How Philanthropy Can Drive Sustainable Change

According to The World Bank, 140 million people could be displaced by climate change by 2050. We are in an extreme climate emergency and we have no more time to waste when it comes to saving our planet.

Imagine we could stop the natural world from being destroyed and instead restore it and allow it to thrive. It would be incredible to achieve this vision. The effects of climate change are only going to accelerate if we don’t adopt change.

We see the dreadful impacts of climate change each day on social media, the mainstream media and through other various outlets. We see our oceans turn into pools of non-biodegradable plastic waste, animals becoming extinct, air pollution increases and much more.

Climate change is not just an environmental crisis but also a health and social crisis. The key to achieving the above vision of restoring our natural world and allowing it to thrive is through philanthropy.

Philanthropy, for those who do not know, refers to charitable acts or other good works that help others or society. It can include the donation of funds to a worthy cause or volunteering to help a cause.

In order to stop climate change from further impacting our beautiful world, we need philanthropic funding. When philanthropy is combined with influential changemakers and brilliant science, we can discover deep and everlasting change.

The United Nations (UN) made headlines across the globe in 2015 when it adopted an ambitious set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that aim to protect the planet, ensure health and prosperity for all and end extreme poverty by 2030.

Delivering on these goals will not come cheap unfortunately. The UN estimated that it will require an additional $2.5 trillion in funding each year above what is currently being spent by business, Government and philanthropy.

Government and business have the deepest pockets and as a result, will shoulder the biggest financial burden. However, they cannot do the job alone. Philanthropy also has a vital role to play when it comes to sustainability.

Philanthropy does not just bring about that much-needed money but also a willingness to support innovation, risk-taking, big thinking and collaboration. The power of these contributions is particularly clear in philanthropic ‘big bets’ that aim to speed up the progress of specific social issues such as quality education and AIDS.

Big bet philanthropy can play a huge role in propelling social change. Building on that work, big bets can also be used to drive areas targeted by the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Bridgespan Group set out to research the past flow of philanthropic big bets to areas targeted by the SDGs in the hopes of discerning patterns that could inform ongoing philanthropic efforts.

They sought a representative sample of three kinds of donors: traditional foundations, wealthy individuals and corporate foundations. For each, they identified grants of $10 million or more between 2000 and 2016.

Among the 90 funders they studied, 52 made big bets that aligned with the SDGs, deploying more than $42 billion via 836 big bets over the 17-year timeframe of their research.

Most funders targeted four SDG areas: health, education, gender equality and environmental issues. Philanthropy appears poised to step up its commitments. The world has never before aspired to achieve goals as ambitious and costly as the SDGs.

If the past is prologue, global philanthropy is prepared to invest tens of billions, often in the form of big bets, to make the SDGs a reality.

The size of philanthropic funds heading to developing countries has increased markedly over time: Recent OECD estimates show that philanthropy for development between 2013 and 2015 was around 8 billion USD a year, most of it directed towards health and reproductive health programmes, but also sectors such as agriculture and education.

These sizable private resources are tackling social issues head on that other private international flows such as private investment often cannot reach or are not interested in doing so. Due to all of this, many are starting to view philanthropy as a key financing source that could help close the SDG funding gap.

It’s time to stop just seeing philanthropy as a source of money and embrace it as being a champion for long-lasting development change. Sustainability and philanthropy go hand in hand.

Philanthropy cannot be divorced from environmental and climate justice. Philanthropy has the power to drive sustainable change and help us achieve the sustainable development goals to save our planet from being destroyed and becoming unlivable.

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