To close the financing gap for SDGs, the United Nations should think like Indiegogo, according to new study by Michele Scataglini and Marc Ventresca

When the United Nations (UN) announced its 17 global goals for sustainable development (SDGs), it came with a hefty price tag. But with only 11 years left on the UN’s timeline and an estimated cost of up to US$7 trillion a year, is the SDG agenda financially unattainable?

It’s a tough question to answer. But based on our research, the opportunity to couple current expertise in crowdfunding platforms with links to the SDGs’ priorities and targets may provide an actionable model to close the financing gap.

Global trends in donations 2015–2016

According to recent studies, the global value of crowdfunding exceeded US$144 billion in 2016, with donation-based crowdfunding amounting to US$0.56 billion,[1] both reflecting a steady growth trend. Overall, annual global giving, including philanthropy, is estimated at US$0.4 trillion[2]. The UN and social entrepreneurs alike could tap into this market of global giving with a crowdfunding model modified for the SDGs, funneling that money to help solve today’s toughest social problems. This model should emulate platforms like Indiegogo and be enabled by the efforts of “system builders” — individuals or institutions that can orchestrate the work of SDG stakeholders.

In our research, we analyzed three currently active, successful crowdfunding platforms — CrowdRise by GoFundMe, Generosity by Indiegogo and JustGiving — to extract key learnings about their origins, strategy and operations. We also drew lessons from the UN pilot platform linked to the SDGs, Digital Good[3]. We identified the successes and challenges in the context of each platform, and then created a strategic roadmap for a new SDG-linked platform.

Industry analysis of crowdfunding platforms linked to SDGs

We analyzed the UN’s main crowdfunding platform, Digital Good, as well. This is an important pilot, launched in 2015[4], and with the full weight of the UN family of agencies in support. Our findings here reinforced the features that have accelerated the success of the three incumbent donation-based platforms: Digital Good lacks critical elements of innovation strategies (i.e., technology, an ecosystem of stakeholders, organization and global reach) compared to CrowdRise, Generosity and JustGiving. It is misaligned with the best practices, strategic choices and industry standards of these top-performing platforms. Despite the challenges of this pilot, our research underscores the opportunity for system builders to raise donations more effectively by coupling best practices from the incumbent platforms with the evocative power of the SDGs.

Critics will note many concerns with the SDGs. What they do provide is a framework to focus and better direct the generosity of people around the world to support for these critical priorities. Rather than dispersed, broad-brush suite of donations across myriad projects, the SDGs make manifest the argument to channel resources towards specific goals that can create positive change in socio-economic development. And system builders will play a key role. They will coordinate the donation efforts of citizens, corporates and public bodies towards higher funding targets, enable access to tax incentives and amplify SDG awareness via professional communication campaigns.

You can read the full paper co-authored by Michele Scataglini and Marc Ventresca on the Social Science Research Network (SSRN).

Bio of Michele Scataglini

Michele Scataglini is an innovation strategy advisor with more than 20 years of international experience in the management consultancy industry, including 10 at EY. He specializes in public policy and innovation strategy. Scataglini is also the founder of INSTA Associates, an innovation and strategy consulting practice. He received a post graduate diploma in strategy and innovation from the University of Oxford’s Said Business School. @michelescatta.

Bio of Marc Ventresca

Marc Ventresca serves on faculty at the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, and is a Governing Body Fellow of Wolfson College. His research and teaching focus on innovation, institutions and infrastructure. His current research investigates comparative infrastructure and governance in digital platform technologies and on systems change in the context of 4IR. He advises Oxford alumni ventures and sits on the Advisory Board for Global Thinkers Forum and for Participatory City. He is Senior Research Fellow at the Technology and Management for Development Centre, QEH, and he is a member of the Management Committee of the Centre for Technology and Global Affairs, DPIR. @marcventresca.

[1] (1) KPMG; University of Cambridge, Centre for Alternative Finance, 2016. Global insights from Regional Alternative Finance Studies; (2) University of Cambridge, Centre for Alternative Finance; The University of Chicago; Chicago Booth Business School, 2017. The Americas Alternative Finance Industry Report; (3) University of Cambridge, Centre for Alternative Finance; University, Tshingua; Sydney, University of, 2016. The Asia-Pacific alternative finance benchmarking report; (4) University of Cambridge, Centre for Alternative Finance; KMPG; CME Group Foundation, 2016. Sustaining momentum: the 2nd european alternative finance report; (5) University of Cambridge, Centre for Alternative Finance; Energy for Impact, 2017. The Africa and Middle-East Alternative Finance benchmarking report.

[2] (1) National Philanthropic Trust, 2016. Charitable Giving Statistics; (2) China Research Center, 2017. Why Giving is Harder than Earning: Philanthropy in China; (3) Charities Aid Foundation, 2014. UK Giving Report 2014; (4) Philanthropy Australia’, 2015. Fast facts and statistics on giving in Australia; (5) University of Basel, 2016. Philanthropy in Numbers.