Enabling the environment for philanthropy to fully engage in the UN 2030 Agenda

By Ulrika Modeer, UN Assistant Secretary General & Director of UNDP Bureau of External Relations and Advocacy


WINGS interviewed Ulrika Modeer, the UN Assistant Secretary General and Director of United Nations Development Programme Bureau of External Relations and Advocacy. She welcomes WINGS as new co-lead of the SDG Philanthropy Platform and shares her views on how our sector can play a catalytic role for the 2030 Agenda.

In this interview, Ulrika Modeer highlights the critical role philanthropy can play in fostering innovations and building multi-sector collaboration. She also speaks about the need of an enabling environment for the sector, including a strong infrastructure, to unlock the potential of domestic giving, especially in the Global South and in emerging economies.

WhatsApp Image 2019-10-25 at 10.33.00

SDG Philanthropy Platform & WINGS Side Event on the 74th UNGA: Boosting Domestic Philanthropy in the Global South

WINGS: We are almost 10 years away from 2030. How is the world doing towards the achievement of the Goals and what should philanthropic actors do to contribute to their achievement?

Ulrika Modeer: Indeed, in September 2015 at a historic UN Summit, world leaders adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. These global goals seek to address the most pressing development challenges including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, peace, and justice, to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.

The scope and ambition of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development call for development of an inclusive global partnership with active engagement of all players: the UN, governments, civil society, the private sector, philanthropic institutions, academia, and others.

Achieving the SDGs requires an estimated additional investment of US$2.4 trillion[1] per year, and the Sustainable Development Goals Report 2019 highlights that progress in some areas—such as poverty, climate change, and inequality, to name a few—is insufficient to fully achieve the SDGs by 2030[2].

However, the challenge of financing the SDGs is not just about mobilizing more money. It is more systemic and much deeper than closing any financial gap. It is fundamentally related to effective governance and demands the reorientation of how public and private actors interact with each other to build more inclusive, equitable, and sustainable societies.

Philanthropy[3] plays a critical role in contributing to the achievement of the SDGs with its complementary approaches, new pools of funding, technical expertise, creativity, and freedom to take greater risks.


W: You hosted the high-level discussion on “Boosting Domestic Philanthropy and Giving in and for the Global South” organized by WINGS and SDGPP during the 2019 UNGA Week. What are your main takeaways from that meeting? How can we raise the importance of investing in growing and improving domestic philanthropy in developing countries? Do you see a role for UNDP and the broader UN system in this?

UM: It was my pleasure to participate in such a vivid and thoughtful conversation. Three major takeaways, which in fact reconfirm our initial awareness of the situation, are the following:

1) Domestic philanthropy has been on the rise for several years now, with its composition being largely transformed, unlocking new, untapped sources such as the growing middle class, along with diaspora and community funding, and crowdfunding.

2) The culture of giving and supporting social good causes is not something pertinent only to rich and developed states—some developing countries and emerging economies, such as Myanmar[4], Indonesia[5], and Pakistan[6] to name a few, are listed among the most generous nations.

3) To unlock this domestic potential, all development partners are called to advocate for and contribute towards a more enabling environment and infrastructure for the local philanthropic sector.

That said, I would like to reiterate our commitment to collaboration with local and international development players in supporting and developing domestic philanthropy, be it through the above mentioned existing initiatives or newly identified entry points.

For example, on July 17, 2019, UNDP, together with core investors, the Federal Republic of Germany, and the State of Qatar, launched the world’s largest learning network to tackle development challenges — 60 Accelerator Labs serving 78 countries. These labs provide an excellent opportunity to identify, test, and scale up grassroots solutions to the most pressing development needs, with local stakeholders and beneficiaries. Using this opportunity, I would like to invite international and local philanthropists, social investors, civil society, and private sector representatives along with bilateral and multilateral development agencies to join forces with UNDP and national governments in pursuing this ambitious endeavor.


W: How do you see the role of philanthropy in sustainable development from a UN perspective?

UM: I am delighted to witness that global philanthropic giving is growing, gaining visibility, and creating much-needed change around the world. Institutional philanthropy has a global reach, with more than 260,000 foundations in 39 countries and more than US$1.5 trillion worth of assets under management[7]. Global high net worth individual (HNWI) wealth has increased almost fourfold in the last 20 years and now totals almost US$60 trillion[8].

Foundations are increasingly employing a range of social investment strategies to maximize their impact and over half of philanthropic institutions seek to align programs with global SDGs and government priorities. This alignment is critical as all actors need to come together to achieve the SDGs.

Importantly, many foundations recognize the importance of collaboration and partnership, with both peer organizations and governments, to achieve impact and scale.

Fast-growing national philanthropy in developing countries, including private foundations, HNWIs, community- and faith-based funds, etc., provide a tremendous financing opportunity for development. However, it remains largely untapped because of existing legal and operational challenges. UNDP welcomes the alignment of both programs and resources to the SDGs and philanthropies are important partners to achieve sustainable development.


W: What are the biggest challenges and opportunities for philanthropy to engage in partnership with the UN system, and with other development players?

UM: Recognizing philanthropy as an important contributor to development, UNDP has been fostering longstanding partnerships with various philanthropic institutions. Thus, during 2016–2018, both international and national foundations contributed more than US$70 million towards 120 UNDP projects implemented by 57 country offices and operating units. Major cooperation areas include supporting Palestinian people (education, healthcare, economic empowerment, etc.), ensuring access to affordable financial and energy services for the poor, fostering knowledge on human development, eliminating ozone-depleting substances, and increasing women’s income.[9]

Currently, through its Istanbul International Center for Private Sector in Development, UNDP leads two global initiatives, namely the SDG Philanthropy Platform and the Connecting Business initiative, supported by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, the Ford Foundation,  Oak Foundation, UPS Foundation, and others.

Despite these positive developments, more efforts are needed to position philanthropy as a partner of choice, rather than just a capital provider, vis-à-vis multiple development actors.

To the extent possible, philanthropy should be included in various development frameworks and steering committees at the national level. Additional support should be rendered to convene various philanthropic players into national networks to enable their participation in the SDG planning, monitoring, and reporting processes as a sector.

Furthermore, for greater efficiencies and scale, philanthropic resources should be leveraged with additional public or private funds. In this regard, new financing models with the involvement of philanthropic capital should be designed and tested.

Lastly, all stakeholders—the UN, national and donor governments, the private sector, philanthropy, civil society, and others—need to build internal capacities to spot and unlock multi-stakeholder partnership opportunities aimed at accelerating attainment of the SDGs.


W: The UNDP created the SDG Philanthropy Platform five years ago together with philanthropic partners. What have been your main learnings during this journey? How do you hope this global initiative will evolve in this new phase that WINGS will colead with you?

UM: The SDG Philanthropy Platform (SDGPP) is our global initiative that seeks to connect philanthropy with knowledge and networks to deepen collaboration, leverage resources, and sustain impact.

 To date, the Platform has engaged over 1,000 international and local foundations to align their strategies and support SDG-inspired national development plans. In doing so, it partnered with over 15 philanthropic associations across the globe. In addition, more than 120 events, convening over 1,500 leaders from the philanthropic sector, governments, the United Nations, and grassroots NGOs have been co-hosted—and more than 150 specific knowledge products and communication tools that synthesize learning from engaging philanthropy in collective action on the SDGs have been developed and shared with a global audience[10].

Most importantly, SDGPP helped secure “a seat at the table” for philanthropy to become an equal development player and contribute to national policy-making in focus countries[11].

For example, in Indonesia, thanks to the SDGPP support and advocacy efforts, philanthropy and the business sector have been officially included in the National SDGs Coordination Team[12].

Furthermore, the Platform has introduced a new flagship approach called “collaborative pathways” to enable different institutions and sectors within a country to collectively define routes as well as source and implement innovative and promising scalable solutions to advance one or more SDGs.

To date, SDGPP has successfully sourced and implemented eight Innovation Challenges to accelerate early childhood development in Kenya, access to universal safe and affordable water in Ghana, and well-being of children in Zambia. Together, these initiatives are expected to deliver positive change to the lives of 27,000 direct beneficiaries in the short run and 8.5 million Africans over a five-year period[13].

As UNDP, we are very excited to partner with WINGS in deepening our engagement with the philanthropic sector, particularly in the Global South. While we are still in the process of codesigning our vision for the next generation SDGPP, our strategic focus remains on building ecosystems and fostering enabling environment for domestic philanthropy to thrive as a sector and engage fully in national development plans and the 2030 Agenda.



[1] Business and Sustainable Development Commission, Better Business, Better World, Jan. 2017. http://report.businesscommission.org/report

[2] For more information, please see https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/report/2019/The-Sustainable-Development-Goals-Report-2019.pdf

[3] While the definition of philanthropy varies throughout different sources, for this Concept Note philanthropy is defined as “organized giving through a legal and organizational modality—of which the most common institutional structures are foundations—and to the trend of using private capital to address major global issues,” Heather Grady, Philanthropy as an emerging Contributor to Development Cooperation, 2014.

[4] For more information, please see https://www.cafonline.org/docs/default-source/about-us-publications/cafworldgivingindex2017_2167a_web_210917.pdf

[5] Charities Aid Foundation, CAF World Giving Index 2017, 2017, https://www.cafonline.org/docs/default-source/about-us-publications/caf_wgi2018_report_webnopw_2379a_261018.pdf

[6] Shazia M. Arnjad & Muhammad Ali, “Philanthropy in Pakistan,” Stanford Social Innovation Review, March 19, 2018, https://ssir.org/articles/entry/philanthropy_in_pakistan#

[7] Paula D. Johnson, Harvard Kennedy School, Global Philanthropy Report: Perspectives on the Global Foundation Sector, https://www.ubs.com/global/en/wealth-management/uhnw/philanthropy/shaping-philanthropy.html

[8] World Wealth Report 2016, Capgemini, https://worldwealthreport.com/resources/world-wealth-report-2016/

[9] “UNDP Transparency Portal,” UNDP, en.undp.org

[10] For more information, please see www.sdgphilanthropy.org

[11] For more information, please see https://www.sdgphilanthropy.org/Building-Bridges-with-Governments

[12] Presidential regulation #59 on achieving the SDGs, Jakarta, Indonesia, July 2017

[13] For more information, please see https://www.sdgphilanthropy.org/Scaling-Innovations-Nationwide

UM Circle Picture


Ulrika Modeer

UN Assistant Secretary General & Director of UNDP Bureau of External Relations and Advocacy.




UNDP works in about 170 countries and territories, helping to achieve the eradication of poverty, and the reduction of inequalities and exclusion. They help countries to develop policies, leadership skills, partnering abilities, institutional capabilities and build resilience in order to sustain development results. Read more on their website: https://www.undp.org/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.