REPORT – European Community Foundations and the Sustainable Development Goals: An emerging global infrastructure for sustainable communities

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26.06.2023 / Publications

Authors: Stefan Cibian, Edi Dragoș Beserman, Georgi Georgiev, Lev Fejes, Silvia Fierăscu, Ianis Rușitoru, Lutz Drieling, Andra-Octavia Drăghiciu

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Executive Summary

Globally, over two thousand community foundations (CFs) enhance local communities’ sustainability. However, their contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is not yet recognized, reinforcing the gap between global agendas and local communities. This analysis uncovers how CFs and community foundation support organizations (CFSOs) relate to the SDGs and the United Nations (UN) Agenda 2030.

Community foundations face a global context that increasingly impacts their local communities. Recent crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine accentuate the broader societal transformation generated by digitalization, technology advancement, and climate change. The ability of community foundations to connect to and understand global factors remains limited, an aspect that also impacts their capacity to contribute to the SDGs.

CFs hold the mission to enhance the capacity of local communities to take better care of themselves. Such a mission positions CFs in a close relationship with the SDGs, given the joint focus on the well-being and sustainability of local communities. Community foundations are local organizations that emerged in the early 20th century and expose a long history of doing what the SDGs call for, building partnerships based on trust for a more sustainable future. As such CFs are already part of a global infrastructure that is needed not only for reaching the SDGs in their current form but also for continuing to do so in the future as challenges to sustainability change.

In recent years the European community foundations movement is engaged in an emerging SDG-related dialogue. Several CFs and community foundations support organizations (CFSOs) contribute to achieving the SDGs, including funding SDG-related projects, promoting the Goals in local communities, aligning their mission and operations with the SDGs, and organizing learning and training sessions on sustainable development. CFs find themselves fortunate to belong to a global network of community foundations. The network’s global reach can be the basis for inspiration and testing various ideas to identify the best solutions for sustainability.

In their engagement with the SDGs, CFs, and CFSOs encounter several challenges. Not all governments are focusing on the SDGs sufficiently, in consequence national contexts vary when it comes to the importance paid to Agenda 2030. Understanding the SDGs requires quantitative research skills, as an important part of the work relates to measuring indicators and gathering good data. General CF and CFSO staff are not meant to have research skills, making an in-depth engagement with the SDGs challenging. Local resources, often the primary source of funding for CFs, are not likely to support aligning to a global agenda. Therefore, 650 adapting organizational processes and programs to the SDGs is difficult to resource. Finally, the connection to the UN, national governments, and the emerging SDG community is limited, making it hard to share lessons learned and contributions made to the SDGs.

While community foundations have existed for over a hundred years, the SDGs are a recent global effort to recognize the need for sustainability. The Goals are essential for bringing together multiple actors to address sustainability challenges. The next step is recognizing the need for local, national, and global infrastructure to cater constantly for existing and emerging sustainability challenges and goals. For that endeavor, the emergence and resilience of community foundations is an important best practice. The global community and national governments can learn from the community foundations’ movement about the ingredients that make mechanisms sustainable and resilient at a local level. Replicating such mechanisms at national and global levels can enhance the prospects for a more sustainable world.

This report 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 report possible.

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

Regions: Fagaras Country, Romania, Europe, Global

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