The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) present us with a great opportunity to address the world’s most pressing issues and, as we are quickly learning, we need to work together across sectors and borders to strengthen our means of implementation.

On Monday, July 18, I attended the first ever Partnership Exchange at the UN headquarters to address just that—how we can revitalize and strengthen global partnerships in accordance with SDG #17: “Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.” Organized by the Division for Sustainable Development of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) in collaboration with the United Nations Office for Partnerships (UNOP), it was an important day of learning from effective partnerships across government, NGOs, foundations, companies, individuals, and an opportunity to unpack complex issue areas needing omnidirectional collaboration and support.

The Power of Partnerships

Everyone has a role to play.

I was happy to see a consistent theme of encouraging partnerships, especially public-private partnerships, to address these challenging systemic issues around which the SDGs were created. As we have observed, the SDGs have elevated the power of partnerships to a new level that foster unity, integrity and accountability. When cross-sector partners collaborate to solve global issues, their unique capabilities are leveraged together as one robust force. As a result, their impact is accelerated exponentially.

This session also specifically showed the role that foundations do, and will continue to, play in addressing the SDGs. Heather Grady, Vice President of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, introduced the SDG Philanthropy Platform to the room. The SDG Philanthropy Platform informs and catalyzes collaboration through building awareness and connections between those working in the philanthropic space. Heather explained that by 2030 it is estimated that $360 billion dollars will be contributed to achieving the SDGs by foundations, emphasizing the importance of foundations being at the table. This aligns with our belief that we need a continued dialogue with foundation leaders to ensure efficient communication for collaboration and impact.

As we thought more expansively about partnerships, a question was asked about what role students across the world can play in the SDGs and how can they participate. This struck a chord that finally we are thinking in the right direction and internalizing that everyone really does have a role to play here.

The Power of Using Data in the Media

These multi-stakeholder partnerships will only be successful if participants have access to the right kind of data and tools to share information with their external counterparts along with the general public. This overarching complexity is what drove the ‘Data, Media and Innovative Tools’ session, which was actually the most compelling session for me because it brought me a step closer to where I want us, as a company and an industry, to be.

One downfall we, as collective partners for the SDGs, face right now is that we don’t have a central source to house all of the data and anecdotes being shared behind closed doors in key discussions about the SDGs. The Partners for SDGs hosts a searchable site for partner initiative progress reports, which is a great start. We now need to see results for every initiative. Can we tie these results to a greater impact?  Can I see in one place who is doing what where and what lessons they have learned?

The panelists all agreed on the need for consistent, quantitative data accompanied by qualitative stories to make that data come to life. And that there is also a need for universal metrics for analysis without imposing on how each country wants and needs to uniquely solve its specific challenges. Uniting partners around a universal taxonomy for reporting on their progress would help partners work together more efficiently while simultaneously allowing for autonomy.

Another noteworthy panelist from this session was Katie Kulik, Global Senior Vice President, Sales and Marketing at CBS Interactive. She shared that a few months ago, she had no idea what the SDGs were. However, in the last six months she realized the role she, her family and her work could play in achieving the SDGs because of recent media coverage with digestible data. It’s clear that as a media company, it is imperative that they participate and use their platform to capture and share stories. It is also clear that we have a responsibility to share our data, information and knowledge to the media in a way that the rest of the world will understand and can truly ignite a call to action.

Looking Forward…

Looking ahead, it’s so important that we all understand how multi-stakeholder partnerships can serve as vehicles for mobilizing and sharing knowledge, expertise, technologies and financial resources to support the achievement of the SDGs. It is already an imperative and will become increasingly inherent that everyone, not just those within the philanthropic space, realize their role in addressing the SDGs and making the world a better place for everyone.

The Partnership Exchange was organized by The Division for Sustainable Development of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), in collaboration with the United Nations Office for Partnerships (UNOP) on the occasion of the 2016 High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.


Annie Rhodes serves as the Director, Foundation Strategy in the MicroEdge division of Blackbaud. In this role, Annie helps philanthropic organizations leverage technology to optimize how they manage their giving and improve collaboration with funding partners and grant recipients. Annie is also aiding customers evolve from simple grantmaking programs to results-focused giving programs that establish and measure outcomes and drive toward impact. As part of this, Annie led the development of Blackbaud Outcomes™, a technology solution that helps funders and nonprofits track and measure the results of their giving programs. Annie is also currently leading efforts to map Blackbaud Outcomes to the sustainable development goals to provide funders with the opportunity to measure how their grants are contributing toward the broader efforts to achieve the SDGs.

Get nonprofit articles, best practice advice, fundraising ideas and invaluable industry reports and webinars delivered for free!