact capital culture is an even bigger challenge to take on. Most of our alumni in that part of the world have said they were not able to find any local impact capital fundraising opportunities. And usually, they are not big enough to attract international impact capitalists. Moreover, many Francophone social enterprises in West Africa lack adequate English language skills to engage accelerator centers and impact capitalists in America.

In these reflections, I showed evidence of the many social entrepreneurship-related opportunities in West Africa. However, accelerators and investments available for social entrepreneurs are scarce. The most successful social entrepreneurs can only get bank loans with high interest rates. To bridge the gap between the abundance of business opportunities and the available investment opportunities, there must first be training such as accelerator programs to help social entrepreneurs hone their business skills and formalize their knowledge of the social impact they are making. This will help social entrepreneurs in West Africa prepare to talk to impact investors abroad as well since there are very few locally. In the long run, many more capable Africans should embrace the idea of impact investing and become impact investors to help startups take off and scale their social impact.

Photo: Founder of VEGA (Vision Eco Green Afrique) Recycling with bags of sorted and cleaned plastic waste


Continuing A Family Legacy of Social Impact

By Giancarlo De León Argueta, Marketing Intern

Will Gagan’s 2021 Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship fellowship with a social enterprise based in Zambia required tenacious adaptability and community-building that culminated in an adaptable Agro-entrepreneurship curriculum. I had the opportunity to interview Will about his fellowship experience and his family’s influence.

Will Gagan SCU ‘22, is a hard-working and passionate student who spent his fellowship helping to build a sustainable and adaptable program for the Emerging Farmers Initiative (EFI) sponsored by the Religious Sisters of the Holy Spirit in Zambia. With a major in Environmental Science and minors in Sustainability and Religious Studies, he’s spent his college career embodying the Jesuit values of Santa Clara University through his classes and experience with Miller Center. Will is one of four members of his family currently studying at Santa Clara, a Bronco lineage that traces back to 1919. His commitment to fighting for equity is deepened by his ability to connect with others and work alongside them, as exhibited by his and William Mockapetris’ SCU ‘22 project with EFI.

Will (3rd from left) with his uncle Mark Gagan, Miller Center Fellow William Mockapetris, and Will’s grandfather Brian Gagan SCU ‘54


How did you familiarize yourself with the circumstances of the organization you were working with?

Something William and I did pretty early on in our meetings was setting apart some time to get to know the sisters and everyone we were working with personally. We noticed that connecting with them as people made our work as colleagues easier. I remember at the end of one meeting, William and I started talking with one of the team members about soccer and how he was a big Barcelona fan. It became another connection we had to each other and the program. I’m still in contact with them — I texted Sister Junza the other day to congratulate her on an award she recently received. It’s super cool these relationships are still strong. That foundation made me feel more comfortable, especially when working over zoom with people I hadn’t met before. The stakes of the project felt high, and I was nervous. Realizing they were there for us like we were there for them opened me up.

What was your deliverable for EFI? How’d you fulfill it?

The main project EFI needed help with was developing its curriculum. They have this learning center with six different production units that teach rural Zambian youth sustainable agriculture practices and financial literacy to run their farming operations once they graduate from the program. They already had the learning center up and running, but they needed to recruit apprentices and develop a curriculum. That is what we did. We met up with three local experts in agribusiness, business and leadership, and agricultural science over the summer to learn the necessary skills. William and I then structured that information so that the program could teach it to its students.

How do you feel about the work you’ve done? What are you most proud of?

One thing that William and I are really proud of in terms of our final deliverable was that we gave them a living document — that way, they could change it and update it as they got feedback. That is something we struggled with, too — they didn’t have any students yet, so we couldn’t get feedback while we were building it to figure out what worked and what didn’t. We kept that in mind and had to build it in a way so that future teachers could add to it and edit it as they taught. The fact that we created something that will continue to grow and develop is something we were and are proud of. If two years from now, the curriculum is entirely different from what we started with, it would be a dream come true. It’s supposed to evolve. It’s meant to grow to be effective for the students. It’s connected to our mindset shift partway through the project, too — we went from thinking we would have to explain everything and make it cut and dried to creating something open-ended. It was stressful because it wasn’t something we were used to. We had to adapt and learn, and I think we did a good job at it.

Your family has roots in Santa Clara and social activism. How did that influence your experience?

My family has definitely defined my time and connection to Santa Clara. The first person in my family to come here was my great-grandfather, who graduated in 1919, which was 99 years before I started here. He was followed by my grandfather, then my dad, and a number of my aunts and uncles. Santa Clara is actually where my dad and mom met. Now it’s me, my brother, and my two cousins who are all here. It’s very special to me.

I never felt an obligation to come here when I was growing up. It was never really pushed on Nick and me, but my parents always spoke fondly of it. I remember when we both decided to come here, they were super excited. When we had the Miller Center Fellowship presentations, my grandpa, uncle, brother, and cousin came. It was special because my parents couldn’t join, but I could still share it with my family. I know they’re really proud of me. It was great getting to share that with them.

In the context of the fellowship, I would say that the deaths of my grandmas basically bookended my summer with the fellowship. Looking back, it gave it so much more meaning. It created so many challenges in getting my work done for the fellowship, but it was awesome that I had been here for the summer, and I was able to go up and visit my family. William was also so supportive and understanding. He made all the difference with the challenges I faced during this time.

I remember there was this one moment where it all clicked. During my dad’s eulogy at my grandma’s funeral, he told us this story about how she was involved with the United Farm Workers (UFW) movement in the 60s. She wouldn’t let my dad and his siblings eat grapes, joining the national boycott to support better pay and conditions for grape workers. Whenever my dad would be at someone’s house, and he’d get fruit salad, he’d pick out the grapes. Grapes were off-limits until the grape growers finally signed union contracts with the UFW. In his eulogy, my dad said, “It is important to remember that this was not political for Mom. It was human and personal. Mom saw the people she was working with — young husbands and wives, fathers and mothers trying to provide for their families and make their way in the world — the same as she and Dad.” I never forgot that. My grandma on my mom’s side spent her entire career as a teacher, teaching kindergarten for the SFUSD and spending a year abroad in Germany in the 1960s teaching children of military personnel.

When I realized that EFI’s work embodies their values — transformative education and creating good, dignified work for people in agriculture  — it made the project so meaningful to me despite all the challenges. When I told Sister Edna what happened with my grandmas, she said she had heard about it through Keith [Warner, who runs the fellowship]. She was so understanding, and she said they’d been praying for me the whole time. That meant something to me. It made me appreciate the work social entrepreneurs do so much more. It is all about the people. This was the most meaningful moment of the fellowship. I realized how EFI’s work connected to my grandmas’ lives and the special interaction with Sister Edna. The opportunity Miller Center has given me, where I got to continue my grandmas’ legacies and the impact they wanted to make, made me realize that I deserve to be here. I am paying it forward and making a difference. It’s a very good feeling.

What do you think about your connection to Miller Center? What does it mean to you?

I view Miller Center as a web of connections and networks — coalitions of people that are doing different and unique things. The Miller Center is this hub for building these meaningful connections. At the start, I didn’t know the majority of people in my cohort at all. Before the fellowship, I didn’t know William, and it was terrific to work with him. I feel so connected to my cohort, and it’s a community. It’s a challenging process, and there’s so much ambiguity. We have to adapt and be resilient. We all experienced that. That shared experience made me super connected to all of them. I’m so grateful for that. It’s also cool that everyone drawn to Miller Center is completely devoted to the mission. You’re starting from this point of shared values, making everything easier. There were times when William and I had different perspectives or approaches on the project’s direction, but we were both guided by the same ethos. That’s everyone at Miller Center. That’s one of the most meaningful things to me.

When I was a senior in high school, a family friend told me that I should pick a college with values that align with mine. I didn’t understand that at the moment, but now as a senior looking back, I see it. Its been so impactful — talking about injustice, our place in fixing it, promoting equity. Santa Clara’s tenets drive these social elements. Everything that I’ve learned in my classes is helpful, but I appreciate most the value system that Santa Clara has instilled in me. I’m fortunate for that. I got that from Miller Center as well. Miller Center makes it easy to connect with people. Their work addresses huge social issues that can sometimes feel insurmountable. Seeing that there are this many people with the passion and courage to address those issues makes me feel good about the future.


Miller Center Launches Funds To Catalyze Investment In Its Alumni

Originally published in Forbes

As the name suggests, navigating the Valley of Death is tough going for startups. That’s the period of time after launch and before gaining real traction when it’s particularly hard to get funding. It’s even more difficult for social ventures and, of course, those run by women.

What can help a lot is the participation of a farseeing investor willing to provide catalytic capital, thereby reducing the risk for others and encouraging them to join in on the financing.

As it happens, those startups are exactly the ones that typically participate in accelerator programs run by Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship. That’s why it recently formed Miller Center Invest with a goal of catalyzing $500 million in capital for alumni of its programs over five years. “We can go to impact investors and say, we have an amazing pipeline to offer you—and we’re going to go first,” says Brigit Helms, executive director of Miller Center.

Ultimately, the hope is that these investments will get Miller Center grads in fighting shape to power through the Valley of Death and come out on the other side even stronger, ready to raise later-stage and institutional capital. Alumni spend 50% of their time fundraising and just 50% raise the amount they needed, according to Alex Pan, Miller Center’s director of impact investing.

About 1,300 startups have participated in Miller Center’s programs, which focus on ventures aimed at advancing climate resilience and/or women’s economic empowerment. About 50 to 100 new enterprises go through Miller Center programs each year. Some participate in multiple programs over time

One such venture is Grassland Cameroon, a grain handling company formed in 2015 that works with smallholder farmers to increase their yield and reduce post-harvest waste. Founder Manko Angwafo attended several Miller Center programs starting in 2018.

Innovation and Growth Funds

Helms points to a variety of features she thinks should attract investors. For one thing, the startups to be considered for investment are high-growth potential ventures from its alumni network, so Miller Center has a particularly in-depth understanding of their businesses. “We know these enterprises inside and out,” she says. For another, students from Santa Clara University’s Leavey Business School—Miller Center is based at Santa Clara University—will participate in due diligence, further reducing costs.

A central insight informing the approach is that most social enterprises, and certainly the ones that attend Miller Center programs, don’t fit the traditional Silicon Valley investment model. “These companies don’t usually have the exponential growth or exits of VC-based enterprises,” says Pan.

With that in mind, there are two funds, one for post-revenue startups, the other for early growth stage companies. The former, called the Innovation Fund, will use variable repayment debt, loan guarantees and subordinated loans to invest $50,000 to $200,000. The other, the Growth Fund, for startups that need working capital or lack access to uncollateralized loans, will provide $200,000 to $2 million in short-term debt.

The process: Miller will identify high potential alumni. Next, student-led teams, supervised by Miller Center mentors and staff, will conduct an initial screening of potential investments. Fund managers will then present deals to an investment committee and, later, will conduct legal and due diligence, as well as putting together term sheets. Then, working with Miller Center, they’ll syndicate deals and bring in other investors. Finally, they’ll pull the trigger on the investment and manage repayment.

A Five-Year Plan

Anchor investors include Sobrato Philanthropies and Miller Family Foundation. Sobrato Philanthropies funded initial research and exploratory work and also committed $5 million pending a matched amount of funding for the Growth Fund.

The effort is part of a five-year plan to step up Miller Center’s focus on alumni who have graduated in the last three fiscal years, especially graduates with the greatest growth potential. According to Helms, Miller Center hopes to close the funds by the summer and then start making investments.

Jeff Miller, who, with his wife Karen committed $25 million to Miller Center seven years ago and is president and CEO of JAMM Ventures, recalls his own experiences trying to raise investment money almost 30 years ago and facing the reluctance of investors to make the first move. While he elicited a lot of interest from venture capitalists, no one would step forward and sign on the dotted line. Finally, one agreed to invest, opening the floodgates. “A week later, I was oversubscribed,” he says.


Amplifying Impact: How Accelerating Social Entrepreneurship Boosts Climate Resilience

Social entrepreneurship has a proven track record of helping to increase climate resilience among those already living in poverty. There’s also compelling evidence that social entrepreneurship can help prevent more people being pushed into poverty by climate-fueled events such as droughts, floods, and increasingly frequent and strong storms.

Still, when looking at individual social enterprises, it can be difficult to predict which ones will be successful in the long term, especially as they scale. We propose that business acceleration programs are particularly effective at both identifying which social enterprises are most likely to have an impact, and helping promising social enterprises to optimize their impact and business performance potential.

By using the right metrics to choose social enterprises for their programs, and by providing social entrepreneurs with important skills, knowledge, support, and connections during the course of those programs, accelerators can help multiply the impact of the most high-potential social enterprises.

Download the Amplifying Impact white paper

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Navigating Social Entrepreneurship and the Pandemic in West Africa

By Father Bossou Constant SJ, Miller Center Jesuit-in-Residence

In summer 2021, Father Bossou Constant SJ, Miller Center Jesuit-in-Residence, spent time working with social enterprises in West Africa. These enterprises are all alumni of a 3-day Boost workshop that Miller Center delivered in partnership with West African Jesuits in 2017 and 2018. In conversation with Keith Warner, Miller Center’s Chief Learning Officer, Bossou shares his research and reflections. This is the second in a series of 3 articles. (Read the first article: Social Entrepreneurs Distinguish Themselves in West Africa)

How are the people managing COVID in West Africa?

The pandemic began in West Africa as early as March 2020. As I write in the summer of 2021, this region of Africa is experiencing the third wave of the outbreak, fueled largely by the Delta variant. People are getting infected every day and some are dying. However, the fatality rate is relatively low compared to other parts of the world.

At this point, the impact of COVID on West Africa is more related to the economy than to people’s health. During the first wave, lockdown as well as reduced activities imposed on the population crippled an economy that was already suffering. Many businesses simply closed. Food shortages nearly caused a famine before many economies reopened.

Another problem related to the pandemic is vaccination. While vaccine distribution is beginning to catch up in Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the Africa director of the World Health Organization is quoted in the New York Times saying, “There’s no doubt that vaccine hesitancy is a factor in the rollout of vaccines.” The article attributes this in part to “deep distrust of governments and medical authorities, especially among rural and marginalized communities” and the legacy of Western exploitation. I have personally met many Africans who do not want to take the vaccine at all for reasons that cannot be ignored. It’s a fact that a number of people who have received the vaccine in West Africa have died due to complications. I personally believe that those who died after being vaccinated had underlying health conditions that required care before taking the vaccine. However, such care is almost nonexistent for poor people in West Africa.

How have our West African social enterprise alumni navigated COVID?

All of our alumni from West Africa spoke of having been negatively impacted by COVID. Many of them talked about paying rent and their employees as the most challenging thing that they experienced as a result of the pandemic. Some of them went out of business exactly because of that.

6 out of 27 alumni from Cameroon have gone out of business due to the pandemic, 7 out of 32 in Togo, 5 out of 27 in Benin, and 7 out of 27 in Liberia. One such example is a company (AFJD) based in Cameroon that works with inmates in the form of visits and social reintegration when they get out. When the pandemic began, they couldn’t carry out any of their normal activities and just went out of business.

To be able to cope with COVID’s negative economic impact, those that survived have done so by diversifying their activities. Many of the advanced social enterprises started training sessions over zoom in order to survive. For example, Habiba Natural Care, an organic cosmetics company that we trained in Cameroon, began offering training sessions for other women that want to distribute their products. They were making up to $600 a month for those training sessions in order to recoup their monthly sales that went from $1,500 a month to $500 a month in 2020 due to the pandemic. Luckily, in 2021, their sales have gone up again and their overall annual revenue has gone significantly up thanks to the training sessions they have held for women in various parts of Cameroon.

A few SEs have seen COVID as an opportunity or a happy fall since it led them to think more strategically about their activities. They reinvented themselves and their mission as a way to survive.

Kekeli Lab is a Togolese tech start-up with potential, although it’s been devastated by COVID. Following the Boost, the director showed a lot of interest in Miller Center’s methodology and followed up with several team members. The enterprise is dedicated to alleviating technology poverty for education. Its main product is a router-like device that is a digital library with a mobile app as its front-end software. The device is branded “Kekeli Lab” and is entirely made and programmed by the enterprise’s own technicians. It has partnered with an international company to manufacture the device. Some schools in Togo are already using it and more are interested. In 2016, the enterprise was selected by the Swiss Université de Lausanne to participate in the Clinton Global Institute University at UC Berkeley. That captured our attention during the Boost recruitment process, and the program helped the company develop a better business model. Unfortunately, the pandemic forced them out of business because schools were no longer interested in the product, and they are struggling. So far, they have been unable to resume operations.

Kekeli Lab

The mission of WACSA SARL, a Beninese enterprise, is to contribute to the development of agribusiness in Benin. The company helps farmers and animal breeders with best practices to increase their production. Boost helped WACSA increase its annual revenue of 2017 by 28.5% (from $13K to $16.7K). It saw a 46% increase in annual revenue in 2018. However, they were hit hard financially during the pandemic and decided to change their mission and their activities in order to survive. They abandoned agribusiness and went into water and sanitation. They clean people’s water tanks and install boreholes with new water tanks in rural areas in Benin.

A WASCA SARL company worker installing a borehole water tank in a rural village in Benin

Habiba Natural Care training women to make soap that they can sell locally to provide for their families (during COVID)


True Moringa - Kwami Williams
Guest Blog

Truss Fund Helps True Moringa Fulfill Largest Order

Guest blog by Analiese Tisa, Marketing & Communications Intern, Beneficial Returns

When Kwami Williams, CEO of True Moringa, saw the $635,000 purchase order he was overjoyed — it was the largest order his enterprise had ever landed. FabFitFun, a lifestyle and beauty subscription box service, requested Shea & Moringa Balms from True Moringa for their Fall 2021 Box. Soon, however, his joy turned to worry — how would True Moringa afford $500,000 worth of costs to fill the purchase order?

Born and raised in Ghana, Kwami emigrated to the US and attended MIT thinking he would work in the aerospace industry. Two NASA internships later, Kwami enrolled in MIT’s D-Lab (Development, Design & Dissemination) where he met his co-founder, Emily Cunningham, a Harvard graduate with a degree in Development Economics. Kwami and Emily knew that poverty in Ghana was highest in rural areas and that any long-term fix would need to focus on community-driven solutions that engaged women. The two homed in on moringa, a fast-growing tree endemic to the region and famous for its high levels of iron, calcium, and protein which makes it desirable for cosmetics applications. In 2014 they set out to launch new moringa farmers and connect them to international markets. True Moringa was born.

True Moringa

True Moringa provides tools and training to smallholder farmers in Ghana and processes moringa seeds and leaves into a vitamin-rich oil. The transformation of crops into high-demand products gives poor farmers access to markets and revenue sources they otherwise would not have. The moringa oil is sold in bulk to skincare companies and serves as the base for True Moringa’s own brand of 100% vegan beauty products. In 2014, True Moringa worked with 100 farmers. Three years later, True Moringa joined the Miller Center family and now more than 5,000 farmers have planted over 2 million moringa trees.

When True Moringa received the FabFitFun order, they needed cash to fulfill the order. The Truss Fund’s $150,000 commitment in June, coupled with $350,000 of short-term loans from investors, gave the enterprise the money they needed to finish packaging the balms. This is why the Truss Fund exists: not only to help social enterprises recover and grow from COVID challenges but also to leverage other capital. Over the next few months, True Moringa filled the FabFitFun order, earned a profit of over $100,000, and successfully repaid the Truss Fund loan, freeing up that capital for the next social entrepreneur.

Photo: CEO Kwami Williams harvesting moringa seeds in Ghana with True Moringa farmers


This article originally appeared in the Truss Fund 2.0 Quarterly Update, January 2022.

The Truss Fund was created by Miller Center and Beneficial Returns, which manages the fund. It provides emergency loans of up to $200,000 to Miller Center social enterprise alumni that are employing market-driven solutions to end global poverty and protect the planet.

Press Release




SANTA CLARA, Calif., April 13, 2022 – Miller Center Invest is a new funding vehicle designed to unlock and catalyze capital for social enterprises that are women-led and local leaders typically left behind in the impact investing ecosystem. Announced today, the fund aspires to catalyze $500 million for Miller Center’s global network of social enterprise alumni, with a focus on climate resilience and women’s economic empowerment.

“Our high-performing social enterprise alumni can change the world with access to capital,” said Brigit Helms, executive director, Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship. “We are celebrating 25 years as a pioneer in advancing social entrepreneurship, and the creation of Miller Center Invest is a natural next step.”

Anchor investors include John A. Sobrato, whose $5 million impact investment through Sobrato Philanthropies will be unlocked as Miller Center Invest raises a matching amount of investment capital from other impact investors. The Miller Family Foundation has also committed to participate as an anchor investor.

“As a long-time supporter of Miller Center and Santa Clara University more broadly, we see entrepreneurship as an essential tool to address many of the world’s social and environmental challenges,” said John A. Sobrato, Founder & Board Chair Emeritus of The Sobrato Organization. “Our $5 million investment aims to catalyze the launch of this new fund, attracting investment capital from other impact investors who share our motivation to seek significant impact alongside financial returns.”

More than 1,300 alumni have participated in Miller Center accelerator programs, and an additional 50-100 social entrepreneurs are added each year, making for a strong pipeline. This, combined with Miller Center Invest’s willingness to make the “first” investment in an enterprise, serves as an incentive for other investors to join, while also diminishing the risk.

Miller Center Invest includes two funds for its top performing social enterprises, the Innovation Fund for post revenue start-ups and the Growth Fund for early growth stage.  The two funds will offer ticket sizes between $50,000 and $2 million and will seek to offer a range of financial instruments tailored to the unique needs of social enterpises.

A partnership with Santa Clara University will enable engagement with student teams to support screening, research and due diligence on potential investments, under the supervision of Miller Center mentors, staff and outside fund managers. Investments are anticipated to begin this summer.

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About Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship

Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship is the foremost university-based social enterprise accelerator in the world. With an emphasis on climate resilience and women’s economic empowerment, we accelerate social entrepreneurship to eliminate global poverty. Located at Santa Clara University (SCU), we have served more than 1,300 social entrepreneurs, engaged 162 SCU students in field research, and currently work with more than 300 business leaders from around the world who participate as mentors in our programs.

Media Contacts

Rhonda Brauer, for Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, rhonda@rbrauerconsult.com, (310) 508-0426

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