Three Questions on Sustainable Development: Goal 17 - Partnerships for the Goals

We spoke with Brian Gallagher, President and Chief Executive Officer of United Way Worldwide, about global partnerships for sustainable development. Brian Gallagher holds a degree in social work and an MBA and started with United Way as a management trainee. Today, he is a regular contributor at the World Economic Forum and a strong believer in bringing individuals and organizations together to tackle difficult social and economic issues.

1014: Do you believe that there is an understanding between different actors that strong partnerships – across corporate, government and civil society can enhance sustainable development and the common good in our communities?

Brian Gallagher: In short, I do. As people realize that certain community problems are difficult to solve individually, or by one sector alone, they turn to cross-sector partnerships that allow for the development of more sustainable solutions. Whether business, non-profit, academia or government, each sector brings various degrees of resources, expertise and local knowledge to any challenge. United Way helps these various actors connect, get started, and develop these sustainable, cross-sector solutions. In fact, for more than a century, we’ve been the “Community Table” where local business, non-profit and public sector leaders go to discuss each community’s biggest issues and raise money and find solutions to solve them. Whether fighting human trafficking with UPS, or performing environmental cleanup work with governments in India, we bring individuals and institutions together to ensure community buy-in and holistic problem-solving. That increases the odds that the solution stands the test of time and creates greater opportunity for all.

What does United Ways want to achieve? And how do you want to get there? What are some of the challenges you experience in your work? What do you like about it?

Our mission is to improve lives by mobilizing the caring power of communities around the world to advance the common good. In essence, we are in 1,800 global communities helping people with the building blocks of life – good health, education and financial stability. We partner with both global and local businesses, non-profits and other organizations to remove the challenges confronting people who are seeking a good education, training and access to a good job, needed health care, etc. We map our efforts and progress against the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

One of the greatest challenges today is building folks’ trust that individuals and institutions working together can solve intractable problems like poverty, poor schools, overburdened health care systems. But I’ve been working in communities for my whole career and know that we’ve made progress through partnerships to raise high school graduation rates, strengthen early literacy, help people save money, and so on. I love helping people meet their potential and lifting all boats. When we can then scale those solutions, often in partnership with a caring business in that community, I feel that we are making a real positive impact.

In an ideal world, what more do you think should be done to improve cooperation between different actors for the benefit of our communities?

First of all, it’s critical that we build trust across our society. If we’re going to address the fall-out from the pandemic, not to mention the socioeconomic issues that confronted us before the virus, we’re going to have to rebuild people’s trust in one another and in institutions. Policymakers, business leaders and the media have all seen their trust levels drop in recent years, making it difficult to convince people to look beyond their immediate issues to work together to tackle problems like economic inequality. We need to understand, empathize and find common ground to establish a way forward together.

United Way has been doing this kind of crucial bridge-building for more than 130 years. We’ve seen it work with partners big and small. When we all give a little, we gain a lot. And when we realize that we’re only as strong – whether as individuals or institutions – as the places where we live and work, all of us and our communities stand to benefit.

More information on United Way can be found at their website www.unitedway.org

This interview series was originally published on 1014.nyc and translated into German by the Goethe-Institut.

September 2020

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