Aflatoun International is a non-governmental organisation empowering children with social and financial education around the world. Headquartered in Amsterdam, Aflatoun International’s strong global network of over 200 partners and 30 governments is implementing these programs worldwide. Thanks to Aflatoun’s innovative active-learning methods, over 5.4 million children and young people are reached every year in 102 countries, by 60,000+ active facilitators.
Aflatoun offers 4 curricula; Aflatot, Aflatoun, Aflateen and Aflayouth, each based on different educational levels for different age groups, contextualised to local circumstances.
Introducing Roeland Monasch, CEO of Aflatoun International.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and what inspired you to work for the organisation?
I’d worked for the United Nations (UN) for almost my entire life. 23 years in fact, the last 17 of which were for UNICEF. My last three positions had been as UNICEF’s representative, meaning I was the head of a UNICEF country office and my main focus was on health and education, children’s rights, and safeguarding child survival. And I was proud of what we had achieved, including a reduction in child deaths in the countries I worked. But most of them did not complete their basic education and if they did their diplomas provided no insurance of a job in the formal sector. The reality was that over 90% will not get a job in government or private sector but will have to find a living in the informal sector.
Every day on my way to work I drove past young girls selling peanuts on the streets, struggling in the here and now with no aspirations for the future. Problems such as child labour, teenage pregnancies and child marriages were still rife, and I felt as if I was failing. There really didn’t seem to be an effective response for these challenges, even though their impact on society, and girls in particular, was so evident. I felt there was something missing, that children needed to have control over their own lives and the opportunity for economical alternatives when growing up.
My last posting was in Sierra Leone. And it was during this time I really started exploring what opportunities were out there. Which is when I came across Aflatoun. And I got excited, because I saw the potential to make a change. And so, after many years at UNICEF, I joined Aflatoun. I felt the experience I had in combating the cycle of child poverty and other vulnerabilities would help me contribute to this organisation and give every child the chance to receive social and financial education. By including the missing piece of the puzzle – empowering children to build economic opportunities in undeveloped countries – I aimed to make the organisation a scalable model.
Working with Aflatoun International, what have been your biggest challenges so far?
Aflatoun is unique in terms of its organisational structure. We’ve a multi-sectoral approach, addressing a range of challenges and vulnerabilities children and young people experience. Think child pregnancies and child marriages, for example. Despite our uniqueness, we still of course encounter challenges along the way.
One of the challenges we face is penetrating through the traditional sectors. For many, Aflatoun’s social and financial education is slotted into the education sector when in reality, we are so much more. Child protection or health for instance, and child empowerment. Which sadly is not always a priority for the educators, who’s focus is on the basics of reading and writing. In a nutshell, we don’t fit into a box.
Our focus on empowerment makes us difficult to pigeon-hole. ‘Traditional’ educators see our curriculum as too broad or a “nice to have”, while it’s actually a crucial 21st century skill, the child protection sector view us as an education intervention and find us difficult to relate to. So, although we’re proud and committed to what we do and how we do it, we’re tough to squeeze into a box. Aflatoun is cross-cutting, mixing and creating its own box, which makes it difficult to engage with partners.
The second challenge is our name. Aflatoun. The original idea behind Aflatoun International comes from India, and the name ‘Aflatoun’ is based on a famous Bollywood movie chosen by children in India. However, the name doesn’t say anything about what we are doing, which makes it difficult for people to understand what we do and what we stand for.
The third challenge is Aflatoun’s innovative model. Most NGOs use a traditional model of fundraising and implementing the project themselves on the ground. We, however, don’t use a traditional model. Instead, we’re a social franchise collaborating with different local governments, ministries of education, NGOs, MFIs and cooperatives in different regions, giving them access to tools to empower children.
Aflatoun is a complex but highly scalable system, with our model allowing us to reach many more children than we could via a traditional model. And our innovative franchise has proven to be effective – last year alone we reached 5.4 million children and young people all over the world, and the counter is still ticking. Although perhaps difficult to understand, our scalable model has proven to be a powerful one.
The last challenge we face is the concept of ‘social and financial education’ itself, with the importance of such an education often being overlooked. But thankfully, as more organisations realise the potential of Aflatoun, which now has more than 200 partners in the network, Aflatoun has been growing rapidly. This missing piece of the puzzle, empowering children and turning dependence into independence, is becoming increasingly vital for organisations realising they’re lacking this powerful tool. Aflatoun, with its unique and powerful learning methods, can give children those skills to take care of themselves.
What does the future hold for Aflatoun?
Our vision is that every child in this world has some basic social and financial skills. While our main focus is on the most vulnerable, in reality children from Amsterdam or Tokyo can also benefit from those skills. Therefore, our vision is to reach out to all children, whether from developed or undeveloped countries, and expand partnerships to include every child who wants to receive social and financial education, while maintaining the focus on the most vulnerable.
Your message to the readers
It works. In my three years working at Aflatoun, I’ve witnessed the real impact we make on the life of individuals on the ground, providing them with alternative economic options and the opportunity to grow up in a safer environment. Penetrating the traditional sectors, social and financial education can really make a change, targeting several sustainable development goals that are not purely educational, but incorporate other aspects including; health, economic development, poverty reduction and partnerships.
What’s more, through our model where different organisations are using our tools, we become a network of sharing between organisations. As an example, at the end of October 2018, around 20 Asian and 10 African organisations met in China, sharing their experiences, learning from each other, and making each other stronger. A concrete example of the power of a network. Of the power of Aflatoun.
Written byAflatoun Amsterdam