Together we can do it: The potential of philanthropy for the SDGs


Annette Kleinbrod and Martin Speer


Crises and radical changes characterise this year. Many of us realise: we must work for a more just, peaceful and sustainable world. What can foundations contribute? A new report from Bundesverband Deutscher Stiftungen (Federal Association of German Foundation) looks at this question.

This year has been marked by crises and upheavals: worldwide, a global pandemic situation with far-reaching consequences is confronting many people who already face existential challenges; in the U.S., people are fighting against racism and injustice; in Latin America, women are fighting against male violence; in Hong Kong, people are taking to the streets to preserve democracy; in Yemen, people are suffering a war-related humanitarian catastrophe; and the consequences of climate change seem to be omnipresent. And these are just a few examples.

‘One World – Our Responsibility!’

Many of us realise: we must work for a fairer, more peaceful and sustainable world! Dr Gerd Müller, Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, aptly summarises this feeling in his appeal ‘One World – Our Responsibility!’ He refers to ‘questions regarding the survival of mankind’. But how can we ensure the necessary change in a sustainable way? There already exists a holistic framework for action for a better and liveable future: the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations to which everyone can contribute: politics, business, science, civil society organisations and all citizens. 

‘The SDGs represent a completely new perspective and a new dynamic for global justice: ALL states are now developing countries and should contribute within the next 10 years to ending hunger, for example, and to helping ensure the implementation of human rights,’ said Klaus Milke, Chairman of the Stiftung Zukunftsfähigkeit and Chair of the international foundation platform Foundations 20.

‘With the general headings ‘Transforming our world’ and ‘Leave no one behind’ the 17 SDGs are a counter-argument to selfishness, nationalism, violence, short-sightedness and exclusivity. All parts of society – including foundations and philanthropists – can and must make their contribution, and they should all develop new forms of transformative cooperation.’

Online-report shows how foundations in Germany contribute to the SDGs

In recent months, the Federal Association of German Foundations has looked at how foundations in Germany contribute to the SDGs and how this contribution be done even better. The project was supported by Engagement Global – with funds from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). The results are summarised in the online report ‘Together for more sustainability: The potential of philanthropy for the SDGs’.

There is an enormous range of possibilities regarding how German foundations can have a sustainable effect, both nationally and internationally, and in many cases they already do so today. In this way, they can contribute to the transformative change that is necessary for a better future: through the investment of their capital; through the allocation of funding and the implementation of their own projects; through advocacy within the political arena; through communication with citizens; by monitoring what is implemented in in the political arena; and (last but not least) through implementation in their own offices. The online report ‘Together for more sustainability’ presents numerous examples of the diversity and creativity of German giving, and links to other inspiring examples in Germany and worldwide. 

‘You have to have the courage to set a very clear focus – and thereby make the decision not to do certain things. The problems we have to solve are not easy, and it is difficult to achieve change. If we have organisations in this situation that have certain qualifications and that work with a focus on quality we can achieve much more than if organisations each seek to do too many things. This is an important point for the future: anything alternative approach will only lead to a dilution of efforts,’ said Neven Subotić, Management and Board of the Neven Subotić Foundation.

Time for action

To enable foundations and NGOs to work more effectively and sustainably for the SDGs and for a more equitable future, the report also points out areas where action needs to be taken with regard to the political framework. For example, it explains why a revision of the law on non-profit organisations should also have the SDGs in mind, and how cross-border giving could be made more successful. The report also draws attention to the fact that philanthropic activities in connection with the SDGs are still not well-covered in the scientific debate. 

‘The current crisis shows how fragile global health is. Pursuing foundations’ aims only makes sense if we are not at the same time destroying the very basis of life. That is why I hope that, to bring about a sustainable transformation, donors and foundations will now act more courageously and politically,’ said Dr Eckart von Hirschhausen, Founder of the Stiftung Gesunde Erde – Gesunde Menschen gGmbH.

The report is intended to function as an invitation to learn more about the topic, to discover how any organisation can contribute positively to the SDGs and what conditions should be improved in order to fully develop the potential of civil society action. 

Annette Kleinbrod is an Adviser for International Cooperation (EZ-Scout) at the Association of German Foundations, and Martin Speer is the co-founder and political adviser of Herr & Speer.

This piece was originally published on the BDS blog.

Tagged in: Next Philanthropy

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