We are pleased to share, on behalf of Prof. Karam and the entire Religions for Peace International Secretariat, the final report on the 5 May event on Leveraging Public-Private Partnerships for Multi-Religious Action for Peace, which Jean-François de Lavison participate in.
Religions for Peace, consisting of leaders from the world’s diverse faith traditions and with affiliated national and regional Inter-Religious Councils (IRCs) in over 90 countries in every region of the world, facilitates action-oriented multi-stakeholder partnerships to advance peace, human rights and sustainable development. These partnerships have already engaged faith-based and faith-inspired business leaders who provide their knowledge, skills, networks and resources to advance the mission of Religions for Peace.
Religions for Peace’s history with the business community stretches back to its founding, as many of its former and active trustees have developed respective legacies in the private sector, contributing expertise, insights, and wisdom that have supported and guided the work of multi-religious collaboration through Religions for Peace for decades. At the same time, as discussions during the Strategic Planning meetings in December 2019 illustrated, the partnerships between Religions for Peace and the private sector tend to be ad hoc, and have yet to been systematized or assessed. Moreover, a number of other organisations, such as the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation, UNIAPAC, and the Ahimsa Fund, have been building bridges between diverse private sector companies and religious actors, identifying shared values and common concerns of these communities. The intention of this Roundtable, therefore, was to review the rationale, the diverse methodologies of such partnerships, in an attempt to appreciate more systematically how the value-added thereof, could be assessed.
KEY DISCUSSION THEMES
In the time of COVID, recognizing that we have entered into a new normal, the need for effective and fruitful partnerships was made clear and reiterated by all speakers and participants. The old way of working will not meet the challenges of the day.
Mr. Jean Francois de Lavison and Ms. Nelida Ancora noted that religious communities and leaders offer added value that cannot be replicated. Their involvement and attachment in the lives of millions, especially marginalized communities around the world, is unique. Mr. de Lavison highlighted, for example, the critical role of religious leaders and communities in the realm of public health, such as in advancing COVID vaccinations in communities where there are high levels of distrust or skepticism about the vaccine. The need to engage youth leadership was underlined as necessary to ensure that those capable of sparking change were part of the processes of partnership.
Ms. Ancora further outlined how, from the perspective of faith communities, the interest of such partnerships was rooted in the language and purpose of love, or deep care and regard for the other. Religious leaders have the capacity to communicate with the private sector leadership, to ensure well-being of and service to all communities, and to serve as the critical links between the local and the international levels. Dialogue and cooperation between religious leaders, religious communities, and business leaders today represents a solid precondition for a fruitful long-term partnership addressed to a common purpose, which Ms. Ancora explained is the “Common Good” in the Catholic tradition (“Business is a vocation, and a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life; this will enable them truly to serve the common good by striving to increase the goods of this world and to make them more accessible to all” (Pope Francis – Evangelium Gaudium N.203).
Both speakers and participants, noted that there are questions about and challenges to forming and furthering such partnerships. Mr. David Sangokoya, spoke to the ways in which the World Economic Forum (WEF) is focused on building these bridges. (1. Strategic Intelligence 2. Impact [a. Health b. Social Entrepreneurship and Inclusive Development c. Social and Racial Justice] 3. Partnership Acceleration) He noted that the WEF recognizes the importance of faith communities and has long been committed to building bridges with them, through inviting some leaders to their annual fora in Davos in prior years. He mentioned that many business leaders remain reluctant to work with religious or non-secular organizations in their work, and alluded to the challenges of assessing the impact of such collaborative efforts.
Ms. Bani Dugal and Mr. Homi Gandhi noted that even when the pieces seem to be in place, businesses may not make decisions for the common good. Furthermore, Imam Sayed Razawi noted that partnerships between religious communities and big business can often be seen and are used as image cleansers. This concern was echoed and all participants agreed on the need, instead, for accountable forms of collaboration. Some religious leaders have long histories of being recognized by the international community, but as Prof. Karam voiced, “which religions are we talking about, when we say religion?”
Speakers and participants offered instances of positive collaboration, and creative paths of doing so. For example, Dr. Brian Grim noted that with the rise in and recognition of diversity as whole, religious identity has become more notable, especially in the business sector. Major companies such as Google take important steps to ensure that the religious identity of their employees is acknowledged and uplifted. Dr. Grim noted that “with over 86% of the world’s population identifying with a specific religious tradition, religion’s relevance in the area of diversity is … trending upwards”. This means that as global corporations recognize the value of religious diversity of their own staff and communities in which they work, and seek to serve those features within their own corporate spaces, this creates a space for further partnerships to be explored and assessed.
Likewise, the strategic advantage of multi-religious coexistence, and collaboration was highlighted. When convened and dealt with together, religious actors have more capacity to encourage transparency and accountability based on common needs and shared concerns. Religions for Peace’s own history and contemporary global geo-politics teach us that this is the tipping point of peaceful coexistence.
The timing of this meeting, then was noted as particularly opportune. As noted by Prof. Azza Karam and Bishop Munib Younan, there has been an increase in religious communities and work on the part of governments and business. The interest seems to leveling up but the question of “why now,” given the ancient nature and existence of faith and religious communities, was posed, given that political and business leadership seems to be ‘tuning in’ more now, than in the past. This points to the fact that religious actors and efforts of engagement therewith, are poised to play key roles in establishing and fostering future collaborative activities.
There was consensus on the need for a new modus operandi, which Mr. Christian Lupemba and Ms. Nageeba Tegulwa, Youth and Women Network leaders, respectively, welcomed appreciatively, noting the capacity of their respective demographics to stimulate and lead change. In fact, women and youth were repeatedly described as key drivers of change and needed participants in the building of new partnerships. Ms. Tegulwa spoke to a concrete example in her home country of Uganda, where youth faith leaders were asked to endorse a joint business venture, and rather than simple acquiescence, the youth leaders were insistent on clarifying the value added of the initiative at hand, and further nuancing their roles clearly from mere supporters, to active participants.
Furthermore, it was emphasized that concrete multi-religious action (service) should be at the center of such religious-private sector partnerships, beyond conversing and dialogue. Creative solutions and efforts, such as the Multi-Religious Humanitarian Fund, were noted and encouraged as a means to practically realise the fruits of partnerships designed to serve all communities. These too come with their own challenges, such as ensuring diverse and robust participation.
In this vein, all participants voiced a desire that this roundtable gives way to further consideration of collaborative efforts, particularly in the domain of Universal Access to Healthcare – rendered all the more pertinent given the global pandemic.
Ms. Nelida Ancora emphasized that the Sustainable Development Goals give us a clear path forward, highlighting that UNIAPAC has, since Ms. Ancora’s 2018 proposal, adopted an ecumenical and inter-religious approach to the Common Good. Mr. Ty Greene highlighted the need to shift from discussions about collaboration to actionable plans and execution of humanitarian projects led by multi-religious communities. Mr. Jean-Francois de Lavison noted the importance of media in spreading news of our work, which has contributed to the interest in the power of religious communities to affect change. Dr. Brian Grim pointed to key historical and practical dimensions of religion and business, as evident in Kellogg’s and corporate chaplains. Our role is to showcase the success stories and to create a positive organizational culture (in both sectors) by highlighting the good work completed.
“How do we keep one another accountable?” was Prof. Karam’s closing question. In this time of crisis, when communities have become even more vulnerable, we must continue to face these challenges head on. Participants agreed for the need to reimagine and build new partnerships between these sectors and underscored the value-added of multi-religious collaboration in times of global crisis. The meeting concluded with an eye to the future, including the June Roundtable Consultation with the Ahimsa Fund around partnerships between Religions and Businesses to further Universal Access to Healthcare, and the July RfP IRC Development Webinar on Fostering Global Partnerships.
- Religions for Peace Strategic Plan
- Religions for Peace Multi-Religious Humanitarian Fund
- Interfaith Belief Network at Google
- 12 Innovator Advancing Interfaith Understanding, Religious Freedom, and Peace
- The 17 Sustainable Development Goals in “The Allegory of Good and Bad Government”
- “Religions and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Listening to the Cry of the Earth and of the Poor” – Conference Organized by the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development on March 7-9, 2019