The SDG world and local communities: what role for community foundations?


Adela Rusu


Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent the most important collective effort to date on sustainable development at both global and local levels. They reflect some of the priorities we should all be focusing on if we want to tackle the main challenges hindering the long-term development of our communities.

The 2030 Agenda provides the framework for 17 SDGs adopted in 2015 by the United Nations and covers a diversity of issues (from education, health, and inequality to the environment, clean energy and decent work, just to name a few). The Goals are clustered around five main pillars: people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnerships. The 17 Goals, together with their 169 associated targets, are interconnected and aim to focus on the most vulnerable by making sure ‘no one is left behind’.

The SDGs are to be achieved by 2030. Their universality means that anyone can contribute to their achievement: governments, private sectors, civil society organisations, academia and other stakeholders working on finding effective solutions to their communities’ problems at the global or local level. That is their main strength: multi-stakeholder partnership and shared responsibility. Considering how ambitious the 2030 Agenda is, everyone is needed to bring together resources for their implementation.

The SDGs put into practice the first half of the saying ‘think global, act local’. Now we can focus on actions needed at a local level. There we need a local guide to understand the main challenges in a community, know who can do what, and connect funders with doers, thus leading community spirit towards sustainability.

This role is already well played by community foundations (CFs), which are contributing to achieving the SDGs in their own communities, without necessarily being aware of it, or naming it as such. A report by the UK Community Foundations highlights this very clearly, as the CFs ‘are already impacting on the SDGs via their convening, research, grant-making and infrastructure support’. Such local contribution and guidance is essential if Agenda 2030 is to have a chance for success.  

All knowledge about local communities – main problems and most effective solutions, which CFs tap into – is essential for identifying and prioritizing the most relevant actions to be taken at local and national levels. That relates to how CFs engage with national and local governments and the business sector.

Most governments are aware of the need to engage many relevant actors – usually coagulated in a national multi-stakeholder coalition on sustainable development – in order to elaborate realistic national strategies and action plans on achieving the SDGs, as well as to monitor and evaluate the work that is summarized in the Voluntary National Reviews (VNR), presented during the annual UN High Level Political Forum.

The VNRs reflect the national contexts of the SDGs, main priorities and actions taken, as well as which stakeholders are active in this process, which includes most of the time also local organizations, key in accessing local insights. CFs should have a voice in all these national processes. Knowing best the local realities, they can inform and hold accountable those who are responsible for their communities’ development.

The access that CFs have to understanding local needs and challenges can also be of great importance to another relevant stakeholder for Agenda 2030: the private sector. The CFs know well where funding is needed and how it should be distributed in their communities. And the SDGs could provide a common language for translating community needs into sustainability priorities for the private sector.

There is a growing trend and pressure on companies to become more sustainable and responsible in the communities where they are present, while being aware of their impact on climate change. It is not just about philanthropy and CSR anymore, but it is becoming essential for their own financial strategies, as more and more investors direct their investments towards sustainability focused-companies.

This new direction has certainly been reinforced also by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has made consumers more aware of the responsibility that the private sector has in supporting local communities, thus influencing their choices in buying from certain brands[1]. Most of the companies aware of this shift, are trying to understand their impact on sustainable development with the support of their non-financial sustainability reports[2] and sustainability strategies aligned with Agenda 2030. CFs should see the SDGs as an opportunity to initiate and deepen partnerships with the private sector, to increasingly direct resources towards enhancing the sustainability of their local communities.

Therefore, to make that happen, the CFs should not only focus on the ‘act local’ part, but also on ‘think global’ – or better said ‘connect global’. Speaking the same language with the business sector and national and local governments and connecting to a global vision and strategy, will enable more support for strengthening resilience at the local level in an ever-growing uncertain reality.

Adela Rusu is Associate Fellow at the Făgăraș Research Institute.


  1. ^ In a survey made by EY Romania in May-June 2020, the majority of the respondents agreed that the social responsibility activities of a company can motivate them to purchase their products or services.
  2. ^ This is the case especially for companies registered in the European Union in the context of the Directive 2014/95/EU – also called the Non-Financial Reporting Directive (NFRD).

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