With the (development) world awash with talk of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or 'global goals', it's time to a) celebrate a new acronym and b) think about how they relate to an organisation like Stars.
In a trilogy of blogs, I will explore the opportunities the SDGs present to foundations, possible threats to consider and an overview of how Stars plans to navigate them. It's worth noting up front that some of the views raised in this series represent a devil's advocate and are not necessarily shared by Stars, or me!
There is a lot of debate about how successful the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were and what they achieved for the sector. I suspect that, as with the SDGs, this debate will go on and on and remain a Montague v Capulet rumbling until Twitter ceases to exist.
However, it can be argued that the MDGs did help to create the feeling of a movement in the sector, a common language, a framework to help focus, and a space for the diverse organisations involved in development to coordinate efforts.
The SDGs build on this movement aspect and because they were developed in a more inclusive and open manner, there's an expectation that they will create an even more unifying global framework.
Add to this the SDGs' more expansive view of what development entails, for example including climate and inequality, we should see a broader range of sectors involved and making contributions to the realisation of the goals.
It's likely that many development agencies, governments, businesses etc. will be using the SDGs to refocus their activities. This period of planning provides foundations with the opportunity to work with, or at least discuss their plans with, a diverse group of organisations. This might help foundations broaden their perspective and also create opportunities to increase the impact of their work by collaborating with others and leveraging new skills and resources to tackle issues.
Foundations could also use the adoption of the SDGs as a chance to refresh their strategy and identify where they can play a part or what gap they could fill.
The SDGs' broad focus means that certain areas that might not previously have been prioritised or even recognised in the development plans of some agencies have gained a renewed energy. Aspects such as governance or inequality must now be addressed and reported on and therefore foundations working in these areas might find new allies, partners or resource to support their work.
There is recognition that the SDGs are not solely the preserve of governments, but will require a broader range of partners to help deliver and finance them – this might help create more of an enabling environment for foundations to operate in, and also a more supportive system for partners foundations work with, such as civil society groups.
Philanthropic organisations can often exist in a vacuum – either by choice or a lack of acceptance. If the SDGs realise their aim of broader acceptance of different development actors, foundations may find themselves in a position to engage domestically.
As the SDGs are applied in all countries, there is likely to be renewed focus on how the countries foundations operate in perform. As such, there may be opportunities to engage in the domestic policy framework and potential for engagement with citizens in a way that philanthropy has tended not to be involved in traditionally.
Finally, the heritage of philanthropic organisations, often rooted in business, may contribute a further push for foundations to engage with the SDGs. The private sector is expected to pay notice to the SDGs and this impetus may trickle through to foundations and how they work.
A big moan with the MDGs is that they didn’t involve a diverse range of organisations in their development. The SDGs recognised this and have attempted to listen to and be informed by a bigger pool. Though not perfect, this intention to collaborate should be recognised. Foundations, as with many others, asked to be involved and the SDGs have attempted to do this. If philanthropic organisations choose not to engage with the SDGs, they are unlikely to be invited to participate again – this might mean opportunities lost, but also more fundamental challenges.
Some would argue that if Foundations ignore the SDGs then it calls into question their role, legitimacy and relevance in the sector. There are likely to be many legitimate arguments for not working within the SDG framework (as my next blog will highlight), but it’s important that those making a decision to work outside the framework articulate why.
The sector can’t talk about the important role of philanthropic organisations if it doesn’t articulate what it is and ignores efforts to map the perspective of different actors. Operating under a cloak is sometimes needed, but it can’t be a default position. If Foundations don’t engage with the SDGs, they run the risk of proliferating the type of disparate and unconnected development that the SDGs aim to prevent.