Written Articles


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


These Pioneers are Changing the Narrative for Women and Capital

Imagine adding $5 trillion to the global economy? A Boston Consulting Group (BCG) analysis concluded that “if women and men participated equally as entrepreneurs, global GDP could rise by approximately 3% to 6%, boosting the global economy by $2.5 trillion to $5 trillion.” And yet, even knowing this, we don’t invest in women-led businesses. Women are consistently left behind for access to capital, both here in Silicon Valley and around the world. A 2021 Ms. Magazine article summed it up well: “Access to capital is still a significant obstacle, preventing women-owned businesses from leveraging valuable opportunities, or in some cases, from even getting off the ground.”

In 2019, only 2.7% of venture funding went to women-only founding teams, and in 2020, that number dropped to less than 2%. And while women of color are starting new businesses at a faster rate than any other group in the US, they continue to experience both gender and racial bias, making their access to capital disproportionately more difficult. For example, “Black women represent 42% of new women-owned businesses — three times their share of the female population,” but received only 0.34% of venture funding in the first half of 2021. Worldwide, Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM)’s 2021/2022 Global Report noted that the total entrepreneurial activity (TEA) of women is equal to or exceeds that of men in only four of their 47 surveyed countries.

Yet, a January 2019 Forbes article cited several studies showing that women-founded companies outperformed those founded by men, including delivering higher revenues, stronger growth, less employee turnover, and greater return on equity.

As part of our Line of Sight podcast, we had the opportunity to interview five changemakers who are tackling this problem from different perspectives — all working to empower women economically and change the narrative.

Countering Implicit Bias

Named “Woman of Influence” by the Silicon Valley Business Journal, Maya Ackerman is an assistant professor in Computer Science and Engineering at Santa Clara University and an award-winning artificial intelligence (AI) expert. While working on her PhD in Computer Science, Maya decided to take voice lessons from an opera singer for fun. Going on to become a semi-professional opera singer as a side hobby, Maya is also an aspiring songwriter but finds writing music “hard!”.  So she decided to apply her machine learning expertise to help fulfill her musical dreams and co-founded WaveAI, today’s most advanced musical AI startup. Yet as an entrepreneur and CEO, Maya came face-to-face with how difficult it is to get funding as a woman founder.

Maya began extensive research on the gender gap in startup funding. Her research found that bias is the primary cause of the funding imbalance. These findings counter a common misconception that the gap is largely attributable to an insufficient pipeline of women founders. However, as Maya asserted, “focus on the pipeline problem occludes systemic barriers that prevent female entrepreneurship from fair access to startup funds.” One of the reasons she posited that venture firms, in particular, are behind most other fields in advancing diversity is a culture of “going with your gut” to evaluate firms and founders. But that opens the door for implicit bias. Maya noted, “Implicit bias is a fact of life, so we need initiatives that effectively counter it and help us be inclusive despite that bias.” Maya’s research is critical to driving systemic change to do just that.

Since our podcast, Maya published her research confirming bias against women CEOs. In an article in dot.LA, she states, “Investors don’t like to invest in female-led companies (almost certainly due to implicit bias). This bias is most clearly seen in the amount of funding given to male-led versus female-led firms.” She goes on to say, “It’s important to stress that everyone loses as a result of this bias: Investors lose out on investing in great companies, consumers miss out on great products, and, of course, highly qualified businesswomen are held back.”

Removing Bias from Investment Decisions

Sharon Vosmek is CEO and Managing Partner of Astia, a global organization with a $100 million venture fund that levels the investment playing field for women entrepreneurs — providing access to capital and networks for the companies they lead. Sharon has spoken at the United Nations and many universities on building inclusive ecosystems and advocates for the importance of women leaders as integral to innovation and high-performing entrepreneurial teams.

Because investment in early-stage companies relies heavily on an assessment of the individual founder, bias — most notably toward women and people of color — permeates investment decisions. To counter bias, Astia developed its Expert SiftTM, focused on making investment decisions with data and expert crowd wisdom, as well as a proven, documented, and repeatable model. Because, as Sharon noted, “Innovation often comes out of hidden places and from individuals who are often overlooked.”

The Expert Sift methodology relies on the written word through the first several screening rounds instead of an initial meeting or pitch deck, both of which are subject to bias. Sharon also stressed how vital it is to ask the same questions of every company through every round because, “When we start to deviate and ask different questions for different individuals, we once again reintroduced bias.” The results from Astia’s efforts to remove bias from its processes are impressive. Today, the Astia Fund portfolio is comprised of companies with 50% Black women CEOs.

Investing with a Gender Lens

Lisa Willems is Managing Director of impact investing firm AlphaMundi Group, which provides debt and equity financing to scalable social ventures in East Africa and Latin America with a gender lens. “Women represent a tremendous opportunity for global economic growth, larger than China and India combined,” said Lisa. “And women in the U.S. are set to inherit 70% of the intergenerational wealth over the next 40 years.” So investing in women just makes sense.

Lisa explained, “Our hypothesis is that if companies embed gender equity practices across all their operations, especially governance and senior management, they’ll actually enhance both their social and financial returns and empower women across all levels of the organization.”

By taking a gender lens approach to investing, AlphaMundi looks at their portfolio companies’ entire business, not just their human resource policies. They get buy-in from the companies they work with because they take a business-first approach. These gender equity practices improve employee retention, lead to better decision-making through diverse perspectives, and ultimately deliver results to the bottom line.

Investing Your Values

Janine Firpo, writer, entrepreneur, impact investor, and co-founder of Invest for Better, is passionate about teaching women to harness the power of their money to create a better world. She spoke with us about her recently published book, Activate Your Money – Invest to Grow Your Wealth and Build a Better World, teaching women how to invest their values and have fun in the process.

Following a months-long solo backpacking trip across sub-Saharan Africa, where she witnessed extreme poverty, Janine pivoted from a career in high-tech to work in international development. Along the way, she realized that although she was living her values, her money wasn’t. So, starting small, she shifted her own money. And now her life’s work is to encourage women to invest their values — from opening a checking account in a community bank focused on women- and minority-owned businesses to investing in ESG- (environmental, social, and governance) compliant stock funds to becoming an angel investor. While private equity investing may seem daunting, Janine assured us that it’s easier and can require far less capital than one may think, including starting with $100 through crowdfunding or joining an investment club with a community of women.

Through her book and Invest for Better, the nonprofit Janine co-founded in 2021, she and her co-founder, Ellen Remmer, are putting women into investment clubs to help them understand that they can take control of their money and invest it for good. And, she noted, “We can be smart investors. Only 9% of us think we can do better than men, so we don’t invest. But research shows that when we do invest, we actually outperform men.” Further, she explained, “When you start to put your money into things you care about, it feels really good. Knowing your money is supporting a better world gives your money meaning.”

Practicing Radical Generosity in Investing

Entrepreneur and award-winning mentor Vicki Saunders founded #radicalgenerosity and SheEO, a global community of radically generous women who are supporting women-led ventures working on the world’s “to-do list.” Vicki discovered how difficult it is to raise capital as a woman entrepreneur through her own experiences and through the women she mentors. She founded SheEO to change that in an innovative and powerful way.

As Vicki shared, “I’m not interested in leveling the playing field [between women and men entrepreneurs] but in creating a new one. The playing field in front of us is crappy and creates more inequality.” SheEO is leveraging the resources of a community of women, known as “activators.” They contribute $1,100/year, which is pooled and loaned at 0% interest to entrepreneurs they select through voting. SheEO focuses its investments on businesses that are tackling big global issues. As Vicki said, “We’re looking for super creative ideas rethinking healthcare or education, coming up with new ways to help people with mobility challenges, or finding ways of surfacing indigenous wisdom that will help us to live in harmony with nature.”

SheEO positions its loans as entrusted to the entrepreneur who is the temporary custodian of that capital, which they repay within 5 years so it may be loaned back out again by the community — creating a whole new model for economies. Even more valuable than the loans, according to the entrepreneurs, are the support, expertise, and networking they receive through what SheEO terms “radical generosity.” The activators approach the business leaders with a nontraditional investment attitude of “We love what you’re doing! How can we help?” And that help is priceless.

When Women Flourish, We All Do

Maya, Sharon, Lisa, Janine, and Vicky are transforming how we think about investing in women and by women. As Michelle Obama said, “No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contribution of half its citizens.” These five pioneers are intent on helping women, communities, and countries flourish.


A Santa Clara University alumna, Helms is a veteran leader in global development, financial and economic inclusion, economic policy, and social entrepreneurship. Helms is the author of Access for All: Building Inclusive Economic Systems (2018), and has published papers and bylined articles in publications including the MIT Technology Review, The Guardian, the Journal of Microfinance, and The Huffington Post. She is a board member at the AlphaMundi Foundation, which seeks to boost the social and environmental impact of portfolio companies of impact investor AlphaMundi Group. She is also on the board of the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee USA, which works to empower the poor in 11 countries across South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.


Don Heider is the executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University. He also serves as the John Courtney Murray, S.J. University Professor of Social Ethics and holds an appointment as professor of communication. Formerly, Heider was the associate provost for strategy & innovation and dean of the School of Communication at Loyola University in Chicago. He also was the founder of the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola. Heider began his career as a TV journalist and received five Emmy awards for his work.  He is the author or editor of seven books including “A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics and Ethics for a Digital Age, Volumes 1 and 2.”

Guest Blog

Social Entrepreneurs Distinguish Themselves 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 first in a series of 3 articles.


Why did you want to spend the summer working with social enterprises in West Africa?

The need for sustainable economic development is huge in West Africa which is composed of 70% French-speaking countries and 30% English-speaking countries. The latter in West Africa and elsewhere on the continent of Africa often see more international economic and professional development than their French-speaking counterparts. As a Jesuit priest from Benin, West Africa, studying at Santa Clara, I developed a strong desire to create a positive impact on social entrepreneurs in Francophone West Africa after learning about Miller Center back in 2015. Miller Center, in partnership with the West African Jesuits, delivered 4 Boost workshops in West Africa — a 3-day, hands-on program developed by Miller Center to help social entrepreneurs with their business plans and financial and impact models. The first one was delivered in English (Liberia in 2017) and the remaining three in French (Togo in 2017, Benin in 2018, and Cameroon in 2018). Jose, Pamela, Fr. Bossou, and Fr. Marthins during Liberia Boost in 2017. I spent the summer in West Africa working with alumni of these Boost workshops to understand the positive impact of program, how they are doing thus far, and the implications of COVID.


How many social enterprise alumni do we have in these four countries? And what are some general patterns of their business types and impact models?

We have a total of 112 social enterprises alumni from these 4 Boosts — 25 in Liberia, 30 in Togo, 28 in Benin, and 27 in Cameroon. Most of these social enterprises are relatively small organizations with an average of 6 employees. Approximately 43% of the 112 enterprises are women-led. About half have missions and activities focused on climate resilience through agri-business, including organic agriculture which has become very popular in West Africa in recent years. A few of them specifically target job creation among young people and a few are in the high-tech sector.

In Liberia, most of the organizations in the workshop were nonprofits with little or no income-generating activities. However, during and after the Boost, many of them revisited their strategic plans to include income-generating activities in order to make themselves more sustainable and viable. In Togo, the enterprises we trained have the most diverse business types, from agriculture to wellness promotion. In Benin, 80% of these social enterprises are agri-businesses. In Cameroon, most businesses are in high-tech, beauty products, or health.


How does the social enterprise movement in West Africa overall compare to these Miller Center alumni?

Even though a number of young people in West Africa engage in the social entrepreneurship journey to make ends meet and positively impact their environment and people, they aren’t as impactful and successful as one would hope. Only a handful of them can make up to $20,000 in annual revenue. They certainly need the necessary training to be able to make a significant impact. We have seen how Boosts have helped our alumni to distinguish themselves from the other social enterprises in West Africa. Foufoumix, a Togolese-based enterprise, has probably been the most successful of all. Its breakthrough invention is a machine that pounds yams to make a very delicious West African food called fufu. It is one of the most expensive foods in the region, and women are required to spend a lot of time and effort pounding the yams in a big mortar. Men do not do this work. A couple of years after the Boost, the company created another product — an agricultural tractor which has been almost as successful as the pounded yams machine. Foufoumix is now a multi-million dollar company.

Foufoumix production unit in Togo. They sell their products everywhere in West Africa. Each Foufoumix machine sells for about $450.

  • BeauConseils is a Togolese wellness enterprise founded and led by Aïcha Bouraïma. Boost helped her revise her business strategy. She had been having difficulty selling her ideas for wellness and a healthy lifestyle. She came to realize that the idea of wellness is not yet embedded in African cultures. Thus, after Boost, she became very vocal on the issue of the moral, emotional, and psychological poverty of millions of Togolese people. Since then, she has been invited many times on national television to talk about her vision. She now holds paid and unpaid wellness sessions as a private consultant.
  • Africa Global Recycling is a social enterprise actively engaged in collecting, cleaning, and selling plastic waste with the goal of making Lomé, the capital city of Togo, cleaner. Right after Boost, it participated in a Togolese competition called Kpekpe 2017 and won second prize for its pitches, and fourth prize overall. In October 2017, the company also won third prize in the international competition Africa Is Calling You, held in Paris, which featured the best African startups of 2017. In 2017, at the time of the Boost, Africa Global Recycling’s annual revenue was less than $20K. As of now, the enterprise has 25 employees and annual revenue of $260K.
  • Habiba Natural Care is a Cameroonian social enterprise organic cosmetics company that creates jobs for disadvantaged women in Cameroon. The company’s entire value chain, from sourcing raw materials to distributing its products, is about 90% women. Habiba sources all its raw materials from women in rural Cameroon, thus creating income for them and their families.
  • In response to the pandemic, Habiba started holding paid training sessions for women to help them cope with a decrease in sales and, in the process, created many jobs for disadvantaged women. Since January 2020, about 850 women have been trained. Among them are approximately 350 widows, and the remainder are mostly women refugees fleeing war zones in Northern Cameroon where Boko Haram is present and in the English-speaking provinces of Cameroon where there has been a political crisis for about 5 years already. All these women now make their own products and sell them in various parts of Cameroon.
Habiba Natural Care training in Cameroon


What are the strengths of the social enterprise movement in West Africa?

There is intrinsic interdependence between social and economic development in West Africa. This makes a strong case for social entrepreneurship in the region. Many entrepreneurs tackle social problems without intentionally wanting to become social entrepreneurs. They just happen to be social entrepreneurs because solving economic problems in West Africa most often means working for the social development of the people.

Annual Report

Weaving the Fabric of Impact | Annual Report 2021

We live in an increasingly interconnected world, and that’s never been more evident than over the past year and a half with the dual scourges of the global pandemic and racial violence. Without a doubt, this has been one of the most difficult years many of us have faced in our lifetimes — obviously far worse for the most marginalized and vulnerable among us.

Yet, that interconnectedness also provides opportunities for meaningful change. Together we can weave the fabric of impact so that our “single garment of destiny” becomes one of strength, resilience, and inclusiveness. Social entrepreneurship is doing just that. Social enterprises globally have stepped up to face our collective challenges, fostering livelihoods, dignity, and wellbeing for those they serve. Miller Center is proud to be a part of the solution — accelerating social entrepreneurship to end global poverty and create a more humane, just, and sustainable world.

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Guest Blog

iKure Innovates During COVID with Help from Truss Fund

By Analiese Tisa, Marketing & Communications Intern, Beneficial Returns

If Sujay Santra had been told 11 years ago that he would alter the healthcare infrastructure in India, he would not have believed it. In 2009, Sujay was working as a solution architect for a tech firm, but his life took a sharp pivot when his father started experiencing cardiac health issues. After months of traveling long distances to receive consultations from various doctors, Sujay and his family discovered that a lack of care coordination and medical expertise had led his father to be given the wrong prescription.

Frustrated about how a healthcare system failed to help someone with access to education, technology, and financial resources, Sujay wondered how people with even fewer privileges received adequate medical attention. Motivated by these frustrations, Sujay created iKure to address the gap between medical providers and patients. iKure is a holistic healthcare provider that services communities in India through in-person clinics and innovative technology. iKure’s local Hub and Spokes model consists of local clinics and trained Community Health Workers who administer tests and direct consultations. This model reduces the patient-doctor gap by implementing health centers in rural villages, equipped with qualified doctors and staff, and partnering with local NGOs. Its complementary digital platforms, such as the iKure app, reach more patients through services like telemedicine, eye check-ups, and research surveys. iKure caters to corporations, foundations, local governments, and academic institutions across rural and urban regions in India and is expanding to other countries.

For over a decade, iKure has provided last-mile accessible and affordable healthcare and is a 2018 Miller Center graduate. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced iKure to take a new direction. An $80,000 emergency loan issued by the Truss Fund enabled iKure to expand its services amidst global uncertainty. Some of the enterprise’s initiatives over the past year and a half include COVID testing, COVID awareness campaigns, and intervention programs to reduce infection rates. Additionally, a new population health management system predicts and notifies Community Health Workers on disease outbreaks and streamlines the collection of clinical data, which has made medical services more efficient.

The impact of iKure is evident: its health network, led by over 540 community health workers, provides coverage to 4,000 villages and 8 million people. Currently, iKure operates nine Hubs, six mini-clinics, and 160 Intervention Spokes throughout India and Vietnam. What began as a personal quest to provide care to a single patient has now matured into an ambitious goal of offering quality healthcare to 50 million patients by 2025.

In April 2020, Beneficial Returns and Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship launched Truss Fund 1.0 to make emergency loans to social enterprises struggling in the face of COVID-19. Truss Fund 2.0 was launched in summer 2021.

This article was originally published in the Truss Fund 1.0 Quarterly Update.

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