December 8, 2008
The Role of Faith-Based Groups in Foreign Assistance
Sponsored by the Post-Conflict Reconstruction (PCR) Project and Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, this discussion explored the Role of Faith-Based Groups in Foreign Assistance. The Center for Strategic and International Studies' (CSIS) goal for the session was to discuss how faith-based groups like World Vision could contribute to U.S. smart power in the new Obama administration. The event featured Richard Stearns, President of World Vision, with comments by Edward Scott, Founder and Chairman, Center for Global Development and Dr. Scott Todd, Senior Ministry Advisor, Compassion International. The discussion was moderated by Johanna Mendelson Forman, Senior Associate, CSIS.
As John Hamre, CSIS President, introduced the event, he wondered whether concerns about separation of church and state could blind policy makers, causing society to miss out on the insight, energy, and initiative that faith-based groups offer. The title of Richard Stearns' talk ("Good People, Good Work, and Good Will") signaled his main themes: the religiosity of the world (92 percent of all people believe in God, he said), the presence and capacity of faith inspired organizations across the world, the high standard of much of their work, and the real good they do. He saw public development assistance as biased against such groups despite World Vision's and other success in major programs. In many situations, faith- based groups are uniquely suited to engage with local communities and carry out development work.
Dr. Todd echoed his sentiments and passionate advocacy for greater support for faith-based organizations. Speaking from his own organization, which by its own choice does not seek or accept public funding, he argued for breaking down some of the barriers to funding, including strict definitions of proselytizing work. Ed Scott, speaking as a Washington development insider, also argued for far greater attention to the potential roles of faith-based groups on many development fronts, especially public health. He cited Saddleback Community Church pastor Rick Warrens' observations about the ubiquitous presence of churches "at the end of the road": they are a vast reservoir of people who want to help.
Questions centered on public health issues and especially potential faith group roles on malaria, the trends in such work (was the tsunami a major tipping point? Hurricane Katrina?) and the issue of engagement of Muslim groups in development work.
Ed Scott is an experienced business executive, a former senior U.S. Government official, and a supporter of a number of philanthropic initiatives. Scott founded and is Chairman of the Center for Global Development (CGD), the world’s leading think...