At the beginning of February 2020, we gathered for a strategy planning meeting in Nairobi, Kenya. We couldn’t have imagined that a couple of weeks later the global landscape – and consequently everything we had planned – was going to change dramatically. Our identities started to falter as the Coronavirus pandemic rapidly spread across countries. How would Amani Institute continue operating, given that in-person training and international travel formed the bedrock of our work?
It was time to innovate beyond our own borders. Through reinvented digital programs, customized training, and online events, we impacted hundreds of individuals globally in 2020. How did we do it? We tapped into our strengths and our core values.
Closing the leaks: Amani Institute has a tradition of being lean and frugal. We prefer to spend our resources on useful and affordable things than on fancy and expensive ones, to keep our programs effective and accessible. The pandemic helped us become even sharper in determining what is critical to our impact. We linearly scanned through our budget to cut 20% of our fixed costs, without jeopardizing our operations or impact.
Common Goals: We came together and set common goals aligning the entire team around strategy and execution. In order to get a sense of direction during the initial months of the pandemic, we created a common monthly spreadsheet. While lockdowns were impacting people across our global hubs, we kept cheering and supporting each other. Our channels on Slack were on fire, with messages and reactions to celebrate successes, reframe failures and embrace real-time learning opportunities. Our global team meetings – more than ever – were focusing on people’s wellbeing instead of prioritizing work-related deliverables. We stood in solidarity during the first phase of the pandemic when we had to postpone our programs. Our collective sense of emptiness was overcome by doing things that were always on our wish list: creating impact reports for some of our programs, cleaning up our repository files, creating a resource library, among many other small yet important things.
Innovation: Through the Amani Social Innovation Framework, we sensed what the world needed. After prototyping, testing, iterating, and launching programs and events every month, we were able to adapt to an online format while maintaining the personalized, deep and intimate approach that characterizes our in-person training.
Courage: This is one of the Amani values, and it was vital in 2020. For example, we were able to offer a fully digital edition of the Post-Graduate Certificate in Social Innovation Management. Many of us worried that the key tenets of our program would be sacrificed – the hands-on experience we offer along with The Inner Journey of the Changemaker, a deeply personal course geared towards developing individuals into leaders. However, as we speak, we are about to graduate 35 Fellows from 22 countries who have demonstrated a remarkable increase in their social impact skills.
Connection: All our global team meetings concluded with the phrase: “Physically-Isolated but Amani-connected.” Amani Institute from the get-go has been built as a flexible and digital organization. Before the pandemic, we had already been working remotely across continents, through our different platforms and systems. The pandemic helped us realize that we were already operating in the future of work! We started using new platforms like the LMS Canvas, CRM Salesforce, and we continued using others like Slack, G-suite, Zoom, and Workplace. We also introduced a weekly Monday meeting with the leadership team to plan, implement, and pivot faster. The India and Brazil teams decided to go fully remote, not letting local lockdowns impact operations and simultaneously enabling our staff members to take the presence of Amani beyond Bangalore or São Paulo.
Life-long learning: Every member of the team encountered countless new challenges, which equipped us with new skills, right from delivering online programs to redefining some of the topics in our courses. But that was not enough for us. We also created the Amani X-Change initiative, a series of internal training to further build our capacity through knowledge sharing. Not only are we an educational institution, but a team of life-long learners!
Looking forward: Since March, even if the world seemed to stop, we didn’t agree with the phrase “wait and see”. Other than giving our best to be impactful during the pandemic, we also defined our 2021-2027 strategy: while the world was changing, so did Amani Institute. Stay tuned for more news soon!
Caring: Our Fellows, clients and partners commonly characterize Amani Institute as an organization that cares deeply about our programs’ participants. In 2020, we have been offering them hundreds of free hours of training and coaching. Through the Visions for Change series, we have provided knowledge and insights to the general public, and opportunities to fundraise for social enterprises chosen by our Fellows.
However, the group that collectively takes the prize for caring is the Amani staff, the team which agreed to cut salaries by 3-20%, in order to help Amani navigate through a crisis that was unforeseeable and unpredictable in its effects. That salary cut will be canceled now because the team has walked the extra mile and Amani Institute – that has always made self-sustainability a key value proposition – is expected to be profitable and impactful even this year.
We cannot be more grateful. Our team takes the big prize!