Shift gears and accelerate: SDGs 2030 depend heavily on India's progress

India contributes to 20 percent of the global SDG gap in 10 of the 17 sustainable development goals, and to more than 10 percent of the gap in another six

Neera Nundy
Updated: Nov 15, 2019 03:33:33 PM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

“We have to move much further and much faster; there is urgency. With present trends, extreme poverty would not be eliminated by 2030. We see hunger on a rise in the third consecutive year, wildlife that has been lost at an alarming rate with around 1 million species facing extinction, disadvantaged population groups still remain largely excluded. Globally, youth are three times more likely to be unemployed. In short, the global response has not yet matched the ambition of the 2030 agenda,” said Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General, United Nations.

Just four years into UN’s Agenda 2030, which directs all member countries to meet 17 common Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we have recognised that at the current rate of progress we are nowhere close to achieving these ambitious targets. This acknowledgement rang clear at the UN’s High Level Political Forum this year, and brought new urgency to the need for thinking differently. I had the opportunity of speaking at the event on Indian philanthropy’s emerging relationship with the SDGs, reinforcing the need to make a step change.

Currently, India contributes to 20 percent of the global SDG gap in 10 of the 17 SDGs, and to more than 10 percent of the gap in another 6. Though the Government’s commitment with the formation of the NITI Aayog in 2015 is heartening, India’s rank on the SDG index has dropped by 2 points between 2016 and 2018, pushing us down from 110 to 112. To put this in context, in the same time frame, China upped its ranking by 22 points, Philippines by 10 points and Sri Lanka by 8 points.

While the government’s role requires taking a lead, it also requires taking a seat at the table with the diverse range of stakeholders who are committed to achieving these SDGs, and have equally important and complementing roles to play. Governments also need to seek proximity to the field where policies play out, to ensure policies are realistic and impactful.

Philanthropy needs a step change too
While wealth is rising in India, UHNI funding has decreased by four percent since 2014. Indian givers have the potential to increase their giving by 2.5 to three times, which is a big opportunity to tap into when India requires at least $60 billon to achieve even five of its 17 SDGs by 2030.

But greater capital is not enough. Philanthropy also needs to bring in a risk appetite, patient capital, make big bets, offer unrestricted grants to scale non-profits, invest in disruptive and scalable  innovations, and fund ignored sectors like Access to Justice, Intellectual and Developmental Disability, addressing Child Sexual Abuse and more.

In addition, Indian philanthropy may find the following perspectives useful to consider:

Prioritise investments in the most vulnerable
If SDGs are to truly ‘leave no one behind,’ philanthropy must target the other side of the average, beginning with NITI Aayog’s ‘aspirational districts’ or the 300 million individuals at the bottom of India’s pyramid. This focus can help with sustainable movement on the SDGs as it mandates disentangling the knotty roots of development, which hold down the most vulnerable but also underlie the development challenges faced by the rest of the country.

Focus on outcomes
Since most fields-funders invest in can be mapped to multiple SDGs, it can be confusing for philanthropists to undertake this mapping. Alternatively, if philanthropists begin with the outcomes they target, it is easier to map these to specific targets and indicators outlined under the SDGs and thereby see how your investments contribute to this global agenda. Needless to mention, this requires funders to invest keenly in data and measurement, to track progress towards their own outcomes and contributions to relevant SDG targets.

Take an aggregated approach
Philanthropy needs to move beyond building disaggregated, individual nonprofits to building fields, with aggregated systems and processes that strengthen the ecosystem as a whole. A field approach pushes invested stakeholders to adopt a shared vision for the field, for which the SDGs offer a globally ratified starting point. By pushing for an audacious vision, this approach encourages pooling of finances and expertise across government, civil society and private sector players. This, in turn, helps with risk sharing and development of sustainable and innovative solutions for change.

While the government continues to be the largest development player for India, philanthropy’s role is critical as a positive disruptor in the space, supporting fresh perspectives, testing innovations and taking the proven ones to the government for systemic integration. The Government too must show a higher level of ownership and take a seat at the table. Even multilateral bodies like the UN have a large potential to contribute by partnering with financial and non-financial resources on global issues like poverty, hunger, climate change etc., and supplementing high-level dialogues with understanding ground realities and being present in the field.

This support for long term, out of the box thinking is critical for India to accelerate its progress towards the SDGs and in turn help the global progress on SDGs by 2030.

The author is the co-founder of Dasra, a strategic philanthropy organisation and was a speaker at ‘Philanthropy and the SDGs’, a side event to the UN High Level Political Forum.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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