THE BLOG
10/14/2014 02:50 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Filling The Gap in Social Innovation: An Interview With Roshan Paul Of The Amani Institute

Through my work at The Global Good Fund, I have the distinct pleasure of investing in the leadership development of other people - high potential young leaders using entrepreneurship for social impact globally. It's no wonder, then, that I spend most days completely inspired, feeling that I have significant personal and professional growth of my own to do. I make it a priority to seek out mentoring and continued learning experiences both on my own and through The Global Good Fund, where every staff member completes the same leadership assessment, development plan and coaching support that our Fellows experience. These growth opportunities have been invaluable to my career development and have allowed me to connect with talented individuals - some of whom are now strategic partners with The Global Good Fund.

About a year ago, I had the pleasure of participating in the Amani Institute, an organization preparing next-generation talent to tackle global challenges by filling the gap between university and the workforce through their unique approach to higher education. I went to Kenya to learn about Amani thinking that it could be a wonderful learning platform for our Global Good Fund Fellows. I left Amani feeling that it was a wonderful investment in myself, could indeed be a phenomenal platform for our Fellows, and that perhaps there was some way to scale the Amani model to touch hundreds, even thousands of people globally to invest in their development as social entrepreneurs.

While participating in Amani, I connected with Roshan Paul, Co-Founder of Amani and someone I admire greatly both personally and professionally.

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Roshan and I discovered many synergies between our respective organizations. We envisioned joining forces for greater impact in developing young social entrepreneurs globally. We are now partnering to launch Creating a Social Venture - an intensive, four-week, online course helping participants understand how to create new social ventures. To learn more or to register for Creating a Social Venture click here.

Through our partnership, I've learned a great deal about Roshan's motivations for starting an enterprise focused on preparing young leaders to enter the social good sector. Here is Roshan's fascinating story:

What inspired you to start the Amani Institute - was it a particular moment or a building itch over time?

It was definitely a building itch over time, which started during my work at Ashoka. At Ashoka, I was responsible for a program helping entrepreneurs scale globally. I consistently witnessed entrepreneurs complaining about sourcing talent and the inability to find good people to hire, which significantly constrained the growth of their enterprises.

I also had the opportunity to frequently speak with millennials and undergraduates at conferences and universities - it was there I realized that I personally wouldn't hire many of the students who were asking me for career advice! All of these individuals were seeking meaningful careers, but there was a definite talent gap between what they brought to the table and what employers were looking for.

And the problem was not in the individual, but in the educational system.

I co-founded Amani Institute to close this gap. We wanted to develop an educational program to specifically train for social entrepreneurship using a hands-on, practical approach. Our desire was to create the equivalent of medical school or Olympic athlete training for the social sector.

Why did you decide to engage a co-founder when creating Amani Institute? How would you recommend emerging entrepreneurs go about finding the best fit in a co-founder for their enterprises?

It happened organically. I met my co-founder, Ilaina Rabbat, at Ashoka. She had come to similar conclusions through her own journey engaging with youth entrepreneurs and young professionals, and we decided to join forces, given our shared common goal.

We have both invested equal time and money to the venture and, in my book, Ilaina is the heart and soul of the organization. Having a co-founder makes my journey as an entrepreneur incalculably easier. My advice to other entrepreneurs is not to start something on your own, if possible. The most important things to get right with a co-founder are a) sharing common values, and b) knowing how to navigate disagreement without jeopardizing the relationship.

Amani Institute focuses on preparing next-generation talent to tackle global challenges by filling the gap between university and the workforce through a new approach to higher education. How is your organization's higher education model unique?

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Our model is based on three parts:

Experience - Building hands-on practical experience in your area of interest. We help Amani participants find personalized internships within their area of interest (healthcare, energy, etc). So when our graduates go out to find jobs, they have real-world exposure and experience. When it comes to being prepared for the workforce, there's a catch 22 between education and experience. It's our firm belief that there shouldn't be a separation between school and work.

Expertise - Building functional skills that are in demand in the workforce and skills that employers are looking for right at this moment. We emphasize both classic professional skills such as leadership and communication as well as developing 21st century skills - storytelling, design thinking and learning from nature. All Amani Institute courses are taught by industry experts; there is very little lecturing or writing of research papers in our programs. It is a lot of teamwork and hands-on learning. We want to mimic real-life work instead of taking the ivory tower approach.

Insight - Exploring the inner journey of changemakers. At Amani Institute, we explore how to prepare for a career in the social sector and what that means on a very personal level, exploring one's values on a daily basis. This part of our curriculum is about leadership development, aligning passions, and understanding strategies for how to sustain a career in the social sector over time.

These three parts are interrelated, holistic and build off of each other.

On Amani's website, you mention there are inadequacies and a critical market failure in higher education to produce agents of global change. Where do you feel that universities are lacking specifically?

Universities do research and academic learning well. But they are not necessarily good at career preparation. Firstly, they don't provide practical experience. Most universities only set up students with summer internships (typically only 2 months, which isn't enough to truly learn about the world of work) and those internships need to have a research focus if they are to secure academic credit. This is not what students want or need. On the skill-side, the main activity in universities is reading and writing research papers. This isn't typical in the real world, and it's not what employers are looking for. At universities, students are also not diving into real-life questions on how to manage their social enterprise career over time - except maybe over pizza at 2am! At Amani Institute, we guide participants through these essential conversations in a structured way.

In your opinion, what are the most important leadership qualities for someone to possess (or develop) when creating and building a social enterprise?

We design our curriculum around 4 values: vision, courage, empathy and change making. These are the main leadership qualities we train and look for.

We also look for a "global mindset" whereby we place an emphasis on thinking beyond boundaries - both physical boundaries (i.e. geographical) and mental boundaries (i.e. the artificial barriers in our head).

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Who are some of the most inspiring social entrepreneurs you have trained through Amani Institute?

Roseline Orwa - Roseline lives in Kenya and is a widow. In Kenya, widows have few legal rights and are thus subject to a lot of human rights violations. She embarked on an enterprise, The Rona Foundation, to end abuse to widows and to be an advocate for this movement. Her campaign offers both peer counseling and business opportunity programs for widows.

Rodolphe Strauss - A creative entrepreneur from France, Rodolphe just started the project, Sharing Brothers. He and two friends are currently traveling from Vancouver to Argentina using only "shared economy" approaches (Airbnb, Couchsurfing, Uber, etc.) and are documenting their adventures along the way.

Ahmed Maawy - Ahmed was formerly a programmer living in Nairobi, Kenya working for startups. He decided to move back to his hometown on the coast of Kenya, which has a lot of unemployment and radicalism. Here he started a tech community, The Mombasa Tech Community, to provide residents with the ability to get jobs and pursue stable careers.

Are you interested in starting or accelerating your career in the social sector? Register now for Creating a Social Venture - We look forward to having you join our innovative program!

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