Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 17 seconds.
On a bottle of mineral water with a bunch of fruits at the Amani Institute in Lavington, Nairobi, Kenya
Equipping people with the tools to do the right thing
The public bus dropped me on the road and after a short walk through a beautiful neighborhood in the western part of Nairobi I reached a two-story building. It is surprisingly peaceful bearing in mind that the downtown area is not too far away. You will know once you lived in Kenya as I did. While taking the steps to the upper floor I can already hear encouraging voices.
The students of Armani Institute are discussing their ideas utilizing a model pinned to the wall next to them. Nobody actually realizes that I entered the large room. The atmosphere is tensed. People are here to have impact. You can immediately feel that. After clumsily bumping into the Amani office Magda welcomed me warmly with a bottle of cool water which felt like an ice cream in the heat of Nairobi. It is a time to learn more about Amani Institute.
Created by Roshan Paul, Amani Institute is an organisation that trains the social entrepreneurs of tomorrow (check out stories from other social entrepreneurs here). In 9 months and at a cost of $8,000 students are able to access first-hand knowledge from experienced and well known entrepreneurs. The whole program focusses on social entrepreneurship. Learning from Magda who is coordinating the program there are 3 core phases namely the online networking month at the beginning of the program (foundation), the actual workshops and projects at Amani Institute (Immersion) and the final phase when the students implementing their social business ideas (Acceleration).
Talking to the Amani team I realised that they themselves are very engaged in social projects. For example Magda shared her experiences about working in the slums of Nairobi. Moreover, Amani is not only focused on aspiring or established social entrepreneurs but also on social intrapreneurs who are change agents in companies. The social business market is growing. In 2015 Amani Institute opened its second office in Brazil with the third office about to get started in India.
“I remember someone in class asked how can you find your life purpose and I said no one is going to find your life purpose that is your journey you take on your own.”
The institute follows a hands-on approach whereby students have to test their ideas in the market. So they are not able to build any sky castles. I love what they do and I am truly inspired by their passion. If you want to learn more about Magda’s story and Amani Institute read the full interview.
Do reach out to them if you are interested in the program or want to collaborate.
All about the program
What are the prerequisites to join Amani to apply here?
When we’re looking at requirements we’re looking at are you really ready. It is not a program for everyone and we’re proud to say that. You need to be ready. What point are you in your life? Sometimes we had people that came to the program and they struggled a lot. We’re looking at where are you in your life and how are you then ready to scale that up to create a change within your community.
“I think fear is a bad thing. Most of the times we do not take a step because we are scared. We are scared of uncertainty, we are scared of how does that look like and we are always pushed to be in our comfort zone. But change does not happen in the comfort zone.”
Can you quickly walk me through the 9 months in the Amani course of Social Entrepreneurship?
So the program is 9 months long. The first month usually happens mostly online. It is called our foundation phase. The foundation phase is also about seeing who else is doing the program. It is not only Kenyan fellows but also the fellows in Brazil and soon in India. So it is Kenyan, Brazilian and Indian fellows interact with each other. We provide content there where they can read and where they start interacting. We do calls and clear things. So you also get an understanding what Amani does. Who are the people I am doing the program with? What is their story? You also get excited. That is the foundation phase. The following 4 months we call Immersion phase and you are at the Amani Institute. In this phase you are working and taking the courses . This is usually 3 days a week. We try to attach our fellows here to organisations based on their area of interest. It is important for them to already start understanding how social business works. It is a mix of seeing what actually happens and three days a week here at Amani. So Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday they are working. Thursday, Friday and Saturday they are in class.
When you go back home, the third phase starts. That phase is called acceleration phase. You are now getting into action. You’re doing stuff, you’re getting a mix of content, coaching, talking about your project, what are the challenges you are facing and how do you want us to support you. So they are doing this and they also do a report at the end and say this is where I am with my project. We just did that a few weeks ago with a class that just finished. It was so cool to see what they are doing.
We had someone like Rya Kuwewor who was doing a project for refugees in Ghana and he was trying to see how they can integrate more refugees into the country that are able to get jobs. In Ghana as a refugee you can’t get jobs. You don’t have any understanding of the country, culture and language. They can never get a job. So they end up being left out. So his project was supporting them to learn English and the local language so they can actually get jobs. It became such a big thing for him. You know now he is working with the government of Ghana, he is working with the refugee board and he went to the World Economic Forum to talk about his project. That is a beautiful thing of pushing yourself to actually do something. Good stuff can happen. For others it is not always success. Not everything works out. But here at Amani you talk about after failure how can you move from that failure and not necessarily see it as a failure but more as a stepping stone. So it is not always „his project was so amazing“.
For others it takes time like anything else in life. It takes time for you to understand what the problem is better or understand how to tackle the solution better. So it is a mix of things. But the 3rd phase is beautiful. Pushing people into action and seeing what the results are with the final review. It is absolutely amazing and always exciting. As Amani for us what is exciting is seeing fellows actually use what they have learned. Sometimes they come back to us like 5 months later after the program and tell us that for example design thinking was so good and really help them with their work. We are always happy to hear that. It doesn’t have to be an “aha-moment“ every time. But sometimes it comes.
You have some guidance for potential applicants?
I think fear is a bad thing. Most of the times we do not take a step because we are scared. We are scared of uncertainty, we are scared of how does that look like and we are always pushed to be in our comfort zone. But change does not happen in the comfort zone. If you reflect and it looks like you want to be part of the change then Amani would be the right place to start.
Getting into the program
So you had a scholarship for the program?
Yes, I did have a scholarship and in exchange I was supporting Amani in delivering trainings particularly for the Young African Leaders initiative helping them do trainings for the program they were training. So it was more I am learning but at the same time I am using what I learned and put it to practice but I am also supporting them.
How do the fees and scholarships in general work here at Amani Institute?
The complete program costs $8,000. If finances are the only knockout factor for a person when applying, then we can figure that out. But at the same time we are a social business. If we give everyone scholarships we can’t sustain ourselves in any way. So yes we sometimes give scholarships and all that information we have shared in detail on our website. You really try to support the local people with those opportunities?
Yes sure. This year actually, thanks to a funding we received from a foundation, we were able to offer scholarship opportunities to community leaders from around East Africa. These are people who have been creating change within their community through organizations or projects they created and would very much benefit from a program like Amani to help them gain skills and tools to scale their impact. I see a global shift happening towards careers with an impact. That is what we care about here at Amani. A career of meaning and impact also does not necessarily mean social sector. You define what career of meaning and impact means to you. So if you are from the private sector and what you gain from Amani you want to take that back to the private sector. That is for you a career of meaning and impact. Amani is not telling you what meaning and impact is. If that means for you going to the public sector figuring out how to convince the government and work on policies how to create change that is up to you. We’re happy at the end of the day if you can say I am living the best version of myself and I am giving back to society in a way I never even thought or knew would be possible. It is about discovering your super powers.
What were your first feelings starting the program?
The program is really intense and hands on. You learn and you put it to action. It is not like a university degree where you learn a lot about theory but never really understand. Here it is like learning, learning, learning and super intense. Three days of the week you work in your project or in an organisation you are attached to. Three days a week you are here at Amani the full day. So the people that are staying here (pointing at the people) are here the full day.
It also sounds like the relationships here are intimate?
I think that is really important here at Amani. It takes time before people understand what kind of questions I can ask. For me the biggest lesson is „no question is stupid“. The system here, the education system in Kenya makes you think you have to be careful before you ask a question. Here I learned if you are curious about something just ask there is no stupid question.
Amani Institute in detail
What was so special about the social entrepreneurship course?
One amazing thing is the community, everyone is sharing, people have businesses and doing well, people look at business ideas and how to scale them and people that want to become social entrepreneurs working in the private sector and now want to get into the social sector. Also people in the public sector are interested in how to use the skills they have to actually give back (claps in her hand). This mix was like wow, daily inspiration. Some of us were younger some older. Our diverse backgrounds were a unique mix.
So Amani prepares you to do your own social business?
I am not saying Amani gives you 100% prep because we always tell our students we can’t prepare you for everything because sometimes things just happen and you have to deal with them. But at least you know the tools to handle them. You also have close contact with the people who deliver the courses here. They are coming from all over the world being experts in their field always willing to sort of being your coach and support you. Yesterday, here at Amani we had a guest speaker and he said so many of us in our young generation we came to the idea that we need to love our job but you don’t need to love your job. You need to love your work achieving your goals and finding purpose. You don’t need to love your job. See it as a learning opportunity. That is what I do. I take everything as a learning opportunity. Whether it was something I like. I always learn something. From the project in the slums I learned so much and I am very grateful for the opportunity I had. One of the biggest takeaways was the design thinking course at Amani.
What is the design thinking course about?
One of the topics in that course is to find out how university students use their money and why are they broke most of the time. I remember our lecturer asked us to come up with solutions you know when I was in university I used to do this and I used to do this. All of us came up with super awesome solutions and we were like yeah, this is our idea. She just said what you just did now is exactly what organisations do. They sit at a table and discuss there is a mama that sells food at the gate. How can we exit her and change her position? You never get to understand the real situation. She said go out there and ask students where do they spend money on. Why are they doing it? This process was very interesting for me I remember we discovered a lot of kids in Kenya especially men who are into online betting. It is called Sport Pesa. It is very big now. So I ask university students where do you spend all your money and they say Sport Pesa. I was like what is this Sport Pesa thing? We didn’t even know about it when we were sitting at the table discussing solutions. Don’t solve solutions for people but with them.
What is your background?
I am from Nairobi. My parents’ generation came from the rural areas to the cities to look for jobs finding their part in life. So that is people probably back in the 80s and 90s post-independence, coming from rural areas with no opportunities in rural areas. My dad was a university student graduated in commerce here in Nairobi. My mum was in a college. Me growing up with my parents we always had a mix of everything. Every holiday or every chance we got we always went back to the village where they came from. I remember we used to take things to the people going to the village. I used to be always interested in why are they like that and what could we do to help. That is why we always used to take things to the village. I grew up being very interested in finding out about people’s stories. What’s your story? How did you get there? What could have happened for you to become better?
Was it general curiosity?
I was just curious. I really loved knowing about people and what their story is. That is when I joined university I did journalism because I felt this is a good way to interact with people to get to know them. Maybe I could do interviews or I could do a blog. It’s just the connection stories have. People have resources and skills but they don’t know each other living in their own bubble struggling so hard figuring out what to do. When I finished university I joined a student organisation called AIESEC. They have community projects. So I ended up managing a project for volunteers about education in slums. Those projects were not always sustainable. Volunteers would buy uniforms for the kids. When the volunteers are gone because nobody is accountable for that they sell the uniforms. I always asked myself why this is happening. So it wasn’t always sustainable. So I mean I used to question the volunteering projects a lot and that is how I ended up. I also started volunteering and went to schools in the slums to understand the model.
Something I am really interested in now is how can schools become more sustainable. Therefore, I ended up traveling with AIESEC in another program. Eventually, I had the unique opportunity to be in Oslo in Norway for a while. I was there for 6 months in 2015. In Oslo I worked with Amnesty international. For me that is a massive organisation with their systems in place. What is happening? How do they handle situations? It was really beautiful and at the same time also being at a different setting from Kenya. I also got to travel a bit around seeing what’s happening, visiting people I know. I mean going to places like Lithuania that is so random. It is not common.
Not for Kenyans at least (laughing). Nobody would know where that is on the world map. So you ventured into your own social project after you came back and that somehow led you to Amani. Tell me more about that?
So that was cool when I came back there was one of the volunteers that came from Brazil. Her name was Mariel and we were working together on a project. We took children to high school because we realised a lot of children finish primary school in the slums but they are not progressing to high school. I would be happy to be part of that. So I was in. When I came back from Oslo I committed a big chunk of time into that. Sometimes you look at the problem from the surface. But there are root causes to the problem. I understood we were dealing with the surface issues but not the root causes. So I worked with Mariel and another guy for a while and it helped me a lot. I also got the chance to go for a training called Young African Leaders Initiative in late 2015. Amani Institute was doing the training there so that is how I also got to meet Roshan and Peter from the Amani team. The workshop was incredibly inspiring and gave me insights about social entrepreneurship that would have been crucial for my work with AIESEC.
I remember someone in class asked how can you find your life purpose and I said no one is going to find your life purpose that is your journey you take on your own. People can only help you by supporting you, talking to you and coaching you but no one can tell you what your purpose in life is. It is the same we say here at Amani Institute if anyone comes here thinking about how we can achieve their purpose? We can’t! We are not a purpose organisation and purpose is not something people give you. You have to ask yourself to find out what that is. So that was cool when I met Roshan we talked about Amani. Why don’t you apply for Amani he asked me? I did some research and absolutely loved their approach. I finally applied for the social entrepreneurship course and got selected. It was a unique journey. The immersion phase of the program ended in July 2016. So when I finished the program there was a position open at Amani. So I looked at the position and applied for it. Now I am Communications and programs coordinator at Amani in Kenya.
14th October in Hamburg, Germany