Alliance Breakfast Club – The role of philanthropy in creating sustainable cities


Holly Steell


The latest Alliance Breakfast Club, held in association with the Big Lottery Fund addressed ‘the role of philanthropy in creating sustainable cities’. This question was inspired by Alliance magazine’s December 2015 special feature, Why philanthropy should care about the Sustainable Development Goals?

Over 40 people gathered at St Luke’s Community Centre in London to discuss the topic and hear from speakers including special feature guest editor Sevdalina Rukanova of the European Foundation Centre, Fernando Rueda of the Avina Foundation and Dawn Austwick, CEO of the Big Lottery Fund. The event was chaired by Charles Keidan, acting editor of Alliance.

The commitment to ‘leave no one behind’ is a key feature of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the post-2015 agenda. However, as Sevdalina commented, careful attention needs to be given to what this should mean in practice and what role foundations should play in making this happen both in their home countries and abroad?

The growing interdependence between countries and the global nature of many of the problems will require all community players to come together, take action and be willing to engage in new ways of working and methodologies. Sevdalina argued that the autonomy and flexibility of foundations can allow them to work as agenda settlers and collaboration builders.

Ultimately foundations can continue as they were before but to really add value, they must be willing to break silos and work across sectors. In particular, greater sharing of data will help contribute to the success of the SDGs.

The SDGs also require cities to rise to the challenge, but it is becoming clear that many local authorities need to adjust their skill sets and tools. Philanthropy could help provide this, and the SDG Philanthropy Platform, a group of foundations aiming to facilitate the success of SDGs through identifying opportunities for collaboration and sharing data, is one example already in place.

As Dawn argues, we are one world not two worlds and complex issues cross borders. There are ‘as many ideas to be imported as exported,’ for example Passage from India a Scottish charity working with women struggling to overcome poverty in Scotland’s poorest communities, has taken its inspiration from self-help reliant groups in India.  Local authorities joining together with local citizens can make this and other projects happen. For example and Better Reykjavík, which 60 per cent of residents have contributed to, and Sustainable Food Cities, are good example of cross city working.

Cities are complicated places with many players, some of which may not feel that philanthropy should have a role.

Each city has its own challenges, and the SDGS are no longer a problem of just developing countries, but a global challenge. For example, Latin America is seeing some of the fastest urbanisation in the world, with high levels of social inequality and violence. Fernando argued that a key to success, borne out by the work of the Avina Foiundation is working at a local level and creating strong partnerships among all players involved.

At the same time, it is important to avoid partnerships that aren’t thoughtful or necessary, as they can take up a lot time and resources. As Dawn cautions, it’s critical to remain responsive and maintain a local focus. After all, if we are to change the world, we need to put people and their communities in the lead. ‘We need to ask what matters to you, rather than what is the matter with you?’

Holly Steell is communications officer at Alliance magazine.

Read the guest editors’ article from the December 2014 issue, ‘ Why philanthropy should care about the SDGs’ here>

Read the December 2015 issue, here (£)>

Our next Alliance Breakfast Club will be held in April and focus on the response of philanthropy to refugees and migration. Find out more here>

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