Capacity building at scale: Philanthropy University’s new direction

Since launching in 2015, Philanthropy University has attracted 220K learners from over 180 countries with its seven foundational courses designed to build the skills and capacity of non-profit leaders. Now in its second year of operation, Philanthropy University is set to refocus its sights on ambitious new targets.

In this blog post we interview Connor Diemand-Yauman, Philanthropy University’s CEO, to learn more about Philanthropy University’s new focus and his vision for the year ahead.

Tell us a bit more about Philanthropy University’s new focus.

Philanthropy University first launched in 2015 with impressive results. We initially targeted NGOs broadly across sectors and geographies, but soon our data revealed that some 60% of our users were from the Global South, hailing from countries such as India, Nigeria, and Ghana. This prompted us to ask: how can Philanthropy University better serve these NGOs and their leaders in particular? After a great deal of research, we decided to move in an exciting new direction to focus on the needs of locally-led organizations in the Global South. Aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, all of our work will focus on providing civil society organizations in the Global South with the training, support, and resources they need to achieve and exceed their ambitions.

In what ways, exactly, does Philanthropy University plan on supporting these organizations?

At Philanthropy University, we believe that locally-led organizations are best placed to address the sustainable development challenges that face their own regions. These are the organizations that will deliver services at the frontline, offering lasting solutions grounded in the context of their communities. However, many organizations don’t have access to the sort of relevant and appropriate capacity building opportunities that are so vital for their growth and long-term sustainability. This is where we come in.

Philanthropy University will provide these organizations with access to the courses, community, and capital needed to measurably improve their capacity and achieve their goals. Through a combination of online courses and communities of practice – in which learners can share and learn from one another – Philanthropy University will build the capacity of these local organizations. Furthermore, Philanthropy University plans to help these organizations turn what they’ve learned into practical results through access to funding.

Through these efforts, Philanthropy University aims to measurably improve 5,000 local organizations in the Global South, enabling them to more effectively improve the lives of the people they serve.

What kind of measurable value will Philanthropy University’s work bring to the sector?

Capacity building is vital in strengthening the long-term resilience of civil society organizations. It enhances their ability to achieve their vision and objectives and, ultimately, to serve the people they care for. Yet despite this critical need, many organizations can’t find capacity building that works in their best interest (if they can find it at all!).

Philanthropy University plays a role in providing this often under-resourced support to local organizations, and, crucially, we’re able to do it at scale. If the ambitions of the SDGs are to be realized, we’ll need to harness all of the power and scope that technology offers us. This focus on technology and scale is our most important contribution to the sector. Through our network, we can reach more organizations than otherwise thought possible, creating an environment that amplifies, first and foremost, the voices of local actors. We’re looking forward to seeing this sort of south-to-south and south-to-north learning in action.

What excites you most about this new direction for Philanthropy University?

I’ve always been drawn to the education space because of its vast potential to make systems more fair and equitable. For hundreds (if not thousands!) of years, education has been a luxury afforded to a small minority, perpetuating inequity across economic, racial, gender, and geographic divides. Innovations in EdTech is perhaps our greatest tool for transforming what was once the scarcest of resources into a fundamental human right.  Leading Philanthropy University is an incredible opportunity to continue this work of driving equity by providing education and training for some of the most inspiring and essential local organizations in the world.

It’s amazing to think that anyone with an internet connection can learn topics and gain skills that were once locked away in ivory towers; what an exciting time to work in this sector! But we’re not there yet. Many people don’t have the necessary technological infrastructure to access these resources, and even those who do have these tools lack some of the skills necessary to take advantage of them. These are the types of challenging, critical issues that Philanthropy University is addressing with our new focus.

How does the work of Philanthropy University complement the work of your sister organization, Stars Foundation?

The work of Stars has very much shaped the focus and direction of Philanthropy University, and our work builds naturally on everything that Stars champions: locally-led development, redressing power dynamics, and investment in capacity building, particularly in the Global South. Over the coming months, we’ll be working closely with Stars to incorporate and harness their years of learning and expertise in these areas. I’m especially excited about opportunities to allow members of the Stars team to apply their knowledge and expertise more directly within the PhilU team.

How will Philanthropy University’s new direction affect current courses?

Following the end of Session II, the current program will be paused while we develop new and exciting offerings designed to better serve non-profit leaders in the Global South. We will be sharing more information about these improvements over the coming weeks, so stay tuned!

Meanwhile, learners can still work toward their Certificate in Social Sector Leadership, which will be offered in its current form through the end of Session II in June 2017. If you are currently working towards completion of a Certificate, you will have two course sessions (Session I: Jan 31 – April 11, 2017; Session II: April 18 – June 27, 2017) to complete seven courses and earn a Certificate.

Feel free to visit our website for more information.