Geraldine Hepp
Amani Institute Changemaker Community
A community for impact - Amani Institute Changemaker Community
60+ Countries
Professionals who create social impact
50,000 €

The reason for this community to start was a shared learning experience individuals went through. The bonds created lasted past the program and many people wanted to stay in touch. The community emerged naturally. Nevertheless, challenges emerged in the areas of trust, ownership, accountability or technology. The case describes how those challenges got tackled and what plans the community has to move to the next level in the future.

Responding to the shortage of leaders in the social sector, the Amani Institute strives to develop professionals who create social impact through new models of education and training that help them develop the practical skills, networks, and experiences needed for long-term career success.

How did you start your community?

The core of our community is comprised of Amani Institute Social Innovation Management Fellows and our team. In a second layer we include our instructors and partners as part of the larger community. In fact, their support helped us launch our work in the first place. The core community naturally emerged as we started our post-graduate program in Social Innovation Management in Kenya in 2013. Our Fellows, who come from all over the world, are pursuing work that creates social impact. As a result of their intense learning journey, many feel that their peers and the Amani Institute team have a common language, aligned values and a shared vision for a just and healthy world. They also feel a sense of belonging and find that being in touch with each other helps reignite their inspiration, enthusiasm and commitment to making impact professionally as changemakers.

Because the change driven by our Fellows is directly linked to our impact as an educational organisation, it is important for us to stay closely in touch using informal mentorship and by connecting them to opportunities and to each other as well as to relevant partners, resources and networks around the globe. They also play a crucial role in expanding the community as around 30-40% of successful new applicants to our program in Social Innovation Management come via a recommendation of previous Fellows in the community.

Every time a new class graduates, the community grows. After our five-year anniversary, which included an alumni reunion in Kenya (2017), we became more intentional about how to build the right structure and systems for this growing global community. To date, we have been prototyping various community projects to start testing systems and processes that might enable the community to work at scale as well. We held a second global summit in February 2019 in Brazil and are now focusing on taking the community to the next level.

What were/are the primary challenges you have encountered?
  • Transition: Creating the right type of support system to help with the transition from an intense learning journey to the real-world, including partnerships to make it easier for them to find jobs or continue their professional education.
  • Confidence: As many of our Fellows are intrapreneurs, we seek to build pride and confidence for their roles that are often ‘under the radar’ to help amplify their work and efforts alongside larger teams and entrepreneurs.
  • Trust: Building trust across classes i.e., providing productive offline and online interactions that facilitate a sense of trust and connection among Fellows from different classes. That makes sharing of ideas and resources easier.
  • Ownership and Leadership: Build ownership in the community for everyone to build the most amazing changemaker community possible. Defining the right ‘reward’ system for emergent leadership within our community and creating a culture of accountability and responsibility when people take on roles that serve our virtual and offline community.
  • Accountability: Holding each other accountable to our highest potential and build a culture of accountability in the community.
  • Scaling: Creating culture/systems for continued support of our Fellows from all classes to accelerate their careers and lives as changemakers while our community scales from ‘tribe’ (approx. 300 people) to ‘society’ (300+).
  • Technology: Delivering intuitive, easy-to-find (and use) platform solutions that make it easy for our members to engage with that solution.
How did you tackle challenges when you started and how are you tackling challenges now?

Transition: Initially we created an extension to the program to alleviate the transition phase. Now, we are figuring out how Fellows across the world can play a bigger role in welcoming new graduates into their cities and form sub-communities of support at the local level. At the moment we have a revolving door policy that allows all Fellows to ask for support from the team and community however, we are trying to offload a lot of that to the community. It is a more sustainable model, particularly during the transition phase. We are also formalizing a network of impact organizations and institutions that recognize the value and quality of our training and are eager to hire our Fellows or accept them into further education programs.

Confidence: This is an ongoing process and best understood in the context of a ‘heropreneurship’ culture that has emerged in the context of social entrepreneurship. We are trying to understand what mix of stories, language, and activities can inspire pride and a sense of safety to share challenges and lessons learned with each other for the intrapreneurs amongst our Fellows.
Currently, we are experimenting with a mix of external and internal communication solutions such as celebrating hires of Fellows and stories of their work as impact team members externally, and lessons learned, peer support calls etc internally.

Trust: We have learned that offline meetings can’t be beat! We tried regular online meet-ups but see much more effective results in face-to-face interactions like happy hours or reunions that build trust amongst Fellows across classes. Those who attend then become ambassadors or cross-pollinators for their class peers by connecting and recommending them where appropriate to other Fellows from different classes. The responsiveness of Fellows across classes on our community platforms has also cultivated a sense of trust – this is in part amplified by current Fellows making sure the platform is always alive and bustling with activities.

Ownership and Leadership: Ownership is built by creating a culture of re-directing requests to the Institute back to the community. If Fellows have an idea for an initiative they receive support from the Institute but are asked to lead. This also required an ‘education’ within the team to make sure that this happens consistently across the board to build the culture.
We are trying to figure out how we can create an accountability system that works and gives a balanced amount of autonomy and support to members who take leadership initiative either to expand the community or serve it internally which has mixed results so far.
Emergent leadership is rewarded by Amani by using internal or public recognition and vouchers for continued learning opportunities at the Institute.
At this point there are a range of professional collaborations – commercial and volunteer-based – emerging between community members as well as between community members and the Institute itself which we see inspiring other community members to also step up.

Accountability: Initially, unlocking our highest potential and holding each other accountable was part of the individual interactions between staff and Fellows and the transformative learning journey. Now, we see that this re-occurs within the community through special events and offline interactions. We are working to facilitate that also virtually through the culture and systems we are building to enable the growth of the community without it losing its essence.

Scaling: Initially, the continued support system for Fellows was based on individual team members providing connections and recommendations, and encouraging Fellows to share tips on our Facebook group.

Now, we are working to create a scalable system that decreases bottlenecks in the team and builds a culture and the systems necessary to allow community members to play a bigger role as they cycle through their journey within the community. We are creating strategic partnerships with employer partners, incubators, and network partners to build a direct pipeline connecting them to our Fellows. We are also building a lifelong learning track to provide continued learning for our community and to encourage members to provide that for each other.

Technology: It’s an ongoing process to figure this one out. In the beginning, we tried various platforms to meet the needs of our Fellows and found that either the platforms did not work properly or, the actual needs of our community were different. Our primary community platforms at this time are Whatsapp Groups and Workplace – however, some older community members are resistant to using Workplace because it wasn’t part of their learning journey.
We are seeing a need to invest in culture-building by creating case studies or precedents that help the community see itself and understand how emergent leadership works and how they can effectively build and use the community for the impact they are trying to create professionally. Now, we focus less on more sophisticated platform solutions and more on effective culture/systems to create a scalable virtual community that is firmly rooted in real-world impact.

What steps will you take in the future to move your virtual community to the next level?

After passing the five-year mark we are now in a position to invest more in communications and community by expanding our team. We have started an explorative investigation into what systems and processes might work best. 

Some key pointers so far are: 

  • Bake key-roles into the DNA of the learning program itself, establish emergent leadership and a clear ladder of engagement.
  • Anchor some of the key community events in the phases of the program to ensure certain critical community moments and roles are filled throughout the program structure.
  • Identify / leverage technology to respond to our scaling needs.
  • Educate everyone in the team about importance and workings of the community as they play a crucial role in settings its tone, rhythm and culture as program, partnership and communication managers, vision bearers and logistical or financial gate holders.

As mentioned above, we are also institutionalising some key elements for instance, a career-track focused on partner relationships and career development for our members. Also, a lifelong learning track focused on the learning needs of community members; a community of impact track to strengthen mutually beneficial relationships between the Institute and its community members. Additionally, we are seeing new communities emerge from our other programmes and are thinking about how we can connect them with each other and the wider changemaker network we are part of.

Is there any additional information you want to share?

Not all members of this community know each other personally. But when they meet they are often struck by how strongly their values and lives as changemakers align. Our virtual community has members from over 53 countries. They are investment bankers, farmers, refugees, community leaders, journalists, entrepreneurs, designers, engineers, and educators. Their sense of belonging and connection is rooted in an intense shared experience that stems from a learning program.