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By Sara Lyons

Vice President

Community Foundations of Canada

The Role of Charities in Driving Sustainable Development

sara lyons.png

My Path to This Topic

I have been involved in the charitable sector for about 20 years and I love how it is values-driven, full of hard conversations and laughs, passion and juicy intellectual questions.


Over the years I have been inspired by how the charitable sector navigates between people and communities, and systems. There is so much creativity and thoughtfulness in the sector and the uniqueness of being driven by purpose not profit.


The charitable sector has a critical role in driving sustainable development as a conduit for community knowledge, a source of innovation and a place to navigate diverse participation and leadership.

Sara's Reading List

A Canadian North Star: Creating an Advanced Economy Approach to the Sustainable Development Goals

Brookings Institution (2018)

This report is a rallying cry for SDG investment and action in Canada, and identified how all sectors of the economy have a role to play.


Generation SDG: Empowering Canadians Through Sustainable Development:

Waterloo Global Science Initiative

An important foundational piece for Canadian institutions interested in advancing the SDGs with a focus on community-level implementation. Key sections dive deep in community ecosystems and planning; partnerships; accountability; innovation funding and finance.


Where Canada Stands vol 1, 2 & 3

British Columbia Council for International Cooperation

Important reading alongside Canadaʼs first official Voluntary National Review. These reports assess SDG implementation in Canada through the guiding question: “who is getting left behind?” For each SDG under review, both the national and sub-national contexts were considered through regional analysis and the presentation of case studies. Experts interviewed in these areas represent Indigenous communities, universities, think tanks, NGOs, CSOs, youth, industry, and various levels of government. The case studies were selected to represent a diversity of regions, and to highlight success stories where targets were met and no one was left behind


Impact Investing Guidebook for Foundations 2019 Primer

Community Foundations of Canada

A solid, approachable and practical overview of how foundations in Canada can move sustainable development forward through a range of impact and responsible investing approaches. Includes case studies as well as a legal primer for foundations.


A Roadmap to a Stronger Charitable Sector

Mercer & Omidvar

This report provides a solid understanding of current challenges and opportunities for the charitable sector.


Philanthropy and the SDGs: Getting Started

Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors

A solid overview of how foundations can get started aligning their work - investments, operations, and grantmaking - to the Sustainable Development Goals



Office of the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario

A collection of essays on each of the 17 SDGs presented alongside works of art from the Awakening exhibition, curated by Bruce Mau, forwarded by Simon Brault and Sebastien Goupil.

About the Author

Sara Lyons is Vice President, Strategic Initiatives for Community Foundations of Canada (CFC). In her role, Sara’s focus is on driving CFC’s strategy, partnerships and leading key areas of focus for the organization, such as settlement, youth, reconciliation, and social finance.


Recently, she spearheaded the development of the Impact Investing Guidebook for Foundations, alongside a range of partners. She is currently leading CFC’s implementation of the Government of Canada’s Investment Readiness Fund, a precursor to the Social Finance Fund.


Over her years with CFC, Sara has played a leadership role in bringing foundations together for impact, often in partnership with the corporate sector and government such as through the Community Foundations and the Environment program, Vital Signs, the Youth Catalyst Fund and the Welcome Fund for Syrian Refugees. Prior to this, Sara worked in politics and urban issues.


A graduate of McGill and the University of Toronto, she is a frequent speaker on philanthropy, innovation, and social finance. Sara is currently the Board Chair of the Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada, a charity that transforms philanthropy and contributes to positive change with Indigenous communities by creating spaces of learning, innovation, relationship-building, co-creation, and activation.

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