The United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted by world leaders at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit on September 25, 2015. The agenda includes more than a dozen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as the Global Goals, designed to stimulate action in areas of critical importance for humanity and the planet. More ambitious than the Millennium Development Goals, on which they build, the SDGs include a hundred and sixty-nine targets to be achieved over the next fifteen years, from eradicating extreme poverty for all people everywhere, to ensuring that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education, to halving per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reducing food losses along production and supply chains.
Led by large, globally oriented foundations such as Ford and Hilton and key infrastructure groups like Foundation Center and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, philanthropy has rallied around the SDG agenda. In July, the Council on Foundations, another key infrastructure group, released a report that details how philanthropy can help achieve the SDGs in the United States. Based on lessons the council has learned from its members and other national and local partners over the last year, the report shares examples of how funders are using the SDG framework to structure their work domestically and offers suggestions for how others might use the goals to advance their mission.
Recently, PND spoke with Vikki Spruill, president and CEO of the council, about the report, the council’s efforts to promote the SDG framework to its members, and why she believes the SDGs are good for philanthropy and the world.
Philanthropy News Digest: The council has released a report aimed at raising awareness of the UN Sustainable Development Goals among foundations and philanthropists in the United States. For readers who may not have heard of them, what are the SDGs, and why, as you put it in the foreword to the report, do they have the potential to be “revolutionary” for people around the world?
Vikki Spruill: The Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, represent a historic global consensus about the shared responsibility that all nations have in advancing a global development agenda. They tackle seventeen areas of development and set aspirational targets for the global development community to achieve over the next fifteen years so that "no one is left behind." The seventeen goals, which cover everything from eradicating hunger and poverty, to advancing environmental sustainability, to reducing inequality, to improving education and health, were agreed on by a hundred and ninety-three countries in September 2015, including the United States, which, with President Obama's encouragement, agreed to pursue the goals both here at home and through our development activities around the globe.
As you know, the SDGs emerged from a previous United Nations initiative, the Millennial Development Goals, or MDGs, which were more narrowly focused on human development, whereas the SDGs cover all dimensions of development, including the economic, social, and environmental. And they're not just intended for developing nations, as the MDGs were, they're meant to be guidelines for all nations, including the United States.
I think the SDGs have enormous potential. We all recognize that government can't solve the world’s problems by itself — the MDGs showed us that. To change the world, to fully realize philanthropy's goals, we have to work across sectors, and the SDGs contribute to that by more specifically calling out the philanthropic and private sectors. That's very exciting.
PND: What kind of role did the private sector, and foundations specifically, have in developing the SDG framework?
VS: Foundations that are part of the global development community played a critical role in developing the goals and in stressing the importance of philanthropy to advancing the SDGs. There's a group called the SDG Philanthropy Platform that's led by the United Nations Development Program, your own organization, the Foundation Center, and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, and it has made enormous progress in raising awareness of the SDGs, increasing the resources available to support them, and helping to forge new partnerships.
Likewise, the Council on Foundations is working to raise awareness of the SDGs. In fact, our report grew out of meetings we had in three cities, and we're planning to hold several more over the next few months. It's important to note that the meeting that took place in Addis Ababa in 2015, the Financing for Development summit, specifically stated that the private sector, including philanthropy, is needed to achieve the SDGs. So, it's really a historic moment for philanthropy, which hasn't been recognized as a partner in the same way by the United Nations before and now is being engaged in UN development activities in new ways. At the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey, in May, for example, three hundred and fifty different companies were represented, and because of the SDGs there is now a real opportunity for philanthropy to join in and shape these conversations going forward.