The Best Alternative Business Schools for Changemakers

These alternative business schools are at the forefront of educating students for the future of business.

by Naomi Ryland, May 8, 2016

Making money is easy. Making money whilst not destroying the planet and people's lives? Less easy, it would seem. We have the 20th century to show for it. Which is why the business schools of the future need to equip students with much more than just the ability to read a profit- and loss sheet.

Many of the more traditional business schools are indeed catching on. The Harvard Kennedy School, for example, has developed an increasing focus towards social impact in the last couple of decades - as a response to the demands of the students. In fact nearly a quarter of Harvard Kennedy School graduates now enter non-profits. Nearly a quarter of Harvard Kennedy School graduates now enter non-profits.

In the last few years, several alternative business schools have sprung up (some of them founded by these very Harvard graduates) that completely reject the old ways of teaching business and have developed innovative methodologies with intimate class-sizes and a student-centric approach. Here are three of the best. 

Best Alternative Business Schools


The Kaospilots Switzerland // Bern and Cape Town

The KaosPilots Switzerland is an international school for creative business design and social innovation. Originally founded in Denmark in 1991, more than 600 students have passed through the doors of this alternative business school - over a third of which have gone on to found their own businesses or NGOs. The methodological focus is on learning by doing, constant reflection and iteration, and collaboration. They acknowledge the role of human nature in making business decisions and interacting in the work environment. Rather than trying to suppress them, they guide their students to make productive use of their own and others' values, beliefs and dreams in all of their tasks. 

The students work with real world challenges not just theories and essays. They develop ideas, concepts and business plans for clients. They create prototypes, facilitate workshops and make graphic recordings. A KaosPilot is trained to communicate their ideas, design strategies and implement campaigns for actual projects and products.

Their fourth semester the students spend in an external classroom, the so-called Outpost, in Cape Town, South Africa. The purpose is to get to know a new landscape and to develop and implement their tools in business projects in an unknown territory. 

BusinessWeek has recognised Kaospilot as one of the best design schools in the world, and Fast Company has named it in its Startup Leagues Big 10, preparing you for the fast moving startup economy.

Find out more about the alternative business school KaosPilots Switzerland.

Amani Institute // Nairobi or Sao Paulo

The Amani Institute prepares students for a social impact career through an innovative Post-Graduate Certificate in Social Innovation Management. Based out of both Kenya and Brazil they offer a 10-month program featuring 6 months online learning and a 4 month immersion phase during which students build and deepen crucial professional skills with international experts, increase their leadership skills, enter a global network of changemakers and gain intensive work experience in a thriving global hub for social innovation - Nairobi or Sao Paulo.

With their emphasis on reinventing education that meets the demand of our fast paced and highly complex 21st century, students can expect to not only have a life-changing experience but also gain a professional edge much needed to effectively tackle global challenges.  Faculty for the program has included a Nobel Peace laureate, experts in leadership development from McKinsey, an award-winning documentary producer, a leading foundation director, and many others. 

“Program participants at Amani Institute train for their careers similar to how a doctor or an Olympian trains—a mix of intensive immersion, the development of specific capacities and a deeper understanding of their true self,” says Amani Institute Co-Founder and CEO Roshan Paul. “We foster in-depth exploration of the self and align personal and professional purpose to stay balanced, grounded and personally sustainable while doing highly challenging social change work.”

"Program participants at Amani Institute train for their careers similar to how a doctor or an Olympian trains"

In 2015 they also launched a collaborative MBA programme together with Lynn University in Florida. Lynn students who pursue an MBA in Social Innovation Management will take Lynn graduate courses, on campus or online, in conjunction with Amani Institute’s 10-month program, which comprises four months in-person (Nairobi, Kenya or São Paulo, Brazil) and six months of an online program with international colleagues. Students at this alternative business school are immersed in designing innovative solutions to problems they care about, learn professional skills in courses taught by global experts, undergo a customized apprenticeship in an organization of their interest, and experience a signature personal development curriculum, as well as inspiring field trips. 

Find out more about the Amani Institute or apply directly here: Want to hear from the founder himself? Check out Roshan Paul's TEDx Talk Amsterdam.

Knowmads // Amsterdam 

The Knowmads Business School doesn't believe in teaching or preaching, rather they challenge students to create their own education and projects. They see their job as enabling, facilitating, empowering and inspiring their students.

They offer six month programmes, starting twice a year at their campus in Amsterdam. 

"Knowmads Business School contributes to a world in which we learn to know ourselves and work from our own strengths. It’s a world where we are proactive, rather than reactive. A world where we see and take opportunities. In this world we are daring and enjoy to work on our big dreams together.

We don’t see our current education preparing us to become these people. This is why we created Knowmads."

The methodologies they use draw on innovations such as Design Thinking and Theory U and are centred around the belief that - since businesses are created and run by people, being able to connect, communicate, inspire and collaborate with others is at the core of business. 

Below is an overview of the methodologes they use. 

Human Centered
Being Human Centered is about being aware of who I am. Being aware of dreams, patterns, beliefs, effects. It is about understanding myself in order to do work sustainably and grounded (centered).

Action Oriented
Action Oriented is about movement, dynamic. We want to impact the world in a positive way and that starts from my own action. Rather than reacting on everything that comes to me, I work pro-actively from my own skills and ground.

Head Heart Hands
Head Heart Hands Aligned. I have three kinds of energy within me: head (thoughts/intellect), heart (passion/connection), and hand (acts). I need all of them at different times. Working is a balancing acts between these three energies. It’s about knowing when I need which one to support my process.

Open and Appreciative Communication
Open and Appreciative communication is that I value what is there in a given situation. I (might) have judgements and I see that those judgements are my own projections. In communicating openly about this, I connect to myself and others. This is how I appreciate our connection. This is how I create real understanding.

Power to Choose
Power to choose. When aligned, my choices “empower” me. They give energy to my life. With the choices I make, I follow my own path. I make conscious decisions. This is how I take responsibility for myself and my actions.

Magic, flow, shine. Stepping into the unknown is about flow an trusting that control is only one aspect. It’s about trusting the magic to happen as you let go. It humbles me in knowing that I cannot (and do not need to) control everything. When I allow and work with the unknown, whatever happens is what needs to happen.

Find out more about knowmads Amsterdam

What do all these alternative business schools have in common? They cater to students who want to develop their business skills to achieve a positive social impact. 

Are there other alternative business schools that we should know about? Let us know