Editorial: Philanthropy, SDGs and Covid-19

Par Manuel Litalien , Co-directeur PhiLab Ontario
20 juillet 2020

Planned originally as a special edition on Philanthropy and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the declaration by the World Health Organization (WHO) of the coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic, in March, forced the editorial team to reflect differently on this special issue. As energies focused on managing a new common enemy that underlined how deeply intertwined the world is, fighting and containing the virus became a priority for all levels of government and civil society organizations. Public spending soared across the world, renewing with the importance of social safety nets and a solid welfare state, while lockdowns were imposed and job losses skyrocketed. Countries with comprehensive welfare programs seemed to fare better in containing the virus, notably those with a universal health care system, and those with certain social and cultural practices. Eyes are now focused on how to adapt and properly respond to this new reality. The pandemic tests the resiliency of individuals in society, but also of our systems. Business as usual can no longer prevail, and the necessity to include COVID-19 in our special edition quickly became apparent to further grasp how the philanthropic ecosystem is adjusting to the situation.

The SDGs are often referred to as the “5 Ps” – a “global partnership plan for peace, and prosperity for the people and the planet to end poverty”. However, how are we performing now, when last May, countries were desperately competing against each other to get personal protective equipment (PPE), and facing massive unemployment? The objective of this special edition is to see if the relevance and integrity of an international guideline, such as the SDGs, is being maintained in Canada’s philanthropic sector. In mid-June, speaking at the Global Goals 2020 conference, Dr. John Thompson (Institute of Development Studies), provided an insight that was also a common theme across the interviews and articles in this Edition. Crises, for Thompson, are moments of great opportunity if based on sustainable recovery through just and sustainable transformation. For him, there are no clear solutions, no single organizations or government who can solve the magnitude of all the ongoing crises (social, economic, and political) offered by the pandemic. Only through further collaboration and cooperation, such as the ones promoted by the SDGs, can communities move forward according to Thompson. In-line with this thinking, the interviews conducted with Mastercard Foundation, Community Foundations Canada (CFC) and Philanthropic Foundations Canada (PFC) confirm the interlaced nature of crises and the SDGs in our country. COVID-19 exposed how fundamentally interconnected certain vulnerabilities are (See Jennifer Brennan and Andrew Chunilall). One message resonates throughout this Edition: the call for structural changes to address the dire needs, and build further systemic resilience, institutionally, economically, politically and socially.

In closing its borders and limiting movement to contain the spread of the virus, it quickly became obvious that specific groups in Canadian society were more vulnerable than others, due to their economic situation, a situation echoed in the SDGs Goal 1, No Poverty and Goal 10, Reduced Inequalities. Recent statistics released by Public Health Ontario corroborate this trend. The emerging literature on the subject also confirms that social vulnerability caused by inequality does matter in times of a pandemic, whether in Canada, or in Brazil (Laster Pirtle Whitney 2020; Sage and Bostwick 2020). Real concern over the spread of the virus in indigenous communities, refugee camps, or temporary seasonal workers in Southern Ontario made it clear that we are all connected when it comes to fulfilling our needs. The virus still exploits the weak points in the Canadian system, such as the catastrophe in long-term care homes. Therefore, COVID-19 highlighted that fighting inequality, SDG 10, is helping to protect the health, safety, and security of all Canadians. Additionally, since social inequalities are a concern for philanthropic organizations, foundations, and charities, PhiLab thought to explore further the role of grantmaking foundations as they adapt to the current crisis. Early on, the United Nations voiced concerns on the risk of regression in the progress made through the SDGs. Readers will appreciate learning in this Special Edition that grantmaking foundations have rather reinforced their commitment, and at times even reformed their line of command to encourage sustainable local initiatives and speed up the process of providing aid for communities who may now manage the assistance autonomously. This is especially the case in Indigenous communities.

The articles in this edition suggest that in the current crisis, the relevance of the SDGs framework is accentuated and far from neglected. Hence, grantmaking foundations’ renewed commitment to the SDGs, and their dedication to support sustainable social innovations. The current crises further emphasize the ripple effects of the pandemic across all Canadian communities, and the interdependence of the 17 Goals, in avoiding post-COVID era short- and long-term drawbacks. Furthermore, Jennifer Brennan, Andrew Chunilall and Jean-Marc Mangin stress that the crisis is an opportunity for all sectors of society to come together, and to work toward reaching these 17 Goals with further local dialogue. 

It is in this context that our Special Edition wishes to demonstrate how the pandemic further heightened the philanthropic ecosystem’s mobilization efforts to meet the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and keep it as a guideline to improve all communities across Canada. All interviewees for this special edition pledge their dedication to the spirit behind the SDGs: “Leaving no one behind (LNOB)” (Khara, McArthur, Ohno 2020). This comes as no surprise since some grantmaking foundations were at the table when the SDGs were actually debated and formulated at the United Nations before their adoption in 2015 (See Andrew Chunillal).

In summary, in order to help readers appreciate how the philanthropic sector engaged with SDGs during the pandemic, this Special Edition includes interviews with the Head of Canada programs at Mastercard Foundation, Jennifer Brennan; the Chief Executive Officer at Community Foundations Canada, Andrew Chunilall; the Vice President at Community Foundations Canada; members of the Alliance 2030, JP Bervoets; the President of Philanthropic Foundations Canada (PFC), Jean-Marc Mangin; and Co-director at 3ci, Carleton University Centre for Community Innovation, Dr. Kate Ruff. Dr. Ruff is working on Common Approach to Impact Measurement for Social Enterprises, linking flexible organizational-level indicators to the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The purpose of her work is to establish a common language for organizations in measuring their impact in society, and as the crisis unfolds, the indicators proposed are aligned with the SDGs, making her work ever more relevant.

In addition to interviews, this edition presents content from our partners: a podcast by CFC and an article that suggests how philanthropy can step up to meet the SDGs as well as Fondation du Grand Montréal, which uses the SDGs’ framework as its guide for one of its recent reports. From our members and students, we published an article on a social community project on sustainable food security in Montréal, along with another article by Dr. Lanyan Chen on self-determination, philanthropy, inclusive governance and the SDGs. Another Dr. Marta Rey-García and Ph.D. candidate Rosane Dal Magro’s contribution reinforces the idea that Canadian foundations support SDGs and are leading innovative solutions with social movements, and other actors, to achieve social justice and meet environmental challenges. Finally, we present two articles on the environment, one by Jacqueline Colting-Stol, a PhiLab student, and one from Dr. Garrett Ward Richards, which completes this Special Edition.

Please stay tuned for upcoming interviews and articles on this topic by PhiLab.

Kharas, Homi, John W. McArthur, and Izumi Ohno, eds. Leave No One Behind: Time for Specifics on the Sustainable Development Goals. Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Insitution, 2020.
Kim, Sage J., and Wendy Bostwick. “Social Vulnerability and Racial Inequality in COVID-19 Deaths in Chicago.” Health Education and Behavior 47, no. 4 (2020): 509–13. http://dx.doi.org.roxy.nipissingu.ca/10.1177/1090198120929677.
Laster Pirtle Whitney, N. “Racial Capitalism: A Fundamental Cause of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic Inequities in the United States.” Health Education and Behavior 47, no. 4 (2020). http://dx.doi.org.roxy.nipissingu.ca/10.1177/1090198120922942.