UN Global Goals

If you want to break down silos, SDGs are worth looking into.

What have been getting hotter in outcomes measurement over the past year? First hint: the Rockefeller Foundation, GHR Foundation, Tableau Foundation and dozens more use them to measure progress.

Still guessing? Second hint: organisations ranging from the OECD to the World Bank are using these metrics. One last hint: they were created 20 months ago and expire in 2030.

The answer? In 2015, the United Nations launched the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – also known as the Global Goals – to improve the world and leave no one behind by 2030.

These goals tackle 17 areas of need. They are deceptively simple: ‘zero hunger’ and ‘no poverty’. And in the international philanthropic arena, they’ve caught on like a bushfire in a eucalypt forest.

These goals have been written deliberately broad to serve as a collective playbook that governments and the private sector alike can use. They can also serve as a much-needed shared language across philanthropy and the nonprofit sector to signal areas of common interest and measure shared progress.

Targets set under each goal are more defined: “By 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds…” and “By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education…”.

Underneath these targets comes the real fun –161 indicators to help track progress; these range from ‘suicide mortality rates’ to ‘preschool enrolment rates’ to ‘the proportion of women and girls aged 15 years and older subjected to sexual violence’.

To date, the philanthropic sector has earned (in my opinion undeservedly) the reputation of being independent operators throwing money at favoured causes in vain hopes of recognition.

But is this true? Think about the networking and collaboration that takes place within organisations like the Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network or Social Ventures Australia. Or jointly-funded ventures like ClimateWorks and Bush Heritage Australia.

Operating in silos, like smallpox, is a thing of the past. And data, not ego, plays an increasing role in our decision-making.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals tackle 17 areas of need.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals cover 17 areas of need.

But how to align giving with such huge global issues? One solution is to think locally – the SDGs have as much to do with achieving social change in our neighbourhood as globally.

In her article on SDGs and foundations, Michelle DiSabato extols the value of making change ‘around the corner’. For example, ending hunger is not only relevant to developing nations. In fact, 3.6 million Australians live in food-insecure households while 14,600 children are turned away from aid every month due to food shortages.

You may concur there is value in acting locally within a greater global context, but worry your current strategy may not align with the SDGs.

Fear not – foundations working to ameliorate the degradation of the Great Barrier Reef, grantmakers in community foundations supporting access to food and shelter, PAFs reviewing grant applications bolstering advocacy campaigns against domestic violence, and non-profit workers running a social enterprise focusing on youth unemployment are already inherently supporting the SDGs.

The only adjustment is to acknowledge your work is fundamentally part of a global effort. The Global Goals are everyone’s goals. And as a further step, you could think about measurement using the indicators relevant to your giving.

Why become a measurement junkie? Because when we speak a common language of giving, we can share apples-to-apples results on progress. A welcome change from the jargon-laden quagmire trap that consumes an increasing number of ‘strategic’ giving plans.

Obscure does not equal excellence. But a willingness to sing from the global songbook might be the perfect antidote.

At the Ian Potter Foundation, we recognise the value of a common tongue. As such, we are beginning to offer relevant SDG indicators as options for outcomes measurement.

While grantees are free to select outcomes measurements that are best suited to their (and their stakeholders’) needs, we support the Global Goals and, as such, offer the option to use the relevant indicators behind these goals.

We understand this will not match the needs of every grantee, but, for those who are interested, next steps include co-designing sensible methods to collect data and to make reporting the information as streamlined and painless as possible.

If you are inspired to learn more about the SDGs, here are four simple steps for Australian grantmakers:

  1. Get informed. Visit the UN Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, look at what other foundations are doing, or have some fun with MicroEdge’s SDGs true/false quiz.
  2. Get focused. Pick the icons relevant to you and place them on your website. If you don’t have a website, at the very least bring your chosen goals to your next Board meeting and spread awareness. If you aren’t sure how to begin connecting your portfolio to the Global Goals, you can use the SDG Indicator Wizard to help you get started. All you need to do is copy and paste your program descriptions!
  3. Evaluate your ability to measure outcomes, not just outputs. Spend some time reviewing the SDGs targets within the goals that align with your focus areas. Ask fellow funders and your grantees how they collect data around the SDG indicators.
  4. Disseminate. Australian philanthropists need to get on the map. Literally. Submit your story and data to the Foundation Centre.

Your efforts needn’t be global-scale and they needn’t consume all your time and energy. But the journey of a thousand kilometres begins with a step. Pick a goal, pick an indicator, and join the global pilgrimage. It takes a village…

Squirrel Main is the Research and Evaluation Manager at The Ian Potter Foundation.