Interview with Thane Kreiner
Scaling social enterprise impact to eradicate poverty and protect the planet

Located 40 miles south of San Francisco in California’s Silicon Valley, Santa Clara University offers rigorous undergraduate curricula in the arts and sciences, business, and engineering. It has nationally recognized graduate and professional schools in business, law, engineering, pastoral ministries, counseling psychology, education, and theology. Check out Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, Santa Clara University here.
Thane, what’s the idea behind Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, Santa Clara University?
Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship accelerates social enterprises around the world that are ending poverty the way we do that is by engaging Silicon Valley executives who serve as mentors and accompany social entrepreneurs through a structured curriculum that helps the enterprise figure out how to scale its impact serving the poor and protecting the planet. Since we launched our first accelerator program in 2003, we have accompanied more than 900 social enterprises in 65 countries, those enterprises have improved, transformed or saved the lives of over 320 million people living in poverty. Our idea is to change the world through social entrepreneurship.
Can you tell us about some projects you're working on at the moment Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, Santa Clara University?
Miller Center is doing several really exciting accelerator programs right now. One we call social entrepreneurship for them at the margins, and this is an accelerator that a company social enterprises serving or led by refugees, migrants and human trafficking survivors from around the world. They're going through a six-month online accelerator program, each enterprise is accompanied by two Silicon Valley executive mentors and we're helping them figure out how to scale their impact and become investment ready with the appropriate ask to impact investor,s some of these enterprises are doing things like employing people rescued from human trafficking in business process outsourcing centers, using artificial intelligence to detect human trafficking advance on social media, using blockchain to help refugees secure their assets before they cross dangerous borders and help refugees all over the world find dignified livelihoods.
Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, Santa Clara University is the largest and most successful social enterprise accelerator in the world. Who are your competitors?
Thinking about competition and social entrepreneurship is a really difficult challenge because, to be honest, we love it. If there were 10 or 100 or 1000 universities doing the kind of acceleration programs we are to help social enterprises scale their impact. In fact, we think less about competition and more about cooperation. We're partnering with the university in the Philippines, the University of San Carlos to help them establish a program that looks a lot like Miller Centers, both engaging undergraduate, and graduate students and meaningful projects to support social enterprises and accelerating social enterprises at the same time. So when we think about competition, I really think about the competition being people who invest in things that are not doing social good, people who believe that companies are OK if they're not changing the world for the better. Our competition is apathy and indifference and supporting the status quo of companies doing things that hurt people rather than promote social justice.
Can you describe your typcial day as Executive Director, Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, Santa Clara University.
I don't really have a typical day, every single day in my eight years here at Santa Clara University leading Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship has been different. Some days I spend a lot of time with fundraisers with donors, some days I spend a lot of time with the team figuring out our future strategy, and when I'm really lucky I get to go out in the field and visit our social entrepreneurs and learn what we can do to better help them scale their impact, or I get to be in the classroom with amazing Santa Clara undergraduate students who participate in our global social benefit fellowship and do action research projects that also help the social enterprises scale their impact. So every single day is different and I hope it stays that way for a long time.
What technological advancement has had the most profound effect on your current work?
So the social enterprises that we accompany through our accelerator programs use all kinds of technologies to serve the poor, they range from things as simple as solar-powered lanterns to safe drinking water filters to mobile platforms so that people can access money or pay as they go for goods and improve the quality of their life, but when you ask me what is the technological improvement that's had the biggest impact on our work at Miller Center, I would have to say that it's the ability to connect virtually in a meaningful and authentic way with the social entrepreneurs who are doing the good work of serving the poor and protecting the planet. So technology's as simple as zoom, for example, enable our mentors to accompany these entrepreneurs in real time and feel like they're almost in the same place and working through the same set of exercises to figure out a path to scale.
What would your best advice be for anyone thinking of launching a startup of their own?
So if you're going to start a new venture, the first question to ask yourself is: why am I doing this? What difference do I want to make in the world? And if it's not going to make a difference in the world why do it? So start with your impact model. What do you imagine happening as a result of this startup? How is it gonna change people's lives for the better, and then build the business model that supports that. Understand the unit economics through the value chain, and focus on everything you can do, focus, focus, focus on how to scale up that impact model. Focus when you hire people to be part of your team, on people who share your mission and who share the vision for how you want to change the world. When you put a board of directors together, ensure that those people are also completely bought into your mission and support what you're doing to make the world a better place.