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Think Global, Act Local

August 26, 2019

 As someone who works day in and day out in the world of philanthropy, I can tell you it is an exciting time in the sector. 
The growth of global wealth has unleashed new and innovative thinking on not just how to support a safety net of charitable giving, but how to positively transform entire systems and achieve true progress on intractable and pressing issues.  


Critical to this “bigger picture” thinking is not abandoning a more local approach, but with intention, trying to connect the local giving in which many philanthropists engage to more global aspirations and frameworks. In other words, it is about combining the “act locally” to the “think globally.”
This mode of thinking is advancing everywhere we look. One evening this week, I was making a quick meal that included “Annie’s Organic Mac and Cheese,” and in bold letters on the front of the box was “This mac helps protect our planet.  Flip me over to learn how.” On the reverse, one discovers the consumer is supporting two farmers in the U.S. state of Montana who themselves are engaged in regenerative farming practices like crop rotations and supporting pollinator habitats. Delicious, organic and responsible. A venerable trifecta in a box.


This connection from an individual act to a larger impact or outcome is at the heart and spirit of philanthropy; the desire to promote the welfare of others.
And so, in the age of globalization, it is perhaps no surprise that so too has individual and institutional charitable giving sought to find a connection to the larger, worldwide good. After all, global problems require global solutions, but in a world of individual acts, how does one tie them together and inform them in such a way that contributes to that solution?


One significant milestone in advancing a global framework of action to which philanthropy and charitable giving can tether themselves with meaning is in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).


The SDGs are a set of 17 global goals established and adopted by all Member States of the United Nations (UN) in 2015 and are meant to guide “bold and transformative steps which are urgently needed to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path.” If I proceeded to list all 17 here, I’d lose you. So, let’s not go that route. Let it suffice to say that the SDGs are aspirational and as a whole, seek the preservation of the planet and better outcomes for all its species, including humans. 


They are also sexy enough that an untold number of celebrities have lent their voices to advancing the SDGs, including Forest Whitaker, Jennifer Lopez, Meryl Streep, John Legend, Pink, Sir Richard Branson, Malala Yousafzai, Stephen Hawking and Charlize Theron, to name but a few.


Corporate commitments to the SDGs are also becoming common. Take Luxottica, a leading manufacturer of eyewear that includes brands like Ray-Ban and Oakley, but also high-end licensed brands like Giorgio Armani, Michael Kors, Burberry, Bulgari, Chanel, Coach, Ralph Lauren, Dolce & Gabbana and Prada. Luxottica has advanced a commitment to sustainability connected to 10 of the 17 SDGs, and that has been incorporated into the business operations of the eyewear group, from the supply chain for materials and products to its participation in World Sight Day 2018. Where in partnership with the civil society organization OneSight and local partners in Milan provided over 800 free eye examinations and 500 free glasses to those in need over a 10-day period. 


Foundations large and small are also tying their philanthropic investments and grants to the SDGs. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation launched the Goalkeepers campaign, a specific initiative designed to accelerate the progress of the SDGs. Goalkeepers has enlisted the likes of former U.S. President Barack Obama and French President Emmanuel Macron in its efforts. One report in 2018 cited the investment in SDG-related philanthropy by the Gates Foundation at nearly $20 billion.


The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, the private family foundation of the man who started Hilton Hotels, describes how they have given over $10 million in grants to initiatives that align with the SDGs. And the U.S.-based Council on Foundations issued a report earlier this year saying community foundations, like the one I run in Santa Fe, N.M., are also essential to achieving the SDGs and many are at work already to align their local, place-based investments. 
Individuals like you, of course, can also consider which SDG or SDGs you resonate with and direct charitable financial gifts to organizations that align to those goals.  As a result, you can have confidence that others are doing the same, and in the process, these individual acts of philanthropy become part of the larger movement for positive change.


In late September, the UN will hold its annual SDG Summit to assess progress toward the goals.  Perhaps for your part, you will reach for that product on the shelf that you know or that advertises its connection to a better planet, or swing by a local farmers market instead of a large chain grocery store to buy produce from a local farmer who observes sustainable practices, or write a check to that organization working on sustainable energy policy when you pay your power bill. 


When we move with intention, knowledge and conscientiousness through acts and charitable giving, we are creating a better tomorrow for ourselves, our progeny and our fellow species with whom we are along for the ride on this marvelous planet called Earth.  Another trifecta to celebrate.

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