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Santa Clara University Helping Those Who Help Migrants


As the number of forcibly displaced people has grown to a record 68.5 million globally, Jesuit, Catholic institutions show their solidarity and kinship with refugees by providing education to those in refugee camps, offering pro bono legal services, and advocating for humane policies.

At Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, 21 organizations that serve or are led by migrants, refugees, and human-trafficking survivors are participating in a unique and pioneering business-accelerator program, called Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins (SEM).

Leveraging Miller Center’s 15 years of experience accompanying mission-driven organizations grow, thrive, and scale their impact, the SEM accelerator began in May and will last six months. The accelerator is free to participating organizations, thanks to donors including Vodafone Americas Foundation, Skoll Foundation, Transparent Fish Fund, and Chao Foundation.

The 21 social enterprises operate in two dozen countries and employ a variety of business models to help refugees, migrants, and human trafficking survivors. For instance, blockchain technology enables refugees and migrants to secure their assets before crossing borders; jobs and skills training creates livelihood opportunities for refugees; artificial intelligence identifies human trafficking incidents on the dark web.

Leaders of the social enterprises are accompanied through a structured, online curriculum with two Silicon Valley executive mentors apiece, to boost their business skills, investment readiness, and social impact. That in turn can help them find new partners to achieve their missions more quickly, and also help them tell their business story in a way that will attract new “impact investors,” or those who care about social as well as financial returns.

“The social enterprises in our SEM accelerator offer an array of innovative, entrepreneurial solutions that serve the most marginalized among our common human family,” said Thane Kreiner, Ph.D., executive director of Miller Center. “With climate change and political instability, we can expect to see more refugees and migrants. We need ways to restore dignity and agency to individuals that can scale as the problems grow.”

In October, the entrepreneurs will come to Santa Clara University for in-person sessions and networking, where they will have the opportunity to learn from each other, share expertise, and meet potential investors and others in the social enterprise and impact investing ecosystems.

The SEM program resonates with Catholic Social Teaching, which calls for those forced to move in order to preserve their life to have “moral claim over the hospitality of others.” As Pope Francis said in January, “It is important that everyone–civil institutions, educational, welfare and ecclesial realities–is committed to ensuring refugees, migrants and everyone a future of peace.”

(Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of monthly articles that will appear highlighting events at Santa Clara University).