While policymakers and philanthropists both support sustainable development and social justice, prior to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), they had been doing so on parallel tracks. Now the SDGs are part of philanthropy’s shared language. The vast majority of foundations know what the SDGs are, without necessarily using or aligning with them. Such familiarity with a global United Nations concept could not have been taken for granted ten years ago. What has changed?
First of all, it is difficult, laborious and costly to follow the many ramifications of the global development agenda. Governments, including donor agencies, usually have policy sections entirely dedicated to keeping track of and participating in these discussions; so do international civil society organizations in order to advocate for their issues. Yet foundations tend to prefer allocating their resources to their programmes. Most of them have no dedicated staff, which means extremely busy people – CEOs or senior advisers – represent their organizations in policy debates.
What each community considers to be ‘development’ is dramatically different.
Moreover, the public sector – from development agencies to line ministries in OECD and non-OECD countries – and philanthropists are not natural partners. They have different working cultures and timelines, and each speaks their own jargon, leading to what Michael Green calls ‘a degree of misunderstanding… and a tendency to try to keep each other at arm’s length’.