SDGs are more than rhetoric

Alberto Anfossi and Marco Demarie

The concrete results of the SDGs may be disappointing, but they remain an important attempt to align disparate development attempts around a set of common aims

Summing up the analysis of over 3,000 studies of the SDGs, one recent report concludes: ‘Our findings suggest that the goals have had some political impact on institutions and policies, from local to global governance. This impact has been largely discursive, affecting the way actors understand and communicate about sustainable development. More profound normative and institutional impact, from legislative action to changing resource allocation, remains rare.’[1]

All in all, such an assessment appears correct, if a bit gloomy, at least from the point of view of an institution such as the Compagnia di San Paolo Foundation, Italy’s largest foundation in terms of grantmaking in recent years. When Compagnia di San Paolo made the decision, in 2019-20 to adopt the UN 2030 Agenda SDGs as one of its strategic pillars, it did so because the SDGs’ outline and analytical tools seemed to offer at least two important cognitive resources: first, the idea that any public-good oriented policy-making requires a complexity-based approach; this principle suited both Compagnia’s modus operandi and its mission which is devoted to sustainable development (understood as a holistic concept – human, social, cultural, educational, environmental, scientific and economic development) of Turin and the northwestern area of Italy. Secondly, it was felt that the SDGs could provide a powerful language not only to improve transparency with Compagnia’s stakeholders, but also to find common terms of understanding with other like-minded players. Following a ‘glocal’ approach (in which both the local and the global dimensions are inextricably interlinked), Compagnia is active in networks and programmes that go well beyond its apparently limited geographical boundaries, and manages a plurality of relationships with different partners (Philea, NEF and the European Union itself, to name a few).

Earth Day 2023. Credit: Compagnia di San Paolo

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