Interview with Amreen Valli: Fostering pluralism within the Aga Khan Academies and the Aga Khan Academy Alumni Network | Aga Khan Academies

Interview with Amreen Valli: Fostering pluralism within the Aga Khan Academies and the Aga Khan Academy Alumni Network

19 November 2021

Amreen Valli, Class of 2015 from the Aga Khan Academy in Mombasa, Kenya, is the social media and alumni engagement lead for the Aga Khan Academy Alumni Network. Joining the Academy when it was inaugurated in 2003, Amreen was a part of the first cohort of students to have studied at the Academy from Grade 1 to Diploma Programme 2. After graduation, she attended King’s College London in the United Kingdom where she graduated with First Class Honours for a Bachelor of Science in Business Management. In March 2022, she will be joining Linklaters in London, a prestigious multinational law firm. Prior to this, Amreen spent time at a Twitter-backed tech startup based out of the Google Campus for Startups in London.

Amreen is passionate about volunteerism and contributing to civil society. She wishes to build up her experience and return to East Africa in the future to develop institutions in the region, with the Aga Khan Development Network or otherwise. 

As an alumna of the Aga Khan Academy (AKA) Mombasa, how did you see pluralism play a part in your Academy experience?

I was born and raised in Mombasa, Kenya. It’s a very small town, and as I got older, I realised that the life I lived in Mombasa was a very sheltered one. For the longest time, I didn’t think to look and engage with the people around me. This changed when I joined AKA Mombasa in 2003, and in particular when the residential programme launched when I was in Grade 6. The programme welcomed people from different parts of Africa and Asia, and offered scholarships to excellent individuals from varying socioeconomic backgrounds. This broadened my horizons and introduced me to lifelong friends whom I never would have met otherwise. Having met people from different parts of Kenya, Pakistan and Tajikistan, I started to appreciate different cultures and learned that everyone has their own value.

A key takeaway from my time at the Academy is that being different is a strength rather than a weakness and I have carried this lesson with me through my higher education and into my career. The students, teachers and faculty promoted a culture of pluralism in a way that helped me appreciate the impact we can have in our communities, however small, by simply exchanging different ideas, viewpoints and opinions.

Why do you think it’s important to study in an environment that promotes pluralism?

I believe there are three important things you can gain from studying in a pluralistic environment. Firstly, it teaches you to be open-minded. There’s a difference between schools that simply promote diversity and schools that celebrate pluralism and inclusion. At AKA Mombasa, I felt a sense of belonging and community that’s hard to replicate. This made learning fun and I was excited to learn not just the International Baccalaureate curriculum we were being taught, but I was eager to learn and appreciate everyone’s unique cultures.

Secondly, you become more confident. When I was younger, I was very shy. I was afraid to share my ideas or speak up because I didn’t always believe I could bring value. However, at the Academy, you feel comfortable, safe and confident to share your ideas with everyone without the fear of being judged or teased. As a student this helps you to appreciate and value other people’s ideas and it encourages you to contribute as well. It’s this kind of ambience that encourages students at the Academies to be change-makers and challenge the norm.

Finally, studying in a pluralistic environment makes you humble. Sometimes, especially at such a young age, it’s easy to become fixated on materialistic things. But at the Academy we’re taught that an individual’s value has nothing to do with their socioeconomic background or their status in society. It’s about the ideas, sentiments, feelings and more that you bring to the table. I learned to be humble and brave, and I endeavour to do that in everything I do.

How does the Aga Khan Academy Alumni Network embrace pluralism in its work? 

We have a pool of talented alumni who are pursuing a range of traditional and non-traditional careers. Some are building fin-techs and others are aspiring to be filmmakers. The sheer range is astounding. The AKA Alumni Network seeks to create a space where all our alumni can come together to share their ideas and learn from each other to make an impact in the world today. When I was a student at the Academy, I learned so much from my fellow peers. Imagine what we can learn from one another now that we’ve gone into the world and gained experience.

Stewardship is [also] a big part of our education at the Academies. We were taught the importance of going to university, pursuing our careers, and then bringing that knowledge back to our own communities and contributing to improving the quality of life of all. It’s my hope that we can nurture this kind of philosophy through the AKA Alumni Network.

How do you promote pluralism through your role as the social media and alumni engagement lead for the Aga Khan Academy Alumni Network?

I focus on sharing news, stories and talents of our alumni on our social media platforms. My vision is to build a network where alumni feel proud of who they are and what they’ve accomplished and feel safe and confident enough to share their achievements with everyone else. It’s really about making sure everyone can get involved in the AKA Alumni Network no matter what they’re doing, big or small, or who they are.

Also, I focus on re-connecting alumni from their respective schools and creating new inter-Academy connections. For me, this is essential because it’s a continuation of the inclusive community that was a big part of our Academy experience. When you meet alumni, in person or virtually, you immediately feel a level of like-mindedness. I experienced this when I met other alumni, and even though they were from the Aga Khan Academy in Hyderabad, India, I still felt a sense of familiarity.

By engaging with one another, our alumni learn from each other, mentor each other and come up with new ideas on how to improve each other’s lives and ways to contribute to the Academies and our communities. As our AKA Alumni Network continues to grow with the Aga Khan Academy in Maputo, Mozambique and the Aga Khan Academy in Dhaka, Bangladesh producing graduates of their own soon, we as a team are excited with what our future holds.