Russian Philanthropy and the SDGs

Content Manager • 25 June 2021

"The 2019 PWC SDG Challenge revealed that 55 per cent of Russian companies mentioned the SDGs in their reporting while 20 per cent of CEO or Chair statement made reference to the SDGs". 

   Unpacking the Russian Doll of the SDGs: Russian social investment and philanthropy sectors on a quest to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

What is the current state of play and what challenges need to be addressed? 

   Regardless of the vast challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, that year also saw significant momentum in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the Russian private sector, civil society and philanthropy.

    In the 2020 Sustainable Development Report ranking, Russia came 57th (out of 166), moving up by 6 points on the previous year. In July 2020, Russia presented its first Voluntary National Review at the virtual High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, designed by the Analytical Centre for the Government of the Russian Federation. The momentum was galvanised by other major reports on Russian progress – by the Russian Accounts Chamber and the Civil Society Review on SDG implementation.

   One of the major challenges, highlighted by experts, is that although the Russian strategic documents on the national development do align with all 17 SDGs, there is little understanding of how to achieve the Goals and manage this progress. Another hurdle is a lack of infrastructure on the governmental level to mobilise and harmonise the efforts of various stakeholders.

    Nevertheless, the drafting process of the Voluntary National Review turned out to be a tipping point for acceleration of the dialogue on a national level among all stakeholders. The amount of events and diverse working groups dedicated to SDGs, within professional social investment and philanthropy communities, has been mind-blowing. The private sector, foundations and civil society organisations have begun to embrace the SDGs, and as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, there is now a strong appetite for using the SDG framework as a tool for collaboration.


The Private Sector

   Whereas civil society organisations and NGOs are on the front lines, working with communities, the private sector in Russia has begun reflecting on its activities through the SDG lenses. Guided first by shareholder considerations, Russian responsible business has successfully begun embedding the SDGs in its strategies, in both internal and external dimensions. The 2019 PwC SDG Challenge revealed that 55 per cent of Russian companies mentioned the SDGs in their reporting, while 20 per cent of CEO or Chair statements made reference to the SDGs.

   Responsible business in Russia also has to take into consideration high societal expectations. According to IBM’S 2020 Global Purpose Study, conducted by Morning Consult, out of 14 countries (including the US, UK and Brazil), Russians were most likely to believe that corporations have a responsibility to prioritise their employees, the environment and their community as much as they prioritise delivering profits to their shareholders, with 91 per cent agreeing with this comprehensive statement.

   Russia’s largest businesses have taken up a proactive approach not only in integrating the SDGs in their environmental strategies, but also in their work with communities. Moreover, the SDGs are seen as an opportunity to increase the impact of their social programmes. As Stanislav Kasparov, Head of Business Support within Regions of Business Presence at SIBUR Holding PJSC, put it: “SIBUR sets great store on continuously improving the dialogue with its stakeholders and on strengthening the contribution to the local communities’ development. By treating the SDGs as our strategic guide, we are capable of setting realistic and achievable goals with due consideration for the Company’s business interests.”


Private Philanthropy 

   Another key element of the Russian Doll of SDGs is private philanthropy. There is an increasing number of foundations who reimagine their strategies, programmes or reporting through the SDGs. Navstrechu Peremenam (Reach for Change) Foundation, was among the first foundations to “reach” for the SDGs: not only do they communicate their own programmes through the Goals, but they also incentivise their beneficiaries to align their social enterprises with the SDGs. The Rybakov Foundation, a family foundation of Igor and Ekaterina Rybakov, work on SDG Four for Quality Education and partner with the UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education. In 2020, the foundation has launched the $1-million Rybakov Prize for investors in the reinvention of preschool and school education who have made tangible progress in the area.

   However, there are still some challenges for philanthropy in engaging with the SDGs. Oksana Oracheva, General Director of one of the largest private foundations in Russia, the Vladimir Potanin Foundation, shared at the 2020 Russian Donors Forum Annual Conference that there are two particular barriers for philanthropies in Russia. Firstly, foundations tend to work with local, grassroots organisations which are not yet speaking the language of SDGs, and secondly, connecting local actions with global reflections is a major challenge which requires additional resources.

   Though awareness about the SDGs among NGOs is rather low, an inspiring ecosystem is growing among civil society actors. Open School for Sustainable Development and St. Petersburg NGO Development Center deliver training for NGO professionals on how to embrace SDGs as both organisations and individuals. Russian charities are harnessing SDGs as a tool in their communications, including their annual reporting. In a clear sign of the growing appetite for SDG integration, The Russian Donors Forum project on transparency of the NGO sector — Tochka Otshcheta — attracted more than 100 applications nominating annual reports best aligned with the SDGs.

   This appetite has every chance of spreading to other stakeholders. According to Ekaterina Pluzhnik, Head of CSR at Rosbank (Societe Generale Group), in some areas the most effective way to achieve the SDGs is through equal partnerships between businesses and NGOs, exchanging experiences and pooling resources, facilitating the development of real social innovation. Guided by these considerations, Rosbank’s adaptation of its offices and services for clients with disabilities has been achieved through close cooperation with NGOs and their expertise in the area of accessibility.

   There is also a special role that infrastructure organisations can play in building awareness around the SDGs, opportunities for collaboration and added value of partnerships. In Russia, the UN Global Compact Russia and the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs have a strong convening power and already challenge the sector to make bolder commitments to achieve SDGs.

   Likewise, at Russian Donors Forum we see a huge potential in harnessing the power of SDGs to mobilise the sector and its stakeholders around a clear framework and common narrative. The key theme for the Russian Donors Forum activities and five-day conference in 2020 was the role of philanthropy and social investment in the achievement of SDGs, and the important takeaway from this event was the crucial role of the SDGs in providing a shared language capable of breaking down barriers to understanding, not only among stakeholders in the Russian philanthropy sector, but also between Russia and its global partners.

"Though awareness about the SDGs among NGOs is rather low, an inspiring ecosystem is growing among civil society actors". 

   For this reason, we encourage initiatives such as SDG Philanthropy Platform, coordinated by UNDP and WINGS, which partners with organisations and foundations to help encourage collaboration and optimise resources and efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Initiatives such as this will help the Russian philanthropy sector to be mindful of the global purpose of its local action.

The content, authored by Alina Shenfeldt, the International Cooperation Lead at Russian Donors Forum, was originally published in the Philanthropy Impact Magazine

Photo credit: Julia Kadel on Unsplash. 


The views expressed in the article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the SDG Philanthropy Platform. The SDG Philanthropy Platform is a global initiative that connects philanthropy with knowledge and networks that can deepen collaboration, leverage resources and sustain impact, driving SDG delivery within national development planning. It is led by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and WINGS, and supported by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Ford Foundation, Oak Foundation, Brach Family Charitable Foundation, and many others.