The adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals by the United Nations in 2015 has resulted in a seismic shift in the social development and humanitarian sectors.
The 17 SDGs offer a blueprint that aims to align economic, social and environmental development. They are the most visionary development goals ever set and the intent behind the global goals is to mobilise efforts by all countries whether developed, developing or emerging. The primary objective of the SDG’s is “to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change, while ensuring no one is left behind.”
Overwhelmingly the SDGs provide social investors, philanthropists, funders and grantmakers with an opportunity to join a global movement that offers a pathway to align, integrate and co-ordinate development efforts between various stakeholder groups.
In its 2020 Research Report Disruption with Impact report Next Generation Consultants suggest that the SDGs will become the driving force of social development and by implication, the North Star for development practitioners and professionals. In addition, it is their prediction that future development strategies and funding allocation will be aligned to the SDG’s and as the SDGs offer a broad development framework that give implementers the latitude to chart their own course.
Based on our research over the past year, we have already seen how the SDG’s are influencing current development practice. We identified eight major trends that are changing the humanitarian landscape, including:
- The biggest benefit that SDGs offer is that they give the development and investment community a common language in which to communicate with all stakeholders across sectors, borders and development themes.
- The SDG’s encourages and promote deep systems thinking. The SDGs aim to change the development eco-system and so they prompt all stakeholders including development agencies, donors, grantmakers and social and impact investors to take a systems-change approach to development that recognises that many social, economic and environmental challenges are caused by a web of different but connected factors that require large-scale partnerships, aimed at systemic solutions and change.
- The SDGs have resulted in the restructuring of development portfolios to align with the SDG themes and the specific objectives and outcomes listed under each SDG. This also requires alignment with its 169 targets and 230 accompanying indicators that measures progress against the 17 development priorities.
- As a result of this global alignment to the 17 overarching goals, funders have restructured their own grantmaking processes and development priorities/strategies. For grant seeking organisations and the development/humanitarian sector at large, this means that future grant proposals and applications for funding must highlight how programme activities and outcomes will support and highlight the SDGs.
- Funders are working more collaboratively to support specific SDGs, because the goals are so vast, but also interconnected and aligned. No single investor or organisation will achieve the SDG’s individually and there is a greater need for partnerships between government, the private sector and the non-profit sector across and within specific development portfolios/themes.
- Galvanising behind a global movement for change, is highly motivating and is likely to result in more engaged staff, boards, volunteers, donors and funder partnerships.
- Growing engagement with the public. As the public and consumers begin to demand more of funders, the private sector and government there will be more engagement and greater visibility for programmes.
But despite the major benefits and opportunities that the SDGs offer, there are challenges that they present. These include that:
- Some SDGs are easier to support than others. For example, addressing inequality is a complex issue whereas achieving responsible consumption and production programmes is easier to implement.
- There are gaps in skilled people and organisations with the necessary experience and knowledge to address more complex SDGs like life under water or gender-based violence.
- Africa has for many years lagged behind in all three areas of development: social, environmental and economic. Successful implementation of the SDGs will require extensive finance, technology, capacity building, trade, policy coherence, partnerships, extensive monitoring and evaluation. At the moment the biggest problem for achieving the SDGs across Africa is the availability and quality of data to measure progress. Only time will tell if Africa has been able to both benefit and reap the benefit of the SDG’s.
- The SDGs are an expensive framework that require not only raising but also distributing and allocating trillions of dollars to development. Not only will it require new and innovative approaches to development financing but political will and the support of all 7 billion inhabitants of the planet.
Despite these challenges foundations and investors are well-positioned to support the SDGs, as captured by a recent Rockefeller Foundation report: “Philanthropy has a vital role in the SDGs. Philanthropic institutions offer a unique combination of reputation, relationships, and resources. Foundations often have a greater tolerance for risk than other stakeholders and they have “patient” capital to put toward challenges that take years or even decades to solve. Not least of all, foundations are typically mission-driven and are staffed by experienced professionals whose passion for a better world dovetails with the values expressed in the 2030 Agenda.”