Insights from HLPF 2019: Philanthropy & the SDGs


Natalya Pyagay


The role of philanthropic institutions in advancing the sustainable development agenda has been widely recognized by various stakeholders. Importantly, philanthropy’s value-add has been more and more perceived through its ability to advocate for collective action, support cross-SDG partnerships, catalyze change, test new ideas and adopt innovative approaches rather than simply provide capital. Yet, there is still much to be done to harness the sector’s potential in full.   

To highlight the current models of philanthropic engagement for the SDGs and further explore the opportunities for fostering philanthropic leadership and transformational action, a special event on Philanthropy and the SDGs was organized at the margins of the 2019 High-Level Political Forum under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The convening was co-hosted by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the UN Office for Partnerships, SDG Philanthropy Platform, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, European Foundation Center, Synergos and the United Nations Foundation.

It featured success stories and innovative approaches from the foundations and philanthropic networks across the globe: India, Kenya, Colombia, Zimbabwe, Canada, Denmark, Haiti and the US. Both panelists and participants had the opportunity to touch upon and reflect on the priorities, challenges and opportunities for further philanthropic engagement in the SDG implementation.

The audience was unanimous in embracing the SDGs as a universal framework for addressing the most pressing needs. As it was re-iterated by several speakers, not only do the SDGs provide the means to speak a common language with your local partners, they also enable you to speak with the whole world.

‘It’s very important to underline that a lot of people are considering the SDGs as the UN’s SDGs. It’s not the UN’s SDGs, it’s your SDGs and my SDGs. We have to do it together,’ said Realdania CEO Jesper Nygard.

There was also an emphasis on the interconnectedness of the 17 SDGs. As demonstrated by Higherlife Foundation, organizations are increasingly adopting more holistic approaches to programming, and thus investing broadly in human capital, rather than covering just education.

The principle of leaving no one behind was strongly echoed throughout the whole discussion. ‘To leave no one behind, work with those who are the furthest behind… and do it together,’ said Robert Skinner, Executive Director, UN Office for Partnerships

Participants encouraged foundations to focus more on working with communities at the grassroot level and responding better to their needs rather than pushing their own agenda. Likewise, bottom-up approach should be used to guide development interventions and more consideration should be given to excluded and underprivileged communities, such as tribal populations, minorities, etc. Philanthropists were also advised to step away from their comfort zones with low hanging fruits and seek for more challenging areas with higher potential impact.

As per SDG data collection and measurement, it was admitted that the SDG narrative remains still very new for many foundations, and more strides are needed in this direction. Meanwhile, as a first step, in April 2019 Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors released two practical guides, ‘Philanthropy and the SDGs: Getting Started’  and  ’Philanthropy and the SDGs: Practical Tools for Alignment’ that are meant to show foundations how to align with the SDGs to increase their impact on the issues they care about and provide practical steps for philanthropic funders that are ready to align with the SDGs.

It was exciting to see that along with emerging and developing countries, developed states also seek to align their national development agendas with the SDGs and adjust globally set targets and indicators to their context.

Lastly, building effective collaboratives for scale was named as one of the existing challenges for foundations’ work. Nevertheless, philanthropic institutions were keen on identifying and testing innovative approaches for building stronger partnerships with the national governments, businesses and other stakeholders. In this regard, demonstrating successful results from the pilots, advocating for social inclusion and using their convening power for joint efforts proved to be valid strategies for enhanced collaboration.

View a video of the event here.

Natalya Pyagay is Program Officer at UNDP

Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *