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The Global Goals could be a locomotive force for good. The train has left the station but many foundations and philanthropists are unsure where it is going.
Please excuse that opening analogy. It was an attempt to make a subject about which many column inches have been produced seem somehow new or profound. Hopefully by looking past the platitudes to some of the conflicts and contradictions at the heart of the proposed role for philanthropy in delivering the Global Goals I can be more engaging.
Like lots of other people, I found myself in New York towards the end of September to attend meetings and events on the fringes of a historic United Nations Summit to adopt the Post 2015 Development Agenda: the Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs). I arrived in New York with some reservations about what they could mean for philanthropy – as I have discussed in a previous blog. Some have been assuaged, some remain and others have been exacerbated as a result of my trip. This blog will detail some of what I have learned and what I think this means for philanthropy.
The SDGs cannot be ignored
If it wasn’t clear to me that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be an order of magnitude more significant for philanthropy than the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) before my trip to New York, it is now. The extent to which the biggest foundations have bought into the SDGs and the manifest interest from some of the worlds largest corporations should ensure that come January 1st, we will find ourselves in a changed global environment for philanthropy. There will be many opportunities and challenges for philanthropy in the coming years. Indeed, philanthropy has been recognised as an important delivery partner in the Addis Ababa Agreement of financing the SDGs. Given that Project Everyone managed to reach half the world’s population just to make them aware of the SDGs being signed in September – amassing a smorgasbord of the worlds biggest media, commercial and CSO brands along the way, it seems complacent to underestimate the potential impact of the “Global Goals”.
Balancing partnership and independence
The SDG movement, judging by the Addis Agreement, sees philanthropy primarily a source of money to be utilised within partnerships and to be accountable within them to governments – regardless of the fact of their independent funding. Little consideration seems to have been given to the way that accountability within such partnerships will be disproportionate, especially for small foundations and CSO delivering on the ground. More worryingly, seeing philanthropy as merely a source of money fails to take advantage of its core strengths and unique advantages. With accountability and resources tied into large partnerships, philanthropy might find it more difficult to innovate, take risks, be flexible, test assumptions or be controversial – yet these unique qualities were often cited in New York as crucial.