Last September, world leaders came together to agree on 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the benchmarks for international development from 2015-2030. These goals were created over three years through thousands of hours of discussion, debate and downright haggling; the UN has established methodologies for reaching (or not reaching) agreement, and each country has an opportunity to participate. In the development of these goals, Civil Society (the general public) was also invited to input through the World We Want forums. I was in NY as an International Non-Governmental representative for over a year of this process and witnessed much of it. The fact that 193 countries, with such vast differences, can agree on anything gives me hope. Agreement on 17 goals seems like a phenomenal achievement.

I’ve been thinking about both the goals and the way the UN got to the goals as they relate to nonprofits achieving their missions, and how they work to get there.

The goals address: ending poverty and hunger; reducing overall inequality; ensuring gender equality, good health, decent work and a sustainable environment, among others. The way they came to be, the how, is described above—three years of work. It started me thinking: If these internationally agreed-upon goals are truly the world we want, are our organizations taking the goals into account regarding the way we work toward our individual missions, as well as the missions themselves?

Let’s imagine you are a manager or director of a community-based organization in an urban area in the United States, and you are interested in both how your organization’s mission and the way the organization gets to the mission aligns with the SDGs. You might begin by asking questions like the following, particularly if you are a manager or in a position of leadership:

  • How are programmatic/structural/budgeting decisions made?
    • Does everyone have a voice in the decision-making process?
    • Is there a decision-making process?
    • Does everyone know what it is?
  • Does my staff/team reflect the world we want to see?
    • Is there gender equality in all aspects?
    • Do those at the ‘receiving end’ of the organizational mission have a chance to input into decision-making? Are there opportunities for them to work for the organization?
  • Does my team/staff take vacations?
    • Are they working themselves to burnout?
    • Are you taking your vacation days as a good example?
  • Do you involve/invest in sustainable practices?
    • Does your office recycle?
    • Are you printing on both sides of the paper (even small printers have this option)?
    • Are people in your office wearing sweaters/using space heaters in the height of summer?

This is a short list (this is a blog after all…) of questions; I’m sure you can come up with many more. Just the act of opening these ideas up for discussion sets a precedent, and establishes a process for getting to the kind of organization that ‘walks the walk’ in establishing the world we want. If ‘change starts within’, why not within our organizations as mirrors of the world we want?

If people in the not-for-profit sector wants to actually change the world, we need to look at our organizations and ourselves as the foundations for that change, and that will take some time and effort (not three years…your organization is probably smaller than the UN and hopefully with less entrenched positions). One way to contribute to change in the world is to change the orientation of how not for profit organizations function. Process—the way we think about and do our work, and relate to one another day-to-day—can be discussed, debated, haggled over and decided upon by staff (not the legal stuff, of course, that is a given) and included with vision and mission as a foundational document for the organization.