Since the pandemic’s start, many charities have had to rethink how to scale their impact and maintain their local presence through virtual means.
The charitable space isn’t an industry that is known for being an early adopter of new technology though, according to Thrive For Good’s International Executive Director, James Woller. “Charities are more traditional and conservative in their efforts to scale. Thrive’s had to take a different strategy to move forward, and that meant taking a risk and delivering virtual training through Thinkific,” he explains.
Introducing online learning is what’s allowed this charity to scale its impact. “Before Thinkific, we were impacting close to 30,000 people. Today, we’re impacting nearly 80,000. We went from 550 communities to close to 800, seven countries to 47, and we’re going into countries we never could have dreamed of,” says Woller.
Another charity that’s had to get innovative to keep up with the challenges posed by covid-19 is Vayu Global Health Foundation. Prior to the pandemic, Burke was traveling every few weeks to train medical professionals in person. Since traveling hasn’t been possible, the Vayu team created a Thinkific course to do virtual training and reach people all over the world.
“We use Thinkific strictly as an education platform,” says Vayu’s executive director, Thomas Burke. “Without Thinkific, our efforts would have come to a halt due to the pandemic.”
We sat down with Thrive For Good’s James Woller and Vayu Global Health Foundations’ Thomas Burke to learn more about how they were able to increase their influence in such an uncertain time in the world. We found out that they were able to do so in two ways: By teaching online and looking at the charitable space from a more progressive lens. Here’s how they scaled their charitable impact:
1. Teaching online
Thrive For Good
Two billion people don’t get the nutrients they need. Thrive For Good equips communities worldwide with skills to sustainably grow healthy, organic foods for life by training both individuals who can learn to grow food for themselves and their family, as well as partner organizations who can implement Thrive’s teachings into their programs. On average, the organization produces close to a million Canadian dollars per month of food in their community gardens based on 50 cents per meal.
When the pandemic hit, the Thrive team had to get creative; they shifted from in-person training in East Africa to online courses that taught the same material — virtually. Despite the hardships that the pandemic has caused worldwide, shifting to online training has helped this charity scale its impact; Since launching their online learning platform at the onset of covid-19, they’ve had over 2,000 learners sign up for the program.
With partners in Europe, South America, Africa, and Asia, Woller says they couldn’t have scaled their impact without the introduction of online courses.
Not only has online learning helped the organization scale, it’s also made it easier to navigate the challenges caused by covid-19. “Just this morning I was on a call with a partner in Uganda, where the borders are locked down and movement is completely restricted… It would be tremendously complicated to send an in-person trainer right now, which is where online learning helps.”
Woller says that their organization is saving tons of resources since moving online. “We’re saving tens of thousands of dollars since using Thinkific. If we had to physically send a Thrive trainer to every partner organization’s community for a month, it would be impossible to scale in the way that we have,” he says.
Vayu Global Health
Thomas Burke, emergency doctor and faculty member at Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health, runs both branches of his organization on Thinkific: Vayu Global Health Foundation and Vayu Global Health Innovations.
The Vayu Global Health Foundations is a charitable trust that focuses on finding and supporting high-impact solutions that are transformational for maternal, newborn, and child health. The Vayu Global Health Innovations arm of the organization is a public benefit company, meaning they’re signed with the World Health Organization as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and are fully committed to global good and community.
At Vayu, they’ve created medical equipment to help relieve CPAP, which Burke says is one of the highest killers of children under five years old. The respiratory device required to treat this condition is able to decrease mortality by 66%. Since most devices require electricity, they’re too expensive for poor countries. The Vayu team developed a device for $300 — a fraction of the price for the gold standard CPAP device worth $12,000 — that offers the same quality. It doesn’t require electricity or bioengineering support, which makes it simple for those with limited resources to use. By using Thinkific, they’re able to train local medical professionals on how to use the device.
Since the CPAP training has been a huge success, they’re now in the process of creating another Thinkific course to teach medical professionals how to use their latest device, which is an oxygen blender. Normally priced at $1,200, they’ve created the same device for only $50 to help children with pneumonia or difficulty breathing.
Not only does the virtual platform make it possible to reach more people, it also helps to standardize the medical device training. “We have master trainers in each country, but it’s not sufficient. The Thinkific training allows us to standardize the quality of didactics that are provided as well as testing. Thinkific is here to stay for us,” he says.
2. Using a progressive lense
Thrive For Good
Woller says that using traditional means can be difficult to scale charitable impact. “The very nature of a charity’s existence is built on donations and charitable giving. The traditional relationship between donor or philanthropist and the charity delivering the program presents some challenges when scaling,” he explains. “Donors don’t necessarily want their money going towards technology upgrades… They’d rather see their money go towards programs… However, by building up capacity via technology, things are able to scale.”
Thrive’s innovation has come from looking at organizations that are already focusing on organic farming and nutrition, and enhancing their efforts. “We didn’t have to double our budget to double our impact. We’ve shifted from a B2C to a B2B model. We like to see ourselves like Java in your computer; we don’t have to be Dell or Apple. We can white label what we do. And that’s innovative in the charitable space.”
They’ve been able to scale their efforts since moving online, Woller explains. “We were recently contacted by an organization in India that has dozens of training centers, 18,000 employees and community workers, and millions of beneficiaries. They contacted us with their concerns about food security in India, as well as the covid-19 crisis, and have asked to push all of their training through Thrive. That’s scale.”
Woller firmly believes in the importance of charities trying new things and taking risks. For them, their online training was a risk that produced great rewards. “I think a couple of doses of innovation in the charitable space is greatly needed. Making an impact requires taking risks. I’m really glad we took the risk to try online learning,” he says.
While Woller acknowledges that taking risks can be scary, he believes that the results can often be surprising and is an inherent part of the entrepreneurial journey. He says, “Ninety percent of businesses fail, but entrepreneurs keep going.”
Vayu Global Health
The Vayu Global Health Innovations model relies on developing a rigorous revenue base in order to be self-sufficient and expand their efforts without relying on donations. “This is an unusual model in the charitable space,” he says.
By using a progressive lens, they’ve used Thinkific to deliver online training. This means that they’re able to access a much broader population than if they were to solely rely on in-person training. “We can think a lot bigger with Thinkific across populations and systems of care more readily than demonstration programs.”
When it comes to online learning, Burke believes that the results are only as good as the effort you’re putting in. “You have to know that it’s not trivial to create quality educational material,” he says. “Teaching includes some form of entertaining as you’re trying to capture your audience’s attention. It can’t just be about delivering information; You have to be creative and have fun with it.”
Burke also advises that charities team up with locals in the populations in which they’re educating when building out their material. “It’s a great idea for charities to co-create with local individuals rather than have an Americanized instrument that you’re trying to throw across the ocean. I don’t think that will succeed,” he says.
To summarize, creating an online course is a progressive step in the charitable space and can greatly boost an organization’s ability to scale. Taking risks, being innovative, and thinking outside of the box can also help a charity increase their influence and impact.