Pioneering a New Model for Higher Education and Social Innovation

March 28, 2013


While setting up the Amani Institute, we were fortunate to be chosen to attend the inaugural class of the Amsterdam School of Creative Leadership. It was a formative experience that has deeply influenced the design of our work. This article, which partly describes that impact, was originally posted on the blog.

I chose THNK’s program because they seemed to be doing what I wanted to do, albeit for a very different target audience. But in re-imagining what the education of change makers could be, or rather, what it needs to become, we are walking very similar paths and I wanted to experience THNK’s approach firsthand. Responding to the widely-perceived gap between university education and the marketplace for jobs, the Amani Institute’s mission is to develop next-generation talent for solving social problems. We do this by pioneering a new model for higher education that offers participants opportunities to get an intensive experience of cross-boundary work, develop practical skills to build their professional toolkit, and understand the personal journey this work requires in order to be effective and sustainable as an individual over time – all things that employers desire and that are critical for long term career success. This methodology comes to life in our Certificate in Social Innovation Management held in Nairobi but open to anyone in the world. Please apply NOW on the website or pass this message on to friends and networks that would be interested in learning about this opportunity. In the process, we build much-needed capacity in civil society organizations, enabling more effective operations across the entire field. Finally, our end goal is less to create a large new training institution than to change the higher education system, and our students become pioneers in fostering that new way of thinking. We want to inspire universities to adopt the Amani Institute methodology to train the new professionals and leaders the world needs in the 21st century. Personally speaking, I have always been passionate about people creating and living lives of purpose and meaning, and have always encouraged people to step out of the beaten path and follow their own unique calling. But despite having the best education in the world, I often felt unprepared for the type of work I wanted to do and usually learnt more on the job than in the classroom. Speaking at universities across North America, I found this to be true of most of the students I met. At the same time, I was working with some of the most accomplished social entrepreneurs in the world and they all complained that their biggest constraint was finding the right talent – this in a world of high unemployment. I felt that the problem lay in the education system and wanted to create a new education model to solve it.

THNK has been invaluable in ways both big and hard to articulate effectively (instilling a design sensibility; showing the importance of the small, unexpected treat for your customer when running a service; opening a window into the European way; showing how to build a tribe) and specific aspects such as its open-ness with all its intellectual property, bringing together a stunningly accomplished group of people from around the world, high quality programming that still retains an experimental flair…I could go on. However, I would say that the single most valuable thing has been the addition to my life of an amazing network of people, many of whom have been incredibly generous with their time and resources, from the founders, faculty, and staff to my fellow participants. In a typical year, we are incredibly lucky if we make two or three new friends whom we feel we can rely upon – in my THNK year, I made roughly 40 new friends and it is hard to capture the gratitude I feel about that. Thank you for this opportunity to share what we do. Please check out our call for applications for our Social Innovation Management program, and pass it on to anyone whom you think might be interested. And do follow us on FacebookLinkedIn and Twitter.

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