The scale and complexity of challenges facing the world require massive investments and more inclusive, equitable, and sustainable societies. Meeting those needs requires greater collaboration for more impact. Philanthropy is a relatively small actor in the global system addressing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But philanthropy can play a catalytic role, leveraging its ability for risk-taking, innovation, and the connections it can bring to the table.

On September 25, 2019 at the United Nations General Assembly, the Aga Khan Foundation joined with the Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support, SDG Philanthropy Platform (led by the United Nations Development Programme and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors), La Caixa Foundation, and Charities Aid Foundation to convene a group of experts to reflect on opportunities to fully harness philanthropy to achieve sustainable development.

The U.N. General Assembly, which takes place every fall, this year focused on the progress toward achieving the global SDGs by the target of 2030.

Titled “Unlocking the Full Potential of Philanthropy for Development,” the event featured an interactive discussion on how to foster philanthropy’s engagement for the SDGs. Marcos Athias Neto, Director, Finance Sector Hub for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and Benjamin Bellegy, Executive Director of WINGS, gave introductory remarks.

Strategy Reflection and Collaboration Across Sectors

Matt Reeves, Aga Khan Foundation’s Global Lead for Civil Society, moderated a lively panel discussion with leaders from the La Caixa Foundation, Charities Aid Foundation, King Khalid Foundation, and Indonesia Philanthropy Foundation.

Mr. Reeves noted the complementary goals of sparking strategic reflection on how to partner with philanthropic actors for the SDGs and boosting cross-sector collaboration. At the United Nations events, he also pointed to how that can look in a local or national setting.

“When civil society organizations engage locally and not only report out to their donors, but report in to their communities, we see new forms of social capital,” he said.

Participants grappled with urgent questions. What are the barriers to (and bridges for) fostering effective collaboration between philanthropies and other players? What are the most pressing needs for change in this space, at a scale that makes a difference?

Heather Grady, Vice President of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, offered closing reflections.

Around 100 attendees participated from across international development, including private foundations, NGOs, international development agencies, governments, and media.

Development for Breakfast, Forms of Philanthropy

A second session on boosting domestic philanthropy brought together around 30 senior representatives from major development agencies, donor governments, INGOs, and international foundations for a strategic two-hour breakfast conversation the next day.

Aleem Walji, CEO of the Aga Khan Foundation USA, shared experiences from the Foundation’s efforts to strengthen local philanthropy in Asia and East Africa. He shared insights from the Foundation’s work in Kenya, where with partners including the U.S. Agency for International Development, it launched a giving platform called Yetu (meaning “ours” in Kiswahili). To date, local philanthropies in Kenya have used the platform to raise over $2 million for local priorities.

“When we talk about local philanthropy, we’re not always talking about money,” Mr. Walji said. “Across AKF’s work, we see the value of building capacity of people and institutions to draw on local assets, capacities, and trust.”

With such partnerships and strategic leverage, philanthropy can have an outsize impact on creating change.

You can see a video from the Unlocking the Full Potential of Philanthropy for Development event here.


Read more about Aga Khan Foundation’s work toward the SDGs here.