by Daniel Obst, President and CEO of AFS, and Lucas Welter, Organization Development and Strategy Officer of AFS

AFS is part of a growing number of forward-thinking NGOs turning to higher education to improve their organizations’ impact on the world, according to the Financial Times. Why? Research like The Stanford Survey on Leadership and Management in the Nonprofit Sector survey (2017) of more than 3,000 stakeholders from the nonprofit sector—including nonprofit executives and staff, board members, and donors—“cast a revealing, and in some cases troubling, light on crucial performance gaps that exist in the sector,” reports the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) journal. 

The Stanford Survey found that “more than 80 percent of nonprofit organizations struggle with at least one of the seven fundamental elements of nonprofit leadership and management, thus hampering their overall performance and their ability to achieve their goals.”

We decided to double-down on our commitment to impact and to step up our investment in leadership development training to ensure that our AFS leaders around the world are prepared to drive social impact. 

This July, leaders of 18 AFS organizations participated in the first AFS Impact House, a training program designed in collaboration with the Center for Social Impact Strategy at the University of Pennsylvania (USA). AFS tapped the expertise of UPenn to help leaders of our global Network (with operations in 60 countries) integrate social innovation and business acumen into their work to maximize the impact of our three mission-driven goals: 

  • Develop active global citizens
  • Globalize schools and institutions
  • Expand access to intercultural opportunities.

We worked closely with UPenn’s Dr. Peter Frumkin and Dr. Ariel Schwartz to customize the public version of UPENN’s Social Impact House, an action-oriented residential fellowship program that brings together under one roof a unique community of innovators committed to designing effective solutions for social change. Impact House provides “cutting-edge content with real-world application.”

Our goal with the AFS Impact House was to provide a blended leadership development program consisting of six online training modules, followed by a one-week residential experience held in upstate New York and on the UPenn campus in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA). The online modules provided new insights on strategy, social innovation and impact, resource development, human resources and marketing communications. The in-person workshops built on these learnings and helped participants apply them to specific AFS strategic goals. This included better understanding how AFS study abroad and exchange programs achieve our impact goals to develop more active global citizens determined to change the world. 

Juan Medici, Executive Director of AFS Argentina and Uruguay, was one of the 18 AFS leaders who participated in our Impact House. He said this about the program: “It challenged the mindset of AFS leaders and encouraged us to think more like social entrepreneurs.” He added: “Two of the most important lessons we learned was to know when need help and how to effectively use the resources that are available.”

This is only the beginning of our efforts to drive impact. In the coming months, we will launch our new theory of change for developing active global citizens, along with new tools to measure outputs, outcomes and impact.