European Governments, the SDGs, and Community Foundations: Pathways towards sustainable local communities

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26.06.2023 / Publications

Authors: Stefan Cibian Ph.D. and Lutz Drieling M.A. Candidate

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Key recommendations: 

– Community foundations are local mechanisms that continuously contribute to achieving the SDGs in their communities. European governments and the United Nations (UN) should acknowledge, document, and enhance the relevance and impact of community foundations. 

– European governments and the UN should analyze the mechanism of community foundations as infrastructure for community sustainability and contribute to enhancing such infrastructure to ensure local sustainability. 

– The UN and member states should include community foundations in discussing progress towards the SDGs and sustainability goals for the period after 2030.  


“Unless we act now, the 2030 Agenda will become an epitaph for a world that might have been.”1 António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, sees the world’s ability to implement a better future at risk.2 Indeed, the world is past the mid-point for achieving Agenda 2030, and the situation does not look good. Insufficient progress is further challenged by the recent global crisis generated by the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

Of the 169 SDG targets, only 12% might be reached in time. The response to 50% of the goals is insufficient. On 30% of the goals progress stopped, or regress was made. Today, more people live in extreme poverty than in 2018. Global hunger is as high as in 2005, and in gender equality, the world is set back some centuries.3 

Enhanced localization of the SDGs4 could speed advancement in reaching the Goals close to the deadline of 2030. By mobilizing local actors and supporting the implementation of local strategies aligned with the SDGs, the world can move closer to fulfilling more SDG targets.5 

One disregarded stakeholder with a critical local impact is community foundations. Community foundations are mechanisms with the mission to enhance the capacity of local communities to address challenges and fulfill local visions of development and sustainability.  In this policy brief, we are exploring the relevance of local communities in achieving Agenda 2030. We strongly recommend that European governments and the UN learn from the long history of community foundations and their experience with developing infrastructures for sustainability in local communities. 

Relevance of local communities for the SDG

Agenda 2030 highlights the importance of local communities in multiple ways. SDG 17.16 calls for multi-stakeholder partnerships, 17.17 for civil-society partnerships, 6.b for ‘the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management,” and 11.3 for the inclusion of local communities in city planning.6 Moreover, most SDGs concern phenomena that unfold in local communities, such as education, gender equality, health, poverty, inequality, environmental protection, economic development, biodiversity, etc. The way local communities work impacts all these phenomena. For achieving the SDGs, local communities are essential from the perspective of allocated resources, citizen behavior, local cultural norms, or leadership. 

Local communities offer an essential ingredient for achieving the SDGs – their citizens. People living in local communities are interested in improving their future. Local knowledge about the area enables citizens to understand suitable courses of action. Including community actors in implementing the SDGs enhances local sustainability and resilience.7 

Local mobilization for sustainability can improve individual health, community resilience, democratic participation, trust, generosity, community cohesion, and public services.8 To fulfill their potential, local communities need confident and skilled people who can drive social change. Such people are a core asset for local communities, but they are rare to find. To become leaders, locals need the willingness to interact with each other in a meaningful and productive way.9 That is supported and facilitated by community foundations.10

The contribution of European community foundations to achieving the SDGs 

In Europe, more than 850 community foundations are active in 22 countries.11 Each of them focuses on local issues together with partners from their communities. As critical leaders, community foundations contribute to global progress toward the SDGs by promoting local change. Community foundations target global problems like education, gender equality, or unemployment.12 

Community foundations’ focus on local problems does more than address the SDGs. It mobilizes funding and offers an infrastructure for creating and implementing local solutions for global problems.13 Community foundations advance local development by building local capacities and trust.14 To leave no one behind at a local level, community foundations are essential partners.15 

Given their mission and practice, community foundations represent local engines for achieving the SDGs. Through connecting with local citizens, community foundations create awareness of sustainability challenges and mobilize their communities to solve them.16 Community foundations raise money and identify challenges locally.
They are well-connected with donors, people, local governments, and decision-makers. As national and global actors cannot achieve the SDGs alone, community foundations can be instrumental in connecting different local stakeholders with Agenda 2030. They can contribute to and monitor the implementation of national strategies at a local level.17 Community foundations can also provide local expertise.18 Furthermore, engaging local communities ensures sustainable development reaches groups that are more difficult to access by national actors,19 reducing social inequalities.20 

Community foundations can target the SDGs while considering the particularities of their local context. One of these connections, between SDG 3 and SDG 10, can be seen in the UK. Cheap, unhealthy food drives obesity which goes hand in hand with heart conditions and other long-term health problems.21 Food security also depends on social factors. Education, ethnicity, and family composition can play an important role.22 Focusing on specific locations, community foundations can holistically improve living conditions and security, contributing to several SDGs and enabling a sustainable long-term impact.23

Poverty, unemployment, and illiteracy rates are for community foundations more than statistics. They know local dynamics, can identify potential causes, and test appropriate solutions. They can draw attention to such needs and mobilize actors for social change.24 Using their networks, community foundations can also help to mobilize funds for these issues to solve problems where they occur using approaches that fit the respective communities.25 Through partnerships with local governments, community foundations can be instrumental in shaping local policies in line with the SDGs.26 They are also able to advise the private sector on aligning their business and their participation in local communities with the SDGs.27 Through that, community foundations promote more sustainable business models and contribute further to the SDGs.

Examples of community foundations work on the SDGs

Braunschweig Community Foundation in Germany uses its knowledge of the local community and proactive engagement to promote the SDGs and emphasize their importance for the local context. Through such actions, the SDGs become more tangible for the citizens and show that local actions and participation have a global impact. In addition, the community foundation utilizes the SDG framework to determine the local community’s condition and identify issues on which local actors should focus in their work.28

UK Community Foundations (UKCF)29 has embarked on a nationwide program supporting community foundations to engage more with the SDGs.30 While the Țara Făgărașului Community Foundation (FCTF)31 in Romania is engaging youth in SDG work through the YouthBank Program.32 Youth do not only learn about the SDGs. They get to see, often for the first time, the challenges their community is facing from a sustainable development perspective. Also, they acquire the necessary skills for generating social change to arrive at more sustainable communities. 

The contribution of community foundations to the SDGs is a global phenomenon. The community foundation, Instituto Comunitario Baixada Maranhense, from the northeast of Brazil, is working on SDG 2 in its community. Providing seed grants, offering advice, and technical assistance it empowers young people to generate income through sustainable agriculture. The Community Foundation became a local leader and built trust by working on local challenges.33 


For achieving the SDGs, governments in Europe and worldwide, as well as the UN, need to recognize and support contributions on the side of local communities. To do so, governments can engage community foundations in multiple ways. 

European governments and the UN should:

  • document and enhance the impact of community foundations;
  • build on the community sustainability infrastructure generated by community foundations to enhance community sustainability across Europe and globally;
  • include community foundations in the SDG-related decision-making, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation processes, and rely on local community perspectives;
  • highlight the contribution of community foundations in the Voluntary National Reviews and other reports and statistics;
  • tailor data collection mechanisms to support action for the SDGs in local communities;
  • support the development of local voluntary reviews;
  • rely on community foundations in fostering collaboration between central and local authorities and local community actors to work on implementing the SDGs locally;
  • support an integrated and local-based approach towards achieving the SDGs rather than general solutions targeting only one SDG target or indicator;
  • include community foundations in shaping the post-2030 goals, as community foundations can bring local perspectives to the global table.


  1. United Nations UN News, “Guterres urges countries to recommit to achieving SDGs by 2030 deadline.”
  2. United Nations UN News, “Guterres Urges Countries to Recommit to Achieving SDGs by 2030 Deadline,” news release, April 25, 2023, accessed May 2, 2023.
  3. United Nations UN News, “Guterres urges countries to recommit to achieving SDGs by 2030 deadline.”
  4. “Going Local to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals: Stories from Eight Countries” (SNV Netherlands Development Organisation and, 2009), p. 9.
  5. Christopher K. Ansell, Eva Sørensen and Jacob Torfing, Co-Creation for Sustainability: The UN SDGs and the Power of Local Partnership (Bingley, UK: emerald publishing, 2022), p. 11ff.
  6. Global indicator framework for the Sustainable Development Goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, E/cn.3/2023/2, United Nations, accessed May 3, 2023.
  7. James Goodman, “Powerful local communities are key to a sustainable future” (Local Trust, 2021).
  8. Grace Pollard, Jessica Studdert, and Luca Tiratelli, “COMMUNITY POWER: THE EVIDENCE” (New Local, Local Trust), p. 19ff.
  9. Goodman, “Powerful local communities are key to a sustainable future.”
  10. “What do we mean by community philanthropy?” (Global Fund Community Foundations).
  11. “Community Foundation Support Organisations in Europe” (European Community Foundation Initiative).
  12. Natalie Ross, “LOCAL LEADERSHIP, GLOBAL IMPACT: Community Foundations and the Sustainable Development Goals” (Council on Foundations), p. 2.
  13. Kezia Hackson-Harman et al., “Thinking globally, acting locally: How community foundations are contributing to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals” (UK Community Foundations), p. 2.
  16. Kostandina Këruti, “The role of community foundations in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals” (Tirana, Albania, 2020), p. 13.
  17. Këruti, “The role of community foundations in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,” p. 13.
  18. Hackson-Harman et al., “Thinking globally, acting locally,” p. 16.
  20. Hackson-Harman et al., “Thinking globally, acting locally”, p. 6.
  21. Hackson-Harman et al., “Thinking globally, acting locally” p. 6.
  22. “National statistics: Family Resources Survey: financial year 2019 to 2020” (Department for Work & Pensions, 2023), Chapter 10.
  26. Këruti, “The role of community foundations in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals” p. 14.
  28. Susanne Hauswaldt, interview by Lutz Drieling, March 22, 2023, Microsoft Teams.
  29. UK Community Foundations,
  30. UK Community Foundations, Connecting the Local to the Global,
  31. Țara Făgărașului Community Foundation,
  32. YouthBank Făgăraș is affiliated to YouthBank International,

This policy brief was developed as a part of the project Increasing the Contribution of European Community Foundations to the SDGs, supported by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. We are grateful to the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and all interviewees and partners who made the development of the policy brief possible.

Departments: Policy Analysis and Outreach Department, Research Department, Center on Global Affairs and Post Development, Society, Crisis, and Resilience Program

Regions: Europe, Global

Themes: Philanthropy and Community Development, Civil Society, Democracy and Democratization, Sustainable Development Goals