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Thursday, June 25, 2015
How Can Philanthropy in Indonesia Better Advance the UN Sustainable Development Goals?

By Sofia Blake
This April, I attend a gathering of key philanthropic players ("Post-2015 Partnership Platform for Philanthropy") to discuss ways governments, NGOs, and private actors collectively can advance the UN-led Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of 17 goals that cover the whole spectrum of human progress, everything from eradicating poverty, injustice, and inequality to promoting stability, sustainability and happiness. Ambitious but one has to start somewhere. Unlike many such gatherings, this focused on concrete initiatives and outcomes. Working groups on education, economic opportunities, capacity building and the environment, broke up in the afternoon to hash out practical proposals.
Here are some observations, first general, then specific.

Innovation in social work in Indonesia is often driven by private foundations. The leaders among them have already recognized that future advances will come only when governments, private sector and civil society, which includes academia, the non-government world and philanthropic organizations collaborate and take ownership of problems and solutions. It is impossible to imagine advancing any of the post-2015 sustainable development goals here without these organizations taking an active role in the design and implementation of critical policies and programs.

Indonesia is a Mecca for philanthropic activities. It has a vast network of active private foundations working in in education, health, social equality and, increasingly these days, in environmental protection and sustainability. It is a unique case of a lower middle income country with 40% of its population earning incomes of less than $2 a day, yet also boasts a democratic system, active civil society, wealth, opportunities, and needs coming together in an environment where charity and social work is historically, religiously, and culturally encouraged. Despite the absence of tax incentives, philanthropy is growing. Indonesian people are caring and smart, proud and comfortable in their pluralism, tolerance and collectivity.

Philanthropy in Indonesia is no longer just traditional charity projects but increasingly enveloping a wide spectrum of interests and methodologies. Many organizations continue to addresses immediate social needs such as building or restoring areas after a natural disaster (post 2006-tsunami in Aceh), or providing education and health care to disabled or poor families. But increasingly, private foundations are also working on designing and implementing sustainable models for economic empowerment, experimenting with innovative ideas in education and conservation, and broadening the scope to include issues of gender equality, climate change, social entrepreneurship and building capacity all around. But challenges remain.

Challenge 1: One of the main obstacles to maximizing the work of philanthropists here is the lack of information and coordination among them, which was a raison d?etre for the gathering in the first place. Generally speaking, access to reliable data and research is a major problem in the country. Some foundations do their own research and data analysis but their findings are often not widely shared(?). There is little information of who does what, where and how. A solution to that problem could be the online web portal, SDGfunders.org, if it is done well. Here are some challenges to that:

Who will fund and run the portal?
How do you encourage organizations to participate and share information?
Once you secure their participation, how do you assure they have the resources to sustain the program, to provide and use the information on the web portal?
How do you ensure that smaller and bigger foundations share equally and collaborate? Many of the big foundations were missing from the gathering. Is it important that they be brought in, and if so, what would be their role?

A thought: Perhaps a branch of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors needs to be established here to continue talks and action on priorities, best practices and coordination. The Web portal needs to be Indonesia-specific, bi-lingual, and continuously updated to be relevant and useful. It needs to be straightforward and user-friendly yet in-depth and substantive. Many portals are often constructed on old web-designs and models, and lose the younger generations of users, usually ahead in technology use. So it would be best if it is structured with the input of young, top-tech savvy people. The portal itself needs to model innovation.

Challenge 2: Another area that needs addressing is the synchronization of efforts by governments, the private sector, NGOs and society at large, which is nothing new in itself. There are a number of great initiatives by private organizations that still operate in isolation from others working in the field. The breakout workshop on education talked about interesting initiatives in teachers? training, leadership skills, education-life-skills gap, IT-skills, etc. that can be gradually scaled up, ideally in partnership with, or at least with the knowledge of Government and other stakeholders. But,

How can the best models be identified and scaled up?
How do you engage governments, private sector and NGOs to collaborate?
How do you promote best practices and innovation among a wider audience beyond governments and NGOs?

A thought: Perhaps the UN can launch a challenge initiative for a set of programs where governments and philanthropy work together toward a specific goal within a specific time-frame, making the SDGs more understandable, concrete and tangible. One model is the IDEAs initiative, which runs 12-month projects executed by a team of academics, government, private sector and NGO representatives. Further perhaps, philanthropy needs a PR strategy to promote some of its ideas and findings of social innovation projects to a wider audience. Does Indonesian society need to hear more about education innovations, technology for social good, job opportunities arising from climate change work, etc. Can you encourage social innovation from the bottom-up by translating the work of philanthropists into the vernacular?

Challenge 3: Private businesses (?) need continuous inputs and consultations about development priorities and effective philanthropy. Some of the bigger foundations are run by world-class professionals, with previous 'outside', global experience. But many others have projects that are mere window-dressing for the CSR work that corporations in Indonesia are obliged to have since 2007 but not all do due to lack of enforcement or accountability. So,

How do you enlarge the pie of CSR-projects, get more companies involved in more and wider range of development goals?
How do we encourage meaningful CSR-led projects?
How do you continue the dialogue with philanthropies and align priorities with sustainable development goals and the private sector?

A thought: Perhaps a similar gathering and "Post 2015 partnership" can be organized to include private companies with CSR initiatives to analyze how CSR can better help advance the SDGs. For example, research has shown that successful CSR programs are the ones that align with the interest of the corporation. For example, one of the largest dairy producers in Pakistan runs a number of successful projects supporting women farmers, farmers education, health-care, etc. which have not only improved conditions on the ground for many women and farmers families but also increased productivity for the corporation. Such blending of development and corporate goals can help the scalability and sustainability of projects.

There is no doubt that a lot is already being done on the ground by a large number of private organizations and foundations that promote directly UN sustainable development goals, and much of what is done is at the forefront of the development agenda. But the potential and need for more is compelling. Continued focus on inclusive and coordinated action, transparency, innovation and global best practices will help us to collaborate more effectively to advance the SDGs.

Born in Bulgaria, Sofia Blake is an energy expert and woman leader now based in Jakarta with her husband, US Ambassador to Indonesia Robert Blake and their children.

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