In September 2015, States adopted the 2030 Agenda and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The preamble of this ambitious agenda states: “All countries and all stakeholders, acting in collaborative partnership, will implement this plan.” (UN General Assembly, 2015).
SDGs are increasingly part of the policy, sustainability and corporate jargon, and it seems they will continue to dominate the public discussion sphere on the way to 2030. Below are a few highlights from the panel representatives that participated in the session “SDGs – working together to advance a culture of peace and prosperity”, during the EFC – AGA conference which is currently being held in Brussels.
SDGs, according to Donzelina Barroso, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisor, provide a way for major philanthropic foundations and donors to associate their work and impact with key global challenges.
The EU has heavily been involved in sustaining SDGs and has put forward a high level multi-stakeholders’ platform for SDGs, which aims to include civil society organisations, private and public actors and other stakeholders. Those stakeholders meet on a regular basis and become involved in discussions on how to proceed with European-wide implementation of SDGs in all policy areas. All agents involved are perceived as being part of a complete ecosystem, said Ulla Engelmann, representative of the DG Grow of the European Commission.
Social entrepreneurs and foundations can become part of the SDGs ecosystem and thus highlight the impact of their work for societies, says Vesna Bajsanski-Agic of the Mozaik Foundation. Foundations can, in fact, demonstrate greater flexibility in terms of project selection and implementation, as it is not public money they are dealing with. Still, a consistent methodology for measuring impact needs to be put in place, in order for philanthropic Foundations and social enterprises to be able to demonstrate the impact of their work.
So how do we measure impact for SDGs?
With 232 indicators and 169 targets for SDGs currently identified, what can international organisations, policy makers, corporate business entities, civil society agents and philanthropic foundations do in order to measure and demonstrate impact? It is a fact that measuring impact is a very challenging exercise for any entity involved in implementing social projects, whether they handle their own funding or aim to make maximum use of the investment of third parties. This is even more the case for SDGs and what can be perceived as a complicated set of targets that national governments may choose to pursue or measure according to what will potentially demonstrate the best results. This is where civil society can play a critical role, holding the governments into account towards their citizens vis-à-vis the commitments they have undertaken in engaging with SDGs. Foundations can be instrumental in getting the private sector and individual donors involved and in generating and implementing projects that can have significant social impact and keeping the social footprint of companies alive.
While national governments are tasked with reporting on the progress of SDGs on a national level, panel participants have also highlighted that there are great initiatives put forward by grassroots organisations or civil society agents that are heavily under-reported. Collaborative partnerships with government agencies and the civil society ecosystem, advocacy activities as well as a consistent methodology of measuring and reporting on project sustainability and impact against specific SDGs especially coming from philanthropic foundations, is proposed as a key role for the philanthropic world, looking ahead.
Finally, one word on sustainability communications and SDGs report: Sustainability Foundations seem to be able to function really well without necessarily telling people what they are involved with. However, SDGs can benefit from a wider communication with the world and local communities and provide a specific vehicle to the Foundations, in order for them to increase their relationship with the societies within which they operate.
For us, representatives of the civil society and philanthropy landscape, the question really is: how do we get involved in turning the keyword “all” into a tangible group of engaged, dedicated agents that can help put forward this new framework of eliminating poverty and social exclusion? How does a simple but very ambitious statement get transformed into a roadmap for the future, one that involves civil society agents, foundations and NGOs? There is a lot of work involved in approaching those challenges but still enough space, and time, for the civil society world to get involved and play a critical role in this very demanding global project.
Maria Fola is Head of Communicationsat the Bodossaki Foundation