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2019 Philanthropy Outlook – Clarity and Collaboration

A SDG framework for philanthropy strategy could facilitate more of the collaboration required to achieve systems change and enduring impact at scale. More collaboration may evolve faster if philanthropists review their philanthropy strategy in three key ways. First, rethinking programme priorities and clarifying alignment of foundation grantmaking strategy with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), second, identifying implementation partners and collaborations that will support the most impactful interventions during the tipping-point decade starting 2020 and third, reviewing how aligned foundation investment strategy is with the SDGs.


Clarifying priorities

First, what are the global strategic priorities for 2019?


The Elders, a guiding light of our global community, has identified the priorities for 2019 as climate change and nuclear proliferation. Mary Robinson, Chair of the Elders, states:


"Both threats demand a concerted and coordinated international response, and in both cases the consequences of inaction are genuinely frightening. Nothing less than the survival of our planet is at stake. We have no greater responsibility to ourselves and future generations than to act now, with clarity, conviction and compassion.


On climate change, … as the report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made clear last October, we have less than a dozen years to cut global emissions by 45 percent and keep temperature rises to 1.5 degrees CelsiusAny rise over this level spells catastrophe for global ecosystems, flora, fauna and whole communities.


This is not just a matter of environmental concern. It affects social justice, sustainable development, human rights, peace and global stability – in short, it matters to every woman, man and child on the face of the planet."


Thomas Kansy, Principal at Vivid Economics, points out that


"According to estimates from the Climate Action Tracker, even if countries that have ratified the Paris Agreement were to meet their pledges by 2030, temperatures are still expected to rise by 2.7-3.0°C; a level at which damages far exceed the cost of acting to limit temperature increases. Policy action of carbon pricing and specific demand- and supply-side policies such as further energy efficiency- and technology-mandates will be critical to avoid the unnecessary costs associated with a 2°C+ scenario. Indeed, we need an urgent and forceful – and really inevitable policy response to achieve 1.5°C."


What are some of the main ways civil society can direct grantmaking to reduce emissions:

  • Supporting initiatives advocating clean energy production

  • Maintaining and expanding carbon sinks, such as forests

  • Land-use systems encouraging improved soil and livestock management

  • Supporting initiatives advocating sustainable real estate construction

  • Supporting initiatives encouraging more sustainable lifestyles, less waste and more recycling


Alignment with SDGs 

For a new Foundation or one that has not yet considered how their grantmaking program aligns with the SDGs, I include below a template to use as part of the conversation around strategy. This template is in no way prescriptive, as each Foundation will be able to map the SDG framework that resonates most.



In terms of some practical examples in the field: online giving platform Global Giving aligns it's activities to the SDGs, while non-profit Women for Women International aligns with the SDGS both in terms of it's activities and impact reporting. While Arts & Culture does not have a separate SDG, it can be creatively allocated within the SDG framework above.


3 Questions for the Foundation Board:

  1. Are activities / program areas mapped to the SDGs?

  2. Is impact measurement mapped to the SDGs?

  3. Does impact reporting refer to the SDGs?

Identifying implementation partners and collaborations

The second area of review is around identifying implementation partners and collaborations that will support the most impactful interventions during the tipping point decade starting 2020. 


In terms of selection criteria to identify implementation partners, I see the following in the most effective foundations: strategy which can be scaled (addressing a real need in an efficient way), track record of impact; strong governance framework; strong leadership (committed changemakers) and long-term sustainability. To this list could be added: collaborative capacity.


I understand collaboration to be two or more parties working together towards shared goals with a shared purpose. One of the benchmarks in this area is global collaborative Co-Impact, which scales it’s systems change model by connecting like-minded philanthropists and foundations, supporting proven health, education and economic opportunity initiatives that deliver enduring results and leveraging capital and non-financial resources through a Co-Impact Community and a Co-Investors group. The Co-Impact model has the additional benefits of deepening relationships with implementation partners, by typically investing USD10-50 million grants over 5 years, integrating gender equality across it's work and supporting scaling through technology by supporting initiatives taking a "societal platform" approach.


Technology is expected to remain a major enabler for philanthropy, in terms of fundraising, streamlining operational processes, impact measurement and reporting and collaboration broadly. 


Other inspiring collaboration models to learn from includeThe Wyss Campaign for Nature, The TRECC Program initiated by the Jacobs Foundation and work in the apparel industry driven by the C&A Foundation.


3 Questions for the Foundation Board:

1.    Does the Foundation have a Collaboration Policy?

2.    What are the key criteria by which implementation partners are selected?

3.    What resources are needed to develop collaborative capacity?


Aligning investment strategy

The third review area is to clarify how aligned the foundation investment strategy is with the SDGs.

The SDGs impact the capital markets in the critical ways below:

  • SDGs represent a global consensus on long-term sustainability goals - if this framework is applied to private and corporate investment portfolios and direct investments, investment decisions will support achievement of the goals 

  • SDGs can be used to map a values-driven investment strategy and measure real impact at the investment portfolio or project level 

Kostis A. Tselenis, Senior Sustainability and Impact Investing Expert says


"from a capital markets and investment perspective, I hope to see development in two major areas in 2019. First, that wealth managers increasingly map project finance and investment opportunities to the SDGs. This will address millennial demand and mobilise capital faster towards tackling global environmental and social challenges. Second, that the impact investing community and civil society collaborate more to leverage philanthropic capital and expertise, to de-risk early impact ventures and enable more scaling."


3 Questions for the Foundation Board:

  1. Is the Foundation’s investment portfolio mission aligned?

  2. Can the Foundation invest in impact investments?

  3. What action can be taken to ensure the Foundation’s investments are mission aligned? 

It is arguably imperative for the coming decade more than any other time in history that civil society collaborates with government, implementation partners, community groups and the private sector to develop a climate-resilient, zero-carbon economy.


May this year be the year we awaken to the reality that we are all connected in the journey of sustaining life on earth in a way that is in harmony with nature. 

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