The Future of Funding: How well are Australian grants addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goals?

The Future of Funding: How well are Australian grants addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goals? analyses funds distributed on the SmartyGrants platform between 2013 and 2020.

The analysis is of more than 500,000 SmartyGrants grant applications, representing at least $6 billion of funding by more than 440 grantmakers over eight years.

The study used the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the SmartyGrants platform’s classification system CLASSIE to separate grants into social sector subject areas to show how the money flowed.

This report is the second in the Future of Funding series and explores the alignment of the SDGs with different subjects and beneficiaries in the Australian grant making arena.

Future of Funding UN Sustainable Development Goals cover

Summary of our findings

The top 5 SDGs being funded by SmartyGrants grantmakers are:

  1. Sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11, 17% of total funding allocated);
  2. Good health and well-being (SDG 3, 14.5% of total funding allocated)
  3. Industry innovation and infrastructure (SDG 9, 11.2% of total funding allocated)
  4. Quality education (SDG 4, 13.3% of total funding allocated)
  5. Decent work and economic growth (SDG 8, 11.4% of total funding allocated)

According to the report’s author, Dr Paola Oliva Altamirano, one reason for these SDGs receiving more funding is because they are “umbrellas that cover a large range of sectors,” and can be matched to a large set of grants. This compares to more specific goals, such as those relating to protection of the biosphere, social equality, and elimination of poverty and hunger.

Other key insights

An upward trend for environmental funding

Biosphere SDGs such as Clean water (SDG 6); Affordable and clean energy (SDG 7); Climate change (SDG 13); Life on land (SDG 15), have historically been given lower priority by SmartyGrants grantmakers, but that trend is starting to change. Their approval rates have increased by more than 20% from 2019 to 2020, with the Climate change (SDG 13) receiving 3.4% of total funding in 2020 compared to previous years in which it received less than 0.9%

Not all grants fit into the SDGs

While 95.5% of the funding that flows through SmartyGrants relates to at least one SDG, there are some (4.5%) that do not fall under any of the goals.

Specific sectors such as visual arts, humanities, community celebrations and sports do not fall under the scope of the SDGs directly, unless paired with other sectors such as health and climate action.

For example, when perceived through an SDG lens, funding for arts initiatives tend to be categorised as relating to mental health, and sport activities relate to physical health benefits. The SDGs do not encompass higher order goals to promote development of culture, self-esteem, creativity, and knowledge.