Working with nonprofit customers to design and build impactful technology

Pivotal Act is a program that partners with nonprofit organizations and charities to identify, design, and develop practical solutions to pressing challenges around the world. Pivotal Act projects involve developers, designers, and product managers from VMware Pivotal Labs, building products and learning collaboratively with nonprofit customers at a discounted rate.

Pivotal Act’s approach

All Pivotal Act collaborations with nonprofits have two goals:

  1. Identify a path to impact, and where appropriate, design and build technology to create that impact.
  2. Build up the skills of people within the nonprofits to appropriately maintain the tech solution into the future.

Whether you have a product team who will take over the ownership of the solution that wants to learn lean, agile and user-centered design methods, or you don’t have an in-house product team, our teams of designers, product managers and engineers will work collaboratively with you.

We work with nonprofits in two distinct ways, depending on their needs:

Design Sprint

Design Sprints help you explore how technology can address certain problems that you're unsure of how to begin addressing. We take the time to deeply understand the problem space before jumping in to build software, and bring practices such as lean methodologies to reduce risk before deciding on a solution. We take care to consider the potential negative impacts of tech solutions and how we can mitigate these.

After the Design Sprint, you’ll have a recommended plan for achieving your desired impact, taking into account sustainability and cost. If we can identify a more cost-effective path than custom software development (such as buying off-the-shelf), we see this as a win!

Building products

Building a custom software product together empowers your nonprofit to create a new digital tool to drive impact and be part of the development process. Through user-centered design, iterative software development and creating roadmaps aligned to your vision, we work collaboratively with you so that you’re enabled to own your technology going forward. Depending on the skills your team wants to learn, and their capacity, we work with you to determine a sustainable approach so you’re left with a product that continues to work for you, your team and the people you’re aiming to drive impact for.

“What’s really unique and valuable about Pivotal Act is that it brings a new perspective and tools to the humanitarian sector and they do it with a lot of humility and respect.”
Cecilie Hestbaek, Innovation Advisor, Elrha
What makes a successful Pivotal Act project

We measure success in two ways. First, we seek to create a measurable impact on humanitarian, social, and environmental challenges facing the world. Second, we aim to build up organizations’ internal technology capabilities so they can continue developing innovative technology and applying the practices they’ve learnt after the engagement ends.

We achieve this by working closely with clients together to develop practical and effective solutions to hard problems. Most importantly, the projects Pivotal Act works on are the ones we believe can make a real impact on the lives of those being served through the solution we build together with the client. We achieve our impact goals if our partners achieve theirs.



“We knew there was a technology component to what we wanted to do. Working with Pivotal Act to find the shared value and develop products together enabled us to actually do it.”
Louisa Seferis, Global Technical Advisor, Danish Refugee Council
Our work
Responding to COVID-19 by connecting care providers with essential workers

Working together with Seattle-based nonprofit Carina, we developed a web app that allows home providers to list their services so those looking for care can find suitable options. Pivotal Act worked with Carina’s product team to help build their skills and prioritize during a time of crisis.

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Enabling smarter collaboration between NGOs

The Collaborative Cash Delivery Network is a consortium of 15 NGOs innovating in the humanitarian space. Giving cash directly to people as a form of aid is becoming more widely used by NGOs for emergency response. Pivotal Act worked with the CCD to design and build a platform to facilitate coordination between NGOs providing cash to people. By applying agile and design-led practices, together we developed a new tool for NGOs for setting up a collaboration in an emergency.

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Bringing people-centered design to toilets in refugee camps

Toilets in refugee camps are built quickly and in bulk, and do not take into account the social, cultural, and religious habits of communities. As a result, people don’t feel safe using them, and so instead, often defecate behind tents and in alleys, which contributes to the spread of contagious diseases. By applying design-led methods, Pivotal Act and Elrha’s HIF, a grant-making facility focused on enabling effective humanitarian assistance, helped NGOs think through how to make toilets safe and accessible for people to use.

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Designing solutions for climate change resiliency

Coastal cities are extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, such as sea-level rise and changing weather patterns. Pivotal Act worked with communities in Luganville, Vanuatu, and Semarang, Indonesia, in collaboration with the Red Cross, to learn approaches for designing solutions to minimize the impact of these threats.

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Empowering youth in government care

Social Finance set out to build a software application called Leaving Well to improve the experiences and outcomes of teens as they age out of the UK’s social welfare system, as they can often end up out of work or education or find themselves homeless. Pivotal Act worked with Social Finance to establish new development practices and methodologies to make Leaving Well a high-quality, people-centered product.

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How to get started

Contact us to learn more about Pivotal Act and determine if your organization would be a good fit for a collaboration. Include details of the problems your organization is trying to solve and how you think the Pivotal Act approach can help. Before we engage on any project, we’ll do a scoping together, where we facilitate a collaborative session with your team to understand your goals and challenges. The scoping allows us both to determine whether a collaboration would be a good fit. In the case that Pivotal Act can’t support your team, we can introduce you to other organizations in this space who might be a better fit.