Seeking new ways to express their mission in the world, Catholic Sisters in Eastern Africa asked Miller Center to create practical learning and leadership formation programs in social entrepreneurship for them. Funded by Hilton Foundation’s Catholic Sisters Initiative and private benefactors, the Sisters Blended Value Project (SBVP) mentors Sisters as they transform their congregations into social enterprises. The project was initiated by the Association of Consecrated Women of Eastern and Central Africa (ACWECA) as a creative response to the needs of the 30,000 Sisters in that region.

Since November 2019, when we launched our program….

    • A total of ten congregations have started apprenticeships to replicate successful business models, guided by local GSBI social enterprises. At the end of the apprenticeship, teams of Sisters present their business plans, adapted from the replication process, for social enterprises sponsored by their congregations.
    • Of these ten, so far five have completed apprenticeships and are now participating in the Sisters Accelerator, in which they build out their own business plan to guide their growth over the next two years. This program follows our GSBI curriculum structure, and Sisters are guided by Miller Center mentors.
    • An additional eight congregations have begun an introductory, self-guided program to help them incubate their own startup ideas.

Thus, a total of 56 Sisters in 18 congregations in six countries are progressing through the project.

Six of the ten Sisters’ enterprises foster sustainable agriculture. Eggpreneur has mentored three congregations in its impact and business model. These Sisters are raising poultry on their own land and recruiting local women to gather eggs and produce chicken meat, which the Sisters then market through their networks. Currently, two of our Global Social Benefit Fellows are supporting Sisters by evaluating and enhancing the Eggpreneur apprenticeship curriculum. Fellow Marissa Boylan said, “The Sisters just need to learn the skills of social entrepreneurship because they already have the network, the passion, and the drive. The impact they can have is unparalleled!” Erin Malcolm added, “The Sisters’ ability to persevere through many unforeseen circumstances to complete their apprenticeship and put their training into action is extremely admirable.”

In Uganda, our social enterprise partner NUCAFE has mentored Sisters in enhancing their own coffee production and recruiting local small farmers to join their cooperatives. The Sisters then market their coffee beans through NUCAFE, who roasts and exports them. Executive Director Joseph Nkandu said, “NUCAFE looks forward to increased social impact due to the influence that Sisters have in the communities.”

Several of these enterprises are developing sustainable agriculture training farms. Sister Edna Himoonde, leader of the Emerging Farmers Initiative for the Religious Sisters of the Holy Spirit in Zambia, said,

“Social Entrepreneurship is a path out of poverty into self-sustainability for human dignity and replenishing Mother Earth. This project is a sure hope of giving value to under-utilized resources for mission, and for meeting the congregation’s needs.”

Four of the congregations are apprenticing with Teach A Man To Fish, which trains Sisters and teachers to lead students through the startup process, and then together they launch school-based social enterprises. From this learning, the Sisters transform their schools into social enterprises, developing business models and diversified revenue streams.

Of the five Sisters’ enterprises currently in the Sisters Accelerator, three have secured impact investment for their enterprises from The Nancy Ottoboni Impact Investment Fund for Sisters. These three enterprises will use funds to scale their poultry rearing and production, and develop irrigation and water infrastructure for a sustainable agriculture training program and production unit.

This fund was established by a Catholic philanthropist to help the Sisters in the SBVP learn how to use investments for social impact, especially to benefit women and youth. The benefactor chose not to make a charitable donation, but rather arrange for an impact investment fund to help the Sisters learn how to manage the finances of their social enterprises. This fund is designed to provide the friendliest financial terms possible for Sisters as they launch social enterprises. Each impact investment combines a philanthropic gift with a “recoverable grant.” As a practical matter, recoverable grants are zero-interest loans that are to be repaid over a 24 month period. Each recoverable grant will be matched 1-1 with a philanthropic gift. This is the first impact investment fund ever raised that is dedicated exclusively to Catholic Sisters.

An additional ten congregations have begun an introductory Farming Enterprise Workbook. Most congregations in East Africa own land, but its use is restricted to subsistence production. This self-guided program introduces Sisters to the basic principles of social entrepreneurship and business model planning, and leads them to apply these in the transformation of their farmland into social enterprises. ACWECA manages the program, Miller Center provides a mentor, and when the team of Sisters completes the workbook they qualify for the apprenticeship stage.

ACWECA’s Secretary General Sister Hellen Bandiho said,

“The SBVP is a unique project of acquiring business skills to sustain the Sisters’ ministries which aim to serve poor and vulnerable people especially children, youth and women. The Blended Value Project provides income generation opportunities to meet the basic needs of the congregations and the people they serve.”

As it gains experience in social enterprise acceleration, ACWECA will assume progressively more responsibility for the SBVP.