New partnerships between religions and international organizations tackle sustainable development.



BRISTOL, UK -- The images of religious leaders in diverse garb, marching behind colorful banners with symbols of the world's major faiths, conveyed a sense of the sacred nature of a meeting held in this historic English seaport in September 2015.

But at the head of the procession was an ensign with the logo of the United Nations--an institution generally concerned with more worldly affairs.

The juxtaposition, however, conveys well the theme of the meeting and its agenda, which was to develop a series of action plans by faith communities in support of Agenda 2030, the new global development plan adopted by the UN later in the month.

The faith community action plans, which include things like pledges to develop microcredit programs for the poor, increase access to education, plant trees, invest in clean energy, and establish green pilgrimages, were welcomed by officials from the United Nations, who were present at the meeting.

"More than 80 percent of the world's people express a religious affiliation," said Paul Ladd, then the director of the post-2015 development agenda team at the UN Development Programme (UNDP), speaking in Bristol. "Knowing this, it becomes clear that the UN needs to work closely with faith communities over the next 15 years if the new global goals for sustainable development are to be achieved."

While the Bristol Commitments represent an important step in bringing grassroots support to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as the 17 goals in Agenda 2030 are known, the Bristol meeting and its outcome are far from the only new or expanding collaboration between religious groups and international development agencies in 2015.

In April, the World Bank launched an initiative to better involve religious organizations in its effort to end extreme poverty. That initiative centered on the creation of a joint statement, titled "Ending Extreme Poverty: A Moral and Spiritual Imperative," which was initially endorsed by some 30 global religious leaders and faith-based organizations--including the Baha'i International Community.

The idea, said the Bank, is to "generate the necessary social and political will" to end extreme poverty by 2030 by "tapping into many of the shared convictions and beliefs" of the world's major religions about the moral duty to combat poverty.


Other development agencies, both at the United Nations and among governments, are also increasingly collaborating and...

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