Sustainable Development Goals in action at Pillar Nonprofit Network

Catalyzing positive community impact towards an equitable and prosperous future for people and planet has been at the heart of Pillar Nonprofit Network’s work even before the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were conceived. With the introduction of the SDGs, we recognized the importance of this global framework for measuring progress on sustainable development and its ability to bring common language to help our organization and the network to strengthen our collective impact.

In 2021, we deepened our commitment to strengthen local action towards the SDGs and demonstrate our internal alignment to the SDGs through the launch of the SDG Cities program, in partnership with 10C Shared Space. Through knowledge sharing, capacity building and research, SDG cities is helping organizations and purpose-driven businesses in London and Guelph to understand and actively contribute to the goals. 

With the broad scope of our organization’s programming, gaining fluency in and measuring the impact of the SDGs is a long, but worthwhile process. Our journey has involved workshops for our colleagues and board, research, and mapping activities and the work continues today with the leadership of our SDG Cities Co-Lead.

In this article we’re sharing a look at how we’re putting the SDGs into action at Pillar through our strategic plan, our programming, and our policy advocacy to show how other organizations can demonstrate their own alignment to the goals.

Aligning the SDGs with Pillar’s strategic plan

For many organizations, a good entry point to measuring progress towards the SDGs is mapping alignment to their strategic plan. Our team assessed each of the priorities of our strategic plan and identified which SDGs the priorities support. The image below shows each of Pillar’s 2021 – 2023 Strategic Priorities and the corresponding SDGs. Another way organizations may choose to demonstrate the relationship between their strategic plan and the SDGs is through a data visualization tool like Kumo, view ours here.

Across our strategic priorities, the strongest links were to: SDG8 Decent Work: promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all; SG10 – Reduced Inequalities: reduce inequality within and among countries; and SDG17 – Partnership for the Goals: strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development. Other SDGs our plan supports include: SDG16 – Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions; SDG3 – Good Health and Well-being; SDG5 – Gender Equality; and SDG4 – Quality Education.

SDG progress in Pillar’s programs and operations

To get deeper into measuring SDG impact, we examined how our programs, policy advocacy, events and operations match up to the global goals. Through this process we found that there is good alignment SDGs in our strategic plan and our activities. Here is an overview of some of the connections.

The Women of Ontario Social Enterprise Network (WOSEN)

WOSEN is an Ontario-wide collaborative that works to unleash the entrepreneurial energy and capacity of women who have solutions that put people and the planet first. The program aims to redesign how business supports are provided so these entrepreneurs can build the skills, make the connections, and receive the coaching needed to achieve their missions. WOSEN is dedicated to equity and inclusion as we seek to support women entrepreneurs from underserved and underrepresented communities.

The first connection we see through WOSEN is to SDG 17 Partnerships for the Goals, the program is a collaboration between Pillar, Centre for Social Innovation (CSI), SVX and NORDIK Institute’s Social Enterprise and Entrepreneurship (SEE). Secondly, as a program focused on the economic empowerment of women, there is a connection to SDG 5 Gender Equity. SDG 8 Decent Work and Economic Growth is also closely tied to the program as the participants receive coaching to propel the sustainability of their ventures. Lastly, through supporting underrepresented communities, WOSEN supports SDG 10 Reduced Inequities.

City Studio London

CityStudio London is an experiential learning program and innovation hub that brings together city staff, students, faculty and community to co-create experimental projects that make London more sustainable, livable and joyful. CityStudio London structures all projects based on how they contribute to the achievement of one or more SDGs. As a partnership between the City of London, Brescia University, Fanshawe College, Huron University, King’s University College and Western University, CityStudio is a strong example of SDG 17 Partnerships for the Goals.

The program also demonstrates a commitment to SDG 4 Quality Education through preparing students with real-world skills and experience to navigate the workforce and positively contribute to their communities. We can also see a connection to SDG11 Sustainable Cities and Communities as students collaborate with city staff to recommend innovative solutions to community challenges.

Equity & Inclusion Consulting and Programming

A commitment to equity, inclusion and anti-oppression is foundational to all of our work at Pillar and is demonstrated strongly in our strategic plan. We help to elevate the knowledge of our network and community on these topics in a variety of ways including Impact Consulting and our Learning and Development Program.

Through Impact Consulting, we offer equity and inclusion consulting helping clients create diverse and inclusive organizations reflective of the communities they serve. Through our Learning and Development Program we have offered many courses with a focus on this work, including our Local Indigenous Learning Series and upcoming Indigenous Treaty Series. Both of these programs demonstrate alignment to SDG 10 Reduced Inequalities.

Public policy strategy 

Our public policy strategy is grounded in organizing around issues to help improve the social impact sector, through a heightened equity lens, and to encourage a regulatory environment and broader culture that enables the sector to operate with the greatest impact. We look to our strategic plan to ground our areas of focus and to the truth that capacity building for nonprofits can no longer exist without systems transformation and issues-based advocacy. 

As a network organization, we always look to our membership and local community to ensure we are representing their needs in our advocacy while attuning to the broader issues facing the social impact sector. Due to the broad range of focus areas across our membership from healthcare, to the arts, to the environment and more, we advocate for issues connected to many of the SDGs. Across our advocacy work, we see a strong correlation to SDG 16 Peace, Justice and Strong Social Institutions: promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. This is fitting as the attainment of this SDG would alleviate many of the gaps the social impact sector aims to fill.  

Decent work at Pillar

Contributing to an economic system that upholds decent work is outlined as one of our strategic priorities and is also a policy priority for us as a major issue affecting the social impact sector. The social impact sector has identified long-standing gaps in worker retention, equitable compensation, talent acquisition, recruitment and addressing employment precarity. 

We recently announced how we have internally aligned to decent work principles through a variety of tactics including developing Pillar’s Pay Principles and becoming a living wage employer. Advocating for decent work in the sector and ensuring it’s a priority for our colleagues at Pillar is a direct alignment with SDG 10 Decent Work and also to SDG 8 Reduced Inequalities.


We’re fortunate to host a great number of educational events for our network throughout the year, 283 in 2021 alone. Last year, we began mapping which SDGs are addressed across our events. In 2022, we’ve hosted the greatest number of events with a connection to SDG 8 Decent Work and Economic Growth, followed by SDG 17 Partnerships for the Goals, and SDG Good Health and Wellbeing. We also saw connections to SDG 10 Reduced Inequities and SDG 16 Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.

Implementing and SDG framework and next steps

As we continue our progress in contributing to the global goals, here are a few of the ways we will continue to implement the SDG framework across the organization and for our network.

Firstly, VERGE Capital, our social finance program – publishes quarterly reports mapping their investments to the SDGs. In our public policy advocacy, we’ll continue to submit recommendations to all levels of government linking to SDG priorities. Additionally, our tri-annual Pillar Community Innovation Awards program provides learning opportunities to all finalists about the SDG framework. Looking ahead, we plan to strengthen how our programs are connected to SDGs and we use the language and will demonstrate connections to SDGs in our impact reporting.

The challenges of our times across the economic, social and environmental dimensions are vast and require a global, cross-sector approach. At Pillar, we support and amplify the work of community sector organizations while recognizing the importance of a network approach (SDG 17) of collaboration, resource sharing and knowledge exchange between the community, business and government sectors to create change. The SDGs provide common language and goals to enable us to work together across sectors both globally and locally towards sustainability for future generations.

Learn more about the SDGs