Creating pathways for philanthropy in the SDGs: Perspectives from Ghana


Isaac Ofosu Debrah


The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent an unrivalled opportunity to deliver high quality development results and philanthropy is already playing a crucial role in making this happen, especially through piloting innovations, scaling such innovation to maximize impact at various levels through varied funding mechanisms from the provision of grants, flexible capital and more recently the intensification of ‘business-like’ approaches, including impact investing. Globally, Foundation Center projects a total financial outlay of $360 billion by 2030 by Foundations. This is in addition to non-financial contribution in technical expertise given by foundations to shape country level programmes.

An important piece to this continued support is creating critical pathways for foundations to efficiently engage local and national governments. Seen through the prism of philanthropy as a major development player both in funding and policy terms, there is an important development underway in Ghana with the government’s full embrace of the participation of foundations to gain the full benefits of implementing the SDGs.

More pointedly, philanthropy has a seat in SDG implementation and monitoring structure. The SDG Philanthropy Platform is included in the National SDG Implementation Coordination Committee and SDG Technical Committees–two of the three-level architecture for monitoring the implementation of the SDGs. The other body is the 15-member SDG Ministerial Committee. Furthermore, Philanthropy is recognised in the Ghana Development Cooperation Policy as an important development actor. Likewise, the Development Cooperation Information Management System has been deployed to deal with the data invisibility, consolidate data and manage its relationship with philanthropy and civil society. Similarly, the Ministry of Sanitation and Water Resources is working with the SDG Philanthropy Platform, UNDP, to establish one-of-a-kind Partnerships and Philanthropy desk to work with foundations to support Ghana’s water and sanitation sector. Moreover, the Minister of Finance, Ken Ofori-Atta helped launch the Ghana Philanthropy and Impact Investors Network, an apex body for corporate philanthropy with focus on building and expanding partnerships for the SDGs.

This pivotal shift in the government’s recognition of the complementarity of foundations was made possible by the groundswell of advocacy and sustained engagement by a number of organisations. For instance, the SDG Philanthropy Platform has worked with government at various levels to create a better understanding of the catalytic role of foundations in the SDGs. Equally important is the exceptional advocacy by the Philanthropy and Impact Investor Network Ghana (PHIING) rallying corporate foundations around the SDGs. Other noteworthy examples include the work of Africa Women’s Development Fund, the annual Ghana Philanthropy Forum, the Social Innovation Forum, and STAR Ghana. The shift was, however, given oxygen by government’s avowed commitment to create an enabling for philanthropy as captured in the political manifesto that got them elected in December 2016.

Before this substantial shift, philanthropy was largely viewed in the narrow sense of charity. Philanthropy was only good for its traditional funding role without recognition of its complementary strengths in programme design, implementation and monitoring.

Considering Ghana’s open society, a relatively flexible legal regime and operating environment for philanthropy and non-profits, it is fast becoming a promising ground for foundations. The relevant basic infrastructure for transformative changes already exists. The prevailing ease of doing business, a vibrant civil society space, unrestrained media pluralism and democratic space are few examples.

Gales of optimism for the future is swirling. However, despite the obvious progress, we resist the urge to celebrate until addressing the single leitmotif of developing a comprehensive national philanthropy framework encompassing a clear legislative and policy environment for philanthropy and incentives systems—something the government can rarely squirm away as this could be a fillip for the catalytic role of seeding, testing, scaling innovations and discovering new possibilities for collaboration and partnerships. The momentum is right, government has passion aplenty and ready to engage.  Exciting times for philanthropy is already underway in Ghana.

Isaac Ofosu Debrah is National Coordinator SDG Philanthropy Platform, Ghana

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