Time for European foundations to get on board with the SDGs

Gerry Salole

Vikki Spruill’s article on the relevance of the Sustainable Development Goals to US foundations working domestically gives food for thought for European foundation.

In September 2015, the world’s governments adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: an ambitious global vision and a set of 17 goals (SDGs) and related targets that seek to tackle extreme poverty, curb climate change and put the world on a more prosperous and sustainable path by 2030. This is a universal agenda, its achievement the shared responsibility of all, including philanthropic organizations.

With their comparative advantage of patient, risk-tolerant and nimble capital, foundations have an important role to play in influencing and shaping the implementation of the SDGs and ensuring that the promise to ‘leave no one behind’ is achieved.

Various articles in the December issue of Alliance discuss at length the rationale and opportunities for foundations to get involved. So I’m not going to repeat them here. Rather, I would like to reflect on something I consider a precondition to broader philanthropic engagement in Europe on the SDGs: we need to generate momentum for and commitment to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development across all sections of society. Against the background of rising inequality across Europe, high unemployment, the refugee crisis, global health and environmental threats, and economic uncertainty, the relevance of the SDGs for Europe should be obvious. Sadly, they are unknown to many, or still perceived as applying only to developing countries.

While European governments and the EU are already rolling up their sleeves and developing strategies to align policies and financing with the SDGs, we are yet to see a real engagement or input in the process from other actors – be they citizens, businesses, local authorities or civil society, including foundations.

European foundations can easily identify with the issues addressed in the SDGs. However, the majority are still a long way from understanding what they are, why they are relevant for Europe, and the extra leverage foundations can gain to improve outcomes on the issues they are investing in. It is hard to know if foundations in Europe will embrace the SDGs in one way or another or continue with business as usual. But I would like to make a plea and issue a challenge.

The plea: whether you decide to do something about the SDGs or not, start a conversation with your partners. First, familiarize yourself with the sustainable development agenda and find out what your government is committing to and what impact this will have on policies and financing for the issues you are working on. Finally, reflect on the potential role you might want to play around the implementation of Agenda 2030.

The challenge: Europe needs a well-thought-out public awareness campaign to bring the SDGs to citizens and communities. The SDGs are about key issues that concern the daily realities and wellbeing of people: can they provide a much-needed opportunity to begin to address the fear and distrust Europe is facing? So while you are thinking about potential engagement with the SDGs, can I challenge you as a foundation to help catalyse public discussion on their implementation in the community where you are based or beyond?

European governments and the EU are doing more than just discussing the SDGs, their gears are already in full motion. It’s time for everyone to get on board before the ship has sailed.

Gerry Salole
Chief Executive, European Foundation Centre

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