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Amal Academy

A group of students work on a poster in the garden of a Pakistani school building

Closing the divide between education and employability for Pakistani youth

  • Case Study
  • Education
  • Pakistan
  • 2024
of fellows are first-generation graduates
reported an increase in household income

Founded by an Acumen Fellow, Amal Academy addresses Pakistan’s education-employment gap through a transformative three-month program, empowering marginalized youth with essential soft business skills and boosting their confidence for professional success. Amal Academy specifically serves public university graduates who are most in need of these services.

The problem

Approximately 5.6 million people in Pakistan are currently unemployed. Despite investment in higher education, the transition from academia to the workforce poses a formidable challenge. The education system fixates on grades, sidelining soft skills and fueling a race for high scores. Recent standardized tests results underscore this obsession: students excelling with top marks often lacked basic writing and critical reasoning abilities due to rote learning, rendering them unprepared for professional demands.

Consequently, a cycle emerges: highly educated graduates, especially from public universities, struggle for employment due to the lack of practical skills.

This scarcity of skilled candidates amplifies unemployment rates and financial instability, pushing over 80% of individuals to work in the informal sector. Instability and frustration contributes to graduates moving to other countries, underemployment, and in the most intense cases, recruitment by extremist groups, exacerbating societal challenges.

Breaking this cycle is pivotal not only for individual opportunities but also for the socioeconomic growth of Pakistan. By transforming the educational paradigm from rote learning to a holistic approach that values creativity and practical skills, Pakistan can unleash a wave of talent capable of not just meeting but exceeding global standards.

The solution

Amal Academy arose as a catalyst for transformative change, addressing the critical gap in Pakistan’s education system through its Career-Prep Fellowship. This innovative three-month program acts as a lifeline for marginalized Pakistani youth, particularly those from rural backgrounds and public universities, offering them a chance to bridge the daunting divide between education and employability.

Employing a dynamic blended learning model, with a curriculum spanning video-based lectures, group activities, class discussions, and engaging games, the program builds its participants’ capacity over 100 intensive training hours. It focuses on essential soft business skills: communication, interviewing, resume writing, professionalism, teamwork, and more.

This innovative solution not only equips youth with professional skills, but instills a sense of confidence and self-worth, along with self-efficacy, a growth mindset, and a feeling of civic responsibility.

The origin

Benje Williams, an Acumen Fellow, witnessed Pakistan’s education-employment gap while at Pharmagen, an Acumen investee. He was tasked with recruiting local marketing officers, but despite receiving over 400 applications, none of the candidates possessed the requisite qualifications for the entry-level position. This experience uncovered the disparity between university education and job requirements, inspiring Amal Academy’s inception in 2013. 

Amal integrates its fellowship with university curricula, striving to reshape education around skills relevant in the professional world. Amal’s impact, aided by Acumen’s ethos, mentors, and investors, reflects a collective endeavor toward transformative change in education and employment for Pakistani youth.

The impact

The Amal Fellowship provides a unique opportunity to develop lifelong skills that normally take several years to achieve on the job.

The impact is palpable. Ali Siddiq, the dedicated CEO steering Amal Academy for the past four years, says that of the fellows that seek employment, the success rate in finding it within three months is 83%, including internships, entrepreneurial ventures, and jobs. 

Close to 12,000 fellows at the end of 2023, Amal has not only transformed the careers of young professionals, but improved the incomes and lives of families and communities. Fellows have reported increased confidence in their professional abilities post-program. 

An aggregated 41% of graduates have been women. When looking at it from a gender lens, Amal strives for more than just equitable enrollment numbers. For most, this is their first co-educational experience. Mindset development is a pivotal part of curriculum design, with a focus on teaching young professionals the role of women as integral players in the economy and professional sphere.

“Among the many valuable principles instilled in me during my time at Amal, ‘kaam kaam kaam (work, work, work)’ stands out. It’s more than just a slogan, it’s a way of life. It has taught me the true meaning of hard work, of making sacrifices, stepping out of my comfort zone, learning from my mistakes, and above all, the power of believing in myself.”

Waleed Khan, Batch 257, University of Engineering and Technology, Peshawar

The investment

Acumen Angels funded Amal Academy with an incubation grant convertible to equity in the event of a prospective equity raise. The grant enabled Amal Academy to innovate its offering and scale up operations.

Now close to having 300 batches of graduates with 40-45 students per batch, the fellowship has scaled tremendously, with in-person fellowships being held at various university campuses in Lahore, Faisalabad, Islamabad, and Karachi. Furthermore, online fellowships are held via Zoom and are open to people from across Pakistan who have consistent access to a computer with a webcam and a reliable internet connection.

Acumen has supported Amal Academy through the Angels seed capital, in-kind investment through our Fellowship, and more.

The story

When Benje talks about Amal Academy’s inception, he quotes Allama Iqbal, renowned Pakistani poet, who said “the world is not something to be seen or known through concepts, but something to be made and remade by continuous Amal” – the Urdu word for action.

Benje’s recognition of the glaring disparity between market demands and the skills possessed by graduates sparked the inception of a transformative solution. The Amal Fellowship has nurtured thousands of alumni, empowering them with not just skills but also a resilient mindset. With strong support from corporate partners like PepsiCo Pakistan, the fellowship acts as a bridge, reducing the chasm between aspirations and opportunities for underserved students. Those include graduates from public universities and private institutions – students who have not had the opportunity to develop their communication, problem solving, and critical thinking skills to the level sought after in the job market.

“My experience at Amal taught me in so many ways – the wisdom in constructive feedback, the honor in being a dependable team player, the virtues of being proactive and purposeful, and the importance of emotional intelligence in a successful professional life.”

Ahmad Khalid, Batch 94, University of Engineering and Technology, Lahore

A nominal commitment fee of Rs. 4,000 ($14) unlocks a Rs. 55,000 ($190) program, democratizing world-class skill development for thousands of people. This fee is to ensure that students stay committed to the program, and it is waived in the cases where students are in dire straits and unable to afford it.

The impact of this model can be transformative. Take Iqra, a Chemical Engineering student at the University of Engineering and Technology Lahore, whose journey is one of resilience and the breaking of traditional gender roles. The first in her family to go to college and one of the few girls in her university classes, she outperformed thousands to get a coveted position at Nestle Pakistan.

The academy’s aspirations extend beyond individual successes. Through strategic partnerships and integration into university curricula, Amal aims to infuse systemic change within Pakistan’s educational landscape.

As Amal continues to empower Pakistani youth, it showcases Acumen’s dedication to shaping a more equitable world through action, through Amal