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From Global Goals to Local Impact: How Philanthropy Can Help Achieve the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals in the U.S.

Publication date: 
Thursday, February 8, 2018

The 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent a historic global consensus about the shared responsibility that all nations have in achieving global development. The SDGs have the potential to be revolutionary for people around the world and the planet.

We know that if successful, the global community will make incredible strides toward ending hunger, achieving gender equality, and reducing inequality by 2030. We also know that to be successful, philanthropy must be at the table. Government and business cannot achieve these goals on their own; we need all sectors working together. As President Obama said in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly, in which he committed the United States to enacting the SDGs, “We all need to step up with the will and the resources and the coordination to achieve our goals. This must be the work of the world.”

As the principal strategic leadership association for U.S. foundations, the Council on Foundations believes that philanthropy is an essential aspect of civil society. Working closely with our partners, we have tried to help foundations of all types and sizes, including those who only fund domestically, see their own work and mission in the Global Goals. This report is an extension of those efforts.

In September 2015, I laid out a framework for how philanthropy might play a constructive role in achieving the SDGs, with suggestions ranging from better data sharing and impact tracking to working more closely with governments. Since then, the Council has organized several convenings—in Little Rock, Arkansas; San Francisco; New York City; and at our annual conference in Washington, D.C.—in which a wide array of foundations gathered to learn more about the SDGs and discuss how to align their work within this global framework.

The discussions during those meetings—and the partnerships that emerged from them—form the basis of the recommendations found here. With this report, we hope to inspire the sector to lead the way toward realizing the SDGs, improving humanity, and safeguarding our planet. We share examples of how foundations are already using the goals to structure their work and colleagues offer suggestions for how other foundations might use the framework to achieve their mission.

Above all, this report is an affirmation of the Council’s commitment to serve as a resource for philanthropy as it works on the SDGs. We are eager to build upon the conversations on these pages—through hosting additional convenings in other U.S. cities, increasing programming and resources for foundations, and other activities that develop to help philanthropy’s efforts to realize the SDGs. For us, this is just the start.

We know that global sustainable development is within reach. While it’s true that the SDGs are incredibly ambitious in scale and scope, that’s partly what makes them so exciting—the potential and promise they hold. It’s also what makes the contributions and unique value of philanthropy so important to the framework’s ultimate success.

That success depends on all of us, as a community. We hope that this report is one of many tools to increase the effectiveness of foundations’ work toward the SDGs. And we can’t wait to see what we can achieve together.

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