Applying Behavior Change Design to a Social Enterprise in Pakistan

We worked with Amal Academy, a social enterprise in Lahore, founded by an Acumen Fellow, Benje Williams. Amal is an education venture with a mission to empower marginalized Pakistani youth to rediscover and realize their professional dreams.

December 08, 2017

In October, the +Acumen community showed up in full force for our fourth +Acumen Challenge.

+Acumen Challenges are two-hour virtual volunteer events.

Participants showed up to learn and apply the skills of behavior change to a functioning social enterprise.

Working in teams, participants trade ideas and get to know each other – a teacher from Alabama, a nonprofit veteran in Haiti, students in Bangladesh, dedicated participants who stayed up late in Seoul and Singapore, and more.

This time, we worked with Amal Academy—a social enterprise in Lahore—founded by Acumen Fellow, Benje Williams.

Amal is an education venture with a mission to empower marginalized Pakistani youth to rediscover and realize their professional dreams. With nearly 5.3 million Pakistanis unemployed, connecting young people to jobs is an urgent challenge. The unemployment rate is partially a result of the public education system that focuses on memorization and grades but not on the soft skills students will need in professional environments. As a result, university graduates are often ill-equipped to meet the needs of the professional world.

Amal has experienced tremendous demand for the program and has already graduated 43 cohorts and received over 15,000 applications

Without the skills needed for employment, these students risk falling into a constant cycle of financial unpredictability and poverty.

To combat that cycle, the Academy offers a Career-Prep Fellowship, an intensive three-month business and leadership program that develops soft business skills, values, and confidence. Their efforts currently focus on students from rural backgrounds who have left their families to study in Lahore.

Amal has experienced tremendous demand for the program and has already graduated 43 cohorts and received over 15,000 applications from which they have selected nearly 1500 fellows. To date, they have achieved a job placement rate of +80% within 3 months of completion

However, the program is very demanding, and about 20% of students who intend to complete the program fail to finish. Although Amal Fellows (students) come into the 3-month fellowship very enthusiastically, many are in their final year of university and quickly become overwhelmed by the intensity of the program which leads some to drop out.

The +Acumen community was challenged to develop solutions that boost completion rates.

After a crash course on behavior change taken from Duke economist Dan Ariely's Master Class, participants generated over 200 ideas for Amal Academy that creatively imagined how behavior change principles could be put into action.  

After reviewing all of the submissions, the team at Amal Academy decided to experiment with the following ideas:

  1. Sharing sample completion certificates at the beginning of the program to serve as a reminder of what the fellows will lose if they drop out of the program early. (Loss Aversion).

  2. Involving Amal Academy alumni to keep the fellows motivated. (Social Proof).

  3. Offering “pre-boarding” information for fellows that orients them to the program before they get started. This includes offering tips and suggestions on how to be successful.

Following the Challenge, the team at Amal Academy held a staff workshop to go through the various ideas that challenge participants submitted.

At Amal, we are always thinking about how to keep our fellows motivated and provide them the best learning experience and these ideas have given us new perspectives to think about. We are really thankful to all the participants in helping us in our journey, and look forward to implementing these ideas in our fellowship,” noted Sarah Farooq, the Program Manager at  Amal Academy.

We can’t wait to hear more as the team at Amal Academy begins to experiment with the ideas that the +Acumen community came up with!

The ideas from the +Acumen community have already had an impact. Just a few days after the Challenge, an Amal Academy Program Associate named Hira received a note from a participant saying that he was about to drop out of the fellowship because his other school obligations were piling up. Hira was able to immediately put the behavior change principle of loss aversion into practice and successfully inspire the student to stick with the program to the end of the fellowship:

“I told him that [he was] learning and improving in a speedy way, if [he] leaves this fellowship at this stage [he] will eventually lose everything that learned up till now...At the end, when he said that thank you so much ma'am for changing my mind I won't be leaving Amal at any cost. I really felt very happy...I just wanted to share it with you and wanted to thank you for teaching us such great techniques that really do have an impact if we apply them with all of our hearts.” - Hira A., Amal Academy

We can’t wait to hear more as the team at Amal Academy begins to experiment with the ideas that the +Acumen community came up with!

Moreover, you can stay up to date on Amal Academy’s work and progress by following their new podcast: https://itunes.apple.com/pk/podcast/building-pakistan/id1312403611

We can’t say it enough - our community is full of fantastic collaborators who continue to give time and energy to help each other out. We’d also like to share our gratitude to our partners at Barclays who have been supporters of Acumen’s work for many years. Barclays has a deep commitment to workforce development and we couldn’t be more excited to have been able to present this challenge alongside them.

Sadly, this was our last event for 2017 but we’re looking ahead to 2018 and are excited to connect more outstanding social enterprises to our amazing community.

Spread Positive Change

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