Nearly everyone at the United Nations acknowledges that the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) cannot be reached without cross-sector collaboration.

And is there any better space in Boston for cross-sector-collaborating than Impact Hub Boston?

October 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the United Nations and a focus on the partnership and cooperation needed to reach all of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It also marks a full year of Impact Hub Boston partnering with the United Nations Association of Greater Boston (UNAGB) to highlight the talented community leaders, social entrepreneurs, and professionals that are working toward the Global Goals in our city. Thus, we thought it would be a great time to interview the leaders of Impact Hub Boston — Alisha Harrington and Hilary Ippolito — about how the SDGs were integrated into the Impact Hub Boston community.

Before joining Impact Hub Boston, had you heard of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? Alisha Harrington and Hilary Ippolito

Hilary: I had not heard of them before working at Impact Hub Boston. I actually first learned about them at an Impact Hub Global Gathering. We were in a breakout session led by Impact Hubs that started a partnership with the United Nations to connect their entrepreneurs to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). I had just started at Impact Hub Boston and remember thinking, ‘Wow, the UN is recognizing the power of our grassroots network of 16,000+ entrepreneurs around the world.’”

Alisha: “I also was not familiar with the SDG’s before Impact Hub Boston. I began hearing more and more about them while having conversations with other Impact Hubs around the world that were already involved. My knowledge has grown so much since we partnered with UNAGB last year. It’s been so interesting discussing the SDGs with members because very few members were familiar with the language of the SDGs even if they were doing direct work to support them.” 

 

Why has Impact Hub Boston chosen to use the common language of SDGs to build community? 

Hilary: Broadly speaking, we find that part of the reason that the Impact Hub Boston community is so useful to our entrepreneurs is because, otherwise, work can become siloed. You put your head down and forget to figure out who else is looking to spur the same kind of change. Even when you are working on something that is unique, the Goals make you realize that your work is incorporated into this bigger picture of sustainable development.  

Impact Hub Boston chose to focus on the SDGs for this reason: to help people understand how their work aligns. SDG 4: Quality Education provides a great example. Given that Boston is an education hub, there are several folks working on SDG 4. Some are working adjacent to teachers, while others are working directly with students, but they might not immediately see their work as connected unless they spent a day working next to each other. 

Alisha: “What I appreciate about the SDGs is that they are locally rooted and globally connected just like Impact Hubs themselves. They provide a framework to talk about our local challenges and launch into larger discussions about how that connects to global issues and broader communities.” 

“For us as Impact Hub Boston, understanding the SDGs has spurred a conversation about where Impact Hub Boston fits in, and which SDGs make the most sense for us to focus on as an organization.”

 

And what are those SDGs that you are focusing on? 

Hilary: As Impact Hub Boston, we aim constantly for SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities, especially as it relates to socioeconomic status and race. Related to that, we think a lot about educational inequality as there are so many Hubbers here focused on that.”

Alisha: “SDG 8: Decent Work & Economic Growth is another. At our core we are a workspace and community focused on using business as a force for good. We are trying to be an engine for change through entrepreneurial action by supporting new ways of working, solving problems, and lifting entrepreneurs up.  Reduced Inequalities is tied directly into decent work and economic growth for everyone.” 

Finally, we also understand that Climate Action and climate justice are essential. If we can’t support our physical environment, then we can’t solve the rest of the problems. Climate justice recognizes that environmental effects are not distributed equally- bringing us back to the importance of Reduced Inequalities too. Though we don’t have a lot of hubbers focused on environmental issues specifically, we need to remind ourselves that climate justice issues need to stay at the forefront. Coalitions like the Climate Action Business Network as well as so many grassroots organizations are doing this important work and we want to make sure we are talking about them with our community members.”

 

What is your second favorite SDG and why?

Hilary: Partnership for the Goals (SDG 17) has always been near and dear to my heart, but on a more personal level, I think Quality Education and Reduced Inequalities are extremely important. They are the basis for making sure everyone can participate in solving the world’s problems. 

Alisha: Reduced Inequalities and Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. The term “social impact” can become a watered-down, corporate term unless we underpin it with justice. We cannot make an impact and solve a problem unless we look at each issue with a social justice lens and how people are being affected differently based on socioeconomic status and race. It’s essential to include multiple perspectives in solving a problem, especially those who are experiencing the problem most deeply.