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An interview with Connor Diemand-Yauman, CEO of Philanthropy University.

1. What are some lessons you have learned from your experience in building skills in the Global South? What are the best and most efficient ways to transmit knowledge in a developing-country context?

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, we’ve found that many organizations, especially those from the Global South, 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.

We first launched in 2015, initially targeting NGOs broadly across sectors and geographies. Soon our data revealed that some 60% of our users were from the Global South. This showed us what we long suspected: there is a huge demand for focussed Southern based learning opportunities. We do understand though that online education alone is not always enough to help organizations create sustainable impact. To add more localized and contextualized social experience, we will be working with international NGOs, multilateral organizations, and foundations to look at preexisting on-the-ground capacity training programs and marry them with data-tracking technology to make our online courses more relevant and scalable.  

Philanthropy University is at the beginning of its journey. We are still learning a lot, especially around the needs of organizations from the Global South. However, given the huge demand and need, the potential impact in terms of its scalability and reach, is huge.

2. There seem to be two main challenges about online courses, particularly MOOCs. On the one hand, they tend to benefit those who are already highly educated instead of those who need them the most. On the other hand, they have been marked by high enrollment but low retention and completion rates. What is Philanthropy University doing to tackle some of these challenges?

Retention rates for MOOC providers differ from platform to platform. We focus on providing the necessary skills to improve organizational effectiveness so that local organizations can achieve higher impact and long-term sustainability. By investing in the development of organizational infrastructure—through human resources, fundraising, and change management, for example—organizations are stronger and better positioned to respond to the critical issues in their communities.  

Additionally, to support this learning process, we provide dynamic community spaces for sharing best practices and networking with peers. We will also be providing incentives and paths to providing resources to some of our learners.

Through this unique combination of courses, community, and access to capital, Philanthropy University will help measurably improve 5,000 local organizations in the Global South, enabling them to more effectively improve the lives of the people they serve.

3. How will the future of learning and skill-building in developing countries look like?

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide an ambitious and comprehensive framework to help support and drive the work of those in the social sector. In order to achieve these goals, we’ll need to harness all of the power and scope that technology offers us. Additionally, we need to find ways to enable and empower local actors to do more. Enter Philanthropy University.

Through our network and access to scale, Philanthropy University can reach more organizations in hard-to-reach places than otherwise thought possible, creating an environment that amplifies, first and foremost, the voices of local actors. We’re looking forward to seeing increased visibility for south-to-south and south-to-north learning over the coming years.