Our thinking

A Learning Platform Designed for Local Leaders in the Global South

30 August 2018

Philanthropy University is a nonprofit that believes in transforming global development from the ground up. Guided by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, Philanthropy University sees a world where local civil society organizations in the Global South have the knowledge, resources, and support they need to effectively address development challenges. Philanthropy University believes that local leaders are uniquely positioned to address the most relevant challenges in their communities; yet they often lack access to knowledge and mentorship, limiting their ability to thrive, and resulting in many organizations closing their doors before reaching their full potential.

In 2015, Philanthropy University created a free, online learning platform to help leaders in the Global South become more effective in their work and unlock greater impact in their organizations. By providing the resources local changemakers need, Philanthropy University is investing in the sustaining health and resilience of some of the world’s most vulnerable communities.



Philanthropy University’s first iteration of the “University” attracted 220,000 learners to their platform and online courses. However, it became clear that aspects of the platform were not tailored to serve the needs of their target audience in the Global South, and they were consequently facing problems with platform adoption and course completion. Philanthropy University came to Exygy with a desire to redesign their learning platform to make it more user-centered, scalable, and effective.

Philanthropy University also had a need to revamp their organization model to better operate all aspects of an online university to support their product, which included coordinating between course authoring, operations, and community management teams.


Our team begun by conducting an extensive discovery and research phase to make sure we uncovered the cultural nuance, infrastructure limitations, and accessibility constraints that Philanthropy University’s target users would encounter with online learning. Data analytics, stakeholder interviews, and surveying informed the basis of our redesign.

Armed with the research and discovery findings, our team created detailed personas that highlighted the learners’ motivations, habits, needs and challenges. The personas helped us ground ourselves in users’ needs, and served as an informational basis to create user journeys and low fidelity wireframes, which we turned into clickable prototypes to conduct user testing on.

The user testing has taken two forms:

Remote user testing in Kenya and Nigeria: The Philanthropy University team helped us recruit and schedule tests with users in Kenya and Nigeria. Remote testing helped us uncover usability issues, identify non-intuitive interactions, and validate language with users who were not native english speakers. These tests produced culturally relevant insights that wouldn’t be possible to replicate if conducted with users in the US.

In-person user testing in the US: User testing with San Franciscan locals allowed us to to simulate all environments, quickly and cost-effectively capturing the nuances of user testing that we couldn’t capture remotely.


A few of the 12+ online courses offered at Philanthropy University


Philanthropy University’s new platform went live in March 2018. We immediately went into a measure and learn phase, to ensure that we could be continually improving the service the University offered to its users. Through Google Analytics, Exygy tracked learners’ real activity, gathering data on users’ behaviors, flows, and interactions to map where in the website users encountered obstacles. Based on insights from the metrics analysis, we redesigned some of the registration functionality as well as partnered with Philanthropy University’s marketing team to rethink their marketing strategy. These two actions combined led to an increase in registration conversion by 372% in one month.  We continue to revise the platform’s functionalities to address challenges, frequently measure results, and ensure that the changes we are making create real improvements on the learning experiences of changemakers in the Global South.


We’ve continued to test and revise the platform’s functionality, leading to increase in registration conversion by 372% in one month


Throughout our work with Philanthropy University, we have focused on helping their team develop the skills and mindset of a digital-first organization – so they can continuously increase the impact of their digital service, even after Exygy’s work with them is done. We have helped Philanthropy University with training, recruiting, vetting, and hiring their staff in full digital product development lifecycle – including user research and iterative/agile software development methodologies. These organizational developments have helped to ensure the long-term sustainability of the University and the hardworking team behind it.


Our dedication to making informed design decisions based on data analytics and on user research with learners in the Global South has led to impressive results. Since the University’s launch in March, more than 12,000 new learners accessed the platform, with more than 70% from 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 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.

“[Exygy has] played the leadership role in our design research, product strategy, and experience design efforts. In addition to being committed to the social impact sector, Exygy has consistently held themselves to a high standard of partnership, and been willing to go the extra mile to ensure we deliver an exceptional product for our global south users. I recommend Exygy’s work highly.”

– Connor Diemand-Yauman, Cofounder & CEO at Philanthropy University

These measurable results are enabled by our ability to make agile, informed designs and revisions to most acutely meet the needs of Global South leaders. They are backed by the investments that Philanthropy University has made within their internal operations to foster the skills and mindset of a sustaining digital-first organization. Most of all, they represent the 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.