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The Cornerstone Foundation: Impacting and enabling lifelong education, one learner at a time

Early on, the Cornerstone OnDemand Foundation team recognized that nonprofits serving their communities around the world lacked access to training. Recognizing Cornerstone had the right technology and relevant eLearning resources, the Cornerstone OnDemand Foundation utilized the Cornerstone Extended Enterprise learning platform to launch programs such as DisasterReady — the largest free and open online learning portal and library targeted to humanitarian aid and international development professionals.

“The idea behind the Cornerstone OnDemand Foundation (‘The Foundation’) was a simple one: By investing in the people working in the nonprofit sector, we could help transform, strengthen, and empower communities around the world,” explained Julie Brandt, executive director, the Cornerstone OnDemand Foundation. Brandt continued, “We started The Foundation with the basic premise that we could leverage [Cornerstone’s] human capital management software, our HR expertise, and our ecosystem to help us accomplish this ambitious and important goal.” With that goal in mind, The Foundation began providing technology grants to qualified nonprofit organizations. These nonprofits gained access to the Cornerstone platform to develop their employee base at no cost or a discounted cost. One of the earliest beneficiaries of this technology access, support, and training was the large nonprofit, Save the Children.

In late July 2010, a humanitarian crisis occurred in Pakistan and inadvertently shifted how The Foundation addressed building up and transforming communities. Heavy monsoon rains led to devastating floods in Pakistan, impacting one-fifth of the country and affecting millions of people. As Save the Children ramped up its humanitarian relief efforts, it came to The Foundation with an urgent request for more training licenses to support its team. Additionally, Save the Children needed to train thousands of other volunteers committed to assisting quickly but lacked the required skills to respond safely and effectively.

The birth of an open platform — DisasterReady

Since the Cornerstone OnDemand Foundation was established, the mission has been to transform the way people help people. Having witnessed the catastrophe caused by the floods in Pakistan and the inability to mobilize adequately skilled volunteers, The Foundation realized they could take the Cornerstone Extended Enterprise platform and create an open, online learning site that houses content of interest and relevance to humanitarians from all different organizations. The platform would serve as a central place for the nonprofit humanitarian and development world where everyone could access free learning. And in 2013, DisasterReady was born.

Tina Bolding, director of DisasterReady, shared, “While humanitarian work is very rewarding, it is also a very challenging, high-stress, high-turnover job that impacts many people and helps communities in their most vulnerable time of need. And while learning and development opportunities would be even more needed in these circumstances, many times, this much-needed training is not readily available and accessible.”

Global impact on the humanitarian sector

In addressing the humanitarian and development sector, The Foundation found that the development and growth of employees through learning was a challenge. Nonprofit organizations found it hard to allocate money to their own development, to their own learning, to their own growth. As Kim Hagan, The Foundation’s director of learning strategy and engagement, stated, “There was this huge need for developing the people who work in these humanitarian aid organizations, and it was a perfect opportunity for us to do something we at Cornerstone were really good at, which was educating the world.”

DisasterReady was phenomenally successful right from the start. It is now considered one of the most successful humanitarian free online learning platforms with more than 300,000 active global users (160,000 of which signed up in 2020) and more than one million learning objects accessed in 2020.

Apart from global citizens who value humanitarian work, major international humanitarian and development organizations utilize DisasterReady. Those include Mercy Corps, International Rescue Committee, Project HOPE, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Agency (UNHCR), Oxfam International, Catholic Relief Services, and many others. Bolding shared, “As an example, safety and security is a really important topic for humanitarian organizations. Save the Children requires all their staff members to complete an assessment-based safety and security certificate program in DisasterReady that is comprised of 10 courses and a test. So, we have examples of organizations that use content in DisasterReady as mandatory training for their staff, as well as leveraging content for their learning strategy and their staff development programs.

Responding to COVID-19 head-on

As early as February 2020, the team started curating and creating content on COVID-19. Partnering with Project HOPE and Brown University, the team co-developed new online courses on COVID-19 for frontline healthcare workers. The DisasterReady team also created original infographics and learning playlists and added courses to the library on understanding COVID-19, including Working Remotely, Fundraising in a Crisis, and Mental Health & Stress Management.

Hagan noted, “We partnered with Project HOPE to create COVID training for healthcare workers. We managed this project, and it took only eight weeks. Project HOPE paid for a vendor to create it, but we were heavily involved in the design and putting it out there.” Once the content was developed, the team used the Cornerstone Extended Enterprise’s playlist feature to curate the content and get it in front of users.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, DisasterReady content was accessed at even higher rates, reaching all-time highs in active and daily users starting in March and continuing through June 2020. Monthly active users continue at double the levels of 2019, showing the need for learning content in the humanitarian and development space to address 2020 challenges.

Content partnership with other nonprofits

Of the 100 local and global humanitarian nonprofits The Foundation counts as partners, the majority also donate content they developed to DisasterReady. “Our partner organizations get excited as they see the reach of their training expand to aid workers globally via DisasterReady and the opportunity to co-develop original online content to build capacity in the sector,” stated Bolding. For example, one of the most popular training curricula within DisasterReady was co-developed with Mercy Corps, a large international NGO. The Procurement and Logistics Certificate program is a series of six courses, one test, and is accredited by the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport. Of 34,000 registrations, 7,000 learners from all over the globe achieved their certificate in 2020. Other certification programs, enabled through Cornerstone Extended Enterprise, include one on core essentials of the humanitarian sector (16 hours of content and four tests — 515 people certified in 2020) and another certificate program on financial management.

Overall, there are more than 1,000 free learning resources in the DisasterReady library, spanning a full array of content from technical courses on water, sanitation, and shelter in emergencies to Excel and unconscious bias training.

Focusing on learner growth, learner engagement, and user experience

“Even though we’re providing free learning content,” Alec Green, The Foundation’s chief marketing evangelist, emphasized, “it’s really about finding the right learners who have a specific need for this type of training.”

Hagan added, “We’re not just looking for anyone to sign up for DisasterReady. We’re looking for people who have a commitment to learning, a commitment to really developing their skills, and the way we facilitate that is by doing a great job of always having great content [in DisasterReady].” The marketing team primarily leverages online advertising and social media to raise awareness of DisasterReady around the world and generate new signups.

Once the marketing team introduces and attracts users to DisasterReady, the user experience takes over. Leah Hunsicker, solutions manager for The Foundation, works behind the scenes to ensure that she utilizes and configures Cornerstone Extended Enterprise features to help users seamlessly navigate the portal and find relevant content. To motivate learners to complete their learning, the team unleashes the portal’s power to generate badging, completion certificates, completion pages (which drive learner reviews), and custom emails to remind users to finish courses and certifications. Additionally, learner surveys, learner reviews (totaling more than 100,000 to date), and partner and advisory boards are leveraged to improve the product continuously.

Expanding content globally

In addition to English language content, DisasterReady also offers content in French, Spanish, and Arabic. In recent years, there has been a commitment to expand the content provided in Arabic. Bolding expressed, “Five years ago, we started working with Mercy Corps and the International Rescue Committee to create a program that would help equip humanitarian aid workers inside Syria.” She continued, “The aim was to make sure that local NGOs inside Syria and the surrounding countries would have access to training [to aid in alleviating the Syrian refugee crisis resulting from the Syrian civil war that began in 2011].” Training covers a wide range of topics, including implementing aid programs, applying for grants, and managing programs with training available in English and Arabic. To date, there are about 230 learning resources in Arabic.

What’s next

Hagan concluded, “Learning is central to everything we do, and it’s happening all around us [in every single sector, including the nonprofit sector]. We have capitalized on this new opportunity, and in 2021 and beyond, we believe DisasterReady will become the destination for professional development in the humanitarian sector. [DisasterReady] is the embodiment of our mission. It is the most effective way we can provide universal access to education to humanitarians around the world.” Going forward, The Foundation is committed to developing new courses and certificate programs to enable change-makers around the world to learn essential skills, develop their careers, and maximize their impact in the communities they serve.

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