SVCF hosts candid discussion with corporate responsibility professionals on integrating Sustainable Development Goals

SDGs

Sean Rico Fisher

Sean Rico Fisher
Associate Manager, Corporate Responsibility
SVCF

In July, Silicon Valley Community Foundation partnered with CECP to host an introductory discussion about the Sustainable Development Goals in Dallas, Texas, with local corporate responsibility (CR) and sustainability practitioners. The private gathering allowed participants to ask honest questions and speak candidly about their companies’ efforts, progress and ambitions to integrate the goals into new or existing programs and initiatives.    

About the SDGs

Philanthropists and professionals engaged within the social impact space have likely seen the image above in articles, news feeds and slide decks for the past couple of years.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a universal set of goals, targets and indicators that UN member states will use to frame their agendas and political policies over the next 15 years. There are 17 goals declared. Each goal has several associated targets (169 in total) that can be measured using various indicators or metrics.

The objective is clear; each member country is to reach the associated targets for each goal by 2030 (factoring any adjustments for relative position within the global system). 

Integrating the SDGs in CSR work

The private sector plays a vital role in achieving these ambitious goals.  But like many things, this is easier said than done. For CR and sustainability practitioners, designing and deploying programs and initiatives that resonate with key stakeholders can be a daunting task in itself. Add to that the integration of something as lofty as “Zero Hunger,” or as complex as “Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure,” and things can quickly get overwhelming.

At the Dallas gathering, Maeve Miccio, SVCF’s vice president of strategic partnerships, Eastern Region, and Jennifer Weston-Murphy, CECP’s associate manager, corporate leadership, presented the business case for adopting the SDGs. They also explained potential problems that could arise when seeking to find alignment between the SDGs and corporate responsibility activities. Below is one scenario mentioned regarding charitable giving efforts:    

Your company makes a grant to a girls' education NGO that provides coding lessons to Syrian refugees. How would you categorize that with the SDGs?

SDGs2

The answer can vary, according to Miccio.

“The key here is to be consistent with your methodology from the beginning,” Miccio said. “Use the associated targets as a guide for your codification, and then stick to your method.” 

In 2016, SVCF ventured to categorize all grants made from our portfolio of corporate advised funds for the 2015 fiscal year. The process allowed us to become deeply familiar with the SDGs, as well as various corporate giving trends relevant to the goals. Other tools such as the SDG Compass can also assist companies with aligning strategies to the SDGs along with measuring and managing associated contributions.

Key Considerations for Companies Integrating the SDGs  

If you are a CR or sustainability practitioner beginning the process of integrating SDGs into your strategies and operations, we invite you to consider the following.     

1. Know the SDGs

Amidst all the discussion in the space, it’s surprising to discover how many philanthropists and practitioners have not actually read the goals and their associated targets and indicators

  • Set some time aside on your calendar to do this prep work – take 30 minutes a day, and you’ll be done in a week.     
     
  • As you read, take note of the vocabulary and patterns of logic used to frame each goal. This will be useful when evaluating logic models and theories of change in grant proposals. 
     
  • Note where your current programs align to the SDGs and start to use the SDG language when describing your company’s CSR programs and future plans. 

One of the biggest benefits derived from knowing the SDGs is the unifying language they offer. How long have we been talking about cross-sector collaboration, collective impact, communities of practice and shared value? We now have a way to facilitate the rapid growth of these types of relationships by understanding exactly what each other means when we talk about outcomes and impact. Or, at the very least, we have a stable and steady point of departure for our efforts. 

2. Recommit to good citizenship

The goals were crafted for countries to achieve, not corporations. While there are many companies with assets totaling amounts greater than the GDP of whole nations, that doesn’t mean companies should be driving the agenda. It’s the people (and their representatives) that must lead this work. The extent to which the people make up the internal and external stakeholder groups of the company should help to clarify the extent of your reach. 

  • Identify countries in which you operate. 
  • Research what policies, programs and time horizons each country has individually set for itself to reach the targets of each goal (this may require contacting official representatives and agency leaders).  
  • What is your company doing to help (or hinder) each country in its efforts? 
  • What should your company start, stop or continue to do to be more supportive? 
  • Lastly, if a country you operate within doesn't have any plans articulated, then seek to understand why. How can you leverage company resources to empower them to move forward? 

SVCF's services and resources

SVCF is happy to work with your team on community engagement best practices, or facilitate these efforts on behalf of your company should the need arise. Contact us at corporate@siliconvalleycf.org, and we will be happy explore next steps on your path to SDG alignment. 

And, stay tuned!  SVCF will release a report in December 2017 designed to help companies with a practical approach to adopting the SDGs to a company’s specific needs. The report will also feature examples, case studies and tools designed to help you get started or scale an existing program. To ensure you receive your copy, or to stay current on SVCF’s latest resources, please email us at donate@siliconvalleycf.org