Interview with Jean-Marc Mangin: Keeping up with the Sustainable Development Goals in a combined health, social and economic crisis
Jean-Marc Mangin is President of Philanthropic Foundations Canada (PFC), a national network of family, independent and corporate grantmakers in Canada which includes many of the largest private charitable foundations in the country. Prior to PFC, Jean-Marc Mangin led a renewal process of the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, the largest national organization of Canadian researchers and scholars as its Executive Director from 2010-2016. For more than 15 years prior to that, Mr. Mangin served with the UN, NGOs and the Canadian Government in responding to humanitarian disasters across the globe. In 2006 Mr. Mangin became the Executive Director of CUSO and led a merger with VSO-Canada. He was the first Executive Director of the Global Call for Climate Action, a cross sector civil society initiative bringing together over 350 international organizations and networks in support of transformational change and rapid action to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Mr. Mangin has lived for nearly 10 years in Asia and Africa. Born in Manitoba, raised in Quebec, educated in BC and Ontario, Jean-Marc Mangin holds a M.A. in Political Sciences and Environmental Studies from the University of Toronto.
Interview by Manuel Litalien, co-director of PhiLab’s Ontario Hub
June 19th 2020
Manuel Litalien (ML): How has COVID-19 affected the work being done by Philanthropic Foundations Canada (PFC)? Would you say there is a before and after COVID-19 in the organization’s promotion of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?
Jean-Marc Mangin (JM.M): COVID-19 has greatly shaken up PFC’s operations. We launched a weekly newsletter: weekly webinars on key questions around the crisis; a collaboration platform to counter COVID in Quebec; a database to better understand our members’ mobilization efforts (over $115M from 63 foundations); a partnership with PhiLab and Carleton University to explore the questions and new practices emerging from the crisis and 5 guiding principles to assist our members in supporting their grantees through this crisis. The crisis has accelerated our actions, including those promoting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
This combined health, social and economic crisis represents, in our opinion, an opportunity and a call-to-arms for philanthropic foundations as it favours trust-based philanthropy. We were already encouraging our members to develop more collaborations when dealing with complex problems and COVID-19 generated the right environment in which to do so. The crisis has been somewhat of an accelerator of a trust-based philanthropic position among social actors.
A second, less positive, effect was brought on by the crisis, that of a state of emergency, which was to be expected. Decisions made in an emergency context detract from the long-term measures needed to reach the sustainable development goals.
The whole world’s attention has been put off track. Economists predict that the world economy will shrink by over 5%, a situation we haven’t had to deal with since World War II. Any progress made over the past 20 to 30 years is now threatened. It is even more worrisome given that states have collectively agreed on the imperative of reaching the sustainable development goals by 2030.
In the current context, any attention on the sustainable development goals has been pushed to the sidelines.
Before the crisis, PFC encouraged its members to align their activities with very specific sustainable development goals. This was a great, albeit arduous exercise, as the objectives are broad and their indicators are general. Many of our members have found it difficult to make a direct connection between a targeted action and its impact on a SDG indicator. This exercise allowed us to think about the many dimensions unique to philanthropic activities. The work of connecting the dots was just beginning when the pandemic took hold of Canada and Quebec.
ML: Has the current context impacted PFC’s infrastructure? Have you made any organizational changes or developed any new tools to better support your members?
JM.M: At the start of the crisis, we came up with five guiding principles, inspired by SDG 17 “Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development” We hoped to foster more collaborative practices that would address the health crisis while also aligning with SDG 17: being more attentive to our most vulnerable populations.
The Secretary General of the UN published several summaries that presents a vision of how the international community can respond efficiently to COVID-19, by ensuring the most vulnerable populations remain at the forefront of their preoccupations. These notes bring together analyses from the whole United Nations system and gives concrete ideas to Member States in order to face the consequences of the crisis, and to cease any opportunities possible.  (Our translation)
We had to adapt to the new context. I would like to highlight the significance of the Consortium philanthropique COVID Québec, in which we are supporting a group of four Montreal foundations: Jarilowsky, Saputo, Trottier and Molson. These foundations are collaborating to support public health initiatives that help fight against COVID in Quebec. One of their objectives is to support local interventions in the Montreal area by funding the timely production of local emergency plans. The group has targeted the six boroughs most affected by the first wave of COVID-19 infections, which to no surprise, are also the poorest of the city. At the moment, this initiative is at the heart of our actions.
ML: In your opinion, are these initiatives only a time-sensitive response or will they persist as part of a long-term vision? Among grantmaking foundations, have you witnessed a political will to continue the new practices that have been implemented?
JM.M: Our first intention was to understand the impact of the crisis on our members and how they responded to face it. We launched a quantitative and qualitative data collection process.
From a quantitative perspective, we are managing the administration of a database with our members to map the impact of the crisis on their philanthropic programs.
From a qualitative perspective, we have been collaborating with affiliated academic researchers, including a PhiLab team, of which you are part, whose mandate is to produce case studies on the different responses of Canadian and Quebec foundations.
Also on the qualitative dimension, we are collaborating with a team led by Susan Phillips of Carleton University, who, over several months, will use the Delphi method to collect testimonies from different representatives of the Canadian philanthropic ecosystem. At the heart of these testimonies are the ways they are adapting and responding to the health crisis and how they perceive the post-COVID-19 period.
Of course, we have noted adaptive responses from the grantmaking philanthropic sector. And yet, it is still too early to answer your question with certainty. Will they be temporary measures? Will they become permanent? At the moment, we do not know.
However, our role is precisely to identify the lessons, the key learnings, and to share them and see what has worked well and what hasn’t worked so well. From there, we will be able to promote certain intervention practices and highlight what did not work. Will the best practices become more widespread? For now, we don’t have enough hindsight to know.
ML: Do you believe the pandemic will bring about a revision of the 2030 Agenda for the SDGs?
JM.M: The program is well implemented and supported by the member states and the United Nations. I haven’t heard anything about it being revised. Yet, we are definitely at risk of not reaching the objectives in 2030, and even witnessing significant worsening of certain indicators. This is on the global level, for all of the objectives. It is likely that we will not reach the targets for poverty, food security, climate change…
To truly be able to respect the 2030 agenda, we would need a significant mobilization of resources, which is currently compromised by the short-term impact of the different crises on a global scale.
In my opinion, the real danger is that the SDG program becomes marginalized, not that the objectives get revised. This potential marginalization stems from the weakened UN institutions. We witnessed the Safety Council fail at establishing one COVID-19 related resolution since the start of the year. Attacks against the WHO are also becoming more and more frequent.
The structures we built after WWII have weakened. I believe that is where the risk lies. In a context where countries are resorting to more protectionist economic policies, starting up the conversation around the SDGs again is even more difficult. As long as the health crisis is not resolved, we’re not out of the woods.
ML: Concerning public policies, have you noticed a will on the government’s part to change their politics to better align with the SDGs and the objectives set by the 2030 program.
JM.M: We have a lot of work to do here in Canada. Of course, we have been observing a shift in public discourse around the SDGs. There is definitely some things still hidden, but nothing major. If it’s present, I’ve missed it. I have noted the presence of a few references to the SDGs in the campaign launched in Canada to get a seat on the Security Council of the United Nations.
In terms of responses to the economic and health crisis in the country, and, around the racial tensions in the United States, I have yet to observe references to the SDGs to date.
I would mention that there was an extraordinary and rapid mobilization of the state – be it federal, provincial or regional – in response to the crisis. The state’s response is significant, il will allow for causes that were marginalized before the pandemic to be taken seriously, and they just so happen to be directly associated with the SDGs. For instance, we could mention the funds that were put towards food security, prevention funds against domestic violence, emergency funds for those who lost their jobs. Many initiatives and measures were adopted that are compatible with the SDG program.
ML: From a PFC point of view, have you observed any changes in the way to conceive of or deliver philanthropic funding?
JM.M: We don’t fund organizations in the field directly. We support our members, who do. With the crisis, we have adapted our methods of supporting our members in order for them to be kept up to date on the evolving practices and adapt them to their own organizational structure if possible. We also encourage them to collaborate to reinforce their capacity for action.
This encourages our members to work appropriately and respectfully with their partners. With the crisis, the classic funding methods have been mostly put on pause, to be replaced by more flexible, adaptive and flexible strategies.
Traditional project applications are sometimes framed in work programs that relate to the defence of one or more causes. This funding attribution program requires projects to be well planned out by the grantees, the application to be filled and submitted in a standard way, with a precise timeline. They are then analyzed, evaluated and funded or not.
Such a process, while well-tried, takes time, time that is very precious in a crisis and that must be reduced to a minimum. We have been witness to a new funding model that is focused on active listening and real, specific and immediate needs, which are often relayed by well-informed community or institutional actors.
This rapid and adaptive response on the part of Canadian and Quebec philanthropic foundations is in stark contrast to the situation of the 2007-2008 recession. At the time, the reflex of many foundations was to protect their assets from the financial impact of the economic crisis. Some foundations even suspended their donation programs, which impacted their grantees.
This is not the case this time. The reaction was rapid and positive. Many foundations even surpassed the 3.5% minimum expenditure outlined by the Canada Revenue Agency. Thankfully so too, as the impact of the crisis on the population at large and on community organizations, in particular, has been greater than in 2007-2008. Currently, many organizations are digging into their meagre savings just to survive. Many of them can no longer count on their volunteers and have watched their fundraising revenu drop significantly.
ML: Thank you for your time and insight Jean-Marc.
This interview of Jean-Marc Mangin is part of our Special Edition on Philanthropy and the Sustainable Development Goals.
Translation from French by Katherine Mac Donald