Second summit between World Bank and world religions focuses on projects

Participants received reports on newly launched interfaith development efforts in Ethiopia and Tanzania, offering a glimpse of the kinds of future projects that are expected from the Dialogue's processes.

WASHINGTON - Some twenty-one months after their ground-breaking summit at Lambeth Palace in London, representatives of the world's major religions and top World Bank officials gathered here in November to continue their high-level "Dialogue" on how they can work together to more effectively overcome global poverty.

Participants said the one-day meeting of the group, which is now called the World Faiths Development Dialogue (WFDD), was marked by a warm atmosphere, a high degree of enthusiasm by all parties, and a great sense that the Bank and the religions were moving towards greater understanding of - and joint activities on - the challenges of world development.

Participants received reports on newly launched interfaith development efforts in Ethiopia and Tanzania, offering a glimpse of the kinds of future projects that are expected from the Dialogue's processes.

"The commitment to improving the lives of the poor found among those at the conference enables the bridging of huge cultural and theological divides," said World Bank president James Wolfensohn and Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey in a joint final statement. "It is crucial to try to replicate this in many practical country settings, and the signs are that is already beginning to happen."

Entitled "Ways Ahead for the Dialogue," the meeting was held on 11 November 1999 at the World Bank headquarters here and, like the Lambeth Palace event in February 1998, was co-hosted by Mr. Wolfensohn and Dr. Carey.

Other participants included many of the same high-level religious representatives who were present at Lambeth meeting, including His Royal Highness Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan and His Highness the Aga Khan, representing Islam; Bishop Diarmuid Martin of the Vatican, representing the Catholic Church; Rabbis Rene Sirat and Arthur Hertzberg, representing Judaism; Nambaryan Enkhbayar and Sulak Sivaraksa, representing Buddhism; Swami Vibudhesha Teertha and Acharya Shrivatsa Goswami, representing Hinduism; Sri Singh Sahib Manjit Singh, representing Sikhism; and Dr. L. M. Singvhi, representing Jainism. Lawrence Arturo represented the Bahá'í Faith.

Also joining the Dialogue in Washington was Michel Camdessus, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Although Mr. Camdessus has indicated that he will resign from the IMF in mid-February 2000, he reportedly expressed "enthusiasm" for the continuing participation of the IMF in the Dialogue.

Dialogue to continue

The group reached several agreements. First, it was decided unanimously that the Dialogue "remains as timely and important as ever," and should continue for at least the next five years and that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) should be a partner in the process. Second, it was agreed that the group should hold another high-level meeting in two years to assess progress. In the interim, a team of independent consultants will be called in to make recommendations about the ongoing structure and administration of the Dialogue. (Read the official World Bank Summary.)

As noted, the group will also seek to bring religious leaders and secular development thinkers together at the local and national levels. In particular, the WFDD hopes to encourage more grassroots and national-level interfaith development projects and collaborations like those in Ethiopia and Tanzania, said Wendy Tyndale, the coordinator of the WFDD.

In Ethiopia, Muslims and Christians have formed an interfaith body to make a contribution to the planning of a very large multi-donor program on food security.

"The idea is for faith-based organizations working in development to visit each others' projects," said Ms. Tyndale, "and to hold some regional workshops to discuss, among themselves, how the religious organizations are contributing to food security in Ethiopia, and what, if any, is the special contribution they make as religious organizations, rather than as secular NGOs. Then when they have gathered up this information, they will draw conclusions and come up with some recommendations to the multi-donor program."

A presentation on the effort in Tanzania, where Hindu, Muslim and Christian organizations are cooperating to identify key issues in the delivery of health and social services, was made by Dr. Wilson Mtebe, the General Secretary of the Christian Council of Churches in Tanzania. As with the Ethiopian project, the project will draw up an inventory of what faith-based organizations are doing in the health field, in order to make an input into the national health program, which is funded in part by the World Bank.

A common statement

Also formally presented at the Washington meeting was the Dialogue's first major publication, entitled "Poverty and Development: An Interfaith Perspective." The result of extensive consultations by members of the Dialogue, the "Perspective" presents a powerful faith-based vision of economic development based on the idea that "there can be no meaningful separation between the social, economic, political, environmental, cultural and spiritual dimensions of life." Link to complete "Poverty and Development Statement

Participants said that these activities demonstrate the increasing willingness of the religions to work together and a serious commitment to the process of dialogue by both the religions and the Bank.

"I feel it is sensational, that so many of the leaders of the world's faiths can get together and issue a common document [like the Interfaith Perspective]," said Thomas Lachs, a representative of the Reform Jewish community to the Dialogue. "Don't forget that the normal relationship between religions over the centuries has been war. "

For the Bank's part, Mr. Wolfensohn told the group that he hopes to incorporate a recognition of the importance of spiritual and moral values into all aspects of the Bank's work. Mr. Wolfensohn suggested that the failure of the efforts made so far to overcome poverty was the hitherto disconnected and project-oriented approach of all involved, from the faith-based organizations to the World Bank and government agencies. He described WFDD as a "modest attempt" to link faith communities with international institutions, according to a statement issued by the Bank. Mr. Wolfensohn said that religions have a leading role to play in the fight against corruption.

A warm atmosphere

Participants in Washington said these successes contributed to a warm atmosphere for this second major high-level meeting.

"Everyone noticed that it was a more relaxed atmosphere, both among the Bank and the faiths and among the faiths themselves," said Swami Amarananda of the Ramakrishna Mission, a representative of Hinduism to the Dialogue. "There seemed to be a great harmony, and above all a kind of enthusiasm has been created. Remember that nothing like this has happened before."

Participants also said that officials of the World Bank seemed much more comfortable discussing the spiritual aspects of development work.

"Both Mr. Wolfensohn and Mr. Camdessus spoke of spiritual values as being at the heart of development, and both spoke of God," said Mr. Arturo, the Bahá'í representative to the Dialogue. "Most of the discussions during the meeting centered around values. Indeed, it was remarkable to watch major religious figures from a diversity of faiths, and heads of major international institutions, profess their agreement on core concepts, principles and teachings found in the world's religions."

The World Faiths Development Dialogue Website can be found at: