Mobilising the Missing Trillions to Solve the Sustainable Development Goals

Cameron Burgess Uncategorized 4 Comments

— Want to cut to the chase? Click here to download the concept note —

Each year hundreds of millions of people work in tens of millions of organisations, and deploy trillions of dollars in an effort to solve the most pressing challenges of our time.

Yet despite this vast commitment there remains an estimated $50 trillion funding gap required to address the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs, or Global Goals) – the most comprehensive, cohesive and coherent description of these wicked problems to date.

The existing approach presumes that a multitude of entities addressing some part of the greater challenge will, without appropriate incentives and mechanisms, self-organise themselves into effective, efficient, and scalable solutions. This is dangerously and wilfully naive. By comparison, the International Space Station (ISS), the largest multi-lateral project, and the single most expensive construction project in history, came at an estimated cost of only $150 billion. The ISS would never have been launched without clearly defined incentives, and a coordinated pathway to success – so what makes governments, corporations, and civil society actors believe they can solve trillion dollar problems through a piecemeal, incremental, fragmented approach?

In June 2017 I co-facilitated, with Linzi Fidelin of Sphaera, a design thinking workshop called ‘Scaling Solutions’, hosted by the Rockefeller Foundation in New York. The participants included representatives from some of the largest and most active funds, foundations, development finance institutions, entrepreneur networks, and impact investment groups. In framing the day we asked “who is at least 5% convinced that the SDGs will be achieved by 2030?” Of course, every hand in the room shot up. “10% convinced? 15%?”

As we increased in 5% increments, the hands started to drop. By the time we hit 50%, every hand in the room was down.

Here in a room of some of the better informed and most active organisations working to resolve the global goals, there was consensus on many things – the two most obvious being:

  1. The moral imperative to resolve the SDGs
  2. The inevitability of failure, given how we are going about it today

In fact, over the past three years as a group of us collaborators and co-conspirators (including Astrid Scholz — Sphaera, Audrey Selian — Artha Networks, Arthur Wood — Total Impact Advisors, and myself) have worked alongside and within these organisations — from Portland, to Geneva, from San Francisco to the Senegal River Basin, from New York to New Delhi — we have discovered that, when pressed, the response is essentially the same.

“Yes we can”, followed shortly by, “but no, we won’t’”

We beg to differ.

On the face of it, the bottom line is depressingly simple – there is no single entity with either the cash or the capacity to invest or deploy the requisite capital to achieve one, let alone all, of the Global Goals. And there are currently no incentives rewarding outcome over effort, or mechanisms for collaboration at the scale necessary to actually solve the SDGs.

Further, the normative behaviours of markets have become the modus operandi for any venture seeking to catalyse beneficial change. We use the patronising language of ‘beneficiary’, or the mercenary language of ‘customer’ to define the human individual we are seeking to serve. In our failure to acknowledge that every human person is a citizen of the world – imbued with fundamental sovereignty and agency – we perpetuate the Industrial Age metaphors, models and missions that got us into this mess in the first place.

That the funds deployed through most modern philanthropy, development finance, aid programs and yes, even impact investment, are the result of, and often the unwitting perpetuators of, vast inequity, is clear, and has been expounded upon at length in recent times.

Even if we were able to make peace with this conflict — which, quite frankly, we shouldn’t — and while there is no denying that the increase in the deployment of both public and private capital towards solving these wicked problems is to be lauded, with an annual funding gap of between $1.7 and $2.5 trillion, it’s clear that investments of billions, or even hundreds of billions, are simply inadequate.

In fact, a rough back of the envelope calculation indicates that we need to mobilise roughly 5% of all global capital to achieve the SDGs by 2030.

In this challenge, however, also lies the opportunity: the constellation of entities working to address these issues require financial incentives, operational infrastructure, and no small measure of humility, to transition from organisation-centric behaviour, to mission-centric behaviour.

From our perspective, this is the only way in which human society will move from treating the acute problems the SDGs represent, towards the systemic resolution of the underlying chronic issues.

We believe that not only can we solve the SDGs by 2030, but that we must. Further, we believe that the primary impediment to their resolution is rooted not solely in resources, technology, or intent, but primarily in a combination of ineffective systems design, and intransigent human behaviour driven by short-termism, fragmentation, and counterproductive incentives.

Today we are launching a concept paper: From Billions to Trillions:
How a transformative approach to collaboration and finance supports citizens, governments, corporations, and civil society to share the burdens and the benefits of solving wicked problems. We invite you to download it, read it, comment on it, and get in touch with us with your reactions, thoughts, and ideas.

This document is the distillation of decades of combined thinking and acting in service to global change. Rooted in philosophy and practice, this document is a roadmap we have already begun executing against. We are working in partnership with a number of organisations who agree that systems change, underwritten by a global digital and financial infrastructure, is the missing element necessary for not only the resolution of the Global Goals, but for each successive wave of global issues that humans will continue to face as we continue to evolve.

As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. And here we are, one village, 7.6 billion children. No matter where you live, what you do, or what you believe, we are all united in this great work. Peace, security, and dare we say it love, are both the drivers and the result of more effective connection, collaboration, and co-creation.

Let’s work better, together.

Comments 4

  1. Dear all,

    thanks for sharing this. Let’s recap: The difference between the MDGs and the SDGs are supposed to be that a) SDGs serve as a framework for everyone (instead of only for the aid industry) and b) Consequently, that SDGs can only be achieved if public and private funds are matched. There’s more, but let’s stick with those for a minute.

    On a) we can observe that the SDGs are hardly known outside the world of aid and donor/recipient-relationships in international development. This counts for companies as much as the general public.

    On b) we are far from making the SDGs an international agenda that beats organizational or sometimes even individual agendas. Let’s dwell on this for a moment: The SDGs suggest collaboration to be the primary mode of delivery. No organization in the world can and should claim to solve all development challenges. So far, so good. However, it is always easier not to collaborate than to do so. Especially, if incentive systems in organizations as well as supra-organizations have not changed. You can even drill this topic down to staff in organizations where annual objectives are given to people. To work across silos in organizations is and remains the biggest challenge to date for the same reason: Organizations need to show success that is attributed to their collective effort in making change happen. “How many people have found jobs because of us?”, “How many people were saved because of our efforts?”, etc. Here, strong narratives are not enough but evidence in terms of hard figures are a necessary. All of this serves the organization’s purpose to show that it matters and ultimately works successfully. But it sure does not serve a collective effort to address SDGs as a whole. In fact, it does the opposite. Such an “organization-centric” (to use the term introduced in the text) view on change obviously has its limitations, but it also works like a charm for those benefitting from it: Aid organizations, staff, politicians, etc.

    Otto Scharmer’s (MIT) work on leading from the future or Dave Gray’s thinking around the connected company are concepts that have fallen on fertile ground in the corporate world. To move from ego-systems to eco-systems is simply the only way you can survive in an ever-changing and fast-paced world. No organization can manage to cope with challenges on its own. So why try?

    This ultimately means that we either need a shock situation where aid is challenged from within (as it currently happens with the US Administration that cuts budgets) or from outside the system of aid. That latter will most likely not happen as too many benefit from that traditional mode of delivery. Hence, aid has to trigger change from within.

    1. Post

      Hi Oli,
      Thanks for the thoughtful response. I think that we are generally in agreement on many of the points you raise, though not all.

      Firstly, while I agree that the SDG’s aren’t a universally accepted framework for talking about wicked problems, the point we make is that they are the only universal framework for their discussion. So to that end, they serve a useful purpose. Secondly, companies are increasingly adopting the SDGs as shorthand for where they are making their impact. Again, in the absence of an easy way to say ‘here is the good that we do’, the SDGs provide organisations of all stripes to identify their actions according to a universal framework. We are certainly seeing this in more and more of our conversations.

      The purpose of the concept paper is not to suggest that the SDGs should displace organisational or individual agendas, but that they provide a useful framework for uniting them.

      The paper makes the case for a both/and resolution – one in which an individual organisation can (and should) achieve it’s individual mandate and mission while simultaneously supporting the resolution of a much larger mandate/mission. We recognise that ego-centricity is a biological affliction – we are all motivated to do what serves us best. Rather than attempt to usher in a golden age of human enlightenment, we propose a path forward that, while it challenges this behaviour, also effectively harnesses it for the greater good.

      You speak to ‘incentive systems’ which is at the core of the paper. We are actively building these very systems – ones in which:
      – funders can align their funds towards success
      – organisations are motivated to achieve significantly greater funding on the basis of collaborating to solve a problem that is too large, and too complex, for them to solve on their own

      The note in its entirety covers these issues in detail. The approach we propose is to:
      – monetise the negative externality
      – fund on success, instead of on effort
      – use metrics for demonstrating the delta of improvement from baseline
      – develop financial instruments that are attractive to mainstream capital
      – use governance systems that are truly equitable
      – use distributed ledgering to appropriately compensate all participants in the resolution of the problem

      This is quite clearly a complex exercise, and we definitely don’t have it all figured out yet – so getting this sort of feedback is invaluable. Thank you! I’m sure Astrid will have feedback as well.

  2. “We are working in partnership with a number of organisations who agree that systems change, underwritten by a global digital and financial infrastructure, is the missing element necessary for not only the resolution of the Global Goals, but for each successive wave of global issues that humans will continue to face as we continue to evolve.”

    Inviting you to work with EVERYONE, not just the usual suspects. At this time in history, those of us on the edge will not continue to play business or politics as usual, it’s divisive. Please consider looking to the farthest reaches for some of the brightest lights. We see the issues, and we are open to invitation.. if you are looking for true whole systems solutions, you will likely be called to co-create with the entire ecosystem of people and projects who are passionate about this, and who have unique gifts to contribute.

    “… with an annual funding gap of between $1.7 and $2.5 trillion, it’s clear that investments of billions, or even hundreds of billions, are simply inadequate…”

    I don’t necessarily believe this.. I don’t think the NGO, SDG, etc crowds are truly keen to what is possible and the solutions already out there IF (as alluded to here) the planetary organizational ethos of unity and whole systems design was the most acutely funded and supported effort at this time.

    I am not speaking woo woo here… the fundamental shift is one of consciousness not (again as alluded t here) what Bucky Fuller called ‘local focus hocus pocus’ where we continue plugging leaks with band aids.

    When will philanthropists invest in consciousness? When can they share their funds for an RO*I (realization to the power and degree of imagination, intention, inspiration, integral investment) rather than a triple bottom line?

    All in all, with my comments included, this is a very encouraging report and naming of the seminal issues before us.. that of whole systems design and integral living as the trim tab of our generation. The shift from separation and mechanistic ways of being to an interconnected, holistic, and thriving civilization is here to stay now.. and WE WILL turn this spaceship Earth around.

    Thank you for all you are doing to bridge the status quo with the self evident evolutionary impulse.


    Some more info:

    If you would like to learn more about the piece of the puzzle I am part of, that directly addresses the “global digital and financial infrastructure” please see the video presentation at the following link, and the draft brochure therein. Please be aware, I am not soliciting, this campaign page simple has the info because we are not currently working on a website. The work itself is our focus. I am quite certain our efforts will be crossing paths when the time is right.

    Also– I am here now– ready to connect with the world of Philanthropy, when they are ready for a fresh voice and whole systems perspective on RO*I

    1. Spiritual Philanthropy
      Sacred Commerce*
      & Holographic Economies

      Dedicated For Two Jules,

      Originally Conceived 2011, and written 2012…

      Those like-spirited souls who resonate with Spiritual Philanthropy will perceive intuitively and naturally that we both give and receive equally. Furthermore, it is clear that we have infinite gifts to share unconditionally with each other and the world. Love. Wisdom. Time. Energy. Passion. Attention. Skills. Knowledge. Expertise. Connections. Perceptions. Resources. Currencies. Art.

      A Spiritual Philanthropist remembers that the separation between self and other is a subjective perception that fulfills a survival pattern in life but it is not the entire story.

      A Spiritual Philanthropist comprehends our holographic nature of existence; where each individual reflects the whole of reality and the whole reflects back as individuals. This interplay between wholes and parts inspires the realisation that each of us carries within us a spark of Universal Consciousness which is forever entangled and connected to every other part of Itself. Therefore, serving others is equal to serving one’s self and serving one’s self is equal to serving others. It’s simply the Golden Rule in action and Spiritual Philanthropists live passionately through this lens of universal consciousness expressing itself as diversity.

      Philanthropy (etymologically) is the love of humanity

      Spiritual Philanthropy is the love of love… an act of unified consciousness.

      Spiritual Philanthropy implies investing our whole self into life and aspiring towards a vast upgrade of ROI to RO*I– Realization to the power and degree of Inspiration, Intention, Imagination and Integral Investment. It does not exclude financial aspirations and ultimately it encourages the aforementioned varieties of wealth, abundance and prosperity.

      Spiritual Philanthropy simply transcends and includes the current triple bottom line mind-set into a more integral stage of co-creative expression,; the heart coherence of a holographic economy where expansion and contraction are simply the eternal pulse of gifting and receiving. A Unified Bottom Line. A breath of fresh air, Spiritual Philanthropy is syntony; an alignment with unified consciousness and therefore alignment with the people, communities, projects and passions that inspire us.

      “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’ doesn’t make any sense.” Rumi

      I am inviting kindred spirits to enter the field of RO*I… to invest their Gifts into the world. This is Rumi’s field where we all meet and play and co-create. The details and structures manifest effortlessly when we are invested together in love, in unified consciousness. Solutions arise naturally, effortlessly, when we trust life. When our souls lie ‘in this grass’ of unified consciousness, the ‘world is too full to talk about’, and money, business, control, fear, hate, ‘doesn’t make any sense’.

      The participation I am inviting is into love itself; where financial return on investment evolves into its highest frequency of expression, RO*I. The edge of cultural evolution is where spiritual philanthropy transcends and includes all current models of business, investment, economics and philanthropy. Because this is an integral, synergistic process, we can preserve the best parts of our world and rest in that which never changes… unified consciousness… LOVE!

      Let us celebrate the arrival of actually living and breathing the changes we wish to see in the world.

      Let us invert the processes we have come to accept as natural like creating structures from the outside in. Let us invert the reductionist, masculine perspective of the parts dominating the whole.

      We no longer need to build ‘things’. Let us start from the ground of unified consciousness – where we love, and nourish, and support, and, where we attend to and cultivate our unity through that expression. The ground of unified consciousness and love is where every world truly begins.

      *Commerce defined as:
      social dealings between people.: “outside the normal commerce of civilized life”.
      synonyms: relations, dealings, socializing, communication, association, contact, intercourse

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