This story is part of an ongoing series on community foundations working towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For more information about the SDGs, view our SDG Guidebook and Toolkit.

Traditionally community foundations have a clear purpose — to create local partnerships that solve local problems. But if there is anything learned from this last decade, it’s that the world is becoming more connected, and local stories are reaching the world stage. 

Traditional partnerships may not be enough anymore. The Windsor-Essex Community Foundation (WECF), of Windsor-Essex, Ontario, is at the leading edge of this change, working to create partnerships that surpass regional boundaries while still serving community needs. In 2018, they had an opportunity to do this when they partnered with Green Shield Canada.

A national benefits company, Green Shield gave $1 million to six communities across Canada to use towards mental and oral health initiatives. For the WECF, the first step was to show that their goals were mutually aligned.

SDGs: The Global Language 

The SDGs were created by the United Nations in 2015 to provide a common framework for the objectives that we share across the globe, such as ‘No Poverty’ or ‘Zero Hunger’. SDG 3 ‘Good Health and Well-Being’ in particular aligned with Green Shield’s mission.

All 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with #3 in the center -— Source: WHO

“Aligning with the SDGs was important,” says Lisa Kolody, Executive Director for the WECF. “We wanted to be a part of the bigger conversation.” The importance of speaking a common language was shared in the Vital Signs Report, a yearly snapshot of the county using local research and surveys. 

A section in their report titled ‘Health, Wellness & Activity’ shared many of the same targets and indicators as ‘Good Health And Well-Being,’ SDG #3. Using these metrics, WECF was able to tangibly display areas of concern and show where funding was most needed.

The WECF has now incorporated the global SDGs into each of their Vital Signs Reports. Each page displays the corresponding SDG icon, creating a direct translation between local and global terminology.

Lisa Kolody (Executive Director for the WECF) left, and Mila Lucio (Executive Vice President Human Resources and Social Impact at Green Shield Canada) right,holding the 2019 Vital Signs Report

SDGs at a Local Level

The 2019 Vital Signs Report marked the first time the SDGs were included. Introducing new endeavours isn’t always easy, so how did the WECF bring people on board? Kolody reports the key was in education.

 “The first step is to educate staff, board, and the broader community,” says Kolody. “We have to find a way to make it real for them — make it easy to align with their work.”

The SDGs have already been useful in helping WECF decide where to direct their grants, and even helped them expand their list. 

“There are hundreds of charities and thousands of causes,” Kolody says. “The SDG framework has helped us fund things we don’t traditionally fund — like work through the LGBTQ+ community.”

“With Green Shield, we were free to put the money where we wanted. The Vital Signs Report started the conversation. The SDGs streamlined what we were looking for, and from community conversations, we learned that mental and oral health were priorities — mental health was already on the report, but oral health wasn’t. We’ve now added it to our survey.”

As a direct result, Windsor’s only pay-what-you-can dental program was one of the grantees, a first for the county. “Resources are put towards areas that are being measured,” Kolody says. “If someone is measuring it, then it is more likely to get resources.” 

As we become more connected, these types of partnerships will only become more important. Community foundations like the WECF are showing that it is possible to lead the way and create these new connections.

These stories were compiled in collaboration with writers from The Starfish Canada. We are proud to work with youth progressing the SDGs in Canada.