By Deborah Lohse, Assistant Director for Media Relations, Santa Clara University

One of the women leaders of the Santa Clara-mentored social enterprise, Empower Generation, shares information about the advantages of solar power at a sales promotion program and a women's microfinance cooperative in Nepal (Photo by Empower Generat…    

One of the women leaders of the Santa Clara-mentored social enterprise, Empower Generation, shares information about the advantages of solar power at a sales promotion program and a women’s microfinance cooperative in Nepal (Photo by Empower Generation)



As a Center of Distinction that promotes social entrepreneurship – using business-based techniques to develop innovative solutions that fight poverty and address social and environmental issues – Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University has been delighted to see the surge in interest in “impact investing” by the Catholic Church, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), and even Pope Francis. This type of investing considers both profit and social impact – reducing pollution, increasing employment, improving quality of life, and more – as measurements of success. 

“[Since] 2014, we’ve seen the first-ever Vatican conferences on impact investing, Catholic Relief Services’ first impact investment, and a growing number of Jesuit and Catholic universities inspired to teach or support social entrepreneurship,” said John Kohler, Miller Center’s director of impact capital. Kohler was among those who has spoken at both Vatican conferences, and has advised CRS and other organizations on how to invest in this innovative way.   

”There is an exciting convergence now between Catholic social ministries and the impact investing community toward using capital in new ways to solve entrenched social problems,” he added.

Miller Center, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, has provided free training and mentoring to more than 600 social enterprises around the globe, and continues to evolve. After spending time reflecting on the most pressing problems facing impoverished countries today, the center’s staff have affirmed their primary goal to eradicate poverty through social entrepreneurship, and focused the center’s resources on two main areas: “women rising” and climate resilience. Miller Center is now selecting social enterprises for its Global Social Benefit Institute (R) programs that are led by women (or addressing issues that affect women), or engaged in promoting resilience to the effects of climate change, particularly those addressing energy and water poverty, sustainable rural development, or health.

“These two areas of Miller Center’s focus — empowering women economically and promoting climate resilience — are individually important and synergistic,” said Miller Center Executive Director Thane Kreiner, Ph.D. “Women and girls represent the majority of the world’s poor. They have fewer paths out of poverty, and are more vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change. Women’s economic empowerment, climate resilience, and poverty are tightly interwoven; helping women in a given community rise out of poverty simultaneously helps create climate resilience in that same community, and vice versa.”

Miller Center aims to align its outcomes to the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development goals, which are designed to guide humanitarian efforts “to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities, and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind.” Some of the recent social entrepreneurs who have been trained by Miller Center faculty serve as vivid examples of the urgency for these goals:

•    Pollinate Energy trains local entrepreneurs to establish micro-businesses that sell clean solar lights, water filters, and solar fans in urban slums of India. After participating in the center’s GSBI Accelerator in 2016, Pollinate Energy received a $100,000 grant from a Silicon Valley-based global venture philanthropy firm. In addition to easing women’s household tasks and replacing toxic kerosene in the home, the company provides employment, increased education for students, and greater discretionary income by eliminating fuel costs.
•    Koe Koe Tech, which provides essential health information to parents and pregnant women (in order to reduce maternal and under-5 mortality rates in Myanmar), recently received a $150,000 USAID grant.
•    Livelyhoods, which trains women and youth in Kenyan slum areas to sell environmentally beneficial products like clean cook-stoves and solar goods, recently received $100,000 from investors.

Kreiner said, “Scientific data overwhelmingly indicate that climate change driven by fossil fuel emissions is stressing our planet’s ecosystems, imperiling the lives and livelihoods of billions of people. The social enterprises Miller Center supports – and their innovations – are more important now than ever.”