What we learned at the inaugural North American Community Foundations Summit

Community foundation leaders from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico recently gathered in Mexico City to discuss the global Sustainable Development Goals and explore opportunities to advance progress on the goals. Community foundations already invest and work in many areas of the 17 goals, and so using them as a common framework helps contextualize the work we already do and helps account for Canada’s collective efforts.

This North American summit was the first attempt of its kind to bring the three countries — and distinct foundation networks — together to explore common issues, with a local and global framework. For many attendees it was their first exposure to the Sustainable Development Goals as well. Key themes included the importance of multi-sectoral partnerships and cross- border alliances, the need for community foundations to go beyond grantmaking, how to improve equality and the distribution of power and the significance of keeping rural communities lively and viable. 

Several members of the Canadian delegation also shared their perspectives on the Summit, including how it has inspired new ideas and momentum for them.

“The North American Community Foundations Summit was a very interesting learning experience. The speech from Abel Bosum, Grand Chief of the Crees, was a particularly memorable moment. He brilliantly explained how his people managed to take control of their destiny at the economic, social and cultural levels. The other highlight of the Summit was the incredible potential for cooperation between Canada, the United States, and Mexico on a number of issues. In this sense, the Summit has shown us the importance of initiating a multilateral conversation on sustainable development goals and targets.”
Yvan Gauthier, President and CEO of Foundation of Greater Montreal.

“The Summit helped bring our movement closer together. The most memorable part for me was the opportunity to learn from others around the table, and to dive deeper into the Sustainable Development Goals. It helped build my understanding for how local initiatives in communities can translate into broader global impact. I am exploring how we can bring the SDG conversation to our region. We hope to take inventory of the knowledge and awareness of our citizens, and the wide variety of local projects that are already working in some capacity towards the SDGs. We’d like to use this inventory as a platform or base for our 2019 Vital Signs program.”
Tracey Vavrek, CEO, Community Foundation of Northwestern Alberta

“Most memorable moments and key learnings? On a personal level, I was fortunate to attend a panel on climate change at which Nelson Colon, the Executive Director of the Puerto Rico Community Foundation presented. It was inspiring and extremely moving to hear about what his local community foundation is doing in the wake of Hurricane Maria. From recovery efforts to longer term policy work around food, water, housing….I was deeply impressed by the way in which the community foundation is at the heart of a local response to an extreme climate situation and the transformative role it is playing. Beyond this, I was pleased to witness the appetite and learn about several foundations’ efforts around policy work. From foundations in Silicon Valley, to smaller US and Mexican foundations to actors right here in our Canadian movement,  there is much more work underway to effect policy change than I was aware of. It’s encouraging. I see it as part of our mission: if we’re talking about transformative change, we have to be ready to talk about public deliberation and public policy.”
– Arthur Bull, Chairperson of Rural Communities Foundation of Nova Scotia

“As a member of the Canadian delegation attending the North American Community Foundation Summit in Mexico City, I was excited and inspired as representatives from the diverse philanthropic sector shared ideas around the adoption of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Although tackling the issues outlined in the SDGs presents some daunting challenges, it was obvious this group of representatives are thinking outside the box when leveraging their diverse resources. I’m confident we’ll see another convening after this first successful iteration and I most definitely encourage others to consider attending the next event and work to learn more about incorporating SDGs into their organization’s strategies
and tactics.”
– Daren Nordhagen, President, Foundant Technologies

During the Summit, the Council on Foundations released a report, Local Leadership, Global Impact: Community Foundations and the Sustainable Development Goals, sharing an overview of the foundation sector around the world, examples of how community foundations are already advancing progress on the goals and a 10-step framework to help others get started.

Community Foundations of Canada will continue its efforts to champion the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals. This will include building frameworks and mechanisms to help interested community foundations understand the association of the goals to their work and start to capture some of their impact. Aligning the Vital Signs program and associated research to the goals is an important first step. Vital Signs can help determine how our communities measure up to the targets, and over time it may also be possible to track progress on certain indicators at the community level. Community Foundations of Canada is also building an alliance of champions across sectors, who are interested in advancing the Goals in Canada. More details will follow this spring.

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