What a wonderful opportunity to participate in Miller Center’s executive immersion trip to Uganda in January 2020. We—a group of nine including Miller Center staff, four mentors, and a couple of spouses—truly immersed through insightful field trips, experiencing the real work and impact of over eight social enterprises. We saw impact in action at the sites and heard the perspective of social entrepreneurs during an alumni workshop and reception.

There is no bigger highlight for a Miller Center mentor than visiting a mentee, and this year’s immersion trip allowed both of us to reconnect. Elsbeth mentored Joseph Nkandu in 2016 and enjoyed hearing how NUCAFE has grown to work with 1.2 million Ugandan farmers through farmer co-ops. We toured their growing coffee bean processing plant where they make more of the value chain accessible to their farmers. They process beans, from sorting to roasting, to create final consumer products for export.

Lisa is currently mentoring Matt Dickson who heads Eggpreneur to help women start sustainable chicken farming businesses. She met with graduates of his training and heard the empowerment these women feel with their newly gained financial skills to understand profit and farming skills to raise chicks.

Site visits included Jibu with a discussion on a franchise approach to improving access to drinkable water in the last mile and creating jobs to improve economic self-sufficiency for franchise owners and their families.

We also visited two rent-to-own business models that are helping Ugandans move out of poverty. Tugenda increases access to motorcycles for income generation while Smart Havens Africa builds small homes, so families can escape informal settlements for homeownership in safer neighborhoods.

We met with small shop owners and learned how a targeted microfinance approach from Numida can help them grow through progressive microloans with improved interest rates to buy inventory and manage cash flow. At EnVenture we learned about solar solutions and microfinancing.

Mentors had discussions with many leaders focused on transforming their organizations from aid-led to enterprise-led. Nurture Africa continues to train youth in tailoring, as one part of their mission, while expanding a business in high quality school uniforms for the local market. They have also opened sleek coffee shops combining revenue with training opportunities for youth in catering. Catholic sisters in Kenya and Uganda are working with NUCAFE and Eggpreneur to start businesses. One sister said that rather than thinking about what they don’t have, they now see what they do have—neglected coffee trees, farming land, and congregants. They feel optimistic about creating businesses to support themselves and to uplift their congregations.

We enjoyed meeting with many Miller Center alumni for a workshop and reception. As mentors, we encouraged social entrepreneurs and their teams to share best practices around their common challenges, and they had lots to share.

We were received with warmth and pride, no doubt from the deep relationships each organization has with Miller Center. A few thanked us for visiting and energizing their staffs. We definitely recommend the opportunity to participate in Miller Center executive immersion trips with fellow mentors and staff.

Lisa Braden-Harder & Elsbeth TeBrake