Responding to the Challenge: Can Online Education Fuel the Sector?

Through our work at Stars Foundation, we get the opportunity to meet a large array of nonprofit organizations doing their utmost to help improve the lives of people in their communities. It’s a privilege to be able to meet such passionate individuals, see such strong organizations, and learn more about the communities they serve.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide an ambitious and comprehensive framework to help support and drive the work of these nonprofits and other social sector actors. They lay a bold challenge to everyone involved in improving the lives of children across the world.

At Stars Foundation, we believe that development should be locally-led. This means prioritizing programs that listen to, support, and strengthen civil society organizations so they can continue to lead and respond to the needs of the communities they serve. And it means constantly looking to the organizations we support to help us better understand the challenges and opportunities for the sector.

Over time, we have observed that organizations doing social good do not always have access to the same kinds of opportunities for capacity development as other institutions. Be it financial, physical, or time-based – many barriers prevent staff from accessing ongoing training to help strengthen their work. To help address these barriers and strengthen the workforce, Al-Dabbagh Group, the organization that established Stars Foundation in 2001, developed the concept of Philanthropy University and collaborated with an academic institution to incubate the initiative. 

Philanthropy University is an online educational initiative that supports people committed to making a difference in the world to help them make a lasting impact.  Launched in September 2015, in collaboration with the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley and sponsored by Philanthropy U, Inc., Philanthropy University will host a wide range of non-credit bearing courses developed by world-class instructors designed to help build the capacity of and inspire those working for social good. Initial course topics include: strategy development, scaling impact, leadership, fundraising, financial modelling, assessing your organization’s capacity, and social entrepreneurship.

We wanted the platform to be an interactive learning experience with discussion forums and workspaces, so that learners can share content, team up on projects via video or messaging, and get feedback on ideas and assignments. We’ve seen the power of building networks among our grantees and are excited to help thousands of change makers grow their network of peers and mentors, ultimately increasing collaboration and efficiency in the sector.

Online education is a relatively new pedagogy, especially for the social sector, so the initiative is keen to receive feedback and adapt to the experiences of learners. As someone who works on research and evaluation in philanthropy, I’m excited to see how Philanthropy University can become a proving ground for how lessons are incorporated into learners’ day-to-day work activities and assess what impact online learning has in the workplace for those making social change. This type of platform and initiative is breaking new ground, giving leaders a free, flexible way to get the professional development and networking opportunities that can help them do their jobs better.  

There’s no silver bullet to realizing the ambitions of the Sustainable Development Goals. However, initiatives such as Philanthropy University which aim to test, learn and share ways to strengthen the workforce can help explore new approaches to tackling long-standing issues. At Stars, we are very excited to see how this initiative develops and how it can fit into our work and the wider philanthropic sector. 

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