The COVID-19 pandemic may have forced many of the world’s longer-term issues and opportunities into the background, but when the dust settles the need to solve those problems will be as urgent as it ever was. Looking at what the pandemic has done to equity and access to health around the world, many will be more severe.

In light of this, we need to collaborate better, share more. But the world remains a competitive place, unaccustomed to collaboration. We keep reinventing the wheel, recreating new things. 

Ahimsa was created to change that: to encourage the sharing of experience and to help people work together. By necessity, the coming years will be different to what we are used to. The immense damage of this pandemic means we will be forced to change how we work and our models for living. This is an opportunity to shape new worlds. 

In this year’s event, a range of inspiring speakers and participants brought a wide range of ideas and perspectives to bear on the core question of how to collaborate to provide concrete solutions to the world’s most pressing health problems. 

If there is a silver lining to the pandemic cloud it may be the unavoidable lesson that reluctance to change is no longer viable. Change has already happened: it was forced upon us, and now it must be accepted and nurtured. Ahimsa has always been focused on different people, from different places, with different backgrounds, coming together for change. We work mostly with international projects and we give special focus and respect to the culture and art and roots of the countries we work in and work with. The spirit of Ahimsa is a patchwork integrating the sensibilities of all these cultures.

If we can bring together diverse, opposing perspectives to change mindsets around global health, we can break out of the ossified ways of being that have held us back in the past. We can adopt shared goals and methods that work with the consequences of COVID-19. The ambitious targets that we have set ourselves, like universal health care, will no longer be worthy aspirations but real, achievable goals. 

Ahimsa’s actions in the coming months and years will be directly related to the questions addressed in this year’s forum:

How best to connect the worlds of religion and health? 

Religious communities live closest to the most vulnerable people in the world. Without their full engagement and partnership, universal health coverage will never be achieved.

The potential gains from the deep engagement of faith communities in delivering health care, including mental health care, are enormous. Platforms at all levels are needed to facilitate this process, from small, local communities to large global forums. But care must be taken to make the best possible use of existing structures and initiatives rather than duplicating work already done, and we must follow an inter-religious approach.

Faith communities and organizations can play many roles to achieve universal health. Their responses to pandemics of COVID-19, Ebola and HIV in recent decades have shown clearly the power of their engagement. Like other constituencies, faith bodies must play a crucial role in the larger global public health partnerships from which they are currently too often excluded. 

This is not just a matter of representation, though representation is important. Faith communities have the resources to be first-class strategic and operational partners. In many countries, they own and run more than half of the health facilities. Taken together, religious organizations have huge investment power, and they invest for the long term – thinking in terms of generations, not three or five-year programmes.

Religions can also play an important role in helping the healthcare industry become more patient-centric. The industry often lacks the expertise and legacy to connect with communities and make its products and services truly accessible. Partners are needed to bridge this gap. Platforms for dialogue between the healthcare industry and religious organizations would help. Common ground and goals exist, but a real will to engage is needed to achieve tangible improvements. The industry is more open to this type of dialogue than it has been in the past.

Some platforms for engagement with faith organisations already exist, such as interfaith councils, but they are not engaged to the extent of their potential. The fight for universal health should be carried out in these forums and platforms, where communities come together to provide services, advice, and recommendations. 

Health care means addressing disease prevention, wellbeing, sanitation, affordability, access and treatment. Religious communities have enormous power to change attitudes and behaviours in all these areas. 

The challenge for Ahimsa is to assess what happens when companies work alongside inter-religious faith-based engagement and service – what partnerships and reflections can result, what concerns become evident, and what can be achieved.

How best to engage the private sector in the fight against poverty? 

A number of companies are already working hard to fight poverty and create value for the so-called “bottom of the pyramid” – the world’s poorest. This bottom of the pyramid is composed of millions of people who would like to manifest their own values and contribute to improving their living conditions.

The business approach to reducing poverty means designing solutions to social problems based on social entrepreneurship instead of following traditional charity-based approaches. Not only do these projects tackle urgent and difficult social problems, but they also generate sustainable profits. In this way, both the business and the wider population can benefit.

This approach requires a human perspective to be developed and sustained in the businesses, in which all employees and owners must participate. Here too, the company can benefit: this motivation can be a very strong management tool for mobilizing companies’ employees, giving a sense of meaning and commitment to their jobs.

The challenge for Ahimsa is to help our network deploy and scale the many models of social enterprise – investment approaches, business models, processes and more – where they are most needed, in the most effective ways possible.

How to make innovation accessible and beneficial for the most disadvantaged?

Despite the tremendous damage it has caused, COVID-19 has also left us in a place where incredible things are possible. There are innovative ways to evaluate even old solutions in terms of impact, sustainability, and accessibility. The goal is to bring excellent investment opportunities in impact-driven solutions together with investors interested in social impact as well as good returns.

Technology and innovations can be bought, but the mindset and ability to embrace innovation and make it accessible to all – the culture of innovation – is priceless.

The challenge for Ahimsa is to honour our commitment to facilitate access to innovation and give visibility to the most promising innovative platforms, bringing them to the attention of the healthcare industry, trusts and foundations and populations around the world. 

In all these challenges we must innovate and improve leadership approaches

Great change requires great leadership. The world needs new and better leadership models based on understanding, empathy, compassion, courage and self-confidence: leaders who cultivate atmospheres of cooperation and collaboration involving women and men, taking into account the masculinity and femininity, the yin and yang of each of us. Just as it is necessary to involve the wealthy in the fight against poverty, it is also necessary to apply local solutions to global problems; to bring together the wisdom and experience of age with the dynamism and enthusiasm of youth so that younger generations are guided but allowed to take leadership of their own lives, and to make room for the unique perspectives of women and men. Progress in this direction will require working with well-identified research programmes on new leadership models and inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogues. 

The challenge for Ahimsa is to continue the work we were founded to do: to strive together to advance the values that unite us rather than highlighting the differences that oppose us. We will apply scientific rigour to actions that come from or are inspired by spiritual traditions around the world to understand how they work and spread their beneficial effects. We will do all we can to help prepare a new generation of leaders, in a spirit of openness, tolerance, listening, responsibility and compassion.

It is on these themes that we will engage our fellows and alumni this autumn. 

In this way, we will work to make sure that the real outcomes of the 2021 Ahimsa Forum are new and innovative models to confront the health crises we are all experiencing, and each of us will emerge stronger and more determined.