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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.


BRIGIT HELMS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

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, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

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.”

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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.

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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.

Read our 2021 Annual Report online

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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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Blog

Interning with Purpose: Supporting Refugees Resettling in the US

A recent graduate of Santa Clara University and former Miller Center Fellow, Marissa Boylan SCU ‘21 spent the summer interning for 1951 Coffee, a social enterprise that provides training and employment opportunities for refugees living in Northern California. As Marissa notes, “The average time that it takes a refugee to be resettled after fleeing their country is 17 years. That’s a huge chunk of time to be missing work experience and education opportunities.”

1951 Coffee, named for the year the United Nations established refugee protection guidelines, works with refugees to help them overcome the unique barriers they face in seeking and sustaining employment. Marissa connected with 1951 through Miller Center’s new internship program which pairs Santa Clara students and recent graduates with alumni of the Center’s social enterprise accelerator programs. During her internship, Marissa created a social media fundraising campaign and worked on a $15,000 grant proposal which the organization won. She shared, “I’m really, really honored to have been able to work with a social enterprise that’s doing so much good work to help a group of people that is being consistently let down.”

Watch Marissa’s video to learn more about her internship with 1951 Coffee, her insights into the challenges facing refugees, her unique perspective growing up in Micronesia, and her desire to make an impact. According to Marissa, “This internship and my experience as a Miller Center Fellow honestly transformed my life and opened up so many doors for me. These opportunities taught me how to look at my passions as not just personal things but as ways to give back and serve my community.”

September 26, 2021, marks the Vatican’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees. Miller Center is proud to highlight Marissa’s internship and the tremendous work of 1951 Coffee in support of people displaced by conflict and persecution.

 

 

​​And watch the trailer for No Single Origin, an award-winning documentary that follows 1951 Coffee CEO Doug Hewitt and three graduates of the company’s Barista Training Program as they share the challenges of refugee resettlement in the US.

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Blog

Miller Center & Chevron Launch Climate Resilience Accelerator In Asia Pacific

SANTA CLARA, Calif., June 17, 2021 – Social entrepreneurship leaders from India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam who are focused on solutions that address vulnerable populations suffering disproportionately from climate change in the areas of energy, water, and climate-smart agriculture, have been selected to participate in a program designed to help scale their organizations.
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