By Diana Campoamor The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota was probably not on the top of the minds of United Nations delegates when they adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) last year. Neither was the heavily-Latino neighborhood of Fruitvale in Oakland, California, or the historically Black neighborhoods on the South Side of Chicago. Popular imagination of the SDGs, a series of 17 development targets that aims to eliminate poverty and hunger, improve education, reduce inequalities, promote responsible production and consumption, and other goals by 2030, conjures up images of the developing world. But the SDGs are just as relevant here in the U.S. as they are abroad. And, given the demographics of people most affected by these issues, the SDGs are especially relevant to communities of color. That’s why, last month, Sarah Eagle Heart, who hails from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and is the chief executive of Native Americans in Philanthropy, found herself in a room at the Ford Foundation with me, the president of the Oakland-based Hispanics in Philanthropy, and the leaders of a cohort of other nonprofits that all work to increase leadership by people of color in the philanthropic community: ABFE, Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy, CHANGE Philanthropy, FCCP, and the Council on Foundations. We gathered, along with other leaders from the government, corporate, and philanthropic sectors, to ask, how can each of us, and the organizations we work for, start translating the SDGs into meaningful progress for underprivileged communities in the U.S.? The answer: think locally. Philanthropies, nonprofits, and corporations need to distill the macro goals so they’re relevant in our micro communities. Here, in brief, are three of the intriguing ideas that emerged from our discussion: 1. Educate and activate local stakeholders. For the SDGs to have an impact in the U.S., change-makers of all kinds need to know about them and understand how their work aligns. “Our bet is that the next generation is serious about sustainability and about ending, for example, human trafficking,” said Sarah Mendelson, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN’s Economic and Social Council whose portfolio covers the SDGs. Ambassador Mendelson noted the success of bringing together 193 member nations with differing agendas but was also clear that significant challenges lie ahead, starting with getting out the word that the SDGs really are for everybody, including the U.S. “The need for public awareness and increasing demand for implementing the SDGs could not be more critical,” she said. There is some movement on the domestic front that has been led by UN-linked groups. One particularly promising attempt has emerged from the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, an independent grouping of institutions headed by Jeffrey Sachs, the Columbia University economist and a special advisor on development to UN Sec. Gen. Ban Ki-Moon. Over 70 percent of the world’s population will soon be housed in urban environments, with their significant minority communities. Thus, the network has piloted programs in New York, Baltimore, and San Jose, California, to link urban authorities’ existing programs to the SDGs. In Baltimore, for instance, an executive team consisting of SDG consultants, city officials, and university experts meet regularly to standardize their solutions to social problems. These efforts aren’t about canceling or rerouting organizations’ existing work. Rather, they seek to help align the goals, language, and data collection of existing efforts with the larger movement of the SDGs. “We’re not going to nix current plans but open the door by showing them the links to the SDGs,” said Jessica Espey, Sustainable Development Solutions Network Associate Director. 2. Put our wealth of data to work. The U.S. has a clear advantage when it comes to measuring impact. Its wealth of transparent and readily-available data can be harnessed on a local level as a powerful tool for organizations working to promote the SDGs. On a macro level, the SDGs may seem irrelevant to the world’s largest economy. “If you filter data by ZIP code, it starts to get relevant,” said Council on Foundations Global Director Natalie Ross. As anyone who has lived in a major U.S. city knows, income levels, access to quality education, and affordable housing can change drastically block-by-city-block. Analyzing data in a granular way, and engaging the local authorities who understand the specific needs of their constituencies, will help make SDG efforts much more effective. 3. Involve community members affected by the SDGs. At Hispanics in Philanthropy, we always advocate for asking communities what they need, rather than imposing top-down solutions. For the SDGs to be relevant in U.S. communities of color, we need to ensure that we are truly engaging those communities. Often, that engagement can happen in a happily organic way. For example, the Medtronic Foundation is engaging groups of employees of color who are keen to volunteer in their own communities. They are also beginning to engage their grantees and community partners in conversations about the SDGs. “We’re seeing that they don’t just want to be recipients of donations but also take part in making change happen,” said foundation Senior Director of Global Engagement Jennifer Chavez Rubio, who is also a member of the Hispanics in Philanthropy Board. Additionally, the SDGs prove useful by providing a long-term framework with which socially conscious corporations can work, Chavez Rubio said. For instance, the SDGs offer volunteers specific goals to focus on, while also encouraging the building of lasting relationships with local community leaders. Despite a lack of public awareness of the SDGs, there is a growing understanding among U.S. policymakers that the framework is a practical way to address mutually-linked challenges like education and healthcare. By mobilizing under the SDG targets, we really can collaborate to heal our world, starting with the most underserved communities and the most vital resources. We hope you will join us.
Diana Campoamor is the President of Hispanics in Philanthropy, a transnational network of grantmakers committed to empower Latino communities in the U.S. and across the Americas. Its mission is to strengthen Latino leadership, voice, and equity.