Keeping Faith in 2030: Religions and the Sustainable Development Goals

Network convenors 
  • Professor Emma Tomalin, Centre for Religion and Public Life, University of Leeds
  • Dr Jörg Haustein, School of Oriental and African Studies, London,
  • Shabanna Kidy, Islamic Relief Academy (non-academic project partner)

New Website

First network event: FBO Workshop on Religions and the Sustainable Development Goals

On Monday 13th February 2017, Islamic Relief Academy and the University of Leeds held a workshop in Birmingham, UK. Around 25 participants came together to network and discuss research priorities on religions and the SDGs, representing a mixture of academic and non-governmental organisations, including Islamic Relief, and academic partners from India and Ethiopia.

Questions addressed in the workshop included:

    • Did your organisation have a role in the consultation process to define the SDGs? What were some of the strengths and challenges of the process?
    • To what extent do you feel that religious voices were enabled to be heard in the consultation process and with what effect?
    • To what extent and in what ways are you now beginning to interpret and implement the SDGs in your work?
    • Do you feel the SDGs provide a useful framework to tackle ‘sustainable development’ globally? What are the opportunities and limitations of the SDGs?

Participants discussed the opportunities and challenges presented by Agenda 2030 and discussed current research gaps in the area. As part of the network’s agenda, conferences will be held in these Ethiopia and India over the course of the next eighteen months, with opportunities for country specific consultations to take place. The Network also intends to publish an edited volume and launch a policy paper in the UK Houses of Parliament within the next year and a half.

Notes from Birmingham UK meeting

The next event organised by the network will be held on 24th February 2017 at the University Bath to discuss methodology, religion, and development. More details can be found below.

Methodological Challenges of Researching Religion


Announcing a new religion and sustainable development network – funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council in the UK – which involves academics and faith-based development actors. The network aims to enhance international exchange about the role of religions in defining, implementing, and safeguarding ‘sustainable development’, as codified in the UN ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs).
Religion is a major cultural, social, political, and economic factor in many ODA recipient countries, which is why understanding the local religious dynamics and the role of faith actors is crucial for sustainable development. While development practice and development studies had essentially subscribed to a modernist, secular paradigm of social change for much of the 20th century, this has begun to change. Greater portions of development aid are now channelled via so-called faith-based initiatives or organisations, and religion is increasingly recognised as a human resource rather than just an obstacle to development. Many religious groups have also been involved perceptibly in development policy, by adopting and heralding the Millennium Development Goals and through consultations in the drafting of the new SDGs.
To join their Religions and Development mailing list, sign up here:

July 12, 2017

Convened by the Permanent Mission of Ireland to the United Nations and the UN Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development (Chaired by UNFPA) in partnership with the Joint Learning Initiative on Faith and Local Communities.

HE Ambassador David Donoghue, Permanent Mission of Ireland to the United Nations, and Dr Azza Karam, UN Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development will be co-moderating.

Jean Duff will be representing JLI on a panel addressing faith-based partnerships to support achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The panel will also include JLI Board Member Anwar Khan, Islamic Relief USA.

Click below for more details:

Faith-Based Partnerships: Vehicles for Achieving the SDGs

Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement in Sri Lanka has over 400 staff, but as a whole it accomplishes its work with the help of over 1200 staff and 100,000 volunteers. It was founded 59 years ago. The term Sarvodaya means the awakening of all. The movement is inspired by Buddhist principles and works across five countries and reaches 15 thousand of 38,000 villages in Sri Lanka. Dr. Vinya S. Ariyaratne, who has been involved in the senior positions of the organisation since 2000, and is now the General Secretary of the Movement. Dr. Vinya shares the trajectory, faith aspects, successes and challenges of the Movement in an interview with JLI’s Postdoc Intern, Tedla Desta. Tedla completed his PhD in Trinity College Dublin (TCD) in 2016 researching the nexus between peace and conflict and the mass media.

Sarvodaya Mission: the fulfilment of the basic needs of people in a holistic way bringing spiritual, moral and cultural dimensions integrated with social, economic and political development in community.

An excerpt of the interview follows.

As we start this interview, I want to thank you for your involvement in JLI.   Can you please briefly introduce yourself and your organisation’s mission?

Dr.Vinya: I am a Medical Doctor specialized in Public Health. I am married with two children. I grew up in the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement because my father was the founder of the Movement but I started working full time only in 2000. Prior to that I practiced as a doctor while teaching public health academically. In 2000, I became the Executive Director and since 2011, I have served as the General Secretary, in a corporate governance position, as we have 12 subsidiary organisations.

Sarvodaya means the awakening of all, actually coined by Mahatma Ghandi to denote the uplifting of people but we gave it meaning. Shramadana means sharing of labour. At the inception of the movement in the late 1950s, it was inspired by Ghandian and Buddhist thinking to support people to satisfy their own needs by their own efforts and through sharing their own resources, including labour, thoughts and energy.  Though it has a distinct development philosophy it is a very inclusive secular organisation, which works across all ethnic and religious communities in Sri Lanka. Today it is the largest grassroots development movement in terms of its outreach with a presence in about 15 thousand villages out of the 38 thousand villages in Sri Lanka. It is a bottom up process, where we encourage maximum participation and ownership of communities through sharing of their resources. We also are supported by external assistance, forming community level institutions, and giving them legal status to run their own affairs and evolve a network in the country to be able to deliver some structural issues related to poverty and powerlessness and try to promote peace and harmony.

We are involved in peace and conflict projects, refugees and migration but we focus on internal migration or displacement. That phase is somewhat over now because we do not have many IDPs in Sri Lanka right now. Sexual and Gender-based violence is a continuing initiative. We have been running homes for sexually abused girls, and this is a very big problem in Sri Lanka.

What is distinctive about your organization especially in terms of its faith focus?


Dr.Vinya: I think the most important thing is that Sri Lanka is a country where seventy percent of the population is Buddhist but we also have Hindu, Christian and Muslim communities. We are a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society and we have been able to articulate a philosophy based on Buddhism but also able to mobilise the non-Buddhist communities because of common spirituality in all religions. We have been accepted by all communities in the country. Sri Lanka has few organisations that work throughout the country in all communities especially during the civil war. All of this contributes to why we are able to serve a large underprivileged community.

That is the uniqueness; translating Buddhist teachings into sophisticated but practical development activities around the country.

Can you give us examples from your organization's experience of how faith based delivery is working?

Dr.Vinya: Actually, I have a problem with this question itself because we do not like being characterized as a delivery organisation. Our core philosophy is based on sharing. When something is carried out in a community, all are participant beneficiaries. If we are delivering and somebody is receiving, that int turn creates dependency. That is contradictory to our own philosophy. We get everybody to share equally and contribute when there is a need. This is somewhat a different way, we do not mobilise resources and deliver. We are the largest humanitarian organisation in Sri Lanka, so when there is calamity, we have a delivery system and of course, we get a lot of donations.

We go beyond traditional giving and institutionalise the way people feel about giving. We try to promote that unselfish giving,a true Buddhist vision and a spiritual transformation that we expect in everybody who participates in giving. And it has succeeded very well. Even though we get external funding and technical support, seventy percent of the resources we mobilise locally is through that notion. We have been very successful in institutionalising the faith dimension of Buddhist thinking in a very dignified way.

Now based on the sharing understanding, how does faith based sharing make a difference or add value?

Dr.Vinya: It does make a difference because on one hand it is encouraging for your individual spiritual liberation and advancement but at the same time has systematically provided a way to shape how we operate. We were involved in piloting the SPHERE standards, the standard for humanitarian delivery. We provide relief distribution or a recovery process in a very systematic way.  We help during displacement after conflict and resettlement. Sometimes some groups only want to assist a particular community belonging to a particular religion, but we do not. We have systems in place to ensure any assistance is done fairly. Therefore, that is how we bring in the faith perspective into a more organised and rational delivery system.

Do you collaborate with other faith groups? Cross sector with public/private organisations and other secular organizations?

Dr.Vinya: Yes very much so and at different levels. Now at our village level  you usually get mono-religious, mono-ethnic groups but in certain geographic areas you get mixed communities, so we always make sure that the Buddhist Temple, the Muslim Imam, the Christian community that they have regular understanding and in all the activities, they participate. Even in a Buddhist village, we encourage very much the non-Buddhist communities, the clergies, and the priests to participate.  In all our activities, we get them to pray, not just symbolically but also to give the communities an understanding of the values and traditions of other religions particularly for children.

At a basic level, having that inclusive notion of religion is important. Sri Lanka is a majority Buddhist country affected by ethnic conflict. Religion has played a big role because the nationalists mobilise many people (especially Buddhists). Because of this we tried on a national level to bring faith leaders in conflict transformation and peacebuilding including interfaith dialogues. We also prepared manuals for intra and inter-faith dialogues and trained lay leaders and priests from all religions on peacebulding and reconciliation.

Lastly, we had violent incidents occasionally between different religious groups. Even with small incidents, we trained these communities to have and use an early warning system. We have lead religious leaders to meet and successfully encouraged people not to resort to violence. The last few years we have seen some very serious incidents not prevailing in other areas because these trained faith leaders intervened in advance before it got out of hand.

For example on child protection, we have a platform where we bring different religious groups. We are equal partners in mobilising and advocating for child protection especially sexual abuse. Right now, we are working with UNICEF and few other organisations on the prevention of sexual exploitation of children. Therefore, the collaboration depends on the type of issue we are addressing and of course, we are only collaborating with organisations, which adhere only to principles of non-violence and non-confrontation. We do not do street demonstrations; we have a different approach. With these organisations including private organisations, we collaborate through alliances.

What were your biggest successes and challenges?

Dr.Vinya: Our biggest success will be celebrating sixty years as a social development organisation and a peoples’ movement next year. By surviving and continuing to be relevant  we have become the largest Sri Lankan humanitarian organisation with a grassroots network, which can mobilise at anytime even in an emergency or otherwise.

For example, we are going through a reconciliation process right now as country is in a political transition. There is a constitutional reforms process going on at the national government level but hardly anything is happening at the grassroots level. We are educating the people like in South Africa after the Apartheid: what kind of constitution do we need? Sarvodaya at community level is leading trainings: on basics of the constitution, the model and so on. Therefore, our success has been surviving and flourishing as a movement, especially as a people’s movement and being a service organisation catering to a large number of communities in the country. We lead the thinking at the grassroots level about development and now with the sustainable development goals, and we educate people on those and try to make every community SDG compliant.

The challenges, I think we have now built an infrastructure of full-time staff, training centres, like officers and village organisations so you still need resources to sustain these. Even though, largely we mobilise volunteers and have about 1200 staff, we are not getting financial support like we used to get 20 years ago. Sri Lanka is now considered a middle income country and therefore official development assistance is almost zero. The current funding  comes through bilateral agencies like USAID and a few other European donors for specific areas like human trafficking, human rights and reconciliation rather than for development even though we have vast disparities.

Poverty levels are high in some communities; there are pockets of poverty and instability in terms of ethnic harmony. There is a lot to be done and resource are constrained. We had nearly 10 years of suppression of civil society due to the political atmosphere. Though we still survive, it has been difficult for civil society organisations to operate because the government which was in power until 2015 was anti-civil society, anti-NGO, so we were not getting enough space. There were restrictions, harassment and even violence against some of the civil society leaders. That situation changed but we are still finding a lot of administrative and legislative hurdles for organisations to operate.

JLI has an internship available on a rolling basis

– For more information please see below:

Paid Internship Opportunity

About JLI

The Joint Learning Initiative on Faith and Local Communities (JLI) seeks full and appropriate engagement of faith-based groups in the achievement of the SDGs through effective partnerships with public sector and secular entities, as well as among religious groups themselves. In support of this goal JLI gathers and communicates evidence for faith groups’ capacities activities and contributions to international development and humanitarian policy makers and practitioners. JLI works globally through Learning Hubs, publications and conferences.

Possible internship projects 

We currently have a couple internship opportunities for an 8-12 week projects, working under the supervision of JLI’s Knowledge Manager


Learning Hub (LH) internship

  • Support one or two LHs (current LHs: Gender-Based Violence, Peace & Conflict, Refugees & Forced Migration or Mobilization of Local Faith Communities)
  • Create and populate social media Learning Hubs, including Twitter & Facebook
  • Initiate Hub Member Engagement Process; utilize surveys to help improve member experience, analyse results and report to co-chairs & KM
  • Assess the current resources available on the hub sites and ensure resources are formatted and tagged appropriately
  • Help KM plan and support the learning exchange calls
  • Assist Hub researchers as needed with scoping study
    • Conduct quick mapping of FBOs (especially with engagement with UNHCR)
  • Potential projects with Hubs as possible


JLI Knowledge Management, Faith & Partnership Internship

  1. Create featured Board (31) and Advisory Group (10) profiles
    1. Understand and engage key JLI board organizations through interviews and possible videos of organization personnel
    2. Lead board profile development includes profile page, posts, communications from board websites
  2. Create and populate social media posts related to board & advisory group organizations
  3. Assist KM in finding, and developing resources, assess the current resources available on the hub sites and ensure resources are formatted and tagged appropriately
  4. Create and post blogs & news related to religion and development
  5. Potential projects with Learning Hubs as possible


  • Coursework and experience in global health & development, religion and development or related fields
  • Research skills and interest
  • Strong writer, editor and communicator
  • WordPress experience preferred
  • Commitment of 15 hours per week for 8 weeks



  • There is a stipend of $800 per internship, payable in two parts at the end of each month on submission of time sheets.
  • Flexible hours, much of the work being virtual
  • Exposure to latest issues in religion and global development
  • Mentorship
  • Possible invitations to participate in external meetings, including at the World Bank, USAID, United States Institute of Peace, and United Nations


How to Apply

Please email your resume,short (2 page max) writing sample, and cover letter stating how your qualifications meet the requirements, please note which hubs you are most interested in to Stacy Nam, JLI Knowledge Manager at Internships at JLI are on a rolling basis, so please apply as soon as convenient.




DSA 2017 Conference
September 6-8 at the University of Bradford
The Religions and Development Study group will be hosting a panel: “The increasing space for ‘moral economies’ in light of global inequality: the role of religions and faith perspectives”
More panel details


  • Shabaana Kidy (Islamic Relief Academy)
  • Emma Tomalin (University Of Leeds)

Short Abstract

In the light of global inequality, there have been renewed criticisms against neoliberal economics, both from ‘secular’ and ‘faith-based’ NGOs and thinkers. This panel will seek to explore the role of religious traditions, values and faith-based tools in ‘moral economies’ and financing for development.

Long Abstract

Since the financial crash of 2008, neoliberal economic systems have been subject to renewed challenge and criticism by both ‘secular’ and ‘faith-based’ NGOs and thinkers. In the light of Agenda 2030 which details a trajectory for sustainable development across a multitude of sectors ranging from poverty and hunger, through education, gender equality and care for the environment, there has been increasing emphasis on well-being and holistic development. This creates increasing space for faith groups and religions to provide new perspectives and thinking around ‘moral economies’ in the light of global inequality. This may include, but is not limited to, faith-based social financing mechanisms, as well as opportunities to harness religious values to challenge neoliberal economic excesses. This panel will seek to explore the role of religious traditions, values and faith-based tools in moral economies and financing for development.

Full Panel & Paper Details

Localizing Response to Humanitarian Need: The Role of Religious and Faith-Based Organizations

October 16-19, 2017

Colombo, Sri Lanka

JLI is cohosting the Localizing Response to Humanitarian Need Working Meeting. Focus on documentation of methods and mechanisms of engagement of local faith networks.

More information


Invitation to submit an abstract *Deadline: April 30, 2017*

Abstract call for evidence-based presentations addressing the role and methods of engagement of local faith networks in humanitarian situations. Of special interest is information on what is working (and what’s not!) in the field, and the methods and mechanisms that support that. Subtopics include:

  • Emergency Response
  • Protection
  • Peacebuilding
  • Delivering aid in conflict
  • Disaster preparedness
  • Refugees & Forced Migration
  • Sexual & Gender-based Violence
  • Effective partnerships between public sector and religious and FBOs

If you would like to express interest in making a presentation at the October Forum please submit an abstract:

The GHR Foundation is partnering with OpenIDEO, an open innovation platform, to conduct the BridgeBuilder Challenge. The BridgeBuilder Challenge leverages the universal call from Pope Francis to ‘build bridges’ addressing the pressing and emergent concerns of our time in the areas of peace, prosperity and planet.

The top ideas selected from the challenge will receive a total of $1 million in funding (up to $500,00o for one organization), in addition to support provided by experts. All participants will benefit from the platform’s collaborative improvement process and opportunities for connection to new partners and potential funders.

For more information please see the OpenIDEO brief

Currently reviewing 100 great ideas

The African Christian Health Association Platform ( ACHAP) 8th Anniversary meeting

Theme: Evidence for faith-based health care provision

Hosted by the Christian Health Association of Lesotho

The 2017 biennial conference program chaired by Dr Karen Sinchinga Churches Health Association of Zambia, focused on the themes of Building Partnerships for FBO Health Systems Strengthening towards Achieving the SDGs. An important sub theme was building evidence for health systems strengthening for Christian Health Associations (CHAs)

CHAs’ capacities for data collection, and analysis vary widely according to the size and level of development of the CHAs. Many sessions and workshops presented state of the art of health information systems in CHAs, and considered ways to build the evidence capacities of CHAs, and of the collective platform, ACHAP. There was much discussion in formal and informal sessions of the conference on ways to strengthen evidence for CHAs’ activity and contributions.

In a preconference workshop hosted by World Council of Churches, Dr Isabel Phiri delivered a paper setting a context for the development of a comprehensive ecumenical health strategy , and Dr Mwai Makoka who heads the WCC Health and Healing program led an interesting discussion on the process towards developing such a strategy.

Dr Jill Olivier, University of Cape Town gave a comprehensive summary on research on African Faith-based Health providers, and together with her student Eleanor Whyte presented information on diverse models of engagement between the state and faith sector in Sub-Saharan Africa. Other sessions focused on partnerships for research, and on evidence leading to improved practices. CHAs from across sub-saharan Africa gave excellent presentations.
See here for access to the conference presentations 

At a session on Global Partnership opportunities for Christian Health Associations, moderated by Rick Santos, Ellen Starbird, Director USAID Office of Population and Reproductive Health, affirmed the significant role of faith-based organizations in the provision of family planning and/or healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies.

Jean Duff spoke on behalf of the JLI about the value of expanding partnerships with denominational congregational networks for community health, and encouraged CHAs to increase the visibility of their important work by strengthening the data and advocacy capacities of the ACHAP Secretariat

The 10th anniversary meeting was a real celebration of the distinctive capacities of the CHAs and the dedication of their leadership. It was also a time for prophetic re-imagination of the future, for the sustainability and growth of CHAs’ loving service for health for all. A new ACHAP Board, led by Peter Yeboah of Christian Association of Ghana CHAG, now In its 50th year, will lead the CHAs into their next decade.


WCC News article


Realize: Gender Equity and Diversity for Social and Behavioral Change

Event Details

Date: Tuesday, March 28, 2017 (all day) to Friday, March 31, 2017 (half day)
Location: Washington, DC

The TOPS Program and CARE International are pleased to announce an expanded Gender Equity and Diversity for Social and Behavioral Change capacity building workshop. This highly participatory workshop includes material from the previous workshop plus additional new content.  The workshop will increase your own understanding of gender equity and diversity and help you to promote lasting change with your teams and in partnership with communities.

This workshop ends at 1 pm EST on Friday, March 31.

Registration is now open. Apply to attend here. 

World Vision Ebola Evaluations Health Webinar Follow up


An Exploratory Study to Examine the Effectiveness of Community Based Ebola Virus Disease Prevention and Management Strategies in Bo District Sierra Leone

 The unprecedented Ebola Virus Disease outbreak in West Africa was first reported in Sierra Leone in March 2014 and rapidly spread, revealing the failures of the region’s chronically fractured and under-resourced healthcare system. By March 2016, the WHO had documented a total of 14,124 cases of Ebola, including 3,955 deaths, in Sierra Leone – more than any other country. World Vision was actively engaged in implementing preventive activities and case management in 25 of its Area Development Programs, which included 25 Chiefdoms in Bo, Bonthe, Pujehun, and Kono in Sierra Leone. Its Ebola response strategy was designed to work in close collaboration with the Government of Sierra Leone to reach a population of 1.6 million through the establishment and mobilization of an extensive network of community providers established, including teachers, paramount chiefs, and faith healers, over a twenty-year period. A review of district level EVD records indicated that not a single Ebola-related fatality was documented among the 59,000 sponsored children or family members supported by World Vision during the outbreak.  Although the Ebola outbreak was successfully contained, the processes were not formally documented nor the impact of impact of World Vision’s effort was not formally documented or assessed.  The remainder of this report is based on findings from a study commissioned to bridge this knowledge-to-practice gap by capturing community members’ perceptions of the effectiveness of specific strategies employed by World Vision in order to increase the evidence of what works in responding to similar outbreaks throughout the West Africa and beyond.    This report is a collaboration between World Vision and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.  Read the Summary Report  or



Protecting the Living - Honouring the Dead

The purpose of this study is to assess the barriers and enablers to community acceptance and implementation of safe burials in Sierra Leone. The Ebola virus continued to spread in Sierra Leone partly because communities were initially resistant to Burial Teams carrying out safe, medical burials. This changed towards the end of 2014 when revised burial procedures were published and renamed the Safe and Dignified Burial Protocol. Confrontations with communities decreased and more requests by communities for the Burial Teams were noted. The SMART Consortium, consisting of Catholic Relief Service (CRS), Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) and World Vision as the lead, took over the responsibility for burials in 10 districts across Sierra Leone in November 2014. The Consortium initiated this study to analyse the contribution made by the revised procedures to increased community acceptance of Safe Burials and if there were other factors at play. The results of this study are expected to be used by national and international stakeholders to better respond to future epidemics in Sierra Leone and elsewhere. Read the FULL REPORT. 


Other Webinars

  • 24 March – World TB Day Discussions.  WHO Medical Officer, Dr. Kefas Samson, presents an overview to Childhood TB Response Strategy and World Vision Somalia will present their TB Programme overview, best practice and lessons learned.
  • 4 April – Mother-Led MUAC Screening.  Involving mothers in nutrition screening activities recognizes the fact that they are best placed to identify early signs of malnutrition and reinforces their role in protecting and promoting their child’s health. World Vision piloted this approach in Mauritania as part of an Emergency Nutrition and WASH program. This was the first time the approach had been used in Mauritania.

Details for these webinars can be found at:

February 7-8


Faith on the Fast Track: Eliminating Stigma and Discrimination Through Love and Dialogue

More than 120 religious and spiritual leaders, health workers and young people met to focus on strengthening the fight against stigma in the HIV response in Kenya.  Representatives from the Kenyan government, civil society organizations, networks of people living with HIV, and development partners for an event in Nairobi also joined.

The meeting aimed to assess the impact of the Framework for Dialogue methodology which has been implemented in several countries since 2013. The event was organized by the International Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV Kenya (INERELA+ Kenya) and the World Council of Churches – Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (WCC-EAA), with the support of United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), among others.

For more information go to the WCC website

Religious leaders and HIV testing

WCC-EAA Live the Promise Campaign