In Summer 2018, Philanthropy Ireland hosted intern Dan Walsh from Boston College, MA. Dan is an English major and worked with PI on all aspects of our work. Throughout his placement, Dan become increasingly more aware of the opportunities and challenges facing philanthropy in Ireland. Below is his reflection on the role philanthropy can play in achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

  1. Did you know about the SDGS before you arrived at PI?

I never knew about the SDGs before I arrived at Philanthropy Ireland. But, after attending PI’s event and working in the office, I have been exposed to the power and potential of the SDGs. Set by the UN in 2015, the SDGs are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. 17 Goals in all, the SDGs are interconnected global issues that need to be discussed now in order to increase the quality of life for future generations. The Goals themselves focus on eradicating root causes to permanently eliminate global problems rather than engaging in short term solutions and serve as excellent benchmarks for gauging the success and impact of strategic giving.

2. What was Shaping Tomorrow’s World Today and how did it shape your understanding of philanthropy and the SDGs?

Shaping Tomorrow’s World Today was a Philanthropy Ireland event sponsored by Medtronic, intended for young leaders to explore philanthropy and the impact they can make towards social change and the sustainable development goals.

The event brought together a number of young individuals already focusing on developing their communities and creating social change. Speakers included Amr Dawood, a social entrepreneur and biomedical engineer, Stephanie Kirwan, a leader in the promotion of the Sustainable Development Goals, Charles Dillon, an activist for social change and a member Effective Altruism Ireland, and Deborah Somorin, a senior associate at PwC and founder of the non-for profit Empower the Family.

3. What role do young people have in achieving the SDGs?

First, young people offer something unique to the field of philanthropy: an unbridled, boundless ambition to effect change. Young people have an inherently different way of looking at the world and its problems than generations before them. I am not saying that previous generations do not have anything to offer, but the younger generations have an untapped, unappreciated world-view that could change the sector of philanthropy itself. Deborah framed this as naivety that overcomes the fear of failure and the obstacles involved in setting up foundations.

More importantly, though, we are living in a new age of connectivity that is constantly shrinking the world around us. We have never had a generation of society that is as connected with each other as we do today. Take, for example, the power of the internet and the use of social media. The young generation of people who are using social media such as Twitter or Facebook are hyperaware of the problems others are facing. People today are constantly exposed to the realities of the world outside of their own existence. Although most people do not live in extreme poverty, people are constantly confronted with it. What this means, and what philanthropy and the SDGs are working towards, is a realization of the necessity of giving now more than ever. If we can tap into the generation that is constantly exposed to these problems, progress can be made.

What is true now as well is that we can finally see the impact of charities around the world. Through social media and the internet, donors are now able to see and hear the results of their donations as well as the people themselves who they are helping. In other words, there is a new gratification and reassurance in donors that their giving is now paying off. Instead of giving to an esoteric cause that they do not know much about, donors can see the manifestation of their gifts and the fruitful results that follow. This is what I call the contagion of giving. Donors see the impact of their giving, receive a feeling of gratification and find a new purpose in their life; there is a new realization that their actions are action making a difference. In this sense, people today realise that they receive just as much, if not more, from giving than the people they are giving to. If we can instil such a purpose and desire to help others in young leaders of society, the SDGs and the major crises of the world today have the potential to be solved.

4. What personal ‘take-aways’ do you have?

My take-aways, drawing from each of the four speakers, are fourfold:

First, failure is the first step towards success. Without failure, I or nobody else would be able to learn, grow and improve. The formative experiences that accompany failure are critical to becoming a better person. If we can learn from our missteps or errors, success in the future will follow.

Secondly, opening dialogue with other people is critical to continue the conversation beyond the even itself. While the event itself served as a space for exchanging insights and understandings regarding philanthropy, the only way to truly mobilize a social movement is for attendees to open dialogue with peers and encourage them to get involved.

Thirdly, youth, characterized by the vivacity of life and naivety, is very important. It is with these traits that young people, like the ones in attendance, can instigate change through their passion and energy.

Finally, my greatest take away of all, though, is in many ways the simplest. Charles Dillon put it best when he encouraged us to just get started, just do it. Simple yet proverbial, this idea challenges us to overcome any fears or obstacles preventing us from getting involved and just do it. If I set out to just do something, then anything is success. Over time, by making ourselves act, success and motivation will follow. The reality is that none of us quite know what we’re doing. There is no right or wrong answer to achieving success. While this grey area may be frustrating to some audience members, the beauty is that each person has a unique response and course of action to take. The only ‘one’ thing a person definitively has is a choice — a choice to act or not act. By listening to stories, engaging in conversations, and openly discussing the challenges involved, the event forced audience members to confront this choice — Will I be the next one to act? Donors, governments, and corporations all have a role to play. We can continue the conversation and inspire thinking in others though our daily actions and choices. It is not about solving all the world’s problems, but doing what we can as it is our job as members of society. Philanthropy has the power to make significant impact on society, and we all have a responsibility to do what we can.