“We may not have chosen the time, but the time has chosen us.”
—John Lewis, former U.S. Representative and Civil Rights Leader (1940-2020)
Whenever I start to feel overwhelmed because – well – a pandemic, a new job, a cross-country move, a new house, remote work with spotty internet, kids studying at home, I think about these words attributed to the late great John Lewis.
Now, more than ever, the time has chosen us. I firmly believe that social entrepreneurship is an effective tool for finding scalable and sustainable solutions to the social, economic, and environmental problems illuminated or exacerbated by the current crisis. In fact, when I think about the triple pandemics of COVID-19, racial injustice, and environmental degradation, I can’t help but be grateful for the opportunity to join Miller Center.
The next decade will likely rush by at breakneck speed with constant and often surprising change around the corner. I have every confidence that Miller Center will rise to the occasion and not only survive but thrive through it all.
Why am I so sure about this? Because I am blessed with taking on a first-rate program, an amazing team, and a fabulous brand. I have spent the past several weeks getting to know the spectrum of Miller Center ecosystem stakeholders – staff, mentors, the Santa Clara community, our stellar Advisory Board, accelerator alumni, and student fellows. I have used a variety of methods, including a survey with over 100 respondents, more than 50 one-on-one discussions, and a series of thematic briefings organized by staff.
This learning journey has accelerated my understanding of Miller Center, our unique contribution to the social entrepreneurship space; our substantial assets including our terrific staff and network of dedicated and engaged stakeholders; and our potential to seize new opportunities. I believe Miller Center is poised to capitalize on our successes so far – 1,000 social entrepreneurs reaching hundreds of thousands of poor customers raising nearly a billion dollars, wow! – to scale our impact.
Now, more than ever, the time has chosen Miller Center. The sheer magnitude of the challenge is daunting. A few years ago, the UN’s Business and Sustainable Development Commission advised the architects of the Sustainable Development Goals about the $12 trillion investment gap it identified at the base of the pyramid across health, education, energy and agriculture. This amounts to a $12 trillion opportunity to improve, transform, and save lives. With the current global pandemic threatening to plunge more than a half billion people into poverty, the challenges – along with potential opportunities to solve them – multiply each and every day.
Meanwhile, the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) recently announced around $700 billion of assets under management by impact investors – much of it struggling to find a home. The only way to meet our collective SDG goals is to tap into the large pools of capital across the globe, which can only be done by finding innovative, entrepreneurial solutions to the seemingly intractable problems of our time.
While Miller Center is a relatively small player compared to these major sources of capital, we have the opportunity to influence the larger players and achieve outsized impact. We can do this by identifying and then investing in what I’m calling key scaling levers: technology and partnerships.
Over the course of this coming year, we will strengthen our technology platform to reach larger and more diverse stakeholders. We will also expand our partnerships to a) get closer to sources of capital so urgently needed to help social entrepreneurs survive and thrive; b) actively and systematically pursue replication alliances to multiply our impact across the globe and build the capacity of local leaders; and c) expand our footprint at Santa Clara University to reach many more students and ensure the lasting legacy of social entrepreneurship as part of the University’s DNA. In addition, we will double down on measuring and managing our impact, building a more diverse and inclusive ecosystem of stakeholders, and strengthening our ability to continuously innovate, learn and improve.
I have no doubt that we are up to the challenge posed by John Lewis. But we cannot do it alone – no one can. This is our collective moment. The time has chosen us all. Now it’s up to us to deliver on the promise of social entrepreneurship to help end global poverty and protect the planet.