Faith leaders, aid agencies around the world join forum on localizing humanitarian response
JLI cohosted the Localizing Response to Humanitarian Need Forum with over 140 participants representing multiple local and global faith networks, faith-based organizations, aid agencies, policy makers, and government representatives have participated in a forum to strengthen partnership and networks in localizing humanitarian response. Focus on documentation of methods and mechanisms of engagement of local faith networks.
Local humanitarian leadership is built upon the premise that humanitarian action should be led by local humanitarian actors whenever possible, yet this research finds that secular humanitarian INGOs do not engage systematically with local faith actors in their local leadership work. Based primarily on interviews with humanitarian INGO staff, this research also found that neither secular nor faith-inspired international humanitarian organizations have a sufficient level of religious literacy to enable them to understand the religious dimensions of the contexts in which they work and to effectively navigate their engagement with local faith actors.
Webinar included the following discussion on local humanitarian leadership and religious literacy.
Response from Catriona Dejean
Faith-inspired vs faith- embedded organizations – for some FBOs faith is at the DNA of who and how they work, so it is beyond inspiration
Role of relationships: trust between local faith communities and secular organizations are critical especially during humanitarian events (ie good examples in Myanmar, Middle East)
It is important to not only look at the structures, processes and tools for engaging with faith communties, but also to understand what enables good and open relationships.
Attitudes and behaviors on engagement across faiths and non-faith groups could be explored further.
What makes a response effective with local faith communities? The report stated no real difference between secular and faith actors. Could it be because we have different definitions of effective? For example some faith organizations and actors are interested in holistic changes so effectiveness may be framed beyond the tangible or traditional definition of effectiveness.
From other attendees:
Role of faith-based organizations as intermediaries
There seems to be some dissonance between the responses reported in the research (from HQ) and the situation on the ground, where FBOs face a lot of pressure. There might be an openness to the recommendations stemming from the research such as designing a religious literacy toolkit, but there will need to be a true dialogue on a practitioner level and real socialization.
Suggestions for secular organizations seeking to discuss topics with faith-based actors for which they have different understandings. How can these conversations happen most productively? Practicality of engaging with local faith actors
On alignment (or not) with local faith groups and how to deal with issues – the Oxfam recommendation to develop tools to help truly assess religion/culture/historical influences on the target group in a humanitarian response is vital. That should help tease out more clearly what the actual or perceived differences are. Ultimately though, as was said, if a local faith community (or any partner of any kind) isn’t able to or doesn’t desire to ‘align’ with humanitarian principles – INGOs needs to decide whether the partnership can continue. We have to deal with our issues too of course!
If the whole community believes in one specific religion, it’s simple, but if it’s divided into some religious groups, it can become sensitive. The literacy should cover this aspect as well.
About LFAs impartiality, neutrality,& proselytising: how often does this happen vs how often do people on the international level worry about this occuring?
Forthcoming article called ‘“Faith can come in, but not religion.” Secularity and its effects on the disaster response to Typhoon Haiyan.’ that deals with impartiality and some of the hypocrisy.
The basic idea is that religion manifests in Faith-based NGOs in different ways, such as their names, missions, activities, goals, modes of expression, membership or employment criteria, institutional origins, or the identity of populations they serve, and invisibility is their greatest asset. That is, Faith-based NGOs are most effective in private coalitions and when they do not engage in explicitly religious terms.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.