“Our revenues have gone to zero, we have less than 60 days of cash in the bank, and we have already laid off or furloughed a majority of our staff!”
During the early days of this crisis, I was having back-to-back conversations with our community of social enterprises around the world who were expressing their urgent need for support if they were going to stay afloat and keep their crucial social impact alive during this crisis.
As an accelerator our sweet spot is mentorship, and I am proud of how Miller Center staff and mentors rapidly pivoted to produce webinars, content, and programs to accompany and guide social enterprises in adapting their business models to this crisis. You can read more about our efforts here.
However, based on these early conversations, it was clear from the outset that mentorship alone was not going to keep all of these enterprises alive, and that significant emergency bridge funding was needed in order to ensure that these organizations would have the opportunity to execute their pivots and continue their impact.
While Miller Center has never directly invested capital in the social enterprises we accelerate, we have invested a great deal of time and other resources into our alumni and have built many lasting relationships. It was clear that we had a strategic and moral imperative to help protect these organizations.
Working with our longtime partner and kindred spirit Beneficial Returns, we quickly developed the concept for the Truss Fund: an emergency bridge loan facility managed by Beneficial Returns that would rapidly provide high-risk capital to some of Miller Center’s most impactful social enterprises on patient and below-market-rate terms.
Given the high-risk nature of providing bridge loans to social enterprises in a crisis, this fund could not be capitalized with conventional return-seeking capital. Rather, we proposed to raise our pool of capital with recoverable grants which promise our philanthropic investors somewhere between a return of capital (0% return) and a full loss of principal. What we offered in return was radical impact leverage. By investing a relatively small sum of money now, we can have a profound impact on great social enterprises working to lift people out of poverty and protect the planet.
I was absolutely blown away by the generosity of Miller Center’s donor community and their intuitive prioritization of impact return on investment over financial return on investment. Within 3 weeks of launching the concept, we raised over $700,000 in investable capital for the Truss Fund.
Fast forward a mere 5 weeks and I am happy to report that the Truss Fund has already deployed $330,000 in capital to four amazing social entrepreneurs.
iKure, which delivers tech-enabled primary healthcare, wellness, and prevention services to underserved communities in India, has touched over 8 million lives. In response to the outbreak, the company is ensuring continuity of care for its beneficiaries using telemedicine services, as well as promoting awareness and providing mental health support. Funding will help fill the gap that has been created by delays in customer payments and postponement of fundraising activities.
LRTT brings master teachers from the UK and Australia to under-resourced public schools in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean for intensive teacher training. Schools that host an LRTT Fellow report lower teacher turnover, lower teacher absenteeism, and enhanced educational outcomes for students. To date, 2,500 master teachers have impacted 7,500 in-country teachers and 125,000 students. The Truss Fund’s support will allow LRTT to keep its essential operations in place so that it can resume placements as soon as travel opens up again.
NUCAFE organizes smallholder coffee farmers in Uganda into cooperatives and helps farmers capture a greater share of the coffee value chain by providing access to processing equipment and markets. NUCAFE’s membership is currently 213 farmer cooperatives/associations with over 215,120 farming families. The Truss Fund’s support will allow NUCAFE to continue to buy coffee from its network of farmers and meet international demand once coffee shops, hotels, and restaurants reopen.
Pollinate Group empowers women entrepreneurs to distribute products that improve health and save time and money for the most neglected communities in India and Nepal through a door-to-door last-mile distribution network. The enterprise has trained 650 women who have reached 631,000 people, saving their customers $16.7M and reducing carbon emissions by 65K tonnes. The Truss Fund’s support will allow Pollinate to survive until the lockdowns are lifted and they can resume door-to-door sales and tap a contract from the Dutch government for over $1 million.
There is much work left to do, and our small pool of capital is only a drop in the bucket compared to the needs of our alumni community right now. Telling otherwise-viable enterprises that are scrambling to survive that we will not be able to support them is absolutely the worst part of my job. So, if you are interested in supporting the Truss Fund, enabling us to support more fantastic social enterprises, please let me know.
Despite all the pain of the virus, there is also much to celebrate. This crisis has moved us to forge new partnerships with our impact investment partners and it has catalyzed a radically new form of impact fund capitalization through recoverable grants. The crisis has affirmed Miller Centers’ commitment to accompany our alumni social enterprises through not only the challenges of scaling their organizations but also the challenge of surviving in times of crisis.
I am grateful for the partnership of Ted Levinson at Beneficial Returns for making this idea a reality, for the generosity of the investors in the Truss Fund, and most of all, for our fantastic community of alumni social enterprises who risk so much to make the world a better place.