By Brad Smith
And that's a conservative number. Though they may not have internalized all seventeen Sustainable Development Goals yet, foundations will contribute more than $360 billion toward their realization between now and the year 2030. Estimates as to the total volume of resources required to succeed on the ambitious global agenda run as high as $3.5 trillion, a sum far too large for bilateral and multilateral aid to cover alone. The remainder will have to come from private investment and philanthropy — and according to initial Foundation Center projections, foundations will do their part.
What are the Sustainable Development Goals?
Commonly known as "the SDGs," they are a set of seventeen universal goals for global dignity, prosperity, cooperation, and justice covering the period 2016-30. Different than their predecessors, the Millennium Development Goals, the SDGs address additional challenges such as climate change, growing inequality, and sustainable use of the oceans and are goals to which all nations, rich and poor, should aspire.
Why are there seventeen SDGs?
The goals are the product of a United Nations-led negotiation process culminating in approval by 193 member nations last September. The goal process was further informed by the direct participation of over eight million people around the world through an online campaign. Beyond the seventeen goals, there are 169 targets and more than 200 indicators (i.e., "proportion of population using safely managed drinking water services") by which to measure progress. Skeptics often complain that seventeen goals is way too many, but think about it for a moment. If you put 193 foundations in a room, could they agree on as few as seventeen goals? Any way you look at it, the SDGs are remarkable: as a global consensus-building process, as one of the most participatory processes in human history, and as an integrated, future-oriented roadmap leading to a better world.
$364 billion is a conservative number
Foundation Center has the world's largest databases on the giving of philanthropic foundations. Recently, we looked back at historical data from 2010-13 and coded it as if the goals and targets of the Sustainable Development Goals were already in effect. That exercise yielded a total of $97.3 billion in philanthropic giving for the SDGs over the four-year period. Projecting forward, we can say with some confidence that foundation funding between 2016 and 2030 — the fifteen years covered by the actual SDG campaign — will conservativelyamount to more than $364 billion. Why conservatively? Because over the next fifteen years three factors are likely to push the amount higher: 1) the continued growth of philanthropy around the world; 2) greater access to philanthropic data as the sector modernizes; and 3) increasing awareness among foundations as the SDG framework is embraced by governments, NGOs, and the private sector.
Haven't foundations already embraced the SDG framework?
Not really. While foundations like the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation have clearly articulated their commitment to the SDGs, the vast majority of foundations rarely think about them. This is more a product of the gap between an ambitious overarching global agenda and the kind of thematically or geographically focused work in which most foundations are engaged. Foundations are, for the most part, private institutions, endowed by wealthy families or individuals to serve the public good. They are not inter-governmental organizations that pursue grand plans to advance or accelerate global development. But that doesn't mean their work is unrelated to the SDGs. Indeed, Foundation Center is tracking philanthropic giving in support of the SDGs precisely to demonstrate to individual foundations, their membership associations, and the international community that foundations are already an important part of the equation when it comes to achieving the goals and have the potential to do far more.
The SDG Philanthropy Platform: Helping philanthropy engage in the global development agenda
To see how foundations are helping to create the world we want, check out SDGfunders.org , the web portal of the SDG Philanthropy Platform, a joint initiative of Foundation Center, theUnited Nations Development Program, and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. Supported by the Hilton, Ford, and MasterCard foundations, the SDG Philanthropy Platform is dedicated to providing accurate information about the work of foundations while facilitating partnerships between foundations, government, and the private sector in "pilot" countries such as Colombia, Kenya, Indonesia, and Ghana. Recognizing the comparative advantages of each sector will be crucial to making real progress on the SDGs. Our hope is that the kind of information made available through the SDGfunders site will help potential partners find each other while powering existing and future multi-sector partnerships.
What's in it for our foundation?
To repeat something I noted above, the Sustainable Development Goals are universal: they are as relevant to Detroit and Baton Rouge as they are to Dhaka and Bamako. The power of the SDGs can also be the power of your foundation: the promise of seeing the work you do locally as relevant to similar work around the world, and the opportunity to learn from new partners while contributing to a global agenda. Take the time to read the goals and targets embodied in the Sustainable Development Goals. They are as broad as they are ambitious, but above all they are incredibly inspiring.
Brad Smith is president of Foundation Center.