How philanthropy adds value to India’s effort to achieve SDGs


Heather Grady


How can philanthropy leverage its specialised resources to effectively contribute to India’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) implementation? This was the question posed at a recent session in Bangalore during the second annual meeting of the UN India Business Forum and the 13th National Convention of UN Global Compact Network in India. The SDG Philanthropy Platform—of which Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA) is a founding member in collaboration with UNDP—is part of a continuing effort to engage the philanthropic sector in SDG implementation through multi-sector partnerships around the world. India is one of the Platform’s primary focus countries.

According to the UN, philanthropy in India increased from $894 million to $5.3 billion between 2011 and 2016. Even with this dramatic growth, the financial resources of the government and business sectors far surpass philanthropy in India (as it does elsewhere). This makes it that much more important for philanthropy to think carefully and creatively about its role and value added in SDG implementation.

Contrasting approaches of business and philanthropy
At an event focused mostly on business, the need to differentiate between business and the philanthropic sector becomes obvious. The global philanthropic sector is very diverse, with over 200,000 foundations in the US, Europe and emerging markets. Despite this diversity, foundations’ approaches to creating social impact tend to differ from those of business in noticeably consistent ways, in terms of scale, willingness and ability to compromise, and course of action. While these are generalisations, they are important to understanding philanthropy’s strengths as they apply to the SDGs.

Why philanthropy is crucial to the SDGs
The philanthropy sector and its grantees are full of committed and knowledgeable individuals and organisations who understand the problems we’re trying to solve, as well as the solutions to both immediate challenges and long-term root causes. There have always been those in philanthropy supporting the building blocks of sustainable development by:

  • finding routes to scaled impact for impoverished, remote communities
  • funding in-built capacity for innovation, risk-taking and prototyping
  • providing the long-term, patient capital required for social change
  • addressing root causes, not symptoms
  • leveraging our relatively smaller amount of funds with larger players; and
  • prioritizing the needs of disadvantaged groups.

Philanthropy in India – then and now
Many, if not most, of India’s world-renowned sons and daughters were supported by philanthropy. Today, game-changing philanthropy in India is led by Indians, and much of it is making important contributions to the SDGs. Our event highlighted several current examples of this, including two organisations focused on education and capacity building: the Azim Premji University, and the Tata Trusts DELTA program, which supports development through data, evaluation, learning, technology and analysis.

Two approaches for getting the most from philanthropy in India
In our view, two approaches are needed for the SDG efforts in India to get the most from philanthropy, and in this India mirrors all other countries. First, to track progress from all sectors against the SDGs, we will need to get into national government data sets more baseline data and program outcomes from philanthropic funders.

Second, we need to activate and expand participation in platforms for the philanthropy actors who are committed to collaborating to create scaled-up solutions to achieve the SDGs. Many of us in the sector are exploring how we can collaborate better to scale solutions to pressing challenges represented by the SDGs, using systems-change approaches.

Around the world, while philanthropy comes to the SDGs more slowly than the business sector does, it is no less important to have philanthropy engaged and leveraged so all can benefit from our passion, provocations, and partnerships.

Heather Grady is lead adviser to foundations at SDG Philanthropy Platform and Vice President at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

This is an abridged version of a piece first published on the SDG Philanthropy Platform. The original version can be found here.

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