Using the SDGs to engage in concrete collaboration and policy influence

“Unlocking the full potential of philanthropy for development”, SDG Philanthropy Platform Side Event to the UN General Assembly, September 25th, 2019, at Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice.

Opening remarks by WINGS Executive Director, Benjamin Bellegy


It is an honor to be here today as we are opening a new cycle in such an important initiative.

What is happening this week around us is critical. While governments and decision-makers are running their usual discussions and negotiations at the UN General Assembly, multilateralism and democracy are under attack and the next generation is starting to show resistence and mobilizes millions of people across the globe for the climate. Business as usual is not an option. Greta Thunberg warned us – and not just governments, but all people in positions of power – : empty words are not just insufficient, they are hurting the world and we will be held accountable for not doing everything that is in our power to deeply transform our societies, economies, organizations and values, in order to offer a viable future for all humans and ecosystems.

We know that the complexity and scale of the global challenges we are facing call for the invention of new ways to collaborate within and between sectors. It calls us urgently to review our lens and methods to act in synergy, as elements of a broader ecosystem, not focused on our own individual and organizational success, but focused on our collective impact.

Whether it is to co-design solutions and narratives, whether it is to share and disseminate knowledge on what works or not, whether it is to take innovations to scale, or to influence policy, the existence of strong and interconnected networks of actors, platforms for multisector collaboration, cross-sector bridges and a common language are key ingredients if we really want transformation.

The SDGs are first and foremost a common language. How do we ensure that the SDGs are not just a list of “empty words”, and ensure that it becomes a powerful vehicle for collaboration? The foundation of all collaboration and change at scale is common language. Therefore, beyond the skepticism or indifference that sometimes prevails in philanthropy communities when it comes to the SDGs, we must cherish this common frame and use it in very concrete ways to engage our sector in collaboration and in constructive policy influence.

Today we will hear some great examples of foundations joining hands with governments and other actors for change at scale. Our thought-partners for this event – Charities Aid Foundation, Aga Khan Foundation, la Caixa foundation – and leaders from Brazil and the Arab Region will share their learnings and experiences.

Yet we are in a bubble. According to Harvard/UBS research, 60% of foundations do not collaborate, and the reality is probably even less than that. North America accounts for 80% of philanthropy infrastructure investments while Asia only represents 3% according to WINGS estimates. Yet, we cannot wait to increase the effectiveness of private resources for common good at global level. We also cannot wait to activate the huge growth potential for giving at all levels of society.

So how can we do this? By thoughtfully and actively investing in those who, everywhere, are working to increase the volumes and effectiveness of private giving and institutional philanthropy.

This is why I believe RPA and the UNDP have decided to invite WINGS to play a leading role in the SDG Philanthropy Platform. For those who are not yet familiar with WINGS, we are a global network of 140 philanthropy developers in over 50 countries. As co-leaders of the SDGPP, we hope to leverage the power of this network and our indirect outreach to up to 100,000 philanthropic entities.

The question that will lead this new phase for the platform is, beyond much-needed coordination between major development funders and major international foundations, “How can we unlock the potential of philanthropy and giving for the SDGs?”. For this we must:

  • Expand the scope of the field and include all forms of philanthropy, from individual giving to impact investing.
  • Help turn Philanthropy Support Organizations into accelerators for SDG adoption, concrete collaboration and dissemination of solutions.
  • Advocate for the development of philanthropy and an enabling environment for the field.
  • Build the collective voice of the sector on specific SDG related issues, such as climate or gender.

We count on your support to help us design this new phase. We would like to engage as many of you in this room today as possible to make that happen so that we can look back in 2030 and say we did everything we could to unlock our sector’s contribution to the SDGs.

Before leaving the floor, I would like to express our deep gratitude to RPA and UNDP for their leadership and trust. We are very honored by your invitation and excited to walk in your footsteps to continue expanding the impact of this unique and much needed global initiative. I would like to ask the room a round of applause for RPA, especially for Heather Grady, supported in her leadership by Kelly Diggins, who were instrumental in setting up the platform, nurturing it and achieving so much during this first phase.

We look forward to collaborating with UNDP, the Foundation Center, the platform partners and all of you. Thank you very much.



Circle Picture



Benjamin Bellegy

Executive Director



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