Philanthropy University: 150,000 Enrollees and Climbing

Launching Philanthopy U. From left: Richard Lyons, Dean Berkeley-Haas; His Excellency Amr Al Dabbagh; Laura D. Tyson; Nicholas Dirks, UC Berkeley Chancellor.

By Laura D. Tyson

Philanthropy University, our new partnership to provide a global training and innovation platform for social impact leaders, is off to a very fast start.

More than 150,000 aspiring change-makers have already signed up from around the world for our first series of free online courses. Topics range from social entrepreneurship and nonprofit financing to organizational leadership. It is an amazing response, given that the first classes are just getting under way now.

I am also pleased to report that our project was highlighted as a featured global commitment by President Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative conference last Sunday. The commitment selection process is competitive and rigorous,requiring metrics to assess the performance of a social venture. Our commitment focuses on enrollment and completion rates in Philanthropy University’s courses, which are designed to strengthen the competencies of NGO leaders around the world.

The overarching goal: to help train aspiring leaders who will build organizations that can improve life for 100 million people by 2020.

Philanthropy U is a nonprofit founded by His Excellency Amr Al-Dabbagh of Saudi Arabia. I have had the pleasure of working with His Excellency on several projects over the past decade, and he has shown himself to be a visionary multi-sectoral leader with success in business, the nonprofit sector, and the public sector.

Berkeley-Haas, of course, has long focused on training cross-sector leaders who take on urgent social and environmental challenges. Haas graduates have founded many pioneering organizations in health care, poverty reduction, health care, education, and environmental sustainability.

Philanthropy University is rolling out a series of intensive online courses, each from five to eight weeks long, which will be taught by luminaries in philanthropy, social entrepreneurship, nonprofit leadership, and civil society.

Shashi Buluswar, a lecturer at Berkeley-Haas and a veteran advisor to the United Nations and civil society organizations, will teach How to Scale Social Impact. The course begins Oct. 6 and will include in-depth lectures from nonprofit leaders in India, Pakistan, and Kenya.

Paul Brest, a former president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Dean Emeritus at Stanford Law School, is teaching Essentials of Nonprofit Strategy. Jessica Jackley, co-founder of, a nonprofit that raises money for microfinance loans in entrepreneurs in low-income nations, will teach Global Social Entrepreneurship.

The first seven courses are launching now, and many more will soon follow.

We are also building an open-source innovation platform to help local leaders on all continents collaborate on new ideas and technologies, as well as to share their hard-won, on-the-ground expertise.

We think of this as a social-sector variant on Github, the open-source platform for collaborating on software.

I am convinced that this new project will help Berkeley-Haas build a more global reach for its expertise and for its expanding community of social impact leaders, investors, and visionaries.

“One of our defining principles – part of our identity and culture as an educational institution — is to think ‘beyond yourself,’” notes Richard Lyons, Dean of the Haas School of Business. “This project allows us to take our expertise in fields such as social entrepreneurship, nonprofit leadership and sustainable business, and bring it to leaders far beyond the boundaries of Berkeley or even the United States.”

Berkeley-Haas is playing a central role. Ben Mangan, executive director of the Center for Social Sector Leadership, has been leading much of the organizational roll-out. And though the online courses will be taught be instructors from many institutions, the curriculum is overseen by an advisory committee that I chair.

Philanthropy University will also tap into the worldwide network of the Global Social Venture Competition, which Berkeley-Haas has been hosting for almost two decades. The GSVC awards some $50,000 in prizes to game-changing social start-ups from around the world. The competition encompasses partnerships with 13 business schools on five continents, which in turn have ties to countless thousands of social entrepreneurs and mentors.

The GSVC can connect Philanthropy U to a vast and vibrant network of social entrepreneurs and experts in dozens of nations. Those innovators can get advanced training in their own countries and on their own schedules, and they can strengthen each other through the open-innovation platform.

As I said, we are off to a very fast start. Much more is on the horizon.

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