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Kaospilots and Knowmads: inspirations to a hybrid school for refugees

How could we imagine a hybrid and practical education to empower refugees to improve their lives?

Photo of André Fernandes

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Created in Denmark, Kaospilot is a hybrid business and design school, a multi-sided education in leadership and entrepreneurship. Their teaching programmes are designed to shape students to fit the future and to help them create it. There's also the unit in Switzerland. 

Its name combines the works "Kaos" (chaos) and "pilot", referring to pilot through the chaos, take responsibility for our dreams and for the world we live in.They centre on students’ potential to develop and to achieve – tapping into their creativity, giving it a direction, creating a setting that will get them there and navigate the uncertainties that will follow.  

It provides space and a place where creatives and potential change-makers can develop the knowledge, skills, attitudes and competencies they need to fulfil their values and visions. It builds the frameworks within which creative minds can become creative leaders.

How do KaosPilots learn? 

The foundation of the KaosPilots' learning is the focus on our dreams. Reaching them by working together like a tribe, learning by doing and learning by reflection. It sounds simple. And on some level it is. 

However: learning to work closely together with other people is not always fun and easy. Working intimately together with our dream projects demands all of our human potential and our growing and learning while being creative and performing at the same time. 

Along the 3 years program, the studies are based on training and projects in specific topics in the fields of project management, leadership, communication, design, action-research, prototyping, conflict-resolution, entrepreneurship and fundraising or sponsoring.

Its program involves a management and teac hing team, in addition to team leaders, guides, experts and partners to take ahead the projects and training. As much as possible, the students are involved in the execution of the projects with the partners. 

Throughout the program, the students are encouraged to work creatively and be enterprising, while practicing a holistic approach to gaining knowledge, skills, values, attitudes and behavior that allows them to be both independent and reciprocal.

Curriculum (Taken from Kaospilots Switzerland website)

Kaospilots curriculum consists of 4 competence fields:

    • Creative Leadership
    • Creative Project Design (mostly in year 1)
    • Creative Process Design (mainly in year 2)
    • Creative Business Design (mainly in year 3)

Overview of Kaospilot method

In addition, there are 3 special components supporting the above fields:

  • The Council Guide Training is an intensive training course consisting of nine, week long trainings to learn how to make decisions like a tribe. This course enhances personal leadership development, working together like a tribe, self-reflection and learning the ways of Wisdom and Decision Making Councils. 

  •  The Outpost in Cape Town is an adventure: In the 4th semester our students go together to an external classroom somewhere in the world to get to know a very new landscape and to develop and implement business projects in an unknown territory. Since 2012, this outpost is and will be in Cape Town, South Africa.


  • The Physical training is a special part of our Inner Pilot curriculum to train our body minds. We start every morning with 30 minutes of "Morning Practice", which means to wake up all of our senses and to connect to ourselves, becoming aware of our present condition and what is moving inside of us and forming a personal intention for the day. 2 x a week we practice Aikido and Yoga, added by days of juggling, theater improvisation, acrobatics, as well as learning about leadership and nutrition and Spiraldynamik on how to use our bodies in a smart way.


The curriculum requires 5 exams: The first exam is done after 3 months to give our students an initial temperature check on where to strengthen themselves and where to deepen their practice of using their toolbox as project leaders in various fields. The 2nd exam is a group exam focussing on how to design powerful business plans. The 3rd exam is an individual exam in the art of Creative Process Design, learning to step into the role of external facilitator, guide, coach or consultant to support a client and his/her group. The 4th exam is again a group examcompleted during the Outpost. Here the teams works over a period of 3 months on a project and get one grade for the entire team. The final, 5th exam is an individual project focussing on the students' dreams of their own business platform design that they want to build for themselves in the coming years; for almost half of the students this means starting their own business, for others it means offering their services rather as intrapreneurs and changemakers for existing organizations and companies.

How Kaospilot aims to create impact

Are you the change you want to see in the world? (Taken from Kaospilots Switzerland website)

This question from Gandhi is one that we like. Because it puts our way of working into other words: If we want to change the world as leaders, we first need to change ourselves. This means looking at what is important to us. To check which of our beliefs are still helpful, supporting us and our dreams. Where is change needed?

How can we adapt the Kaospilot's principles to the education of refugees?

While applying for the Kaospilots' program (the process is still going on), I got really fascinated how it helped me to refine my life purpose and define my future professional dream. It inspired me to go directly to reflect on what makes sense for myself and for my dreams.

Then, how could we help refugees create their dreams? Facing a forced migration, lots of changes and shocks in an unknown environment, live as refugee is like surf in the chaos.  How could we inspire refugees to take a transformational perspective?

By transformational perspective, I mean how to turn their struggles, shocks, uncertainties in the new life into opportunities to grow personally, professionaly, to discover their potential. 

Based on the Kaospilots's principles, I'd like to provoke with the following questions:

How could we train refugees to solve practical challenges they live in the camps?

How to inspire them to lead their communities and themselves under tough and unexpected circumstances?

How could we imagine an educational system that empowers refugees to create their lives?

How might we combine leadership, entrepreneurship, life skills, design thinking into refugees' education?

Taking a Design Challenge Perspective

Before the prototype, what about understand this idea through a design challenge perspective (taken from DesignKit), taking the following questions.

  • What's the problem to solve?

How to structure a hybrid, dynamic and creative educational program for refugees inspired on Kaospilot school?

1) Take a stab framing it as a design question

- How might we structure a dynamic and creative education system for refugees?

- How might we adapt Kaospilot's principles and structure for refugees' context?

2) What are some possible solutions to the problem?

- Empower refugees on project, process and business/entrepreneurship

- Align technical + human + creative competences and skills

- Unite physical activities + mind/spirituality + professional skills into the education program

3) Write down some the context and constraints to this idea

- Lack of qualified teachers and facilitators

- Poor infrastructure for teaching

- Necessity to empower refugees under tough circumstances

- Necessity of a flexible education program due to the refugees' circumstances

4) Does the original question need a tweak? 

- What do we have to consider to approach creative leadership for refugees?

- What's necessary to consider to include personal development, innovation, project management, entrepreneurship, design thinking, etc on refugees' education?

How could we imagine an alternative educational program to empower refugees?

In addition to Kaospilots, Knowmads is another great inspiration of how we could empower refugees to impact in their communities and overcome the forced migration.

Inspired by this interview with Pieter Spinder, founder of Knowmads, we can take some reflections on the following points:

  • Why do we attach to a determined curricullum when we don't know what's going to happen on next year?
  • Social innovation and sustainability are totally new challenges and they have to be approached by an entrepreneurial perspective
  • How could we help students (and refugees) organize their self-learning?
  • How could we imagine a learning platform where refugees can choose what to learn?

Before think the sketches of an educational program to refugees, I add the following questions below taken from Knowmads, that would be interesting to instigate on refugees:

  • Who am I and what do I want to do?
  • What do I want to learn/develop in order to reach that?
  • How can I contribute to our world?
  • How do I get my ideas into the world?

Taking the perspectives above, I though on the structure presented below. What do you think about it?

5 kinds of wisdom, inspired on Knowmads school

Thinking on an educational program to englobe personal development, aligning body, mind and spirit.

What rituals could contribute for personal and professional development of refugges?

Considering the limited amount of teachers in many refugee camps, include external facilitators and complementary resources such as online platforms is essential to put refugees in touch with what's not locally available. How could we refine this proposed structure?

A flexible structure of teachers/staff + facilitators + complementary resources


Kaospilot Denmark

Kaospilot Switzerland

Knowmads - we educate changemakers


Kaospilots is a hybrid business and design school, combining with leadership and entrepreneurship. The school works through a 3 year program aiming to shape students to create their future and their dreams. Inspiring on Kaospilots model, why not create a program to refugees shape their lives and dreams facing all the changes they're living?


The idea aims to benefit the refugees through an educational system that empowers them with practical skills for their daily lives, combining hard skills and soft skills. While applying for Kaospilots program (the process is still going on), I got surprised how it helped to refine my life purpose and work directly with what makes sense for me and to my dreams.


On next days, I'll prototype a program adapted for refugees. Any suggestion, feedback is welcome!


Feedbacks from OpenIDEO participants. Thanks for all your comments! Matt Ridenour - given that refugees who would be the target of this challenge come from a variety of ages, backgrounds, and education, would this educational system be focused on a specific age, background, or prior education level? Could there be different levels of learning based on age, prior education, etc.? If so your curriculum could likely have more impact, as many different types of refugees might need more personalized learning styles. Have you considered whether you might provide this? Mirette Bahgat Eskaros - I always felt that to make a change in refugees life, you need to provide them with an intensive and comprehensive educational program and not just inconsistent educational activities every now and then. But the question is, can this program be used in transit countries like Egypt where asylum seekers are staying probably for a short time until they are resettled somewhere else?

SKILL SHARE (optional)

Education, psychology, entrepreneurship, life skills, alternative education, flexible learning programs


I'm in Brazil, my country! Affiliated to Engajamundo, a NGO working to spread awareness of Brazilian youth about international negotiations and politics. Passionated for travel and discover different cultures! Football and pagode are also included!


  • Yes, and I am looking for a partner working with refugee communities to implement this idea.

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A description of Knowmads educational program, another great inspiration!

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Photo of Andy E. Williams

Got your email. Thanks.

Photo of Cíntia Citton

Hi André!
Nice approaches, my favorite problem framing suggestion is the first question: "How might we structure a dynamic and creative education system for refugees?", because it leaves more room for discovery. As to the questions about dreams, I think Myrette made a very good point, because maybe some deep questions need some more time to explore than the one available in a camp, maybe the refugees could profit more from this questioning once they have a new home (or at least know which will be their host country). Probably people from the trauma recovery can bring valuable insights on that specific issue.
As to the problem, my vote goes to the questions:
"How to inspire them to lead their communities and themselves under tough and unexpected circumstances?" or "How could we imagine an educational system that empowers refugees to create their lives?" or "How might we structure a dynamic and creative education system for refugees?", because they leave more room to explore and reframe if necessary. If we decide we need to use a certain method (design thinking, lean, kaospilot, etc.) than it looks like we are more worried about applying the method than about solving the problem.
Regarding the educational program, cultural background and specific circumstances can play a very strong role and has to be considered. Sometimes direct approaches can be a bit overwhealming and people try not to question many things, just to move forward one day at a time... What if you use the 5 wisdoms to help them getting out of the psychological blockings created by traumas and start participating at camp activities?

Photo of André Fernandes

Hi Cíntia! (Good to see more Brazilians!) Thanks for your feedbacks! There are many factors to consider in the case of refugees, that's true! I posted thinking more on how to adapt the method of schools like Kaospilots and Knowmads to the education of refugees. Not to restrict into one unique model, as you pointed out specific circumstances that will require specific ways to approach the problem. Good suggestion to use the 5 wisdoms to help refugees get out of the psychological blockings! I'll see how to suggest, any idea is welcome!

Photo of Cíntia Citton

Hi Andre! Sorry if I misunderstood as a little restriction, the fact is that I find on a daily basis cases where people focus so much on the tools that they end up forgetting about the goals, you know? Meanwhile I've found out this other cool idea here that are worth taking a look at:
They are going to conduct a prototype with this mapping and this could be very interesting while trying to understand the real needs and challenges on the field in order to adapt sets of tools and methods. What do you think about it?

Photo of André Fernandes

HI Cíntia! It's all right! Any feedback is welcome! And on the comments, people have been pointing out several aspects that I didn't think about before, that's nice!
Thanks for indicate this idea of mapping out the community resources. Sure, I'll check it later.

Photo of DFA NYU

Hi André, we like your thought-provoking idea. We of course like the design approach. We agree with Cintía that maybe thinking about dreams is a big jump for some of the refugees (although who knows?) and we love the questions she suggested. It'd be a great way to start opening up questions about their future and engaging them in the process of designing their future (which they might not think entitle to do at this point in their life). We can certainly see the mapping activities as a way to uncover some of the needs. We could also mix efforts in the curriculum at the beginning of the program that could match your idea. Let us know when you have posted a curriculum.

Photo of André Fernandes

Hi Design Tinkering, thanks for your feedbacks! I didn't think yet, but I got your suggestion and Cintia's to consider the refugees immediate needs. More than the teaching method, the most important is to help refugees become self-sufficient, considering the tough circumstances in most cases. As each case - refugee camp, the situation of refugees by country, etc. - map their necessities is another point to think about. If you have any suggestion of curriculum and interesting to team up the idea, just let me know!
Regarding Kaospilot program, I received a great new - I was approved! - and I'm waiting for more details of the school. It'd be interesting to contribute to the work for refugees. Let's what's going to happen ahead!

Photo of Christopher Pruijsen

Congrats on the admission to the program Andre!
This is certainly exciting, happy to introduce you to the people at THNK as well if you'd like to take this idea further and are stopping by Amsterdam. Other programmes worth looking at: and are focused on leadership, education for entrepreneurs etc, albeit at different stages. Watson University would be more applicable to what you have in mind, or which was started in Uganda by Eric, the founder of Watson, to bring entrepreneurship education into schools :)

Photo of André Fernandes

Hi Christopher, thanks for indicate THNK, Watson University, Hive and Experience Educate! I'll check their approach on entrepreneurship.
I want to take this idea further and I consider as one of the projects to work on along Kaospilots program. I didn't go to Amsterdam yet, let's see when it'll be possible!

Photo of Andy E. Williams

We have a project to create a new kind of incubator/accelerator that captures local needs as ideas for startup businesses in order to create jobs among the youth. The idea of combining a job creation program with education (such as you seem to have) is deeply compelling. We would love to share what we are proposing (unfortunately we didn't remember to propose it on OpenIDEO ... though we have another project here) and to get your ideas on collaboration. Please connect on with me on linkedin or on the Facebook page of the Nobeah Foundation (or email to get more info.

Photo of André Fernandes

Hi Andy, thanks for indicate Nobeah Foundation! I'll contact by e-mail to get more info!

Photo of Shane Zhao

Love your initiative to prototype how this program can be adapted for refugees Andre! Have you tried reaching out to Kaospilot to see if they'd be interested in collaborating with you on this? Perhaps they can give you some early feedback on how this idea can be taken forward.

Photo of André Fernandes

Hi Shane,

As I'm applying to Kaospilot school and had an interview recently, I can contact them for feedback. It's an interesting institution to partner with, as it englobes people who breathe innovation.
I'll firstly sketch and then, I contact them asking their opinion. Is it OK?

Photo of Shane Zhao

Glad to hear that you're applying to Kaospilot Andre. Yes, it'd be interesting to get some feedback on what they might think about your idea proposal. I also understand that students at Kaospilot have the option of customizing their curriculums. Perhaps you might integrate this refugee education initiative into your studies there as well?

Photo of André Fernandes

Hi Shane, why not something for refugee education along my studies if I get approved? I've already contacted Kaospilot for feedbacks, probably someone will answer until next week due to the workshop assessments that are going to happen this week.

Photo of DFA NYU

André, good luck with your application! It'd be great to have the feedback from the Kaospilot team. We love the idea of having you focusing your personal project (within the Kaospilot program) on refugee education. Keep us posted!

Photo of Mirette Bahgat Eskaros

A very good idea Andre and I always felt that to make a change in refugees life, you need to provide them with an intensive and comprehensive educational program and not just inconsistent educational activities every now and then. But the question is, can this program be used in transit countries like Egypt where asylum seekers are staying probably for a short time until they are resettled somewhere else?

Photo of André Fernandes

Hi Mirette! Thanks for your feedback! You mentioned another point I didn't think about. Maybe focus on refugee camps, in those cases which involves a long term asylum is the best option for a hybrid education program. How such program could be adapted to short periods is also an option to consider, as refugees may change countries/cities/camps along years.

Photo of Monty Johns

Mirette brings up a great point. Maybe partnering with Coursera or other open course platform would be a good idea? There are a few open source learning platforms available, although all require an Internet connection. I'm guessing that your platform would require the same, correct? If that's the case, it would be much easier to integrate a "continued learning" program after asylum-seekers are resettled elsewhere.

Photo of André Fernandes

Hi Monty, thanks for your suggestion about open course platform. Based on alternative educational programs such as Kaospilot and Knowmads, I think about how coud we imagine an educational to empower refugees with what they need for their lives and needs.
An open course platform is useful to put them in touch with facilitators and knowledge not available locally. Morever to online platforms, how an educational program could empower refugees to impact at the place they live and to overcome all shocks with forced migration?

Photo of Matthew Ridenour

Hi André! What a great inspiration turned idea! I really appreciate the connection with an innovative curriculum to help refugees learn in a creative and divergent way. I'm wondering: given that refugees who would be the target of this challenge come from a variety of ages, backgrounds, and education, would this educational system be focused on a specific age, background, or prior education level? Could there be different levels of learning based on age, prior education, etc.? If so your curriculum could likely have more impact, as many different types of refugees might need more personalized learning styles. Have you considered whether you might provide this? Keep up the GREAT work!

Photo of André Fernandes

Hi Matt! I didn't think about these topics you mentioned and I don't know now how to organize them into a curriculum. I have in mind to balance, if possible, the need to consider specific levels based on prior education, culture, age, etc... and the possibility to mix different ages.

As the idea is to create impact, give refugees a sense of responsibility for their own communities, it's important to mix as possible. Any suggestion is welcome. If you have interest, I can add you to the team to take forward the prototype. Thanks for your feedbacks!