Globally, we face a refugee crisis of massive proportions. Here are some figures: 65.6 million people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes, 22.5 million refugees and 244 million migrants, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
With that in mind, Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University recently launched a six-month accelerator for for-profit and nonprofit social enterprises which serve or are led by migrants, refugees and human trafficking survivors. Launched in May with 21 enterprises, Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins (SEM) just finished its first program with a pre-SOCAP showcase.
How does it work? The accelerator teams each social entrepreneur up with two Silicon Valley mentors–experts who may not know about the particular issues facing the enterprise’s target market, but are old hands at how to start and scale businesses. They also guide their assigned entrepreneurs through a structured curriculum, tapping Miller’s already existing Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI) Online program, with the goal of helping them work out a growth and financing strategy. Entrepreneurs talk weekly with their mentors after going through a module on anything from achieving economies through the value chain to creating growth strategies. They complete eight modules, chosen from a total of 100, based on their specific needs.
At the end of the program, the whole cohort meets in person, and, among other activities, present their companies to a panel of three or four experts to get their feedback. “We want our entrepreneurs to have a great pitch for a pitch session, but we also want to prepare them for the really hard part–getting through the two to three hour due diligence meeting with investors later on,” says Thane Kreiner, executive director of Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship.
The enterprises in the first cohort ranged from 1951 Coffee, which provides job training and employment to refugees, while educating the surrounding community about refugee issues, to Makers Unite, which runs talent development and matchmaking programs for refugees in The Netherlands.
Manyang Reath Kher is one of the entrepreneurs who participated in the accelerator. A refugee from the age of three, he was one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, a group of 20,000 children displaced during the Sudanese Civil War. At the age of 17, he moved to the U.S., where he attended high school and college, always looking for a way to help his fellow refugees. First he started a non-profit called Humanity Helping Sudan, but he decided he wanted to form a for-profit enterprise that didn’t require constant fund-raising.
To that end, he founded 734 Coffee, which sells coffee harvested by farmers in the Sudan, as well as the Gambela region in Ethiopia. (7˚N 34˚E are the geographical coordinates for that region, which is where the Pinyudo refugee camp Kher grew up in is located). A portion of sales go to a scholarship program that helps refugees pay for college. “I feel I understand the problems these people face and the best way I can help them is through a company,” says Kher.
The Miller Center started offering social enterprise accelerator programs in 2003, and has worked with over 890 social enterprises in 65 countries since then. It offers the core GSBI program, a three-day program run in about 35 countries since 2010 and a one-year in-residence accelerator.