Skoll Foundation


Afghan Institute of Learning

Skoll Awardee(s): Sakena Yacoobi
Award Year: 2006
Issue Area(s) Addressed: Education, Health, Peace and Human Rights

(Click here to print)

Born in Herat, Afghanistan, Sakena Yacoobi came to the United States in the 1970s to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in public health. In the 1980s, she worked as a health consultant at D’Etre University in Michigan. From 1992 to 1995, she worked for the International Rescue Committee in Pakistan, increasing the number of Afghan refugee girls enrolled in IRC-supported schools from 3,000 to 15,000. During that time, she also served on the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief delegation of the United Nations, as well as on the United Nations Rehabilitation Plan for Afghanistan. During the mid-1990s, funding for education and health programs in Afghanistan was cut dramatically as a result of the Taliban’s grip on power. Sakena was determined to keep education and health programs going, despite the Taliban’s opposition, and thus she founded the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL) in 1995.


  • Since its inception in 1996, AIL’s model of community-based support, with 332 Educational Learning Centers providing education to 400,000 Afghan women and children, has been replicated by others across Afghanistan, reaching populations with no prior access to education. They teach literacy, sewing, computers, math, English and more to 25,000 students each year. Where there is no school, AIL’s Learning Centers fill the void.
  • On Nov. 13, 2013, Sakena won the $1 million Opus Prize.
  • Its private hospital in Herat received government approval and opened as a hospital in 2013, after several months as a health clinic.  Currently, the hospital can treat 200 patients a day and averages about 2,000 patients per month.
  • AIL’s teacher-training curriculum, which includes interactive learning and critical thinking skills, has created a new basis for a society that values human rights, personal responsibility and leadership. AIL has trained 21,364 teachers, reaching nearly 3,470,000 students.
  • Having impacted the lives of more than 9 million Afghans through education, teacher training, and workshops on human rights, women’s rights, peace, and leadership, AIL has helped Afghans to move to the next level of self-reliance. Ninety-five percent of the participants in leadership workshops have demonstrated leadership in their communities, something unheard of in the past.
  • More than 85% of Afghan women are illiterate. If an Afghan girl goes to school, chances are she will not go past the 6th grade. AIL works to change this.
  • AIL has 15 clinics that have served 1,686,546 patients.
  • AIL has worked in 11 provinces and trained 10,536 people in health workshops.
  • Today, AIL is the largest Afghan NGO and is registered with the Ministries of Health, Education, Women’s Affairs and Social Welfare.



© 2015 Skoll Foundation.