We founded Amani Institute to answer two questions.
For Ilaina, it was a memory of my first university class: in an overcrowded room, after three uninterrupted hours of lecturing on the “Logic and Theory of Knowledge,” the professor matter-of-factly remarked that “fewer than 30 percent of you will graduate.” When a brave hand raised to ask why, he only replied: “Many of you don’t know what you want, others won’t be able to pay for it, and others won’t like it.” It shocked me. “If we already know how far short higher education is falling, why haven’t we done anything?”
For Roshan, it was guest lecturing at leading universities in the United States and discovering how under-prepared so many graduate students that were looking to work in social impact were. Leading social entrepreneurs all complained that they couldn’t find enough people with the skills and qualities they needed to grow their organizations. “If this was the case at the best universities in the world, what is it like everywhere else?”
When we met in the summer of 2010, we decided that we were uniquely positioned to answer those two questions and create an alternative model for the higher education of changemakers. In 2013, we launched a “Post-Graduate Certificate in Social Innovation Management” in Nairobi, Kenya. The six-month alternative Masters program we administer today—with two months online and four months in-person in either Kenya, Brazil, or India—is open to anyone with an undergraduate degree, regardless of professional background or nationality, and consists of 10 cutting-edge professional skill-building courses (taught by real-world practitioners), a social innovation project, an apprenticeship featuring an “intrapreneurship challenge,” and a much-beloved and highly personalized curriculum around self-development. Although the program is otherwise run independently of formal higher education, Amani graduates are eligible to transfer credits towards an MBA from Lynn University or a Diploma in Social Innovation from the UN-mandated University for Peace.
Since innovation and impact remain cornerstones of our mission, the program has undergone structural tweaks and changes in emphasis over the years, but the core model remains constant: six intertwined elements that combine adult-education best practices with our own innovations. Some of these elements are offered by other institutions, but we venture that nobody else provides a world-class master’s-equivalent program as affordable and personalized and experiential as this one (and in the global south no less).
1. A Flipped Global Approach
The “flipped classroom” has taken root in educational innovation, but we take it further by flipping the world. Emerging markets represent the frontiers of social change. While they are hubs for social innovation—and move quickly, sometimes much faster than the West—the best educational institutions are largely still found in richer countries. Being from emerging markets ourselves—and knowing both the great hunger for contribution and vast pools of changemaking talent in these regions—we wanted to offer a world-class educational experience there (while welcoming innovation-minded students from the West). As of today, 20 percent of our students are from North America and Europe, with 80 percent from Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
2. A “Medical School” for Changemaking
Making impact is hard, and you need to train and practice accordingly, like a doctor or an Olympic athlete. And because we work as much as possible at the bottom of the “iceberg model” of systems change—changing mindsets and behaviours, in addition to the tools and knowledge at the top—we prioritize experiential, practical, and reflective group work over academic paper-writing, emphasizing the changemaker skills of reimagining and building, rather than just critiquing others’ work. Learning happens at the edge of one’s comfort zone, so much of what happens at Amani Institute is “outside” the classroom: from individual social innovation projects, field trips, apprenticeships, public events, interactions with local leaders, and more.