Every day, just outside of the global spotlight, local organizations work tirelessly on-the-ground in highly-challenging environments — and often dangerous circumstances — to move the needle on causes that dramatically improve our shared futures: government transparency, human rights, HIV / AIDS, education, environmental protection and more.
These local organizations operate with unparalleled expertise, finding success with the knowledge gleaned only from years of working within a community and among complicated contexts. But despite having nuanced understanding, ideas and trusted leadership, these organizations still struggle; they need access to resources that can strengthen their organizational health and sustainability. This is where we focus.
Philanthropy University is a free online learning platform that provides locally-led organizations in the Global South with access to practical courses, knowledge-share communities and funding opportunities. With this tailored support, local organizations can become more effective in their work to help solve some of the world's most pressing social issues and save even more lives.
Strengthening Leadership Where It Matters Most
Philanthropy University's learning platform, "the University," launched in 2015 and attracted 220,000 learners. During this first run, we made a powerful discovery: more than 60% of our learners came from the Global South. This signaled that local civil society in the Global South sought out capacity building opportunities, and affirmed that local civil society organizations benefit from an accessible learning platform. We made a strategic pivot - focusing on adapting our coursework and technology to be practical for learners working in highly-disruptive environments.
Optimized for Global South, Available To All
In 2017, we partnered with Exygy - an impact-focused digital innovation studio - with the desire to rebuild the University learning platform and support system to be more user-centered, scalable and effective. To do this, focused on two main areas: (1) designing and building new learning platform software, and (2) training the University team to manage and grow their digital-first business.
Together, we initiated a discovery and research phase to ensure we uncovered the cultural nuance, infrastructural limitations and accessibility constraints that target users encounter while learning online in the Global South. Data analytics, stakeholder interviews and surveying informed the basis of our redesign.
Through our research, we learned that many users wanted to bring their coursework into areas without reliable internet connection, and that they often balanced other priorities, making it difficult to complete long units. We reconfigured courses into smaller, more flexible units, created printable content and designed a mobile app, allowing learners to download course material and therefore mobilizing the platform into areas without internet connection.
Today, Philanthropy University offers 12+ rigorous courses, intentionally designed to equip local leaders with the practical knowledge needed to grow their impact. Courses cover fundraising, strategy, monitoring & evaluation (M&E), Girl Centered Design, advocacy and more. Instruction blends together expertise from all over the world — with teachings from thought leaders in the sector and academia as well as from our learners in the field.
Our 100+ Communities of Practice offer an evergreen space for leaders to network, share best practices and surface knowledge to the broader international development community.
Sustainable Learner-Led Development
From our discovery and research phase, our teams created detailed personas that highlighted the University's user motivations, habits, needs and challenges. This first-hand sense of their day-to-day experience helped set a foundation of empathy, and allowed us to best architect a new product to meet their unique needs and challenges.
To ensure our platform remains relevant and applicable to these on-the-ground leaders, the Philanthropy University continues to build upon these personas through learner engagement on the platform. They participate in Learner Discovery calls, and are given surveys in every course so their experience and satisfaction is tracked and understood.
The University's digital learning platform relies on the longevity and sustainability of its managing team. Exygy worked with Philanthropy University to develop efficient training, recruiting, vetting, and hiring practices for the full digital product development lifecycle.
The University re-launched in March 2018. Since then, more than 12,000 new learners have accessed the platform. More specifically, learners from the Global South have grown to represent more than 70% of our total user base, suggesting that we, in fact, re-designed a platform to better meet the needs of local, on-the-ground leaders in the Global South. Course completion rate, across more than 10,000 enrollments in 9 different rigorous subject areas, ranks between 5% and 17%, compared to an industry average of 5%-8%. The 1,800 nonprofit organizations that have shared their data with us total a reach of more than 3 million people, and these represent only a portion of the 4,000+ organizations on the platform. Assuming these results hold true across across all organizations on the platform, we can extrapolate that the reach of the University is upwards of 6 million people! These are not just numbers - these are real changemakers learning and sharing with others: the University's most active forums see between 500 and 1,000 new posts a week.
These measurable results are enabled by our ability to make agile, informed designs and revisions to most acutely meet the needs of our learners. They represent the uptake and empowerment of real, local leaders in the Global South that do the vital, on-the-ground work to ensure a better, safer, healthier and more prosperous life for us all.