May 23, 2018
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent the most ambitious — as well as expensive — global development framework in history. The framework sets specific targets in seventeen areas, from ending poverty in all its forms (Goal 1), to combating climate change and its impacts (Goal 13), to achieving gender equality (Goal 5). But with an estimated annual price tag of $3.5 trillion, it's clear that governments alone cannot finance the SDGs and hope to achieve the framework's 2030 targets. With that in mind, all stakeholders within the development ecosystem, including private and philanthropic actors, need to step in and step up their contributions. Our research shows that while the philanthropic sector has been doing its part, it can do much more.
Foundation Center has been tracking philanthropy's support for the Sustainable Development Goals since the beginning. Our data shows that foundations have contributed more than $50 billion toward achieving the SDGs since January 2016, when the SDG agenda was formally launched, and we are tracking that number in real time — i.e., as more grantmaking data becomes available, we immediately make more SDG-related funding data available. Pretty cool! (NB: We can only track what we can collect, so if we don't have your data, we can't account for your contribution.) Using this "latest available data approach," we can confirm that philanthropy has been and will continue to play a crucial role in financing and driving the SDGs.
In a blog post in 2016, Foundation Center president Brad Smith predicted that foundations would contribute $364 billion toward achieving the by 2030. While it's too early to say whether Brad will be proved correct, the initial trends are favorable. Of the $50 billion in foundation giving we have tracked, roughly $40 billion is based on 2016 data while the rest ($10 billion) comes from foundation giving data collected in 2017 and 2018. As more data from both domestic and international foundations comes in, we estimate that total foundation giving for 2016 will increase by another 15 percent or so by December, when we'll have a more complete data set, and as more international foundations share their data for research purposes. If that trend holds through 2030, it's quite likely that foundations will contribute more than the $364 billion originally estimated by Brad.
It's not a surprise that Goal 3 (Ensure healthy lives) and Goal 4 (Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education for all) have received the lion’s share of the funding to date (both more than $18 billion). In addition to regular health-related spending, foundations also have contributed significant sums in response to various health emergencies, both natural and man-made. That list includes avian influenza, Zika virus, Ebola virus, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and outbreaks of yellow fever, as well as public health emergencies caused by war, cyclones, and earthquakes. At the same time, the goal to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education for all has long been important to many funders and continues to attract significant funding, even in the SDG era.