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Penn Adviser on African Community Learning Program: “I am blown away by the progress”

Adam Roth-Saks (right) stops by to support Aminata Sy (left) during the Wharton Startup Challenge, where African Community Learning Program became a 2018 Social Impact finalist.

The administrative director of the Nonprofit Leadership Program at Penn’s School of Social Policy and practice, Adam Roth-Saks is among the key individuals who have helped in African Community Learning Program’s progress. He reflected on our work since he began advising me in fall 2017.

Q: How did you support Aminata Sy since fall 2017?

A: I met Aminata at the Nonprofit Institute run by the Netter Center here at the University of Pennsylvania. I run the Nonprofit Master’s Program, and we present each year at that institute to help burgeoning nonprofit leaders and give them the support they need as they develop their nonprofits. Aminata approached me afterwards and wanted to chat with me about the program. We met and started really talking about where African Community Learning Program was and what she can really do to develop it -- sort of take it from a core idea to develop it into a successful, sustainable long-term nonprofit. I think we’ve met almost once a month over the last year or so, talking about all sort of nonprofit issues from governance to branding to public relations to fundraising -- really the basics of what you need to know to turn a great idea that’s supporting a community to something that’s long lasting and can really create long-term impact.

Aminata Sy is seating second to the right with her summer 2017 Penn's Nonprofit Institute cohort.

Q: What progress have you observed with African Community Learning Program?

A: I am blown away by the progress that African Community Learning Program and Aminata have made in even just in the last year. It started with a core of an idea and a volunteer program and supporting learners in the community in West Philadelphia and giving opportunity to volunteers both on Penn’s campus and in the broader community as well. Just a couple weeks ago, she was a finalist for the Wharton Startup Social Impact prize that they offer as part of their startup competition. So to see something go from really the beginning of an idea to a successful program is amazing. She is building a board, she is finding new ways to promote what the program is doing. The press that she’s been able to get has been incredible -- reaching out to different communities that want to know about the great work she is doing. I think the first story she sent me was in the Penn student newspaper, and now I’m seeing stories about it across Philadelphia media about the great work that African Community Learning Program is doing.

Hazim Hardeman (left) , Aminata Sy, and Kwaku Quansah at the 2018 Wharton Startup Challenge.

Q: What is your message to potential supporters of African Community Learning Program?

A: I would say to anybody who is considering supporting African Community Learning Program that this is an organization that listens, really is in the community and of the community, and is building opportunities for amazing students in West Philadelphia, -- amazing people, and creating real change. It’s on the small scale now, it’s one-to-one mentorship, it’s learning, it’s education. But to see the difference that the program is making in the lives of the kids that it’s working with, that’s really what’s core to it. When you create social impact on that scale, you may measure it by one student, but you have to look at it in a much bigger picture, and that’s what African Community Learning Program is doing. It’s not just one student, it’s what that student can then go on to do in their life, in their work. That’s really why I think people should support it.

African Community Learning Program students do their homework with the help of volunteers.

Q: Is there anything else that you will like to add?

A: I work with 60 students a year in the master’s in the Nonprofit Leadership Program, and it’s rare that I work outside of my program advising students. But when I come across somebody who really cares, who is passionate, who has an idea and wants to launch it, I’m willing to take the time and do it. Aminata is that person -- just the ability to have a vision for something and see that vision through into action is there. I think the ability for African Community Learning Program to make a difference is there. It’s just been amazing to see the journey over the year or so.

Aminata Sy is the founder and president of African Community Learning Program, a multimedia journalist, and a rising junior at the University of Pennsylvania, where she studies international relations and English.

African Community Learning Program educates, connects, empowers, and supports people of African background in West Philadelphia.

To support African Community Learning Program visit:

or email Aminata Sy at

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