September 25, 2015

How Philanthropy Can Play a Key Role in Advancing the New U.N. Development Goals

This weekend, the United Nations is expected to adopt a plan to end poverty and hunger, ensure access to a good education, advance gender equality, and meet other such goals by 2030.

The plan is known as the Sustainable Development Goals and builds on the Millennium Development Goals, which were focused on solving the problems of the developing world by halving the rate of extreme poverty, stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS, and reducing child mortality rates, among other things, by 2015.

The Sustainable Development Goals, also known as SDGs, are far broader
because they apply to all countries, including the United States.

A recent U.N. report provides an important lesson: Support from philanthropy and business is necessary for the goals to succeed. Given the goals' scope and scale,
governments simply cannot accomplish these goals on their own. This is especially true in the United States, with our federal government system, political gridlock, and limited national consensus over policies that need to change to meet the goals.

Despite challenges inherent in setting global development goals, the sustainable development goals mark the emergence of an important consensus on global priorities. Some foundations and companies helped shape the goals while, many others are supporting programs that will help achieve them. This is a good start, but we should encourage broader understanding and support of the goals.

Many leaders see value in collaborating with philanthropy, but I see two major challenges that governments and partners must address:

Governments should view philanthropy as a partner, not just a source of additional funding. Governments must see grant makers as potential partners that have decades of experience and lots of strong ties to people who know how to create change. The design of the SDGs has been more inclusive and participatory than the millennium development goals, and moving forward philanthropy should be a part of conversations on achieving these ambitious targets.

Countries should make it easier for philanthropic organizations to invest in them. The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law documented more than 90 instances of nations taking steps to curb the influence of civil society, with a third of these policies restricting cross-border philanthropy.

Some countries, like Russia and China, have begun regulating foundation giving under their national security apparatus, chilling social investments. If philanthropy cannot support local civil-society groups working to achieve the SDGs, we can't be an effective partner in this movement.

Likewise, it's important for philanthropy to work collaboratively with
others. As leaders, foundations should:

Recognize that the SDGs don't have borders – and act accordingly. The millennium development goals focused on addressing issues in the developing world, ignoring opportunities for addressing injustice in countries like the United States. We can now see global challenges as part of a shared commitment to ending injustice no matter where or how it occurs.

Share data and track impact. There is limited data on how philanthropy contributed to the millennium development goals. For the SDGs, we must have a better picture of philanthropy's role. One way to get that will result from the Post-2015 Partnership Platform for Philanthropy, which aims to track how philanthropy is supporting the SDGs. If we want to understand philanthropy's role in achieving these goals, grant makers must openly share data, successes, and failures.

With 46 million Americans in poverty, foundations that work domestically have just as much reason to care about the U.N. goals as those that make their grants overseas. We have a responsibility to join together to show
leadership through our collaboration and action to support the U.N. goals.

Vikki Spruill is chief executive of the Council on Foundations.