Local Action for Global Good – why and how to embrace the SDGs

By Dr. James Magowan, Co-ordinating Director, European Community Foundation Initiative (ECFI)

The Covid-19 pandemic has served to highlight global connectedness and interdependence while also demonstrating through lockdowns the significance of local action. As the crisis unfolded it exposed deep-rooted inequalities that exist in societies around the globe, heightened awareness about the fragility of global systems, and made everyone more conscious of what ‘vulnerable’ means in practice, both close to and far away from home. But on the positive side it hopefully will force a change of direction, even a recalibration of social and economic norms, for the better, leading to an increase in the urgency to address the Global Goals. Most significantly it has brought a new focus on local. Community foundations around the world have stepped up, raising and administering funds and implementing actions, in emergency response, but also in an effort to underpin longer-term recovery and build resilience in local communities. Now, more than ever, the SDGs are relevant, as a call to action and a framework, for community foundations to lead and achieve change. 

The lofty ambitions of the SDGs may seem far removed from the day-to-day work of community foundations. However, if it is accepted that community foundations are catalysts for change at the local level, then the SDGs are not only relevant but also offer a framework that can help community foundations make a critical connection between local action and global objectives. 

The European Community Foundation Initiative (ECFI) Guide ‘Connecting Community Foundations with the SDGs’ seeks to demonstrate that the work of community foundations is highly relevant to the SDGs – making the connection between local action and global good, using the SDG framework. It proposes adopting a ‘whole-of-organisation approach’ which takes into consideration mission, investment, strategies and programmes, communications and operations, to enhance their role, credibility and effectiveness as catalysts for change. This, the Guide suggests, and illustrates with examples, can attract partners and funding, can motivate staff, board members and volunteers and can consolidate the position of the community foundation in its locality. 

Support organisations have an important role to play in helping community foundations take the necessary steps to embrace the SDGs – this ranges from raising awareness, through to systems of monitoring and reporting using the SDG framework. It is much more than simply aligning discrete actions or programmes with particular Goals. At the local level, the interdependence of the Goals becomes all the more relevant. It requires a holistic approach and recognition of the relationship between dependent actions and the respective Goals. Furthermore, the universality and interconnected character of the Goals means that action in relation to one Goal often translates into impact on several. ECFI is running a series of practical workshops across Europe, co-designed and implemented along with national associations, to ensure that they are contextually relevant but also to identify the on-going support required. These aim to build an understanding of the relevance of the SDGs to the work of community foundations and in their community leadership role, and to explore ways to embrace the SDGs and embed them in the organisation. The Academy for the Development of Philanthropy in Poland provides grant assistance through its Global Challenges Local Solutions Programme for initiatives that address global challenges on the local level. Community Foundations of Canada is creating an SDG hub, is offering webinars on the topic, and is incubating an online community network for community foundations and other civil society actors to engage in the SDGs in Canada. 

Community foundations will always be a minor actor in respect of finance, however, they are well placed to play a catalytic role through their own independent action and through brokering connections, stimulating discussion and promoting collaboration. Communicating consistently around a unified set of priorities can help establish partnerships not only between private giving and public good but also among other relevant stakeholders in order to leverage the knowledge and resources required to effect change. This common language around the 17 Goals, a critical currency of the SDGs, is invaluable for support organisations, community foundations, and all their stakeholders.’

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Dr. James Magowan,

Co-ordinating Director, European Community Foundation Initiative (ECFI)


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